I banked into the last turn of the narrow backwater creek a little bit too hot. Turning hard to port, the flat-bottomed aluminum boat nearly skipped into the mangroves. Quickly I backed off the throttle, regained control, then accelerated into the rest of the turn. From the slender creek I was spit out into an open expansive familiar bay, one in between Goodland and Chokoloskee.
Upon reaching my spot, I spun the boat one hundred and eighty degrees and idled back into an incoming tide inundated with bait being ushered in by a stout southwest wind. I shut down the engine and gently laid the anchor over the bow as not to make any noise. Yet, I forgot to take into account the ten-foot length of chain attached to it. “Ddddddddd,” rattling and clanging all the way down it went. Two roseate spoonbills were spooked out of a cluster of deadwood. Unbelievable.
The wind had been blowing out of the West for days, churning up the Gulf and making a mess out of the backcountry, limiting my choices of spots to try. But here I was – this was a time when I could fish. Little did I know that I was on the cusp of the greatest sixty minutes of backwater angling of my life.
I played out enough anchor line so that I was positioned just a cast away from the edge of two troughs that converged at an unassuming mangrove point. I could feel the braided line spin under a light thumb as I fired the foul smelling, one-quarter-ounce jig head complete with a soft plastic shad imitation, dark in color, towards the point. The jig fell into the trough and I gave it a couple of bounces. BOUNCE, BOUNCE. STOP. Instinctively, I gave the rod a swift jerk only to have embedded it into a pile of oyster shells. Dang it! Not first cast…I grabbed the line directly in front of the reel with my left hand and pulled out about half an arm’s length until it was fairly taught, but not so much as to dig the hook any deeper. Quickly letting go of the line, I snapped it back down. “Snap, Snap, Snap.” I repeated the process until the reverberation traveled through the long expanse of fluorocarbon leader and all the way to the hook, pushing out the other side.
One jig hop away from the averted set-back and, “Pow!” Something hit it with intent to inflict grievous bodily harm – no half measures, it was violent. A wide bucket mouth busted through the surface followed by an expanse of silver and black sinew that danced across the water. I rolled my wrists over and turned the big snook’s head back down, lessening the chances of having a hook thrown. For several minutes we fought until I horsed the big Soap Fish along the side of the boat, popped the lure out of its rough mouth, and watched it swim off.
The bite was fast and furious for the better part of the next sixty minutes. The snook were biting, the trout were biting, the redfish were biting; everything was biting. I’m not sure how many fish, or species of fish, I ended up catching during that window of time. Had the conditions not been what they were would I have ended up there at the time that I was? Probably not. Would the comedy of errors that I had been “blessed” with normally have resulted in not getting a bite? Most likely.
As dusk drew near and I prepared the skiff for flight something my grandfather told me came to mind. An adage that now carried a certain gravitas. When asked when was the best time to go fishing he replied, “When you can.”