One That Snook Up On Me.
“When is a fishing trip more
than a fishing trip?”
by Bob Bellon
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
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:
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