I’ve been a bad blogger recently, and have skipped over the Bahamas trip I took with my parents and cousins three weeks ago. I’m going to use the excuse of keeping these reports Flo-grown to get the party back on track with my recent trip to the Everglades with Steve and Chad Huff. I promised myself that this time I would take more pictures, which I always find myself wishing I’d done on these trips.
Our plan when we booked the days was to slam our fingers in the car door again with six pound tippet and some giant tarpon, though a week before the trip a hard cold front blew in to town and dropped the nighttime temperatures in Everglades City into the 40’s. We decided to fish anyway, for a few reasons: primarily, we’ve never been shy of the grind. We also have not really fished for snook, one of the coolest animals around and one of Steve’s favorite to target. Perhaps most importantly, the thought of doing something other than fishing with Steve and Chad was ridiculous and we decided to give it a shot anyway. Chad and I got in on Tuesday night, in time to have a birthday dinner with Patty and Steve and get some sleep before the first day of fishing.
We had breakfast at a leisurely 6:30, not feeling any need to get started early on the cold day ahead of us. We finished up and dragged the boat to Juracsik Park and began fishing after a long run to [redacted]:
The weather was fine and the sun started to feel lukewarm by mid morning, and after a few fishless stops Steve found an edge that held a large number of smaller snook. We caught our fill of smaller snook, neglecting to take pictures (hey, I’m trying), though having a blast hooking and stripping in the little guys. We threaded our way through an afternoon full of searching for a large snook, casting flies up against the mangroves and bringing them back as if repeatedly pulling levers in a mossy casino. Chad came tight in the middle of the afternoon, and while the fish was large it never made a play for any deeper water and instead dug down near the boat and forced the whole affair to take place without the reel. Chad navigated this with typical Chadillacity, landing his largest personal snook on fly. Of this fish I did get some pictures, and put these together for a nice little triptych here:
Here’s another without the art:
After that, we kept at the neck of the snook program. We traded bow time, and Steve hopped up for a few shots himself which of course caught fish despite the incessant razzing from Chad and myself. We enjoyed the rest of the day, finding plenty of fun despite the tough conditions. We ran home late, as usual, and had a nice dinner at the house before getting some sleep for the next day.
We stuck with the snook fishing, keeping our eyes out for a tarpon should one make an appearance. We knew that the chances of running in to a tarpon was low and as such kept focused mainly on the shoreline. We had a blast of a time, selling a bunch of crap to one another as we tried to remain ready for a large snook to sneak into the steady supply of miniatures. We blew out a school of larger fish, which set off an avalanche of guff from both Chad and myself in Steve’s direction. We stuck in the spot for a while and threw around, hoping to pick up a straggler before we moved on.
The water was clear and calm, and in the afternoon we saw some evidence of tarpon that caused us to spend a half hour looking for one to throw at. We soon went back to snook fishing, however, and enjoyed a late day in pursuit of but not finding a large one. Chad captured a picture of his dad on the way home:
This was the warmest day we had to work with, and while the first two days were spent in distant hope of a shot at a record this day seemed far more likely to produce a tussle on six. We looked for snook to start, though in places adjacent to known tarpon territory with an eye to the nearby slick water for a roll or bust. We blew out a large snook on a shoreline in the middle of a poorly timed bathroom break (my own), and left after an hour of fruitless searching. Steve took a look for a tarpon next, and found them. For the first time this trip, we saw a single fish roll and readied the tarpon rod for an attempt.
In the 45 minutes we spent, we came to a few conclusions: one was that there was a handful of fish in this area, and we could easily spend the day throwing at them and hoping for the best; something we have done many times before. A corollary of that first conclusion was that there weren’t many–six or eight tarpon seemed to inhabit the deeper trench that Steve had us near, and the fish seemed frozen. A perfect cast at a nearby roller did not receive any interest, and that these fish were scheduled to be more intractable than normal came in to chilled focus. Ultimately it was apparent that our best efforts might be the only result of a day spent boring ourselves with this minimal probability, and before we could settle into the groove of a hard grind Steve mentioned that we were going to stick with the snook program we had started on the first two days. We racked the tarpon rod and headed toward the [redacted], free of the burden of barely and ready for an afternoon of tracking down a large snook.
Here I would like to mention something that has stuck with me since the trip, now two weeks ago. While my fishing with Steve has always been serious, some of the most irreverent fun I’ve ever had has been on the boat with him. Chad’s the same–the amount of time I think about a word that’s more appropriate than “shit giving” when I’m writing reports of our time on the water would probably be better spent tying leaders, but I do feel the need to go into greater detail about what precisely makes things so worthwhile on the water with these guys. There’s a balance of fun and focus, and each tends to amplify the other. Chad and I especially are competitive with one another, and that contention enhances our fishing effort. The days on the water with Steve and Chad have been special, and after we decided to remove the pressure of the six on this day and replace it with a large snook attempt we were free to enjoy a new perspective on a fishery that I’ve only seen through a very focused (and not stronger than 3 kilogram) lens.
It didn’t take Chad and I long to build around the snook fishing a competitive, if flippant, framework. We adopted (and then immediately bastardized) the Gold Cup rules of weight and release fish points, giving Chad the lead with his ‘weight fish’ from Day 1. We each had a number of releases that we kept adding to throughout the day. We caught plenty of small ones as we searched for another weight to add to our total:
Towards the end of the day things had slicked off fully, and the idea was briefly tossed around that we might return to have a look for a tarpon. We decided to stick with the snook program, giving ourselves once again over to the line side. We visited the site of a recent orchid theft (you know who you are…) on our way through the warren of possible snook locations, finding a few small ones here and there but nothing over a few pounds.
We stopped along a storm-scoured crag of a shoreline, poked along and threw towards the overhanging pale mangrove arms. I laid the fly line over a pair of larger fish that were some distance from the shoreline, and we all watched as they bumped away under the calm. I made a few more casts towards the barren limbs, and after a few strips on one of these I paused to organize my line. Steve shouted out to keep it coming as soon as a flush happened on the fly, and while I was late I still came tightened to a solid fish and started to clear the line. We were connected for only a brief moment, and when the fish shook its head the fly fell out. I threw a hopeful, if delusional, cast back into where things had happened in case the fish wanted to twice miscalculate, and was reminded as the cast unrolled that “it’s over man. Forget it.”
I stripped the fly a few times toward me before it was stopped abruptly once again, by a larger companion of the other fish. This one stayed on, and soon dragged some backing off the reel on its way towards the middle of the basin. I was happy to finally be attached to the object of my impulsion, and when Chad finally lipped the fish and pulled it into the boat I had a familiar tournament feeling in my stomach. The fish wasn’t huge but it was what we’d been looking for (not to mention by far my largest personal snook on fly), and we took many pictures and enjoyed the moment:
Chad took the rod next, looking for his second weight fish, and caught a few smaller ones before Steve mentioned it was time to head back.
I’d like to thank Steve and Chad for a fantastic trip, and say again what a great time it was with those two. Without the added pressure of the six, it was fun in a way we haven’t yet had and I can’t wait to get back after it. I’ll be up in the Everglades again next week, with Chad and Ian, and after the cold front we’re having will likely be doing more of the same snook fishing. I remain every euphoric, however, that we might get a shot at a record on six. Reports will follow of course.
Up next (to get current before I leave on Sunday with Ian for Everglades City to fish with Chad) is a day with Doug Kilpatrick and a day with Ian Slater. Those will get up before Sunday, and then I’ll be back in the saddle of writing with regularity.