Don't go, don't know

Don't go, don't know

Gary Meyer | Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Last weekend’s trip provided a few surprises that were unexpected, which I guess is sort of implied in the definition of surprises. A buddy and I took his canoe out with minor expectations. It is a transition period for the Everglades coast right now and fishing can be tough, at least when fishing inside and from a canoe.

A deluge of rain like we experienced over the last weeks has a strong effect in the backcountry. Not unlike what I understand a trout stream might experience after a heavy rain event upstream, the mangrove creeks get “blown out” from the sudden surge of outflow. The salinity plummets, the tannin levels skyrocket, and the water color turns to dark amber reminiscent of a sweet top-shelf rum. Unlike the trout stream, however, the water clarity actually improves. In strong sunlight over the sand bottom, the water appearance is spectacular. The problem is, the fish do not care for the change at all, and the majority of them move “outside”.

Outside is a tough place to fish from a canoe. The ride is long, the route is through large rivers, and they are full of strong currents and boat traffic. While the general fishing reports glow due to the fish moving out, it is not the finest for flycasting. The waters are generally too deep for most sight fishing and the wind in the open makes things uncomfortable both for the canoe and casting.


There are a few exceptional backcountry locations, however. Small summer tarpon can sometimes be found in large number but the hotspots are few, and still after all these years, unpredictable. After mulling it over, we decided to go on an experimental trip. We had found some small tarpon in an area over the winter, which is uncommon, so we wondered if it might be even better now. There is a saying, “You don’t know if you don’t go”! So we decided to roll the dice.


Our primary mission was a complete failure. There were no small tarpon, nor any other fish apparently. However, it is a beautiful route so we were not all that disappointed, but quite early in the trip we had our fill of sightseeing and we turned around to look for anything else to target with our flies.


That is when things turned interesting. On our way across a big backcountry lake, to our surprise, we noticed a large bottlenose porpoise charging out of a creek. The fact that it was way back there was one thing, but in addition, it seemed to be on a mission and heading straight toward us! I told my buddy, who was driving, to idle down as I expected that our new neighbor wanted to play. I have had this happen on a number of occasions in the past, and it has always been a remarkably curious experience. Our new friend definitely was looking for some company and it escorted us for a large portion of the route back to the river. It seemed disappointed in our speed, however, and eventually showed its boredom by rocketing down the creek in a series of high-speed splashy jumps.


When we made our way down to a larger river we began to look for something/anything to stretch our strings. What we found was a large concentration of juvenile blacktip sharks. Aggressive and strong, even though less than 20#, we were not going to complain, but then we noticed surprise number two: there were large tarpon rolling in the main channel!


We paddled out and positioned ourselves with the anchor. When a pod rolled just down current from us I placed a cast upstream and let it settle. It was my first cast. The line came tight and I was briefly connected to a very large tarpon. It quickly threw the hook, but wow anyway. I retied with a more appropriate hook and shortly after that hooked a second! This time I was going to make sure and I held tight. Actually, too tight, and I broke that one off when the leader parted. These were large resident fish that take on a very dark coloration, and very likely are older than me. I consider every encounter with them special.


I was a bit preoccupied at first, but sitting down to remake the leader gave me a chance to see what was going on in the back of the canoe. Why was my partner not hooking up? When I looked back he was curiously eyeing yet another large local denizen that seemed to be equally interested in him. A manatee had swum up behind the canoe and was holding there eyeing him rather quizzically. I will withhold any further comments or conjecture.


When the tarpon rolling quelled we headed out of the river. Around the oyster bars that guard almost all ‘Glades rivers we found a boatload of juvenile snook. These young fish had been thick in the back over the past winter. Apparently even they felt the urge to exit the backcountry, but being small, were unwilling to move further out where they would likely become prey instead of predator.


Our strings adequately stretched, we then surrendered to the summer heat and headed back to the launch. Our surprise encounters were not over yet, however. While unloading the canoe we were investigated by a critter of the rarest kind: a smalltooth sawfish. This was just a baby, but they can get to immense size. Looking like a cross between a stingray and a shark, and sporting that odd saw shaped bill, they are now very rare and a historical component of many gruesome sea-monster legends.


So, even though our primary goal was a complete failure, it was impossible to count the day as anything less than an enjoyable success. I am sure everyone has a love for their home waters but I cannot feel anything other than blessed that I was lucky enough to be native to this fabulous environment that is the Everglades.

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