We got to camp, and immediately found out why they call Flamingo ‘The mosquito capital of the Everglades”. They swarmed us so thick I sucked one down my throat before I could get my Buff up to breathe through. Turns out that good bug dope is worth more than gold down there, and I was glad we had plenty. I smelled like a lemon eucalyptus /citronella test site, but the blood suckers left me alone. We were exhausted from the trip, so we set up camp quickly then crashed for the night.
The next morning we were readying the boats and slipping off into some tight mangrove tunnels. There is something both beautiful and terrifying about paddling through those pathways. They were lined with mangrove trees and roots that the sun could barely penetrate, and where it could spider webs reflected the rays. If not for the ultra-modern kayak under me, I could imagine myself in a far more primitive time. After passing through the tunnel, we hit an open bay with tens of thousands of coots floating on the water. Never in my life have I seen that many water birds. They were deafening when they took flight and blacked out the horizon.
We weren’t there to chase birds, though, so soon we were burning up the shoreline with our lures; me with a spoon and Robert with a Mirrodine. It took a bit, but I was the first one to strike with a small snook, and Robert followed just a few minutes later. It was his first of the species, so that was pretty awesome. I told him that February Boondoggles were notoriously hard to fish, and this one proved to be no different. We fought bugs, a cold front, bad information and steady wind the entire time. One spot was “supposedly” three and a half miles away, but after five miles we realized we were not even close. Our total distance that day was just over seventeen miles! Every fish just added more fuel to the fire, though; no matter how hard it was, we fished on. Each day we put in the water at sunrise and were taking out at well after dark. We put over forty miles on our boats in thre days, and each fish was hard won for sure.
The highlight of the trip for me was the last evening. I had just caught and released a small jack crevalle, and was continuing to cast down the bank. The open water behind me drew my eye and I threw my D.O.A. shrimp and popping cork as far as I could to see if a trout would play. I had a solid hit, and set the hook into a heavy fish that started towing me faster than my buddy could paddle. I figured I was hooked up to another jack, and just went along for the ride. The fish got close to my kayak, and then ran off on a drag-singing run right for the mangroves. I muscled it away without really caring if it came off or not. When the cork surfaced near the boat I strained to see the fish through the silt-stained water. The flash of fish I saw shocked me to the core; it had a big brown stripe down its side! I yelled out to Robert, “It is a giant snook!” It may not have been a giant to anyone else, but it was the biggest danged snook I had ever seen, and to me it was a giant. I fought it like I had 2lb test after seeing what species it was, hoping that my horsing around didn’t weaken knots or bend the hook. Finally after a solid fight I had it up to the side of the kayak. It took several tries to get my thumb in its mouth but as soon as I did I slid the beautiful fish right up into my lap. After all we had been through, 32” of snook was a sight I will never forget.
We had traveled to a place that lived only in our dreams and broken the curse of the fishless Boondoggle. Good friends and beautiful places always make a trip nice, but big fish make it awesome!