Johnny sits at the vice while the sky falls and the lightning crashes, further perfecting his new line of foam top water bugs. The latest version he’s christened the ‘Burgler’, after the old standby the ‘Gurgler’. Its profile is short and squat and it resembles a giant leggy beetle. Not the easiest fly to throw, but results have been so explosive and visual that I doubt I’ll ever try a bait imitation as my first choice for tarpon, snook, jacks, cuda, or sharks again.
When we only have an hour or so during the day, we walk the white beaches and scan the surf for jacks and barracuda. There are huge specimens of both that cruise within reach here. It is the time of year when turtles come ashore during the night to lay their eggs. The bizarre tracks made from their flippers in the sand are everywhere, often followed by fox prints.
This jack crevalle charged the fly out of nowhere while I was trying to reach a six foot barracuda stationed beyond the waves, wire leader and all. The surf was violent that day and landing him was no easy feat. We were both completely drenched and grinning as we watched him swim away.
When we have more time and the weather cooperates, we hit the backcountry where the snook and tarpon roam. We keep a little fiberglass john boat with a fifteen horsepower motor at the entrance to one of the back lagoons. Last month a crocodile climbed in during the night; he slimed everything with fishy filth and chewed up the seat cushions. Twice now we’ve gotten in a standoff with an eight foot croc in the tight mangrove tunnel that we access the deeper water with. He spends the heat of the day in there, and is reluctant to move out of the way. From my perch in the bow of the boat I’ve gotten close enough to almost touch him. No visible fear on his part; mostly awe on mine. I’ve interacted with enough of them now to realize that the croc to fear is the one you don't see coming.
I’ve come to look upon this particular croc as the sentinel to a secret world, for when we emerge from the tunnel we are in a place untouched by man. Exotic bird calls and the odd mangrove splash are the only sounds. On the right day, tarpon roll everywhere. We take turns, one of us poling and the other standing ready on the bow, both scanning hard for that now familiar shape; dark forked tail and chrome sides.
Feeding a tarpon is a mind game. Putting the fly down well ahead of the fish usually yields the best results, but once they see the fly, you need to speak fish. Stop it, strip it, stop it, strip it fast, then faster. There is nothing like that moment when you see them make up their mind to pounce and you connect with a silver stick of dynamite. With the surface fly and the clear water the visual aspect is unreal. It is the stuff of dreams.
Then there’s the snook. It amazes me how hidden they can be. Wedged back in the mangrove roots in two feet of water lurks a monster that is mostly mouth and all power. My first experience with one on Johnny’s Burgler, I was blind casting to what appeared to be deserted mangrove edges, when a snapper darted out and nabbed the fly. Suddenly the water was alive with ten to fifteen pound snook; at least a dozen of them out to see what was up. The largest hit the snapper twice before I could get it to the boat. I shook the fish off and threw back in the melee and instantly had a nice snook on, all fury and indignation. He had his mouth wide open like a shovel coming at that fly, and I couldn’t have stripped it fast enough. Heading back to face the croc my whole body was humming with happiness. This is FUN!!!