The day finally arrived last week and after a nearly wordless introduction, we were in the boat and on plane- flying over clear water that seemed about a foot deep. He took us deep into the back country, away from any other boats or anglers. Or anything at all, really. Eventually he killed the motor and we sank into stillness and quiet. He handed me a rod and we jumped out and set off on foot, leaving the boat anchored in the shallows. We waded barefoot through a passage in the mangroves that felt like an overgrown tunnel, sloshing our way through the roots. Eventually, he turned around and said it was time to be stealthy and not make a sound. "These fuckers will hear you and feel you move, believe me." I did believe him. I tried my best to creep through the knee deep muck without splashing or tripping. Before long we entered a slightly more open area, surrounded by mangroves and dead silence. I saw some large, ghostly wakes cutting through the middle of the water. Every few minutes there were massive splashes in the mangroves and tiny baitfish would explode from the surface. Snook were definitely here. He gestured to walk at his side and told me to pull out some line and be ready to cast. We painstakingly made our way through the still water towards the middle as he scanned the water like a hawk. All I could hear was my heart pounding as my bare feet sank into the muddy bottom.
"Right there. Cast! Cast!"
I spun and clumsily cast to where he seemed to be pointing. Then I saw the black back of a massive snook turn away, several feet from my fly, kicking up a cloud of silt. "Chris. You HAVE to get it right in front of these motherfuckers. And don't turn or move-just cast when I tell you to. He's fuckin' gone." We moved on. Slowly. A missed cast is a missed snook and this fish was now impossible to catch, even if I could find him again. But there were more. The next one was cruising in the shadows of the mangroves, about thirty feet away. "Cast. Now!", he hissed. This time I didn't shuffle into position, but my cast fell short. Not even close. I had been secretly worried that my limited casting abilities would be a setback and it was proving to be true. He told me to let my back cast straighten out more and stop my forward cast higher. "That's your problem". I needed to hear this, clearly, and it helped.
The next target came into sight and I desperately wanted to get this one right. I made the distance this time, but the fly landed too far to the left. "Leave it. Wait. Strip! Strip! He ate it!" I instinctively lifted the rod when I felt the fish and then saw the now familiar turn and a huge puff of silt underwater. It was gone. "You have to strip, don't use the rod". I knew this, but habit and adrenaline had overridden my mind. Classic saltwater rookie move. Now I was really starting to worry. The sun started feeling a little hotter on my neck. If he was frustrated with me, and I'm sure he was, he kept it to himself. And despite my mistakes, he genuinely seemed as excited to be there as I was. "Let's go get these fuckers. They're smart, and they're sleazy, but we'll get 'em."
This was exactly the experience I had hoped for- some unvarnished instruction and an opportunity to stalk and catch a fish that has eluded me for a while. And there was absolutely no doubt that I couldn't have done this on my own. It was a fantastic day, one I'll remember for a long time. And more importantly- I learned enough that I might even catch a snook on my own some day. If I see one anyway. And I have a new goal: cast better. Way better.