I caught up with Atlanta fly-shop owner Gary Merriman recently. If Gary’s name rings a bell, that’s not surprising – after all, he’s accomplished two of sport fishing’s most significant feats over the last few decades.
In 1984, Merriman, owner and operator of The Fish Hawk since the 1970s, made international headlines, when he landed a 1,649-pound Pacific blue marlin in Kona, Hawaii, fishing with Capt. Bart Miller. The amazing specimen was a full 273 pounds heavier than the existing all-tackle record for the species but, unfortunately, was not certified because the double-line and leader exceeded the IGFA’s maximum allowable length. Still, it remains the second largest marlin ever caught on rod and reel.
Some 10 years later, Merriman shook things up again in the fishing world, but this time in the fly-fishing arena, when he developed the Tarpon Toad pattern, which would become the gold standard throughout the Florida Keys, supplanting the classic Keys- and Apte-style flies that dominated for decades earlier.
We chatted briefly with this unsung hero about his impressive accomplishments.
SF: Gary, between your marlin and your Toad fly, you own two of fishing’s most coveted prizes. Which is most satisfying to you? And why?
GM: Both are very satisfying, but tarpon fishing is my passion, so the Toad is No. 1.
SF: How and when did you develop that fly?
GM: I can’t remember the exact year, but it was about 20 years ago. I wanted a fly that would track on a level plane with neutral buoyancy. This was to keep the fly in front of the fish for as long as possible.
SF: Did it produce immediate results? In other words, did you know immediately by the fish's reactions that your tying theories were correct?
GM: I first tried the Tarpon Toad in Loggerhead Basin in the Lower Keys, which is notorious for hard-to-feed tarpon. The results were amazing. Most fish would go out of their way to eat it – and yes, I knew immediately that it was a success.
SF: Any new theories on tarpon flies today? Anything kicking around in the back of your mind?
GM: Yes, I have a few new tricks, but I’m keeping them to myself for now.
SF: Like a good fly tier…
GM: That’s right (laughs).
SF: Now onto the marlin. Are you -- or were you at one time -- a serious marlin fisherman? I’m guessing you were.
GM: Yes, I did a lot of marlin fishing at one time but I realized that the flats were where I wanted to be.