Welcome to Salt Water Fly Fishing

Welcome to Fly Fishing The Salt! If you are just discovering the joys of fly fishing the salt (or salt chuck as some call it) here you will find information to steer you in the right direction. Tips on what equipment to use, why, where and how to fish. And we will try to include a little inspiration to get you going. For the experienced salt water angler, there will be personal stories about real fishermen and their experiences, tips on what flies for which fish and techniques that work. Your stories and articles are also most welcome. Share the knowledge and adventure. Pass it on! This is for you.

A Tangled Story

By Captain Scud Yates, Fort Walton Beach, Florida

'Fishing is the only thing a man can do all alone and not appear crazy,' says an old friend of mine. Think about it. Another saying is "they would call it "catching," not "fishing" if you always caught something.' The latter describes the trip I just got back from. Perhaps a story can be told about just fishing too.

This trip was to meet up with some 'soon to be' good friends and to see the southern most non-keys fishery in Florida; the Everglades. My partner, Unk, roped me into this gathering so he would not be alone with the "Tangle people." "Tangle" is the word they tack onto a fish name and call a gathering of Internet chatterers going fishing together, such as 'Poontangle.' That was a meeting in the Keys last year that saw as many as 35 folks fishing the same waters tarpon swim. It was so much a fun thing, complete with hats and shirts with logos, that they set up another one this year for snook chasing, 'Snooktangle 2001.'

Snooktangle happened the last week of 2001 in Chokoloskee, Florida, which is just about as far down as you can get to on the Florida mainland from the west. There is a place slightly more south but you have to get to it from the Miami side. There were only about ten folks showed for this one but the fish catching was much better. Poontangle took place when the wind and weather was horrible and not a fish was caught all week.

Snooktangle actually did not end up the name of the act as the tailor could not read the instructions for the name on the hats, or Bill Blanton, the informal host for this event, did not hear him when he read it back to him. All dozen hats he brought to the gathering had "Snook Tango 2001" on the back. Bill had pre-warned us of the goof and took unmitigated ribbing on 'dancing with fish.' I thought he was kidding but it is a nice hat advertising a new dance for 2001.

The first meeting of the group was supposed to be in an Oyster House in Everglades City, probably called a city, as the two guys that named it couldn't spell "village." Once turning off Alligator Alley, the interstate highway between Naples and Ft. Lauderdale, and driving south about 30 miles through the swamp, I found said meeting place. I passed it and went the last four miles to the island of Chokoloskee to check into a trailer in a trailer park. Good thing I did as had I not made it before five PM, I might have had to sleep in the truck. The office closed at five without exception.

The rented trailer had been there since wheeled trailers were invented and was cheap and clean with no extra charge for the roaches. And, the water stayed on most of the time except when the "city turns it off," as I was informed when I asked. So, I asked, "when will it be back on?"
"When the city turns it on," I was told. So simple I should not have asked, I guess.

I brushed my teeth with rum and headed to the Oyster House for the big meeting at seven PM. Not having any idea what these guys looked like I went table to table asking if anyone was here to "dance with fish." That was the wording I used after 'snooktangle' got some funny looks. The owner accosted me for bothering the customers and, once convinced I was not drunk yet, sent me to the bar saying he would send any 'dancers' back to find me.

Several beers and a stimulating discussion with three local fishermen and the barmaid with a total of twelve teeth between them and in walked a nice young guy named Dustin who said he knew what the 'dance' was. We had a beer and figured out we really were of the same tribe and when nobody else showed up, ate a dinner of fried everything to go with more beer. Dustin is a Naples fly nut who works in a fly shop, among other things. He is married with child and may have to curb some of the fishing enthusiasm to keep a family. He is crazy about it and sounds like he really knows his stuff. He was going to have work all weekend and just came out this one time to talk and meet the tango folks.

His cell phone worked (I had to drive ten miles north to get on mine) and we found and "roof stomped" (fighter squadron term for dropping in and demanding drinks) the other dancers who failed up show up for dinner. Bob Brown (Buttonwood Bob) and his side kick "AT" were holed up in the same trailer court I was in but in their own camper. I am sure the roaches came with the slot free for them too. Well, thank God these guys had their wives along as we would have had nobody to talk to without these most tolerant ladies. AT was actually still awake but B-Bob had the schnitzel from a hard day of Brown Bombers. A B-Bomber is what he calls a drink you have to have at his house. He can't hear well and needs a person well marinated so they can't talk and will listen to him.

Buttonwood did get up but was only there in body for the hour we talked. Everybody showed each other the latest flies in the dark and agreed to meet for dinner the next night. I did not get a ride in a boat for the next day as I had hoped and set up a time to meet Dustin the next day in Naples to figure out a game plan for my day.

