Joe and I snuck out early this past Friday. The normally packed parking lot at Outdoor Resorts in Chokoloskee was completely deserted – the first time we’ve witnessed that despite years of fishing the Everglades. We unloaded the boat in silence, and on the water a thick sheet of fog added to the spooky atmosphere, small twisters rising into the air from the dark surface. Running across bays at 50 mph was to-the-bone cold, and we willed a gold sun to rise over Sunday Bay. A school of bottle-nose dolphin were the first signs of life we saw, languidly rolling at the smooth surface near a deep shoreline. Further down we saw a few gators hunkered down on muddy shorelines, obviously suffering ill effects from the recent cold front.
We put in a workmanlike effort early, thawing out while scaring up a few small snook and a copper-sided redfish. In a crystal-clear back country creek Joe bested a tannin-stained “black snook”. It was gently released. A little while later he missed two consecutive strikes by very large fish, one suspected to have been a tarpon. Curses. Then the wind kicked up, and we moved inside the relative shelter of a small bay. It was there that a now-high (and wonderfully warm) sun helped Joe spot two jumbo fish gliding along a leeward shoreline. They were by us almost before we had a chance to react, but I tossed a looping cast past them and ran my soft bait noisily across the surface over their heads. One of the big fish spun and chopped at the lure with a dull “whump” reminiscent of a depth charge. I mustered a meek “Uh, oh” before a big fish lumbered above the surface and then did its best to empty my spool. Joe spun us out into the open, and luck played a big part in me keeping the big fish out of the branches. The hook was planted firmly in the edge of its snout–the only reason my light line and leader didn’t part. It gave in at last, and we both laughed out loud when the fish surfaced. She was comically large. Though we didn’t measure her, she went all of 40 inches and had a mouth that left cuts on my hand well below the base of my thumb. Helluva way to mint a new memory.
A cold beer, a setting sun and the long-awaited chance to dig a good buddy in the proverbial ribs capped the end of a Grade-A day in the Glades. Counting the days ’til our next trip.