I guess there is an audience for this, or at least, I hope so. It would be very disappointing to realize there is no one else who can appreciate it, and if so, that would be undeniable evidence that I am, actually, whacked. But there is hope -the internet has demonstrated that there are other similarly afflicted individuals, scattered across the globe, who “get” flyfishing and all of the associated rewards and perils. I wonder if those others, my family in this addiction, sometimes share in a particular paranoia as well?
I spent a good portion of my free time during the week watching the weather, predicting how things would be on Friday, then choosing the location that best would fit the conditions. Due to some freakish bad luck, and a consequent downturn in my health, I had not been fishing in over two months!
My one fishing buddy, the only one who is crazy enough to occasionally join me on my forays into the depths of the mangrove coast of the Everglades, also felt the pull of the changing seasons and had been in touch. We made tentative plans for a trip on Friday, to a location that both of us hold as Holy. A place so special that, as far as I know, he has only gone there without me once, and that trip ended in calamity, and while potentially serious, turned out only uncomfortable and expensive.
I myself visit the location somewhat frequently, at least a few times a year, usually solo. I did bring my grandson there once to catch his first tarpon, but no one else. To me, it is not really that dangerous, because in a way I feel it is mine. I found it and tamed it, and as such, my pet will not hurt me. Maybe I am insane?
Most people would simply never make it there. Only avid fishermen or crazy ‘Glades paddle explorers would even want to. To get there, one must launch a canoe from an obscure location off a remote road that crosses the Everglades down south near the salt. Then work down a narrow creek through the mangrove forest, dodging around, under and sometimes over limbs and fallen mangrove trees. This area, the mangals, is well known for the high concentration of aggressive saltmarsh mosquitoes, but few realize the equivalent population of spiders those “swamp angels” support. Only by transversing these creeks, with the myriad of descending prop roots from the red mangrove trees, can one appreciate the mass of suspended spider webs draped between them. It is creepy, uncomfortable, hard work, and oh so easy to get lost.
Once one makes it to the big waters below, there is a second leg through larger rivers, but then the trek continues back up other similarly difficult creeks. The route as we do it, in the best circumstances, takes a few hours. One could paddle the route, but it would take about three times as long, and then there would be little time to fish, before heading back. To get to the end, in the least possible time, a small outboard motor is clamped to the outside of a canoe, as only a canoe or kayak can fit through the narrow openings and shallow water.
At the top of the last creek is an isolated lake, scarcely a few hundred meters in diameter. It is there that gamefish congregate, having moved up the salinity gradient at the insistence of an onrushing winter. Once there, the fish languish in almost complete isolation, safe from most large predators while competing for limited prey. It is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for a saltwater flyfisherman.
The weather predictions, both on TV and the internet, foresaw a wet day of high winds and thunderstorms. That was enough to make my fishing buddy punt, but I was harder to dissuade. Flyfishing demands many different talents, and being an amateur meteorologist is one of them. I could not, for the life of me, understand why rain was forecast for that area. In fact, I thought they were wrong, and I was willing to bet on it. To be fair, the meteorologists are most focused on the urbanized areas of South Florida where people live. They seldom consider, or correctly predict, the weather pattern out in the wilderness.
So, I was on the road at 5 AM on Friday morning, comfortably solo, a canoe strapped to the top of my van. After an uneventful drive the canoe and I were on the water at 7 AM, and then a bit after 9 AM I had the lake - all day - to myself. It never rained.
I spent the bulk of the day quietly paddling around the lake casting a 4-inch wool head “finger mullet” fly on an old Scott 9 weight Heliply fly rod. The flies I tie myself, the rod I have loved since the first time I touched it, so many years ago. The fish I mostly found and caught were tarpon. I released somewhere between a dozen and twenty, but I am not one to count fish, so the number is vague and essentially irrelevant. Whatever the number, it was a lot of tarpon for one day. There were fewer snook caught and most of them were taken later in the day when I cast a noisy floating fly close to the mangrove roots. A snook eating a surface fly is much like an explosion.
It was a day of serene and solitary enjoyment, in an isolated tropical environment, punctuated with high flying acrobatic silver. The fish were eating as if they knew the winter was coming, and being semitropical species they will seemingly disappear soon, to where ever they go, and most probably endure the winter in a semi-hibernation-like stupor. These tarpon were not large, nor were they juveniles, but teenage fish, the college jocks of their species. Everyone likes to battle the large ones when they migrate through, and anyone who puts in some time looking can find the young ‘uns. But these ‘tween sized fish are the real trophies, the most bang for the buck, and everyone laments not having a honey hole for them. Some probably do but if so, they never breathe a word of it, not even to their priest in the confessional. I have a few, but none are as good as this one.
So here is my dilemma. I spent an entire day, from dawn to dusk, and never saw another human. I never heard nor uttered a single word. I was surrounded by almost unimaginable beauty, throwing flies from a canoe to eager fish of spectacular stamina and acrobatic talent. It was in a location I found through sheer determination, perseverance, and luck. It was satisfying, relaxing, exciting, a bit scary. And, on one hand, I feel I can tell no one about it. Most people simply do not understand, and those that do, I’m afraid could trample it and exploit it out of existence.
Even though the location is quite an undertaking to get to, luckily, and kept that way on purpose, publicity would most likely lead to its destruction. Although great pains have been taken to keep the route obscure, others with determination and chainsaws could “fix” that, and open it up to many. ‘Tis no secret that secret fishing holes seldom remain secret.
But, on the other hand, I’m almost bursting from wanting to tell someone! I find this amusing - it is as if I have come full circle. I see the beginning of the cycle all the time -the new anglers boast most frequently, while the wisened, more experienced anglers quietly wince or grin, but otherwise keep their mouths shut. But, after a few decades of keeping mum, as one sees older anglers pass away, and everyone knows they took many of their secrets with them, there is a feeling of a lost legacy as a result of their conviction. Does personal achievement, kept to one’s self, eventually pale in comparison to the validation of boasting to others? Is adoration worth the risk of potentially destroying the coveted prize? Obviously, many do not believe so, nor do I.
Is this not the root of disdain for the celebrity anglers? Those with TV shows, or writers or bloggers who continuously pour out information and their discoveries? Who has not quietly screamed, “please do not reveal my favorite place!”? Their transgressions are required for a continuation of income, or worse, attention and personal valuation. Or sometimes simply the sin of hubris.
So, I’m inclined to keep my story bottled up, unwilling to potentially sacrifice the fauna and flora I love more than I need the recognition. But… maybe the impersonal and mostly anonymous internet is where I can thump my chest and say, “hey look at me – this is what I did!” And possibly be understood by fellow fly anglers on the other side of the globe, who get it, and pose no threat. Like a message in a bottle, destined for distant shores, not asking for help but simply to say “Hi.. isn’t it cool that, by utter chance, we are somehow connected?”
I once heard a twist on an old saying: “In the valley of the blind, the one-eyed man… is very lonely indeed.” And in this case, maybe a bit selfish and paranoid, definitely not normal, and possibly nuts?
Guilty! Ah… but not alone. ;)