Gary Meyer | Tuesday, 4 September 2018
Statistically speaking, the first week of September marks the peak of hurricane season in Florida. There is a distinction however between named storms and those that actually strike land in Florida. Direct contact storms are much fewer but tend to stand out in memory. As for South Florida, one of the recent and most destructive ones was Andrew a bit early in mid-August of 1992. Small and compact it essentially burned a path right across the Everglades. But a bit more recently, Wilma happened sort of late at the end of October in 2005. It was a much larger storm, widespread and massively powerful. It also impacted the ‘Glades, but neither scored a direct hit on the mangrove zone. Last year Irma landed on September 10. So it fits the schedule. It stands out due to the fact it smacked the bottom of the Everglades like a dart to a bullseye.
Last week, right on schedule, the year’s first tropical wave was expected to wash across South Florida. At first, it was only given the status of “wave”, like a ripple in the atmosphere. We were warned to expect a lot of rain and some possible gale force winds.
So what do you do if you were hoping to fish in the Everglades? Well, of course, you run down there to fish before it arrives. It is only a wave, right? Aside from screwing up your fly casting, the worst that could happen is you get rain-soaked. And since it is the warmest time of the year, getting soaked is not all that bad.
So, that is what we did. I have to admit, at 3 AM before the trip, as I was looking at radar and the weather reports, I had some concerns. I had never bailed out of a trip at the last moment and I almost broke my perfect record.
Instead, we drove down through intermittent downpours after loading up my gear at my buddy’s house under light rain. When we reached the park, however, we found a dry road and I spotted a break in the clouds to the east. It was a small break for sure but it offered hope. Then, as we idled the boat from the ramp I pointed out the bright quarter moon overhead. Maybe we would get lucky?
The fishing was not fantastic and while we had a few hours of decent conditions by midmorning we began to hear disturbing rumbles to the south. It was obvious that a large thunderstorm was on a track that would soon overtake us. We decided to move out to open water where we could see what was coming. It did not look good! Dark grey rain dropped in sheets from a high climbing mass of clouds that occasionally seemed to be walking on legs of lightning. We decided to head as far north as we could with hope to maybe sidestep the drenching that appeared unavoidable.
We ended up on a remote river where we sat and watched what was happening over the large Whitewater Bay to the south. The weather was deteriorating so I donned my full set of raingear, preferring to endure encasement to getting soaked while hurriedly struggling with it later. Of course, that kept the worst weather away.
While idling south we were joined by a solo porpoise who obviously enjoyed our company. The porpoise frolicked under and about our bow for probably a full mile of the larger sections of the river. In fact, it seemed almost annoyed that we were traveling so slow! The animal had a distinct notch cut from its dorsal fin, which one would suspect was likely the result of playing with another motorboat in the past. Later, long after it abandoned us in the river, while we were fishing a shoreline, it again approached us. It swam up to the bow and rolled over on its side and looked right at me, tantalizingly pumping its tail as if to say, “come on, let's go play again!” It swam off as if realizing we were now just another few boring fishermen.
We spent the entirety of our fishing time casting poppers to the lee mangrove shores. We caught a small number of mangrove snapper and snook. It is the form of flyfishing that I like the most. It is target casting at its finest where accuracy only counts for part of the score. There is also controlling differing trajectory and an occasional curve or mend. Even the pickup may need to be modified. Once the cast lands, you still need to coerce the bite, set the hook, and fight the fish away from the structure. And, on a flats boat, the direction the boat takes along the shore may call for casting with you off hand. It is a rewarding challenge even if you don’t fill the boat.
It turned out we never got really wet. We caught some fish and cast to shorelines until we both said enough.
On the way back we were constantly mixing amongst barn swallows in flight apparently feeding on a recent hatch on the open bay. At one point as we travelled along, at 27mph according to the captain, we were escorted by one swallow that held position in front and above the boat for a good portion of a minute. It was obvious the bird was enjoying our company, as all others, all day, were darting about haphazardly and apparently oblivious or unconcerned with us. There was no mistaking that this bird was interacting.
As with our previous experience with the dolphin it was not hard to imagine how primitive cultures felt as if they and the animals they coexisted with were part of an overall relationship. I hope the fish we annoyed felt the same.