There are a few neat places to fish down there as the place is a convergence of many rivers from the swamp and the ocean. At the water's edge there are 10,000 islands, I didn't count them but like the lakes in Minnesota, I think they are all there plus some. One of the most famous fishing spots does not take a boat; fishing along highway 41 at the bridges. On this "Tamiami Trail" there is a bridge every 1000 to 1500 feet all along the fifty miles of the highway. The road runs parallel to the ocean about 2 to 15 miles from the shore and all the fish that do a little fresh and saltwater come up at some time of the year into the swamp. Tarpon and snook are well known up river travelers and abound with cooler water along the ocean. The water is clear and the bottom black so the sun heats up water for the fish to sunbathe in. I drove the 35 miles into Naples and Dustin drew me a map of where to fish, after we swapped flies until each of our boxes looked the same. I was, essentially, to stop every 1/8 of a mile and throw at the water on one side of the road or the other from the bridges. Of course, you needed to hold up for traffic to keep from catching trucks larger than the limit. Dustin says he only stops for 18-wheelers and traffic is so thin that only one car every ten minutes will bother you. He stands on the bridge top and can see the fish.

Somehow he had not fished on 28th of December before as there was a break in traffic every ten minutes and it was rolling at about eighty. I could not stand on the bridge top or risk being blown off by the multitudes of big trucks. I fished about 15 spots but had few casts. I watched the fish flee from the traffic noise if not from seeing me standing there waiting for a chance to launch a fly. In the few quick attempts I hooked nothing but a couple of telephone lines and a tree. I did happen to see a couple of dirtbags stop, and not seeing me off to the side, started towards my truck with tools in hand. I thought they might not change my tire properly and shouted. They ran back to their car before I could get a picture of them or their vehicle. I gave up after about three hours of this and headed back to the camp. Day one was over with nary a bite.

The evening was more eventful and some more folks showed up, but still did not go to the preset place to eat. I met up with Buttonwood, AT, Kathy and Martha before the sun set and had to have a couple of Bombers with them. This was to be sure to get to the right place to eat. Bob was most gracious and all, groveling over the poor reception the night before. He said he thought I was some local who was trying to get a free beer and had not heard my name right. I had my second bomber and listened to several great stories. I did not talk and cannot remember the stories. I did remember "Buttonwood Bob" came from a pseudonym he used to write a dissident column in some far left/right leaning paper from the Keys in years gone by. He coughed this up after getting me to explain where the name Scud came from.

Dinner brought a couple more people into the mix. Bill Blanton, the Naples fellow who hosted this tango and his friend George Anderson. George runs a fly shop of some note in Livingston, Montana. He fishes all over the world and especially down here when the snow is on the ground up home. Also, Ned Small and his brother Herbert showed. Ned is a local guide AT was going to fish with the next day. Herbert claims to be retired and disabled but seemed too young and healthy for either. He doesn't fish but cooks the catch.

As the dinner progressed, Hugh Smith arrived from a day on the water. He just spent a day fishing the other spot on the south end of FL. He boasted of one 14-inch ladyfish to match my massive catch and B-Bob and AT claiming several five-inch jacks for the day just passed. Getting Hugh (Unc) to find us was a long series of drives up to the main highway where a cell phone will work. He never did get reached and saw my truck by the eating place. Pretty small town and being all along the road helped.

Day two did include a guide named Lee Quick and Unc and I went out with him after breakfast for a day in the islands. It was good we did not start early as we might have still been up fighting the old wars and waiving our hands about. We had done the 'get rid of the old rum so new could be bought' the evening before after dinner. There were about a million tiny ants all over the kitchen floor and I had to be near comatose to sleep with them trying to carry me off. I made sure each one that bit me died of alcohol poisoning.

It was a wonderful day with seemingly boundless wildlife about. We saw a raccoon on each island of the first three and one was reddish like a fox, the second brown as in dark brown bear and the last a normal gray with stripes like at home. All were lunching on oysters and completely ignored us throwing flies all around them. I did not know there were so many variations.

There were many fish around but we couldn't find them. Unc was up when Lee spotted a big one up under a tree, a redfish. I saw him too but Unc could not. He tried to throw to where Lee pointed and he would have gotten it right on spot if he had not been standing on his line. I was stunned as neither of us had ever had that happen before. The fly came up about six feet short and a smaller fish we did not see grabbed it up. Had he made the perfect cast he would have spooked this fish and that would have made the other bolt too. Perfect on the scorecard: one seen one caught. This was a nine and half pounder and put on a great fight.

That was it for the day other than a bunch of small jacks caught at each of the many islands we stopped behind. We got in early and watched a beautiful sunset from Bob's trailer with bombers in hand.

Dinner was a held at an outdoor port for the airboats. Sitting watching the end of the dusk while a dozen of the noisy things came in, sounded like you were sitting on a flight line with P-51s shutting down for the night. We ordered something but not quite sure what it was. The lady serving said, 'nobody had died from it today.' Early to bed as the departure was to be 0600 the next day and we had run out of rum.

One notable story came out of the night. George had just come back from a trip to the same area in Mexico that we have fished before with a tale of catching a saltwater crock on a fly. I kicked in and told my alligator story from last summer and then he pulled out his Mac computer and set up the 'movie.' When the movie started, my little alligator became even smaller and his catch was all on film done with professional flare.

