One That Snook Up On Me.
by Bob Bellon

“When is a fishing trip more than a fishing trip?” 

Sounds like the start of one of those Batman episodes where he faces that twisted green nemesis “The Riddler”. Any non-fisher would consider the question frivolous, responding, “who cares!”. A logical, practical person might labor over the statistical math and pronounce that “the value of said trip would be determined by the number of fish related experiences......”! The pragmatist would say “a trip is a trip”, while the pessimist would cry “who cares anyway?” 

No such philosophical notions were crowding my thinking one early Saturday morn this past March. What I was thinking was that I had been working A LOT! It had been well over a month since I wet a line. Circumstances beyond my control had taken their toll on my recreational hours for far too long now. I committed myself to abandon church, the family and the beckoning seventh day of work that lie ahead. I decided it was time to revisit the best flat in my portfolio. 

The process began on Friday. As always I picked up the paper strictly for the purpose of reviewing the weekly tide charts. I know that I am not the only angler who affects the proficiency ratings at work on Fridays by plotting the weekend from these charts. Sunday morning looked good! Saturday I worked, further justifying my decision to fish the next day. I pondered whether to fish a little, local spot that had done very well for a friend. It was just ten minutes away. That would allow some time for errands and eating better and it would humor the household. Yeah, it was a much more practical idea (and we all go fishing to be more practical, right?!). It was what the responsible man would do, I did something else! I had to! First off that spot is 300 feet off a major thoroughfare, behind a Hyatt, full of jet skiers and on the landing path for the local airport. That’s not what I go fishing for, even if it will do in a pinch. Instead I resigned myself to travel a short 55 miles to my favorite flat from the season past. It is a lovely secret place, hidden from the road side, too shallow from the bay side. It is rarely visited by but a few airboat and jet ski tourists and even fewer anglers. Quiet is what I was longing for and this was the time I had first found this flat a year earlier. It fished well in the spring last year, so we would go see about this year. 

Saturday night we performed that Equipment Ritual. We do it every trip but the one we perform before the first real outing of the year is a “High Holy Day”. It is the revisiting of the routines from seasons upon season past, all form and shape of memory visit at this time and some illusions of what lie ahead dominate the script. In spite of all that I  still got through the checklist - flies, lubes, leaders, water, etc., pack the lunch, fill the tank and fast to sleep. 

Another common phenomena of this first outing of the season came to visit, the “Christmas (Island?) Syndrome”. You know where you can’t get to sleep for an hour or two dreaming about what might be under the tree (mangrove, of course) the next morning. Then comes the big joke, where you open your eyes and know that the 5AM alarm ring is a long way off. The roosters are all sleeping as you cock an eye to the dark window and guess its 4AM. The light goes on and right you are, you’re way too amped to sleep so you leave earlier than early. The ride that morning was familiar and sweet. Something about driving in that hour before the light of dawn, when you can smell and feel the day  better than you can see it, brings the memories of a hundred other mornings roaring in. Long unseen friends came rolling up beside me and for an hour I let them come and go, their fond memories giving me all the company I needed for a solitary hour’s drive. 

I pulled into my old parking spot, slipped out of the truck, into the waders and unto the flat like it was a waltz I’d performed for ages. Sliding off to meet the peace of the day you never know what lies ahead, but I had an old friend named Scott and a new sweetie called Fin Nor with me. They would assist me with the challenges of the day. Walking both light in spirit and gear we waded through the deep spot at the old wooden bridge pilings and out onto the mile long flat. 

The first part of this flat is a sand bottomed, slightly deeper bowl with random patches of grass. Lots of ladyfish have started us off here in the past. Today it was quiet, the breeze steady but mild. There was no nervous water so I picked the edges as my first target. After two I saw a surface disturbance, from the shape of it I guessed it was a turning fish on the chase. Being nervous about whether this flat would be as grand as it was last year I was glad to see fish. I was anxious to reconnect and rekindle my passion for this old friend. Pulling off the slack, I prepared to cast my golden home tie to the mark. Then I stopped for a calm moment. Something was missing, there was a void. At first I could not put a finger on it but in a flash it was apparent. What I felt was nothing, and it felt good. Except for this fish, that wind, the drag setting, my stripping technique there was nothing on my mind! As Dr. King(fish) might say I was “free at last, free to cast, free at last!”. I took a deep and sobering breath and just before I began my cast my mouth opened and whispered softly, “ give me this first one and they all go free today”. 

