August 30th, 2004

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
This is where our readers tell their stories . . .

A Fathers Wish, A Sons Debt
By Ed Mercado (FloridaFlyer)

I hadn't seen my father for some months, so when he called and told me he would be in the neighborhood I insisted he stop by so we could go wet a line. My father has been a fisherman for as long as I can remember. It was with him that I caught my first fish ever off of a pier in New Jersey using a spin-caster he had gotten for me. As it has been recounted to me for years, I was howling with excitement and fear. I kept commenting that the fish I was fighting was "too big" to be a regular fish. "It's probably a shark," I said with childish optimism. It was, in fact, a bluefish. But, hey, I was seven.

For all his years of fishing my father had never have caught a snook, a fact that irked him to no end. It made it no better that I had landed quite a few, and nice ones at that, even though I had only recently started fishing again. Often we would go to the latest hot spot reported to be producing the elusive fish to find out that the bite had just turned off. "I must be cursed," he would comment half joking. It's true that his fishing had gotten less productive in recent years. I say it's because the type of water he targets is different than what he's used to, but his techniques have stayed the same. A long time deep-sea fisherman from up north, he insists on chucking bait, nothing else.

"Dad, stop by tomorrow. I have a surprise for you," I told him over the phone. "You're going to catch your first snook," I said with authority.

"You're kidding." It wasn't a question.

"No, I'm serious. Stop by and you'll see."

Just a week earlier I had been given a tip on a fishing spot that was minutes from my house. It's a spill way where water from Lake Okeechobee is released into the St. Lucie River via Ten Mile Creek. This eventually feeds into the Indian River and, finally, the Atlantic Ocean. This spill way is the very spot where fresh water meets with brackish carrying with it a bounty of organic matter from plants to bugs to careless fish the clumsily fall over the edge into the fast water below. I can't quite figure that one out.

Consequently, because there is such a plentiful food supply, there are lots, and I mean LOTS, of fish holding in the fast water below just waiting for their easy meal of stunned fish and insects to come drifting by. Lately most of those waiting fish are snook.

These snook are of varying sizes, but the majority are on the small side. Mind you, even a small snook is a nice fish to wrestle with, especially on light tackle. Of course, just like anywhere else, you have the occasional bruiser hanging out on the perimeter like a schoolyard bully, casually enjoying the fare, but ready to pounce on one of his own if need be. I've heard that sometimes, when the flow is particularly high, baby tarpon (ten to thirty pounds) will also join the melee. Not bad for a small, neighborhood fishing hole.

Sunday came and as I rose from bed and had my morning coffee I called my dad on his cell phone to see if he had departed to make his visit to me. "I'm outside waiting for you to get up," he told me as I rushed to the front door thinking it a joke. There he was and probably had been since the crack of dawn, but he didn't have the heart to disturb my wife and I so early in the morning. I laughed and ushered him in not bothering to tell him he can knock whatever the time. My dad would rather wait outside than be a nuisance. That will never change.

"Did you bring any gear?" I asked hoping he didn't.

"Nope."

"Good! Today your going to fly fish."

My father gave me a look as if to say, "You've got to be kidding?"

He had never fly fished and in fact, had never even heard of it till I started doing it. "It's OK. I'll lead you through it. It'll be fun."

The spill way is really sort of a mini-dam if you can picture it. Large metal gates swing up and down to either block or allow the passage of water which "spills" over the top of said gates. It falls into a concrete basin that keeps it from eroding the creek bed and sends it on its way producing fast water for a stretch of thirty feet or so. On either side of this water are high walls, a levee, which holds the water back when it gets exceptionally high. It's from this perch that we would make our stand and claim my father's first linesider.

Author Ed

Fly fishing from that spot was really a no-brainer. There was no real casting involved, just drop the line into the water and let the current do the rest. Of course one could make the fishing more challenging by climbing down below the small riffle and casting up-stream, but for the non-fly fisher this was perfect.

I gave my dad a quick tutorial of how to work with the line, stripping and such, and how to put the fish "on the reel" once he hooked up.

"I don't think I'll need to use that part."

"Dad, you're hooking up! This is no joke. I'm even tying on my secret weapon fly. They can't resist."

"OK" he said as he dropped the line and let the current take it away. The line made a loose arc in the water as it started to straighten out. The fly, a size 2 black and red, weighted wooly bugger, began to rise to the surface after having sunk on its trip down stream.

CLOOP!

"Did you hear that dad?!?" I almost shouted, my excitement getting the better of me.

"Oh Yeah, I heard that."

It was the sound of a snook hitting on top. Their hard lips make a hollow poping sound when they snap together above the water.

Again there was the cloop and this time a flash of gold and silver.

"There it is again!"

By now my fathers face was beaming as he realized that a hookup was eminent.

Dad's hooked up!

BAM! Fish on! The six weight rod I had given my father to use was now bent to the hilt as he struggled to figure out how to deal with this strong running fish. It rushed to the left. Then it made a strong run to the right. Then it shot right out of the water clearing the entire distance it had just come from. My dad was ecstatic.

"Did you see that?!?" he shouted over the roar of the falling water.

As the fish started settling down I reminded my father to try and gather the loose line and put the fish on the reel. As he did so I realized that I had a camera. Whipping it out I captured that moment my father had so long waited for.

He started to climb down the rocks to settle with his scaly sparing partner, but I stopped him for fear he'd get hurt. He'd not been feeling well and was there with me in spite of chest pains. I was afraid he'd fall or, worse yet, set off a heart attack with the strain of climbing up and down the rocks that lined the creek. He'd had them before, two, and he has long accepted that it's probably the way he'll go. He's not dramatic about it, but rather matter of fact. I, however, was not about to help prove him right.

"Hold on dad. I'll climb down and handle it," I said already half way there. I lipped the critter and held him up for my dad to see. He was so happy, yet I felt sad that I did not let him do it himself. Of course, I did it for his own good, but it left me feeling like I cheated him just a bit.

Dad's first Snook

We took turns casting out and pulling in a few more before the heat got to both us and the fish. Packing it in I ask my dad, "So what do you think of fly fishing?"

"It's alright...but I'd still rather do it my way."

Yeah, I guess that's the way it is.

We headed back home, had a beer to celebrate, and said our goodbyes. The day was getting on and he had a long drive ahead of him. He pulled away and said he'd be back to fish with me again. As he drove away I thought of myself at seven taking instruction from this man, trying my dangdest to cast that spin caster.

"Let me show you what to do," he said with serene patience. Thanks dad. I hope I was able to pay back the debt. If even just a little. ~ Ed


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