A night trip with Jared had been in the works for some time. Busy lives and an inherent lack of sleep had been seeming to get in the way lately though. All of the same questions came up again prior to Thursday night's planned trip. "How's the radar look? Tides? Should we just get to bed for an early start tomorrow? What if the docklights aren't on?" Planning for night trips seems to always walk the tight rope of "Should I stay or should I go?"
Luckily this time, the motivation of chasing my first fly rod snook outweighed the desire for sleep. After some coffee and approval from the wife, which I am suspicious was silent barter for dishes and laundry later in the week, we set off. The plan was to hit an area with good water flow and a significant number of dock lights within paddling distance to avoid getting shut out by the potential of lights being off.
Armed with my 8 weight, and Jared with a handful of D.O.A. shrimp, we got the kayaks wet around 11:30 P.M. From the launch, we could see at least a few docklights illuminating the water. Now all we needed to know is if they were holding fish. After a quick paddle across the channel, we were welcomed to the sound of surface busting.
A few casts in and Jared had hooked up. The fish stayed low in the water column, which was a blessing as it didn't disturb the fish feeding in the light. After a quick fight, both of us were surprised when we found out the reason this fish stayed low in the column. It was a red! A solid 21 inch red to start off the night would prove to be a good omen.
Envious of Jared's good fortune, and delighted by the prospect of not only my first fly rod snook but also the potential of a fly rod redfish, I began casting like a mad man. Almost immediately thereafter, I had hooked up on the fly. The quick strike and enthusiastic aerial acrobatics almost immediately gave the fishes identity away. A large ladyfish had come to play with one of Steve Gibson's DT Special's. Dejected that it wasn't a snook, but happy to have the skunk off my back, we continued on.
There's a funny thing about fishing docklights. The visual aspect of seeing the fish, especially when they are grouped up by the dozen, has such an alluring draw. I made the mistake of switching to a topwater fly to make it an even more visual game. I had so many follows but no strikes, I failed to match the hatch of glass minnows they were feeding on. You can't make the fish eat what you want them to, you have to feed them what they are eating.
And eating they were. Jared's next fish was a nice cookie cutter snook, that promptly regurgitated almost a dozen 2 inch glass minnows while he unhooked it. That was my sign to switch to the docklight standby fly, the crystal schminnow. I had tied a few up to keep handy for docklights and beach snook fishing and I am glad I did. I almost immediately had a hookup. I missed the hookset only to have another. Also a miss. Patience is a virtue.
Knowing how close I was to finally catching a fly rod snook, I took a deep breath, and slowed down. A few more casts and another hookup, wait for it, wait for it... and it was set. What a hell of a run. As most smart fish do, it took me around a piling. Having had the same thing happen earlier in the week and losing my first snook on the fly to a barnacle shredded line, I took it slow. I let the line go loose, and chased it around the dock. It did not want to come out from under, at least not on that side. It bolted in to open water on the other side of the dock. Knowing what I had to do, I dismounted my kayak light and tossed my extra rod over to Jared. Determined not to lose this fish, I let it drag me under the dock and out the other side. This was an incredible series of events that will bring a smile and a laugh to both of our faces for years to come. Luckily on the other side of the dock, the snook was just about as worn out as I was. He posed for a quick snapshot of the memory and I let him on his way. Not a giant fish by any standards but a giant step for me in my fly fishing exploits.
A slight drizzle and no lighting made for a terrible picture, but the memory remains. We proceeded to hook up at least every other cast at that dock for another 30 minutes or so. The fish were so actively feeding it was incredible. If you want to know what it sounded like, throw a bag of Orville Redenbacher in the microwave and listen. Surprisingly enough, just like popcorn, the action came to an almost immediate halt. Within a matter of a minute, it went from almost a pop every second to a pop every 5 seconds to no pops at all. Before the action stopped though we each had 4 fish to the boat, Jared with the redfish and three snook, and I with three snook and a ladyfish.
As it was getting late, we chose to try one other docklight that was on the way back to the launch. Earlier in the night as I was retying my shock leader, Jared had paddled over to this light and hooked a snook on his first cast. He said he lost it, and all of the fish went deeper when it jumped. We paddled up and the fish were there, but not very active. A few casts yielded some follows and a missed hookup, and just like before, all of the fish seemed to move deeper after the disturbance. Almost ready to head in, we decided a couple of more casts letting our presentations sink a bit before starting the retreive would suffice. That proved to be very successful for me, as the first cast I hooked up. This was a very interesting fight, and I mentioned to Jared a few times during that it felt like it was a bigger snook. We also noted however, that it didn't make any jumps or break the surface at all. This fish was strong and had a few runs in it. Not wanting another situation like before with much more difficult docks to navigate, I couldn't afford to be as light and patient with this fish. I managed to keep it turned and was only a few feet from losing it to not only a dock but a moored sailboat as well. Once I got it to the side of the kayak, I was ecstatic. It was a red, and I had just caught my first red on the fly. A solid 22 inch male that was drumming loudly as I unhooked him. After a quick snapshot, he swam off to fight again another day.
Again not the best picture, but the memory will last forever. I normally don't write so much about a fishing trip, but what happened in this one is something I will look back on with a smile for the rest of my life. Not only am I excited about these firsts, but I am excited for the many seconds to follow!