What if

What if

Gary Meyer | Tuesday, 19 November 2019

What if you were almost sure where the fish were going to be? What if you knew that they would be feeding and which fly they would want to eat? In other words… what if you had solved the puzzle? What if, after years of research, contemplation, and experimentation, you no longer had questions, you had the answers? Would you still go? Would it still be fun? Would it still be worth the price of admission: the effort?

Those are questions I wrestled with en route on my recent trip. The turn of the seasons here in South Florida has a dependable effect on some of my favorite fish.

Henry David Thoreau famously said, “Many men go fishing all their lives not knowing it is not the fish that they are after.”


That quote was on my mind while I was driving through the darkness on my recent trip. I was also contemplating why the heater in my van no longer works. Neither thought offered much comfort.


I ended up spending the day in one of my canoes but not the right one. I took my summer canoe out of habit. It is my most rugged canoe, but it is called a “Stillwater” for a reason, and the water I ended up crossing was definitely not still. At the last moment, actually at my originally anticipated launch, I opted out and went for door number 2. The conditions were just too uncomfortable to attempt my primary imagined destination. So, instead, I opted for a less strenuous location, but one that required crossing miles of open water under sustained wind and a few mile fetch. I knew I was going to be damp.


In actuality, motoring along at slow speed in a canoe along with a significant following chop is a skill, definitely an acquired taste, and even then it takes some concentration. When you get it right it feels much like surfing. Try it in the predawn darkness with crisp wet air to chill your face and the humming drone of a small outboard motor at your side. That all ads up to an almost zen-like experience, and the miles go by unnoticed. The only clock that matters is the lightening dawn sky over the surrounding shoreline tree tops that eventually illuminates the uncountable flocks of shorebirds crossing the frothy waters.


The fishing was even better than I expected. Scores of small snook and tarpon were willing to bend my 6 weight flyrod. The tarpon were obvious by their rolling, the snook were ravenous but unseen until felt on the line. After a while I stopped setting the hook and just let the fish swim with the fly. It is surprising how long a fish will hold on to a fly, and how they only slowly get excited when not pressured immediately. The number of small fish really made me happy. It is a good sign, and bodes well for the future. A few years back small snook were scarily hard to find. I had never before seen so many small tarpon in this location.


Juvenile fish were not the only size to come to the canoe. I accidentally wandered upon a nice concentration of slot-sized snook. They required upsizing the tackle. I actually harvested one. I had not kept a snook since a severe freeze significantly affected the snook stocks in 2010. Over the last few years I have found more and more larger snook, so this one now resides in my refrigerator waiting for an appropriate welcoming home party.


Earlier in the day, when I was paddling through a creek, I came upon a mixed flock of wading birds that had to number in the thousands. They were all just hanging out together and their where-abouts was no secret. They were making enough noise to be heard hundreds of yards in advance. There are stories that the flocks of birds in the ‘glades once could darken the sky. There were not that many, but when they took to the air they definitely threw a shadow.


It turned out that the birds and the fish were my only company throughout the entire day. Which made me remember another of Thoreau’s quotes: “I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.”


I would be willing to bet that old H.D. was a fly fisher.