He was fishing with friend, and a guide, when they came upon a seven-foot saltwater crock lying on the bottom in a foot or two of water. George changed to a heavy leader and tossed a fly off the beast's nose much to the displeasure of the guide. When we had come onto such animals when we fished there, the guides gave them a wide berth. Well, George got it to take the fly and it put on a heck of a fight complete with drag burning runs. The crock tired quickly and he managed, without the help of the guide and having his friend filming, to get hold of the thing and put a noose around the butt end of the rod and worked down over the neck of the crock. He was trying to pull it into the boat but the noise of the guide yelling changed his plan to beaching it. With the boat thirty feet from the shore in a foot of water, George jumped in with the animal and dragged it behind him running to the beach. He yanked it ashore and jumped on its' back grasping the mouth closed. He tried to lift it up for the hero picture but it was too heavy for one. His buddy taught the guide to shoot the film and joined George in hefting the thing up, no easy effort for the two of them. Then they took the noose off and released it in the water…at which point the guide with the camera humming took off running himself. It was a great end to an unreal episode. The film is well enough done to end up on a fishing show or at least the "world's funniest."

Morning had me checking out leaving Unc snoring peacefully. He had to go home and I was going fishing with Bill and George. Bill goes early and heads as far away as anyone fishes. The first half-hour was in the dark and he navigated with a GPS and occasional flashes of the flashlight to confirm the posts. It looked like we were going into a cave at first. As the dawn faded in we were slicing through flat smooth waters between 20-foot walls of mangroves. Often the water opened up in a big pool that reflected the brightening pink sky and we raced across it to dive into rivers of twisting canals that led to more lakes and even a couple of bays. We were in the backcountry of the Everglades, and deep. Bill would stop and sit with the motor off occasionally to listen for tarpon in the pools. At one stop a rookery of nesting birds a quarter mile up exploded spewing thousands of birds out for a day of food hunting. Breathtaking was an understatement. The sun and clouds reflected perfectly on the larger pools leaving us staring in silence. For a while we ran into a fog that made it all that more mystifying. I wondered how he could keep on going at one point until I took my fogged over glasses off. It was a cool morning so the millions of bugs that must live here were not in evidence. We ran this way for an hour and a half before we wet a line.

For about eight hours we fished, switched, polled and moved spot to spot. Other than seeing beauty at every stop and fish occasionally, it was not a day of catching. George managed to hook up a small snook but lost it to the staging of a 'Kodak moment' after having it to the boat. Bill tossed at a nice redfish and we landed it for a photo opportunity. We came up on a large school of many black drums but never could get them interested no matter what we delivered to their noses. Bill spotted and caught the only red of the day, a nice five-pounder late in the day.

What I really got out of the day was a demonstration in casting from both of these pros. Throwing up under and around mangroves is tricky and both of these guys were doing it with pinpoint accuracy from long distances. Most work was done from seventy plus feet away and into one-foot areas up in and under the hanging trees. George used a skipping cast that could get under the leaves only a few inches off the water and back four feet. Bill did not use as many types of casts or sizes of loop but was dead accurate every time. I took my turns and managed a few nice tosses but told non-stop jokes to keep them from commenting on my 'raw' talent.

The end of the day came with us finally unable to see the fish in the water and the birds starting to roost. We had gone the whole distance inland getting to this remote area, but with zero wind and glassy sea state, went home on the ocean outside the islands. The water was like oil and the sunset outdid the sunrise with added garnish. About a quarter mile outside of us, in direct line with the sun dipping into the ocean and the sky red/gold from the horizon to behind us, was a single porpoise doing flips, one after the other. I suppose he was catching the sunset as a rolling swirl in a kaleidoscope. Then, as if not to be outdone, inside the porpoise, an eagle ray started leaps getting an eyeful too.

It was a half-hour run home as we had worked our way mostly back during the day. We arrived after dark and did the same passage into first the canyons of mangroves and finally into the tunnels as the sky darkened. Jupiter was a beacon to the east as we docked, being as close to earth as it will be in the next century.

On the dock a game warden asked me what we caught and where. He was filling out a survey. I told him of the two fish and he commented it was a little slow all around. I responded back that such a day, in such a place, is a gift and fish bagged should not be the measure merit.

I drove out that night to my kid's place a few hours north leaving Bill, George and the gang to eat at yet another place they forgot to tell people they were going to.

The women on this trip did more than just look pretty. They took off in a canoe and toured the swamp from a whole different aspect. They had books for birding and were going after special targets to add to life lists. There was a rumor of them having an alligator tail for lunch and calling a ranger about finding a carcass, sans tail. In general, they kept that crowd from going feral as men can, out fishing by themselves.

The next "Tangle" could be anywhere but probably line up with school holidays. I sure hope to be asked to join again. Fishing seems to be the point, not catching. ~ Capt. Scud Yates

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