The wooden pole skiff was at most sixteen feet. It was constructed out of white cedar and cypress some sixty years ago. Layers of paint and many seasons of fly fishing had blessed this old skiff. Its exterior looked like the Gumbo Limbo tree’s bark. Inside on the floor there was mangrove leaves lying all over the deck. Yellow, red, and green. The tannin from these decaying leaves left the floor the color of “sweet tea brown.” The casting platform was worn through down to the raw cypress. The bulkhead that the guide stood on was worn as well, it was as shiny as the wooden push pole he used to navigate the maze of mangrove Forest.
The tide was flooding in and the skiff glided silently this estuary was abundant with wildlife. In the tributary canal we were exploring schools of mullet would “shower” as we invaded their abode. A scarce Jack Crevalle could be seen running the edge of the he canal pushing baitfish up to the surface. Scanning out ahead the guide was constantly looking and searching for the targeted species. In the massive lush canopy of mangrove trees you could hear the Cuckoo singing and watch the yellow-crowned Night-Heron pick off tree crabs above the water line. The mosquitos and “no see em’s“ were in no shortage. The guide wore pants and a long sleeve shirt with an abused straw hat that resembled some kind of bird. Two fly rods were in the belly of the skiff a nine weight that was mine and the guide’s seven weight. With thirty pound tippets and a dozen of “Jack Allen’s“ finest poppers- the possibilities were as endless as the jungle we creeped through.
The main canal would break off into secondary canals which would lead to bays. The alarming sound off a “pop” was what I was trying to listen for. You can’t see very far in this fishing paradise and there’s a boat load of wildlife that distracts you from your target of choice. A sensory overload at the least. The guide had become calloused to the commotion or perhaps he’d had become part of the commotion and was just taking his place in this forgotten world. The first opportunity was at thirty feet and off the bow cap. The Snook was slowly up tide just below the surface. The guide positioned me perfectly for a cast. The banana yellow popper landed within a foot of this giant snook. All I could think about was Zane Grey and how he had been fishing these same waters many tides before me. Casting at the same creatures and listening to the same animals in this living jungle.
Two swift strips and a “plump” the fish popped and charged the popper with push of brackish water. Missing the strip set as mosquitos mocked me in my ears. The guide said “fire it to em son” in his Florida Cracker dialect. Water loading the popper I shot past the Snook about two feet. “Plump, plump, smash”!!! The snook turned back and as the guide said “he knocked the chicken out of that feather.” The guide moved the skiff with grace, he knew where every log and hang was. The Snook ripped line off the reel and jumped as if he was a tarpon. The fish was a solid thirty-six inches and had big shoulders. The body was of a golden color. The back and lateral line were “jet black”. The mouth was vacant of any hook scars or tears. This snook had never seen this popper or even a fly at all.
The guide commented “that fish has never been caught it doesn’t know how to act”. Releasing the fish the guide pointed towards a wall of green mass. Listening I could hear the “pops” of another hungry Snook in the living waters of this fishing paradise. The guide polled out from under the shade of the Mangrove canopy and headed in the direction of the feeding Snook. His straw hat fluttering in the breeze as we sneaked around the back country of the Florida Everglades. The Snook, Redfish and Tarpon fishing is as wild as the world they call home. An adventure into the wilds of old Florida.
Story by Captain Leighton Ingram