In one week, I’ll be back fishing the 10,000 islands and the Everglades, south of Marco Island. I’ve tied flies, read books, and dreamed of getting to tangle with ‘glades snook, red drum and tarpon again.
Last time around, we fished on a small, shallow draft Dolphin Skiff, sliding into freshwater rivers far from the coast, running along the beaches and flats, and fishing around oyster beds with floating lines and tiny, white and flashy flies. We caught snook, trout, cobia, jack crevalle, and red drum, saw a free swimming bobcat in the middle of a bay, and watched a several hundred pound bull shark cruise across a flat, chasing tarpon and mullet.
I also spent time fly fishing for rolling, cruising, and laid up tarpon, and that stands out to me as some of the hardest and most rewarding fishing I have ever done. To stand on the bow of a poled skiff, and wait for a tarpon to roll anywhere around you, get your line in the air, and deliver a cast to the head of the fish before you lose it…it’s a thing that will shatter your nerves. I delivered casts to about 20 fish over 3 days (only targeting tarpon in the morning), with maybe half of those good casts, and had 3-4 “eats”. In most cases, the massive fish (100+ lb fish) ate the fly but kept swimming, and I was never able to set the hook. The only fish I landed ate the fly “correctly” – he turned broadside after inhaling it, giving me a chance to set the hook cleanly. He weighed in at 50 lb, and took all of 20-30 minutes to land.
My biggest takeaway from fishing this area is twofold: First, each fish is earned, whether a snook, tarpon, drum, or seatrout. Second, you need to learn to read fish behavior. This is not bombing a sinking line and clouser down 20 feet to a school of striped bass. Striped bass are forgiving. Snook, drum and tarpon – you have to watch them address your fly, and move it just so to encourage them to eat it. Uusually, this means long pauses, and twitches to a suspending fly. My failure on my first go-round: Moving the fly too quickly, and not watching the fish’s reaction.
Lesson learned, and I’m ready for round 2.