Gary Meyer | Tuesday, 10 March 2020

A recent fishing trip turned out to be a surprise, or maybe, a lesson in humility. It depends on how you look at things… half full or half empty?

On one hand, it might have been proof that I may not be too old to learn new tricks, but, on the other, it could be indicative that I am not as smart as some folks assume I am.

The question that keeps banging around it my head is, “How could I have not realized something so obvious a long time ago?”

The weather! It seems all I ever do is complain about the weather anymore. Today there are craft warnings offshore and high-wind alerts on land. It has been this way for three days now. It started over the weekend, just like it started on the weekend before.


It is not uncommon for winter-month cold fronts to come through South Florida on a semi-regular schedule. Usually, the period is about every 5 to 7 days. On better years, in the past, those fronts might have come through during the middle of the week, which allowed the weekends to be the calmer days. Those were great winters to fish if you were a Monday through Friday worker. This year is not one of those good years – the fronts are coming through just about every weekend, almost religiously.


Last Thursday, a fishing buddy called to commiserate about the upcoming weekend weather. “Another blown-out weekend”, he called it. But, with a devilish hint in his voice, he also noted that Friday did not look too bad… did I want to call in sick to work, and fish???


It was not going to be a beautiful day on the water, but it would be tolerable if we stayed back in the creeks that offer decent protection from the winds. As such, we planned to attempt to access a lake that is far removed from the wilderness waterway. Neither of us had been to that lake since Hurricane Irma back in 2015. I had investigated it once since then and found the route impassable. It is possible that time and decomposition might allow access by now. The only way to find out was to look. We both remember how good the fishing was in that lake in the past. It was a windy-weather go-to spot.


There is an unforeseen problem however. In the past, when storms came through and trees or branches got blown into the creeks, it took a surprisingly short time for them to decompose. Hurricane Irma was not the typical storm however. Unlike previous storms, at least the ones that I have experienced, Irma caused a massive die off in the mangrove forests. The other storms just caused “normal” damage to trees along the creeks. Today the many dead yet still-standing mangrove trees have rotted in place, and even now, years later, continue to fall, especially when assisted by windy weather. Like the weather we have been experiencing lately.


We were about three quarters into the drive when we started to discuss all those remaining dead trees that will continue to fall for quite some time. I was not going to be the unmanly one to opt out, so I was glad when he offered. Neither of us wanted to gamble on putting in the work only to realize we would have to turn around. Especially when we both knew of places with guaranteed easier access.


So, in midflight our plans changed and toward the easier waters we headed. It just so happens that these easier-to-access waters had decent fishing potential too. We had fished there a few times over the past years and always found nice snook. The frustrating thing was, although we could find them, actually see them, our success rate historically had been disturbingly low. Painfully, aggravatingly low.


We launched behind the wake of the pre-frontal rain, and fished through a morning of clearing skies and increasing wind. The fishing was subpar. So much so, that after working the spots that had held good numbers of fish in the past, and drawing a complete zero, we let up on our efforts. It was becoming one of those trips where you just enjoy the fact that you are outside in a beautiful environment and who cares if you catch a fish or not?


There was one other spot where we might find some snook, one that we passed over earlier because of the winds, but it was on the way out, so we stopped to take a look. For an experiment, my buddy had brought two 10½ foot 7 weight rods that he purchased for an upcoming trip to Alaska. Since the fishing was off he was taking the opportunity to see which one he liked the best.


He was on #2 when I paddled him into the windy shallows. I set the anchor, and mused that the winds might actually be helpful in disguising our presence. In the past we had almost always spotted snook in the area, but we saw them when they panicked and fled the area on our arrival. My words had hardly faded into the air when a nice snook slowly made its way along the shoreline. My friend placed the fly in front of the snook, and it ate without reservation. Pandemonium ensued. From my vantage point I would suggest that a 10.5 foot flyrod is not the best tool to fight a fish from the shoreline snags, but I am impressed on how deeply they will bend without breaking. Neither is a long rod a good tool for a fish that repeatedly dives under the canoe. Eventually, the snook encircled the bow anchor line and came to hand via the anchor rope. How I wish I had that battle on video!


Slapping myself in the forehead is not sufficient punishment for the realization that hit me. Kicking myself in the pants might come closer but it still would not be enough. I cannot count on how many times another fishing buddy, who is a guide, has told me how important a good wind chop is when chasing permit on fly. For how many years have I picked low-wind days and likely been attempting the impossible?


Snook are one of the wariest shallow water targets we have here in South Florida. Unlike the other very shallow species like bonefish or redfish, they do not go about searching the bottom for their prey. In fact, their eyes are located close to the top of their heads. They are an up-feeding, up-looking predator. Also, seldom do they tail: the fatal flaw of the other shallow water species. As far as I know, there is likely only one other species that is more difficult to approach, a fish that literally has its eyes on top of its head: the Snakehead. But, I digress.


I wish I could say we then proceeded to fill the canoe with snook, but that is not what happened. That was the last snook we spotted. Still, the day felt like a substantial victory. That fish acted as if it had no idea we were there, unlike the scores of others that have spooked in the past.


That leads to another change in my perspective. While others using more traditional tackle and baits might have banner days catching multiples, catching one big snook this way is an accomplishment, at least for me. Maybe the thing is not to think about quantity but, instead, consider quality and possibility. It requires the mindset of a deer hunter: it is not to fill the bag with multiple targets, but to have the opportunity to target and possibly get one.


The lesson? Do not hate the wind, use it! When life gives you windy weekends- go snook fishing.


Live and learn!