A ” trophy fish” doesn’t always mean it has to be a monster. I have had the pleasure of taking out some youngsters this month that are as passionate about fishing as I am. I got just as much pleasure, if not more, seeing them reel in their first red fish, albeit undersize “rat” reds, as I do when helping someone land the beast of their dreams.
Sometimes we judge trips by the size or number of fish caught which makes us look past the experience of being out on the water with friends and family and being awed by the beauty and power of God’s creation. It is the latter that makes these trips most memorable. The best way for us to bring ourselves back to this realty is to take kids fishing!! Seeing the world through their eyes and understanding the joy they are getting from landing their first fish or seeing dolphins and other wild life up close for the first time helps regain our youthful enthusiasm and refocus on what is truly important.
Of course I am not opposed to catching beastly fish either! This month there are tons of mackerel, grunts, flounder and some sharks and tarpon slamming bait on the beach. I have even seen a few king fish arrive early, but have yet to hook up. Even though I have kingfish on the brain, I want to focus on the snook bite. It is definitely heating up in the backwaters as they settle down from their migration from summer stomping grounds and are ready to fatten up for the winter. Dock fishing for snook is a tricky thing, especially when tackling upper to over slot fish, often requiring skill or luck to get em to the boat.
On my most recent trip with Joe and Brandon we combined some skill with a LOT of luck to land a 34 incher in an epic battle that was hands down one of the craziest things I have seen and or been a part of. Initially Joe hooked up under the dock and the fish cooperated nicely by coming right out, but then showed its raw power by ripping off about 30 yards in 3 seconds up the canal flanked by docks and mangroves to the left and a long oyster bar to the right. It headed towards the next dock and then zigged around one of the outer pylons and zagged back out towards the middle of the canal. We did all we could to chase it down but once we got close to the dock we had to open the bail and free spool or else we would have broken the 15 lb braid on the raiser sharp barnacles of the pylon. Once we got close to the pylon, the only option was for me to jump into the water and take the rod from Joe, reaching it under and around the dock pylon with hopes that the fish was still on and then reengage the fight.
Since I am over 6 foot and it was dead low tide, I managed to not go under water, not that I had taken any of that into consideration as I launched in. My plan was working seamlessly until the line got snagged on the pylon barnacles as I passed the rod behind the pylon. I managed to get the line off the barnacles by using the rod as a whip, but then the line tail whipped, knotting around the rod tip. All the while the snook had been free spooling line at a feverish pace but miraculously stopped running shortly before the line knotted giving me time to try and untie it.
As I worked in chest deep water to to untie the knot, expecting the snook to make another run at any time breaking off, I realized our only option would be to cut the main line and retie it to another rod. Brandon’s was able to bring over his rod as I cut the main line and handed it to Joe. I ask Joe if he could tie line to line knot and he said yes. I took his word for it because I had other issues to deal with as I held onto the line attached to the snook, trying to keep enough slack for Joe to tie the line while at the same time trying not to get my fingers sliced off by the thin braided line if the snook made another run. The snook was very cooperative as I wadded through the water walking him like a dog as he reversed his path back up the canal. I had about 1o yards of slack for Joe to work with as he managed to tie the first part of the knot. Then the snook picked up the pace and headed straight back towards the pylon which he had zig zagged around earlier. Sure enough he reversed his path and went right back around the pylon. I looked back over my shoulder and shouted to Joe that he had about 10 seconds before the line got tight. I even started counting down, 10, 9, 8.. at 5 Joe finished the knot, pulling it tight and letting the line go. I was able to grab the rod and wade back to the pylon and worked the rod around it for the second time. I took a deep breath, closed the bale and wound down. Sure enough the fish was still on and had plenty of fight left. After racing over to the oyster bar and making a few last runs, he gave up and I was able to land her. Brandon got a few pictures and after taking time to revive the fish, we spent some time mesmerized by her size and beauty and then let her stealthily slip back into the deeper waters of the creek.
Whether reeling in a monster snook or catching your first redfish, the thrill of fishing for me has always been not so much the fish, but the whole experience, from tinkering in my garage the night before with the tackle and gear, the excitement leading to a restless night of sleep in anticipation for alarm to ring, catching bait and witnessing beautiful sunrises and all that rest that creation has to offer and most of all being able to share all these sights, sounds and emotions with others.
I look forward to continue to help people, especially kids, to find their natural high through fishing and make memories of a lifetime.
PS… did I say I had kingfish on the brain… stay posted cause I think things are staging up for a nice fall run!!