Wishing to be disencumbered of Stitt and Noddy as soon as possible, he took them to one of the hottest fishing spots in Florida’s 10,000 Islands, one of the most beautiful areas of the Everglades.
Jim - the guide’s name was Jim - had went south through the Islands before coasting into one of his favorite fishing locations in 'Gator Bay some thirty water miles south of Everglades City. Here the water was crystal clear and averaged five or six feet deep with a sandy bottom and patches of seagrass. The shoreline, while gently curving, was a tricky one to fish. Not only did the mature mangroves have branches extending within inches of the water a full fifteen or twenty feet outward from jumbled roots, but here and there whole mangroves had toppled into the water due to storms and erosion. This created wonderful fish habitat but was a horror for the fisherman who couldn't cast with keen accuracy or who had only a hazy idea how to slow - and quickly - a hooked fish and turn him away from the heavy cover.
The two visitors were using bait casting equipment, lures perch-scaled and silvery - good enough to attract big snook or tarpon. Jim had instructed them on the need for accuracy, that the trick was to cast the lure with a sharp side-arm snap toward the thirty-foot distant mangroves so that it would strike the water in the small space directly beneath the outermost overhanging branches, take one good bounce and land again about seven feet farther in toward shore where the water was deeply shaded and where the larger snook often lay camouflaged and awaiting prey.
Stitt had sniffed, taken offense at Jim’s remarks, as if he, Floyd Stitt, could not cast accurately. The burly, heavy-jawed, cigar-chomping fisherman made a cast as Jim directed. Although it hit under the branches, Stitt choked, and instead of letting the lure bounce into the inner shade, stopped the reel with his thumb. The lure hit the water and bounced straight up into the branches. Stitt had bitten down on his cigar and muttered, "Take me a couple casts to get the hang of this here."
Jim had wordlessly rowed the boat to disengage the lure from its tangle in the branches, rowed back out and moved another thirty yards or so down the shoreline to another likely spot. Here the overhang was two or three feet off the water, giving ample room to make a good cast.
He said, “See that old black stub sticking out from shore about a foot above the water?" Not waiting for a reply he went on, "Cast your lure within two inches of shore, right there."
Stitt had made his cast and did it well. The lure arced in a flat trajectory and hit almost exactly the spot Jim had indicated. There was just one problem: Stitt didn't thumb his reel to a stop quickly enough and got a terrible backlash. At the same time, it caused a bow to form in his line which arched up and settled over the projecting limb.
"Goddammit," Stitt muttered. "Well! I know how to get it offa there. Just a minute."
He quickly began tugging at the backlash, freed the tangle and then rewound the loose coil until he had a straight line toward the lure. He raised his rod tip pulling the lure toward the boat until it hung swinging halfway between the water and the branch.
Jim quietly approved the move because he figured the man couldn't possibly be so stupid that he wouldn't sharply flick the rod tip. That would make the lure snap up and over the projecting branch without snagging. There was just one problem. Nature had taken a firm hand - no surprise to Jim who by then had been smiling to himself: If any big snook had been nearby when the cast was made, it had by now moved under the lure and was eying it.
Just as Stitt said, "Watch this," and prepared to snap the lure out of its predicament, an enormous snook burst through the surface directly beneath the swinging lure and engulfed it in midair in a tremendous thrashing. Jim had known exactly what was going to happen and his mental smile became a huge, eye-crinkling, visible grin.
The line had come free of the branch and the snook barreled back toward heavy cover in a surge that created a great bulge in the water. Stitt had set the hook, though he didn't need to since the fish had already done it. The rod bent in an awful arc and the reel screamed as line peeled out against the brake. By then, there had been no possibility of stopping or turning the big fish which probably pushed thirty pounds. As soon as the snook had reached the submerged oyster-clad roots, it wound through them and an instant later, the line went slack severed by razor-sharp oyster shells. Stitt reeled in the line sans lure.
He looked at the dangling filament and said to Jim, "What'd I do wrong?"
Jim, no longer smiling, had picked up the oars and began moving the boat. "Ya came snook fishing."
(Note: “Snook, usually called “snuk” by the natives, is from a Dutch word: Snoek and pronounced with an oo sound, as for “mood.” The snook season begins on June 10. If you want to try your luck, be sure to arrive the day before the 10th. If you’ve never tasted fish, you and a friend will have to catch it for it is not a commercial fish. The ‘Glades will never return to healthy.
For a wonderful experience, read Florida Enchantments: Blue Water Classics
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