The Gulf Stream, that roiling oceanic current that sprints up the Atlantic coast, bends closest to land around Palm Beach, coming within five miles of shore. The pelagic species that use the Gulf Stream as an expressway also run close to Palm Beach, which is why bluewater angling here is called "Gentleman's Fishing." You don't have to get up too early or run too far.
We're skirting the edges of the Stream, looking for the small, missile-like speedster known as the false albacore. We've recruited for our mission Scott Hamilton, the local guide who pioneered offshore fly-fishing here. The fishfinder at the helm lights up, cluttered with fish symbols indicating a large school. Hamilton throws some live pilchard over the side and hands a fly rod to Mike.
"These aren't frickin' brook trout," Hamilton says, reminding Mike-a trout bum from New Hampshire-not to high stick the fish. A froth erupts on the surface, and false albacore blitz all around the boat. Mike casts an "eat me" fly into the fray-one strip and he's hooked up. The albie starts a blistering run and Mike counters by lifting the rod high-like fighting a trout. CRACK!!! The albie saws the stout saltwater flyrod in half like a buzz saw. Hamilton grabs the rod fragments and pulls the fish in by hand. "Congratulations, Buster," Hamilton says, "your first albie." Mike absorbs his new nickname, not knowing he'd soon have a shot at redemption. Big time.
The bay boat offers 360-degree fishability, a good thing when dealing with breaking fish, and a wide stable platform to help us maintain balance in the gentle offshore swells. When the wind and waves kick up, the boat could get uncomfortable, but here in decent conditions, it's perfect. The only ones who dislike the boat are the mating sea turtles we keep interrupting.
We take turns casting into the fray, hooking up and hanging on, when Hamilton notices an interloper. Long, sinewy, and brown, it resembles a small shark circling the boat. But Hamilton knows better.
"Cobia," he shouts. I step up to the bow with a 12-weight fly rod and put the fly right in front of its mouth. It sucks it in and spits it out before I react. Mike is next in line with a live pilchard on a baitcaster. The cobia likes it-fish on.
Cobia are more known for their tastiness than fighting ability, but this one, a 50-pounder, proves a champ. For a solid half-hour, it stubbornly refuses to give ground. Stefan and I watch Mike wilt in the intense heat.
"Hey Buster, check out this albie," Stefan teases, releasing the sixth one we've caught since Mike started battling. Finally, his shirt clinging to his shoulders and his face red with effort, Mike brings the cobia alongside the boat. Hamilton reaches for the gaff, the broken fly rod long since forgotten. Almost-Hamilton pats him on the back and says, "Nice battle, Buster."