Last week I again went to the Everglades with Steve Huff, in pursuit of the six. We had been up there only two weeks prior, and the weather had been increasingly unkind. This latest trip brought us a similar forecast: the fishing would be decent the first day and getting worse from there.
Jason Schratwieser couldn’t make it, so to fill the third seat I invited John O’Hearn. He made it only for the first day, and it was a pleasure for me to spend a day on the skiff with these two people that I enjoy fishing with so much.
We started early in the morning, though with the cold nighttime temperatures we were likely more optimistic than we needed to be. The run was long but felt longer; the knowledge that this was going to be our warmest day and the clearing sky increased our expectations and made the run stretch into what felt like three hours. We arrived in a basin with one thing on our minds: see them before they saw us and try to make it happen.
For the first few hours we saw fish, though they were too far or near to make something out of. A roll or a bust would draw us toward where they were, then on the way we would blow a few out that were sitting on the bottom. As the sun climbed higher the fish did too, and by 10:00 we had our first shot at a single fish cruising toward us. Another shot followed in the next hour, and after two fish declined the fly we had on we changed to a color that had worked a few years ago. In retrospect, we were too attached to the flies we had seen success with over the last four years of doing this, but the past is a powerful thing. We got a bite from a large fish near noon, though the hook never found a home. The fly was pressed between its jaws on the hook set, and while I pulled hard it took only a simple crack in the face to release our hopes of battling this particular animal. What followed was an intermittent flurry of shots, often separated by an hour or so of quiet. This led to two more bites, and while neither of them held neither too were these fish big enough. Our fly situation was costing us but we couldn’t admit it, and even though we discussed switching to [redacted] we didn’t. We finished late and left full of stuff that could have been different, though staying late in the middle of nowhere with Steve Huff and John O’Hearn made it less painful.
Steve and I woke up to temperatures that were far below day one, and while we discussed snook fishing we didn’t make the decision to do anything other than dig our heels in and grind for the six. We had a morning of nothing, though by the afternoon it felt entirely possible that we might make it happen. Additionally, we tied on [redacted] and as such were energized by a new ware to peddle. Steve saw a fish roll a few hundred yards away, and I kept an eye on the disappearing foam as he picked over to it. When he staked the boat, I told him I was going to take ten casts–we knew there was a fish in the vicinity and we didn’t have much to lose, though blind casting has never gotten us anywhere in this country. The first cast was made, and as I dragged it slowly back to me I felt a tap. Soon after I felt some weight and saw a peach colored flash from the fish, turning as he ate it. I set the hook, and realized in a panic that I was standing on the line. The fish crashed out of the water, and as I felt the line come tight to the soles of my shoes I kicked it off. I was worried that this may have cost us the fish, but as the line continued to fly off the deck my concern shifted to optimism: this time, surely, the fish would be well-stuck and not fall off. I was thinking about how easy it would be to catch this fish in the colder water when the tarpon came crashing out again, tossing the hook back at us. It was painful in a way that I’ve learned only record fishing can be, to lose a fish we had virtually no chance of hooking on a day like this to begin with. We continued the grind until sunset, and while we brought nothing home with us we made it a point to leave it all out there.
This day was colder still, and Steve had in mind to look for a snook or some redfish. I was happy to spend some less intense time with him, and while we could have fished many shorelines we made it a point to sight cast to one instead of covering water. We found some reds on a mud flat though we couldn’t get to bite, and poled through a deep channel for a few more shots at reds. We saw many small sawfish, and some even batted at a fly I dragged over their toothy extensions. We ran from flat to flat, and in the early afternoon we had a few more shots at redfish. I caught a small snook near a creek mouth, and had another bite from a larger fish that didn’t connect. We continued on in our sight fishing quest–the light was perfect, and in the next basin we saw a large redfish suspended on the mud. I tossed the fly, and as soon as it landed it became clear that this was not a redfish but a large snook. Our cast worked just fine, and we got what we wanted: a sight-cast capture. This one was particularly pretty: the backlit fish never cleared to the reel, and even though it was a good fish it never took enough line for us to lose sight of it. Start to finish, this capture was available to look at and pretty as a prom dress. Steve snapped an iPhone pic when we brought the fish in:
We stuck with the plan until it was warm enough for us to get our hands stuck in our favorite car door, and for the last six hours of our long day we spent our time staring into the depths hoping to see a tarpon. We had three shots total, and none of them were particularly high quality, but again we left all we had on the water.
I’ll be up again with Steve in February, and maybe again at other times (there’s talk of a shot at the 1kg snook record), but in the near future I have few plans to fish. I will hopefully trade shots with John some day next week, and Luke Kelly (of recent Sugarloaf Showdown fame and fortune) has mentioned that we might do some fun fishing. I’ll keep these pages updated even if I don’t fish, and when the fishing starts in earnest they’ll be well filled in.