ISLAMORADA, Fla. — In addition to the 16 fly-rodders and the 16 light-tackle anglers who are competing in the Florida Keys Outfitters IGFA Inshore World Championship, there is a friendly competition within the tournament between Leslie and Carlos Duncan.
The Houston couple qualified for the event by virtue of their performances in tarpon fly-fishing tournaments here last year, which means they are competing against each other this week.
Carlos qualified through the Don Hawley Invitational Tarpon Fly Tournament. A week later, Leslie qualified through the Ladies Tarpon Tournament, which she's won two times.
After the first day of the Inshore World Championship Tuesday, Leslie led Carlos with three redfish worth 375 points fishing with Capt. Steve Thomas. Carlos had 200 points with one tarpon.
Asked if there were any side bets between them, Leslie laughed and said, "No side bets. I know better than to bet against him. He's a fantastic fly angler."
Both husband and wife had interesting days. Leslie caught and released redfish of 27, 30 and 32 inches and she also landed a 21-inch snook, her first on fly, which was three inches shy of the minimum length for snook to count.
"We were willing him to grow while we were measuring him," she said. "Then I managed to scare the crap out of three permit. I perfectly placed the fly smack in the middle of the middle fish's head."
Fishing started at 7 a.m. and ran until 3 p.m. At 3:01, Leslie got this text from Carlos:
"Things I've done today that I've never done before: Catch a 17-inch bonefish [the tournament minimum is 18 inches], catch a tarpon on ESPN and watch my guide fall over backwards wearing a $1,000 microphone."
Carlos later explained that the guide had his push pole slip out of his hands while he was poling his skiff, which caused him to fall into the water, but he was OK.
For the day, Carlos was 1-for-2 on bonefish and 1-for-3 on tarpon, landing about a 65-pounder and having another tarpon get wrapped in the leader and break the tippet.
Carlos got an early start in fly-fishing. His wife, whom he married in 1991, came to it later in life.
He fly-fished for trout on his family's ranch in Wyoming and caught his first tarpon on bait with legendary guide Cecil Keith in Islamorada when he was 13. A few years later he was fly-fishing in Islamorada and caught his first bonefish — he's never caught a bonefish on bait — and then got his first tarpon on fly.
Carlos continued to fly fish in Islamorada in the mid- to late 1970s with his father, Charles, and Carl Navarre, who owned Cheeca Lodge, then he stopped coming to the Keys.
Leslie fished growing up on the Texas Gulf Coast, but she never fly-fished until after the Duncans got married and she fished for trout in Wyoming. One day in 1992, they were watching the Walker's Cay Chronicles on ESPN2 and Carlos mentioned how much he'd like to go saltwater fly-fishing. With Leslie's encouragement, they contacted Flip Pallot from the TV show and he provided a list of names of Keys guides. The Duncans called several of them and Rob Fordyce was the first to call back and a trip was arranged.
Back then, Leslie would sit in the boat and do the New York Times crossword puzzle while Carlos fly-fished with Fordyce. After a few years of watching her husband, which was a good learning experience, she was ready to give saltwater fly-rodding a try.
Early on she struggled, but she got better and better under the tutelage of Fordyce and Capt. Billy Knowles.
"Rob had a lot of patience for me and the same with Billy," she said. "Then I started fishing ladies tournaments with Billy."
Carlos said his wife could be even better if she devoted more time to tournament fishing. He fishes a lot of Keys tarpon tournaments in the spring. She spends more time with their kids back home in Texas.
"She's a good athlete," Carlos said, noting that Leslie played and coached lacrosse and field hockey in school, "and her eye-hand coordination is a lot better than mine. All she has to do is work on her fishing. But if she had the choice of fishing here for a week or taking our daughter to a lacrosse tournament, she's going to a lacrosse tournament."
The Duncans do spend time fishing together, having fly-fished for sailfish in Guatemala and for bonefish, tarpon and permit in Belize. They also take golfing vacations and go on driven pheasant shoots in England.
For Leslie, fishing against some of the world's top fly-rodders, including her husband, has been a treat.
"I'm having a great time," she said "If I come out ahead of my husband at the end of the day, I'm sure he'll get over it."
Find out more about Steve Waters at www.sunsentinel.com/outdoors.