What if

What if

Gary Meyer | Tuesday, 15 January 2019

What if you don’t catch a fish? It happens. I expect it happens to all of us. Well, at least it happens to me, and it just happened this past weekend. It's not like I scored a complete zero. I caught some non-target species, but I did not catch “the” fish. The one I was hoping for. The supposed reason for the trip. The prize.

Most of the hype one hears about fishing for large tarpon centers on the big schools during the spring migration. Unknown to many except south Florida locals with an incurable tarpon addiction, there are fish to be had throughout the year. I do not know whether these fish are permanent residents or if a small percentage get separated from the herd and decide to hang around until the next tour, but there are usually tarpon, big tarpon, to be found if one looks hard enough. At this time of the year just finding some is a minor victory and one that should be savored, because getting them to eat a fly is an even more daunting task.

Apparently, even though these off-season fish seem to be somewhat stationary, they do move around in accordance with their indecipherable whims. One theory has it that they share time between the open waters of Florida Bay and the large backcountry lakes, bays, and rivers of the Everglades depending upon which area provides the most comfortable water temperatures. Another idea is that they simply follow bait, their food supply, which in turn follow comfortable water temperatures or salinities. There are many theories and even some supposed “magic” water temperatures, but personally, I hope the secret remains unpublished. A bit of mystery adds the spice that scientific certainty would destroy.


So, usually, when the phone rings and someone asks, “Have you been watching the weather forecasts?” (As if I haven’t!) and the invitation is offered, I almost always accept. Even though I know the probability is very low, the chance of experiencing the unexplainable thrill of that sudden massive weight on the flyline is almost impossible to decline.


The truism that “You will never know if you don’t go” is offered as an excuse for the folly. Besides, these uncommon perfect-weather days offer just that: perfect weather. The recognition that almost everyone else in the entire country is suffering through bitter winter makes it seem mandatory.


So, yes, we found some tarpon, and they were large. So large, in fact, that it made me look at a 10wt flyrod and wonder out loud if I really wanted one to take my fly. But of course I did, and so I cast, and cast. Occasionally, I was teased by the strike of a Seatrout or a Sailcat, but it was quickly apparent that they paled in comparison to what I hoped. It was nice to see some Seatrout again; they have been AWOL for some time. And, the Sailcats, which are lovingly called “Slime-balls” for the gelatinous mucus they exert, can bend a 10 wt. flyrod rather well for their size. But, by the end of the day, there had been no tarpon in the air.


But do not think for a second that the day was considered a disappointment. The weather was delightful: warm when the sun shone and just cool when it was behind clouds. There were times when miles of open water reflected those clouds like a mirror. And, on multiple occasions that glass calm water revealed to us the presence of others who similarly seemed to be completely enjoying themselves: pods of Bottlenose Dolphins.


While we spotted them at distance almost throughout the day, on two occasions we shut down from running to allow a pod to approach the boat. In one case they simply swam right by. They were obviously having a great time amongst themselves and simply paid us no mind. On a different occasion, two pods that were intermingling chose to investigate us. After they circled the boat a few times and very obviously eyed us above the water, we gently started the motor and slowly began to move under power. As soon as we did, they gave chase. We sped up and they showed their appreciation by playing under the bow and breaching in front of the boat. We were being escorted by breaching and blowing dolphins, and sometimes had multiple animals in the air on both sides of the boat.


The obvious joy they displayed while playing amongst themselves and with us was infectious. And while not really necessary, it highlighted the fact that catching a fish is not the only reason for going fishing.