The loop rolled out perfectly. The wind lofted the fly and leader at an angle that did not spook the fish with slap. Three quick pulls put the fly in front of his last known position. I saw the water bulge as he turned - strip, strip, “make it look like its fleeing”, pressure, strip again and lift and WHAM!! - “he’s on!!” The fish went up on it’s tail and did that impersonation of a spirit walking on water sailing effortlessly on its tail while vertical. He went down and up and up and down and OH NO! -its a snook!  I could see the line on his side as he glowed silver in the early morning sky. None of us had ever taken a snook on this flat before. Minutes later he was in one hand and two feet long! I thought about breaking my promise, for some time I thought. In the end I realized that offending the fish gods was not the way to start a season-long relationship with this lovely place. As the snook swam off he grinned (or grimaced) and I smiled for keeping my promise. 

For the next hour I slowly waded up the flat. The sand spots in the middle of the journey were promising but quiet today. No mullet jumped, no bait sprayed, no birds, no bulges - so I walked. At the top third of this bayou there is a little island with oyster bar fingers on either side. It is a good spot to find reds and trout and as I approached it I became aroused. An anomaly was occurring! As hard as I might try I could not name the change, I could not see it, it was not a smell, it was....FISH!! It was that intuitive jolt nurtured by years of conversing on a line with them. I felt fish! 

The water was knee deep, the grass was predominate but short, the wind was at my back, it was time. Swish, swish - 70 feet fly out. Strip, strip - 7 inches come back and wham! He’s on! Tug, tug, and 7 seconds later - he’s off. O.K., no problem, let’s do it again. The next cast was a repeat of the first including the early release. I could see a whole school of gold-sided reds in front of me. No time to cry over spilt nuggets, take a deep breath and think! Let’s strike a little slower, sink a little lower, let’s do it again. Eighty feet flew out and a few strips later a gorgeous 18’ drum was on and soon at hand. 

For the next hour and a half I hooked up and landed 13 more reds. Two were well over 30”s, none were under 18”s. I watched them turn on the fly and flash that copper color. The bigger ones used half my backing. Short 40 to 70 foot casts were all it took to hook onto these feisty friends. The same chartreuse clouser went through three rounds of shock tippet changing and fed all the agreeable opponents. During that afternoon on the flat I wound up with a total of 22 redfish landed, a few others lost. At one sand-hole I hooked 6 fish on 6 consecutive casts. It was the kind of day you dream about the night before you go fishing. All the fish went back, as they do on most days. I gave up, out of sheer exhaustion, and turned to finish the hour long walk back to the truck. On the way I whispered a reverent “thank you” and the wind seemed to answer “you’re welcome”. As it did I remembered the promise I had made earlier and how well rewarded I felt for my act of integrity. I laughed at myself, as I came up on the spot where the first red was played, for waxing poetic. Was it really the Master Caster who gave me this day or Miss Fortune or Lady Luck or Sir Cumstances. Whatever the reason it was a great day of fishing and that was enough to know. What more could an angler ask for. As I settled into my denial of  divine intervention I let one more cast rip out to the pale sandbar. It fell to the side of the bar and half way back the line straightened abruptly. A strip strike put me onto what I hoped was the last Red of the day. In a few seconds it was obvious that this was no Red. I had hooked and landed a 19” trout. Just when I thought there was nothing else that could improve the day I was presented with my first flats Triple Play. The only one, I was later told, seen on eight years of fishing this flat. I was humbled again. 

Half way back up the bayou my hips began to ache some but a smile persisted. I passed the spot were integrity snook up on me earlier. I smiled even wider. When is a fishing trip more than a fishing trip? Its when that day on the water feels more like living than the hundred days that came before it. It’s when all we need to be completely happy is a good cast, fair winds, tight knots. When the thousands of seconds chasing fish add up to one thin permanent smile that won’t come off your face even when you’re aching and tired. That is why we are anglers, thank God, and maybe its why its time we snook out again! 

You can the author, Bob Bellon at: 

ffbob@gte.net
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