One fishery that really changes is the tarpon. The little ones become extremely scarce during the winter and I will miss them dearly. Since the summer was so uncomfortable I only did a little fishing for them even though they are one of my favorites. I kept watching the conditions and had many trips planned but the combination of heat, rain, and resulting high water kept putting me off. The fact that the abundant rainfall resulted in abundant mosquitoes also played a part in my lack of enthusiasm. Maybe I’m getting too old? Time after time I took the easy way out and accepted invitations to fish on flats boats instead of going solo in my canoes. In a boat, if it gets uncomfortable because of the heat or you get saturated with bugs you can just fire up the horsepower and let speed cool you off and scatter the bugs. In a canoe, you are in it for the duration.
There is another tarpon fishery during the winter though. We get another crack at the large ones during the winter. Unlike the migratory fish of Spring, these large river monsters are more likely than not to eat a fly. It might take some doing to find them but when you do the days can be epic. It is a curious hybrid type of tarpon fishing, part sight fishing and part dredging. You still use your eyes to find clues as to where the fish are concentrated, but there is much more casting than when fishing the clear waters in the Keys. It takes some imagination to do it well. You might see a fish roll but seldom do you see them under the water. From the characteristics of the rolling fish you can guess its speed and how deep it is cruising. You then place your fly where you expect the fish will intercept it. The take is felt before seen, and oh what a feeling it is! Most of the time, however, you are simply casting about and hoping to intercept an unseen fish. This is one of those rare cases when casting a long line can definitely result in more fish. The longer your fly is in the water the better your odds. The flies can be big and the rods are too. A 10wt is considered sporty. You really need to like casting a flyrod to do this fishing well.
But my favorite target during the cooler months is snook. They move back into areas that are quite difficult to access with craft larger than a canoe or kayak. Unlike the large tarpon, this is a very visual type of fishing. The water is clear and shallow, and the fish will sometimes even sunbathe. It takes stealth to approach them, a fast low accurate cast that must land almost imperceptibly, and many times you must tease a reluctant cold fish into eating. It is hair-pulling difficult to get the fish to eat, and when you do, you are hooked into an extremely strong fish that is surrounded by all kinds of options for escape. It is ridiculously difficult and unbelievably addictive.
As I said above, usually this time of year I would be jazzed, but this year is very different. That stupid hurricane knocked the snot out of the Everglades and where there once were tiny but navigable creeks there are now tangles of fallen trees and branches.
It is going to be a very challenging season.