Then all of a sudden they were here. And their arrival coincided with a nice lull of warm temperatures and calm air. Excluding some professional guides, my fishing buddy TA might be one of the top tarpon fly anglers around here. He is surely one of the most dedicated. And when things got hot he was on the water every other day. I expect he would have gone more except his level-headed wife has some say. When he called with a report and an invitation I jumped at the chance.
I believe he said that his boat had put over a dozen fish in the air over the two previous trips. Our day was similar, with around half dozen fish jumped and two more to the boat. These were all fish in the 100-pound range and believe me when I say after two fish I really did not want any more. My second fish jumped eight times at close range. If there is a way to have excitement with a flyrod that is better than that I do not know of it.
After that trip, I needed some time for recovery, which coincided nicely with Christmas family stuff, but then I was free to misbehave in any way I saw fit. The weather remained reasonably comfortable and I had been anxiously waiting to (try to) revisit some of my canoe locations out in the designated wilderness of Everglades National Park.
So, I loaded up the jungle hammock, stocked the cooler with plenty of beer and tried to figure out how I could get to some places I was curious about. During normal times in the past, I would usually launch at designated backcountry canoe trails then deviate off on my own routes. The hurricane has changed all that. Even the simplest route to the closest locations is now essentially an obstacle course requiring extreme dedication and hard work. A few weeks back, another fly angling friend with a similar penchant for canoes and wilderness invited me for our first post-storm investigation. The preliminary creek we usually could paddle through without a thought, other than how stout the mosquitoes were going to be, took us over two hours of hard labor. If that ¼ mile creek was that bad we knew we were not going to get to where we had planned, so we resigned ourselves to a completely pedestrian day.
With that experience still fresh in my mind, I opted to strap on my 2 HP Honda outboard and take a much simpler path. The problem was I was going on waterways well traveled by regular boaters and that scares me much more than sharing water with alligators and crocodiles. After that, I would have to cross large expanses of open waters which are not really canoe-friendly either, but at least the winds were predicted to be light. While I could not escape the winds I had a simple plan to avoid the boats: I would just navigate that stretch when the boats were still in bed.
I launched from a busy backcountry boat ramp, which was completely unoccupied since it was many hours before dawn. It was so black from the moonless sky that I had to navigate by flashlight, but I got through the danger zones without being passed by even one boat. A few hours later I had crossed a choppy expanse and was in my own private heaven.
What that storm did to the mangroves is hard to describe. The landscape looks much like what I have seen in photographs of northern climes during winter when the trees lose all their leaves. The problem is this is the subtropics and mangroves are evergreens. Unfortunately, the leafless branches are already dry and brittle. I do not expect they can regrow. I would estimate that only 10% of the nude trees are showing regrowth, and those are predominantly the Black Mangrove species.
On a more cheerful note, I am happy to report that the nursery areas that I was most concerned about were simply full of baby tarpon and snook. There were more small tarpon than I have seen in years. When I say small I mean true babies. I can also report, without a doubt, that a 12-inch tarpon could beat a 12-inch brown trout’s ass with all its fins tied behind its back.
So I spent a night in my hammock out in my most favorite spot in the world, at a location I had never been before. I went to bed shortly after sunset and had a horrible night’s sleep due to all the interruptions. The moon was bright as a searchlight, owls hooted, night herons squawked, fish chased baitfish that jumped into my canoe and bounced off my sagging ass in the hammock. Crocodiles, I guess, splashed like bombs dropped from planes. The only splashes I’ve ever heard like these were when porpoise slap the water with their tails to signal alarm, but there is no way porpoise could get back to where I was. The winds picked up, it was damp and the temperature dropped. But I was warm in my bed until just before dawn when somehow my hammock sagged to the point that my lowest point touched the water. I would have a wet butt for the duration of the trip, and I didn’t care. The entire experience was in fact like a giant wet dream.
I paddled about on the second day and made my way back through alternate routes looking around and taking notes. Unfortunately, the wind predictions were in error and I had a rather wet and long ride home through the open expanse that could not be circumnavigated. It simply evened out my wetness from head to toe. I was back at the busy route near sunset and if it were not for one tardy guide I would not have seen another boat the entire trip.