Mosquitoes bloom much faster than their competitors and predators, so the first wave is usually the worst. It was not unexpected that I saw no tourists out for a paddle throughout the day. No one in their right mind would paddle into the year’s first flush of Everglades mosquitoes with no reason other than to do it. Heading out camping in these conditions would be insane.
Some of us do have reasons though, and with experience, there are ways to overcome the bugs, so I continued on my way. The mosquitoes were not the only sign of an early spring. Shortly after I got to my first destination I went one for three on baby tarpon – without even setting up a rod yet. Most everyone knows that tarpon jump. That is one of their characteristics that makes fishing for the large ones so much fun. The little ones jump too when hooked, often more than the big ones, which makes them a real hoot. What a lot of folks probably don’t know, unless they paddle, is that the little ones jump when simply scared, not unlike other bait fish. And, for some unknown reason, probably evolutionary, when scared they tend to jump toward, maybe over, whatever it is that startles them.
When I first learned this little tidbit it was at night as I paddled slowly through a mangrove creek. Imagine listening to the sounds of the Everglades night, paddling slowly through a dark spider web draped tunnel of branches, wary of glowing gator eyes, and having something splash right next to you and smack into your shoulder? Lets just say that not all the sounds at night in the ‘glades are always masculine.
Since then I’ve learned to put up with getting tarpon slimed, it happens quite frequently. Yesterday the first two bounced off my canoe chair and back into the water. The first I didn’t even see. I was standing amidship, paddling along, searching the shore with my eyes. The second I got a glance of as it flashed back overboard. The scales were bright silver, not the duller grey of our common and jumpy mullet. Was it a tarpon? The third, much larger, the size that would be fun on a 5 weight, took all the guess work out of it, since it landed square in the canoe at my feet. It then proceeded to swim and bounce about covering the floor with tarpon slime before calming down enough for me to get both hands on it and escort it back over the side. Baby tarpon seemingly disappear during the winter months and then magically reappear in spring. Like sighting the first Swallow Tailed Kite, this is an unmistakable sign that winter is on the way out.
The snook that I have been essentially observing, for the last few trips, were still in their favorite places, but yesterday something had changed dramatically. The fish that can be so damnably picky were on a feed. There were three characteristics the fly had to possess for their approval: it had to land quietly, it needed to sink slowly as to not foul on the bottom, and it had to move. Other than that I don’t think the pattern or color was important. I chose a bright colored Seaducer simply so I could monitor it location in the slightly turbid water.
The fish were gorging. These were nice sized snook and quite enjoyable on a 5 weight rod. They routinely got into the backing, sometimes multiple times during the fight. Many of the fish regurgitated their recent prey either during the fight or when I was unhooking them. There is no need for a stomach pump to learn what a snook has recently eaten. What all these fish had in common is that they were stuffed.
Gluttony is sometimes listed as the first of the seven deadly sins. I’m happy to say that all of the fish I caught swam away healthy but I’m sure it was gluttony that led them into their brief episode of fear. The fly I was using looked nothing like the baitfish they were dining upon. Like bears emerging from hibernation, these fish were either partying that winter is waning or preparing for the sex party that is just around the corner. Probably both.
And then, smirking at their abrupt lack of selectivity, I wondered about my own actions. How many of these suddenly easy fish would I torture before I had my fill? Fighting them was fun, of course, but the larger reward is in seducing a usually selective quarry. They were too easy to fool this day. A lot of the challenge was missing. I took the high road and left them and headed for the long ride home.