Riding better describes my skiff’s modus operandi other than driving in that it takes a measure of coordination and trained sea legs to run it as it is meant to be run. Seventy horsepower doesn’t seem like much in a world of four-hundreds, but it is a lot of power in your left palm, as my outboard is controlled by a handle – tiller style. Like rack and pinion in a Jag, it will turn on a dime but will also get away from you fast, which is what happened on that crisp early winter’s day with a light and variable east wind and good water clarity.
With the sun at my back cutting the glare, I could see clear around the crab pots. One stone crab buoy line after another, I weaved in and out, searching for the wayward tripletail floating about aimlessly, waiting for an easy meal.
I came to the end of one row and turned to catch the first buoy in the next row, but my hand slipped off the throttle. The torque pushed the motor to the right, and out I went. The brisk water and adrenaline dump were a sensory overload. It took a couple of seconds to process the event. I saw my boat … coasting, settling into its wake.
Thankfully, the kill switch was attached to a paracord bracelet on my wrist. However, it was flapping like crazy in my breaststroke, significantly slowing my forward progress. I unclipped the bracelet, balled up the cord, shoved it in the pocket of my shorts, then sprinted for the skiff. Good for me, it was down current.
“Whew …” I thought, climbing aboard. “That really got out of hand fast …” When I dried off and my faculties returned, I realized my tripletail outing was not only a complete and total failure but a near disaster. “C’est la vie!” I turned inward towards the backcountry; maybe the trout are biting.
Once safely back in one of my prized honey-holes, I began trolling around making calculated casts at oyster and mangrove points, giving special attention to holes, troughs, and depressions. I presented the jig softly beyond a drop-off on the edge of a deep mangrove point and bounced it into the hole. “Bang!” He hit it like Mack Truck, nearly jerking the rod out of my hand.
Nice redfish … I managed to get the trolling motor pointed away from the mangroves while maintaining a tight line between myself and the fish that was surging on the other end, peeling drag. We battled back and forth until I got him close enough to see that it wasn’t a redfish. Ok … black drum. Upon closer inspection, I realized it wasn’t a black drum either but the biggest tripletail I’d ever caught.
It was slick calm as I glided across the bay into a setting sun. Red reflected off the water in the distance, where the last of the sun’s rays cut through a break in the tall mangroves. In the fading light, I wondered how one goes from falling out of the boat running buoys for tripletail only to catch two (one a personal best) in the backcountry. Easy, it occurred to me – just spend enough time in the 10,000 Islands, where anything can, and will, happen.
Jon Edward Edwards, “Jed”, is a construction professional, part-time backwater guide, and writer/aspiring novelist out of the Naples-Marco area.