Montgomery fishes about half a dozen wrecks in addition to taking customers out on the flats for permit and tarpon. He has an elaborate Vexilar recording fathometer mounted on the Formula console, and without such an instrument wreck fishing is out of the question, especially when you're going a long way to a little-known site. The wreck of the Luckenback is 35 minutes, 20 seconds at 3,400 rpm off Smith Shoals at 004 degrees on the compass. A long run. Shortly before you reach the spot, a few hundred square yards in all of that ocean empty of markings, you turn on the fathometer and wait for the wreck and the fish to show. If you miss the wreck, you throw over a buoy, and circle until you find it. This all might strike some as excessively technical until they see the profligate number offish: cobia, amberjack, yellowtail, snapper, barracuda, among others. Often giant jewfish rise up to take a hooked fish. After a moderate amount of chumming most fish take readily to the fly. You become selective in order not to exhaust yourself.
Montgomery gets very angry when spies attempt to follow him to the Luckenback, assuming they have a fast enough boat—the Formula does close to 50. He once led a Miami boat 30 miles in the wrong direction before turning back, an expensive act of deception in terms of time and gasoline, but if the spot were widely known it could be cleaned out by fish hogs. All good guides release fish except for a record or a mount or an occasional fish for dinner. But some guides hang fish to attract customers. The tarpon and permit end up in trash barrels.
Another unfortunate practice designed to entertain anglers who might better be tied to bar stools or TV sets is the daylong fishing contest to see which "club" can kill the most fish. Often long lines of shriveled barracuda and snapper are stretched out in the hot parking lot next to Garrison Bight. Intelligent guides have long since given up the idea that the ocean's bounty is endless. The decrease in number of game fish is obvious to anyone who has been in the business for a few years. The fishing is still good and with a little sense on the part of even the most bovine angler it can be kept that way.
After fishing in the Florida Keys for a number of years it becomes obvious that guides do not make a lot of money despite their high daily fee, and certainly not much commensurate with their abilities as men. A fully-equipped skiff with motor costs at least $5,000, there are the many blown-out charters, and the rigor of the job equals that of a jackhammer operator. But there is a dignity and grace in the profession unavailable in all but a very few areas to very few men. You have to be good or you don't eat. Few of the guides could imagine doing anything else. At least until they simply wear out.
And there is the rapport that the guide, no matter the repetition, shares with his customer: the sheer fun and excitement of the sport. It is most palpable early in the morning. At dockside the customers are talking with strenuously subdued giddiness, trying to act offhanded and experienced. The guides gas up the boats and double-check the gear. They are wary and gruff, concealing their nervousness in all the details of preparation. But the nearly crazy unvoiced hope of all is that it might be one of those special days to be talked of with awe through all the boozy nights to come; say jumping 20 tarpon or a first permit on fly or a dozen bonefish. Or even the unmentionable—breaking Apte's record of a 154-pound tarpon on a fly. No wonder he's arrogant. And no matter that the boats will probably return in eight hours with the guides grim with uneven success and the customers looking as though they had just spent eight hours in a sauna under a sun lamp. When it is bad for some and good for others the anger of the losers is nearly primitive. The guides shuffle and grimace around the dock in the late afternoon sun wondering why they aren't doing something sensible for God's sake. The unsuccessful anglers lunge for their cars, which have heated up like ovens. But the lucky ones—and luck is always a factor, along with skill and good guiding—don't want to leave just yet. They move around the boat slips in sort of a peacock trance talking to anyone who will listen for even a moment about their experience, certainly among the top few that angling—or life—has to offer.