Heaven or Hell?

Heaven or Hell?

Gary Meyer | Tuesday, 14 March 2017

There is a conundrum for fly anglers in South Florida right now. Our coldest winter temperatures are probably over, with air temperatures now ranging from the high 50s to low 80s (in degrees F), which to most folks reading this might just sound fantastic. But there is a downside: the winds. For about a week ago they were predicted to blow between 15 and 30 knots. That is a bit higher than usual, but the prevalence of high winds will remain for the next few months. For the spoiled anglers around here, who can fish almost 365 days a year, it is a time for lots of bitching and complaining, and little fishing. That’s too bad for them. I’m going fishing at every chance. Those winds can make for some of the best fishing of the year.

It is curious what strong winds can do. The term “blown out” is commonly used to describe the extreme low near shore tides that can happen when a strong offshore breeze lasts a few days. In the backcountry not only will the waters follow the outside tides away from land and drop the water levels, but the same thing can happen in smaller scale.

 

If a small protected pond is upwind from, but connected to, a much larger bay or lake the wind may hardly ripple the water in the pond, but the movement of the water in the much more affected larger lake will pull the water out of the pond. If there are fish in that smaller pond, and winter snook just adore small protected ponds, they will have no choice but to move into the open water as the shorelines become too shallow for them to hide under the branches or roots.

 

So, two Sundays ago before dawn I was in my canoe paddling out against a still manageable but significant breeze. I was heading for some of those small ponds but first I had to navigate a dark, twisty and confusing creek. Luckily, the creek is a popular well marked route that is heavily used by backcountry campers. It is famous for the scenery, off limits to powerboats, and leads to a number of fabulous primitive campsites. Nobody, it seems, would ever think of trying to navigate that creek in the dark, so I’ve always had it to myself in the wee early hours. And fortunately, hardly anyone recognizes the tremendous fishery that exists off the marked route.

 

Once the sun came up the winds averaged in the low to mid 20 mph range and the gusts hit the low to mid 30s. That was in the open water. In those small protected ponds the water was lightly rippled but calm, quite clear, and shallow. And there were plenty of snook. I cannot convey how happy that made me. I will not be able to do this kind of thing for many more years. When a fishery suffers an environmental “set back”, which is happening with sad frequency lately, it could mean the end of fishing essentially forever, at least for me.

 

I wish I could say I had a banner day but the truth is I struck out. To cast in those winds, even in the lee, I had to resort to an 8 weight rod, and even still the gust played havoc with accuracy. The fish however were in that calm, clear and shallow water and therefor were just spooky as hell. Sometimes just landing one fish is victory. Such is the fate for those who ignore the low hanging fruit.

 

It was frustrating but a blast, and it was really good to see all of those fish. It was also sort of funny to recognize my own faults. I got so intent on driving the fly and hoping that a gust would not grab the cast midflight and veer it off course that I was making the rooky mistake of unconsciously aiming at the fish instead of an imaginary target where the fish would intercept the fly. Crashing the fly near these fish is guaranteed failure. I also realized how much I’ve come to rely on underpowered curves for leading fish and keeping the line away from their sight. Of course, underpowered casts are completely unfeasible in those windy conditions.

 

So, in the afternoon I was heading back through that twisty creek with my tail between my legs but, as planned, that howling wind at my back. I came across a handful of tourist fighting their way out to their camping destinations. I bid them good day and couldn’t help but feel sorry for them as they had no idea what the open waters were going to be like. That may be one of the reasons the area is called Hell. For me it is more like a private room in heaven.