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