Show and tell time

Show and tell time

Gary Meyer | Tuesday, 12 February 2019

I call this time of year “show and tell” because I can take someone out and show them a ton of beautiful snook, but I will tell them their chances of getting one to eat are very small. Still, I can’t seem to stop torturing myself. I keep thinking that there has to be a secret to getting these exasperating fish to take my fly.

The above is true only for the largest mature individuals. There are plenty of smaller mature fish that are somewhat willing to eat, and there are plenty of juvenile snook that feed with abandon all through the winter. The smaller ones will concentrate in certain places and pounce on a fly the second it hits the water. If the hook point does not find purchase, others in the school, or I suspect maybe even the same fish, will take shots at the fly multiple times on the retrieve. The willingness of these smaller fish, which range in size from one to two feet in length, just makes the indifference of the larger ones that much more infuriating.


The big girls are just that: female. A large percentage of snook over two feet in length are female. In a strange and scary twist in their development, many snook that start out as male will convert into being female. From what I remember this conversion is not 100%. If there are plenty of female snook, the males are less likely to convert. Later in the year, right around the beginning of summer, the female snook will make their way out to the river mouths escorted by a posse of smaller males where they will spawn. Fertilization takes place at night on the whole moon phases when the tides are the strongest. The fertilized eggs will then be swept back up the rivers on the strong incoming tide where the fry can hide amongst the mangrove roots and grow.


That whole scenario seems really twisted to me. Can you imagine lining up to go at it with some beautiful babe and realizing she used to be a chum you played with when you both were young and guys? Anyway, maybe the fact that they are female has something to do with them being so difficult?


Unlike the smaller fish, the big ones don’t seem to school up quite so densely, at least not during the winter. Instead, one or maybe two individuals will claim a small pond and call it home, at least during the daylight. I have no data on what they do after dark, but it is possible they slink back out into deeper water. One of the characteristics to look for are small unshaded ponds that are near to deeper water, and the deeper the better.


So, you scout these ponds, and quite often you will see these fish right out in the middle and looking almost jet black, which is quite the trick for a fish that is almost mirror silver. Likely, the fish will be moving but quite slowly. They are easy to see when they are there.


But now, the difficulties begin to accumulate. The water is generally shallow, well less than two feet deep, and the water is almost crystal clear, although it usually has a good dose of tannin to turn it light brown. Generally, the fish are not unaware, in fact, usually, they are quite on edge as if they realize they are vulnerable. As easy as it is for you to see them, it is maybe easier for them to see you… or a traveling flyline. Now, add on the fact that these ponds are normally quite small, as in limited backcast room small. So, you have to get into a position where you have space behind you for the long cast that is required. Forget about making a high above the water cast! Even a clear flyline heading in their direction will cause them to bolt.


So, the cast has to be from a horizontal plane and travel close to the water. In the past, I have tried making the fly enter the water as quietly as possible. One thing for sure, the fly cannot be placed past the fish and then retrieved in any way that attacks the snook: game over!  A clear tip flyline and a long leader do not help to keep the fly on this side of the fish, but they are required. Anyway, that is my excuse and I am sticking to it.


If all goes well and the fish has not spooked on the delivery, most of the time it will either ignore the fly, or approach it very slowly, and usually, stop. If you move the fly too aggressively the fish will spook. If you don’t move the fly, and often even if you do, the fish often inspects it and decides not to eat. It is not uncommon for the snook to lazily follow the fly until it gets close enough to the canoe to see it or you, and then it spooks.


You need to have thick skin to fish for these fish. Just expect that something will go wrong; there are so many things that can. But then, every once in a while, like playing for that low percentage draw, the right card turns over and the damn thing eats your fly! If you think your chances were low before that - you ain’t seen nothing yet. Trying to stop these thick- shouldered rockets in close quarters with a flyrod is approaching foolishness. But it happens.


Why I am addicted to this fishery is not hard for me to explain. First, there is the environment. These fish go way back to where the water is shallow and warm and the corresponding scenery is an absolute delight. The days are often comfortable, the bugs few, and the bird and animal life is at its peak. And then there is the casting challenge. I know of no more challenging game with a flyrod. I am beginning to appreciate all that is required to feed a trout in a complex mix of currents, but so far, I’ve only been casting to water hoping a trout will be there. With snook you are looking at a fish where its sight alone raises your heart rate. And if you can get it to eat, especially if you had to tease it into just a little taste, even if it spits the hook or wraps your line around a dozen mangrove roots, you feel like you just hacked the lotto! Sadly, if that happens even once in a trip, you had a great one.


When your ego cannot take it anymore, you simply fall back on taking it out on the smaller ones. It is not like they are slugs: if you match your tackle to the size of the fish they are the definition of game.


But it is the challenge of breaking the code for those bigger ones that keep me daydreaming. In fact, I just realized that quite a few of the ones I have caught came on casts where I originally cursed because I thought the fly was going to land too close. Instead, the big snook pounced on the fly almost the instant it hit the water… just like the smaller ones do…


Gotta go!