(from the journal...)
I haven’t been able to think of anything else since we started planning the trip. Some thought it strange I was going on a trip with my ex-brother-in-law but Scott and I grew up together and he’s still one of my best friends. Any skeletons I may have, well he knows where they are because he helped bury them. In honor of blank pages and new chapters we planned a few days in South Florida. Sun, sand, warm water, cold drinks…
So here we are. I’m nervous. It’s been a long time. I’m not really sure if I remember how to start. Scott says it’s like riding a bike, once you get back on it all comes back to you. We find a group and start devising a game plan.
Redfish, man. I’m talking about tailing reds!
Scott is an Orvis endorsed guide and charters under the name Fly Fish Maine. He introduced me to salt on the fly fourteen years ago. We have booked another Orvis guide, Capt. Dave Hunt of Hunt The Flats for two days in Flamingo. We’ve made the run out to Snake Bight and stop on the edge of the channel to talk tactics and tackle before poling up on the flat. I’ve brought a box of flies I tied specifically for his trip and Dave and I go through them and agree on a Z Force in all tan to start with. I tie this on while Dave begins poling us out to where tails are lazily breaking the water’s surface. I take the bow, strip line out at my feet and try to hone in on these feeding reds.
Dave poles his sixteen foot Silver King flats skiff close to a small group of fish. The reds obviously sense our presence. They don’t spook but they stop tailing. Now I can’t see them as they’re camouflaged against the turtle grass. Dave starts giving me locations and distances but I can’t see anything other than grass. I make a few casts following his directions but I’m essentially blind casting. This happens a few more times over the next half hour. I’m getting frustrated. I ask Scott to take the bow and he tells me to keep at it. Dave tells me to look at the water closer to the boat, that I’m looking too far ahead. I take a deep breath and see a tail pop up thirty feet off the bow. I can see the fish now and I burn the image of it in my mind so I know what to look for. I make a cast at the red and line it, sending it off and spooking the others near it.
Dave sees some fish off to our left and nudges the boat in that direction. I can see the tails but have no idea which direction they are feeding in. I need to know this because I’ve got to put the fly almost in their face so they’ll see it. I make a long cast, close but too far to the right. I strip in line and as I look down to make sure I’m not standing on line, out of the corner of my eye I see what I first think is a stump or a log less than twenty feet to my left. And then it moves. That’s a red. Its tail comes up as it noses around in the grass and it starts moving away from our drift just twenty-five feet to my immediate left. Dave sights a fish farther ahead of us and tells me to make a cast but I send a short cast across my body toward the fish that I just saw. The fly lands inches in front of it and I let it sit. I think I see the red move toward the fly but in my panic I’m not sure I still see the damn fish. I give the line a short twitch. From the poling platform Dave starts saying something about the wrong spot and then stops as my fly is taken by the red. I feel the fish on and strip set the hook. Water boils as the red goes tight to the line and starts to run.
I can feel the strength of the fish through the line and think how similar it feels to a striped bass back home. I put the fish on the reel and horse it in after a couple of minutes. I cradle it in my hands before releasing it and admire its beauty and the beauty of this place. Something one of my teachers once told me flashes through my mind, that success is merely the compilation of a succession of failures. Maybe so.
I take in the moment shared with my oldest and my newest friend. This is what I’ve been dreaming about every night at the vise and every day at work for the last few months. This experience, the work that went into catching this fish, it is more than fishing to me.
It’s about living.
Snake Bight, Flamingo, FL
27 April 2012