“I Love this Game!”
by Jeannie McGuire
Last week, I launched out in the early afternoon to fish the last of the fall and first of the rise of an amazing Perigean Spring tide. The extra tidal height presented an opportunity to paddle back into Buoy Cove, a very fishy area with a perfect crab bottom. The cove is a spot which I am normally too lazy to get out and wade/drag my kayak because it’s so shallow even at higher tides. Too many other good spots in the keys that don't require that much effort to reach.
The sky that afternoon was a patchy, hazy blue filled with low clouds, mostly stratos with a few scattered nimbos, some of which were inky black. Not the best visibility for sight fishing but good enough. Knew I would likely get into some periodic micro bursts of intense rain but hey, into every kayak fisher’s life a little … and at times…a lot … of rain will fall. The clouds seemed too low for an electric lighting show, so with minor weather worry, I launched. It was a rare tide that was just too good to resist…
After paddling my way up the back side of a couple of usually productive flats and finding nothing, I crossed the final flat that contains the entrance to the cove. Watching the sky carefully and deciding the clouds were still very low and not likely to contain sparks, I moved up to the edge of the entrance to the cove. There I spotted tailing bones about 30 feet off the mangroves and about 50 feet from me. Quickly, I staked out my little Tarpon, got out and crept up into optimal casting range. Splatters of rain began falling just as I blew out my first cast.
My first shot failed to generate interest in any of the three bones. They looked a goodly size. Thinking that with the rain they might not have seen the fly, I also guessed it had kept the noisy splash from spooking the fish. Creeping a little closer, I whipped out another line and stripped. Again and again, present fly, strip and nothing. The fish just sat there facing me at maybe 25 to 30 feet. Suddenly splatters of rain turned into a blinding torrent.
All blue sky rapidly disappeared and there was a total cloud convergence. Lost sight of the fish and then lost sight of the mangroves and my little boat. Sky was completely black and it was now a blinding pelting rain. No thunder, no snap, crackle, pop…. just skin flaying rain. What can I say, it’s an eerie feeling to be a long way from inhabited land standing mildly disoriented, by yourself in the ocean on a shelf, where you can’t see your boat or the shore.
I stood there for a bit trying to re-orient myself, caught a brief glimpse of my mango paddle and began wading that way. Climbed in and began to batten everything down for a hard paddle back. Still disoriented and unable to see more than maybe 20 feet, I heard the Navy fighter jets roaring above the clouds on final approach to their base at Boca Chica. Knowing that was my general way home too, I began to paddle in the direction of the jet made thunder. I’ll admit it, I was a just a little bit scared.
The rain was so hard, it was stinging my skin. It wasn’t clearing or letting up one bit like it normally does. Still unable to see, I paddled hard, while following the sound of the descending fighters. Just as I had crossed the first of three flats, the sound of the roar I was following changed. A bit of light off to the south broke through. I saw it. Then I saw them. One huge waterspout, two small ones. They were very close. I could hear them whirling, sounding like someone groaning in pain. They were amazingly close. Jet roar, my petunia.
Now waterspouts in the Keys aren’t that rare. I’ve seen them plenty of times before. Always from the safety of a boat with a gas engine able to out run them though. Never been so close that I could actually hear them, much less fromin a kayak. Heart pounding, I put my head down to my knees and paddled like Jaws was after me up the channel and into the strip of flat between Pelican and Bird Keys on the backside of Similar Sound. My goal, shelter of any kind. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw the spouts were just drunkenly holding ground on the channel side of the second flat I normally cross to get back to the launch. I breathed a sigh of relief.
The specters weren’t following me. A lot of times you can watch them head towards land and break up as they do. Tucking in behind the edge of Pelican key, I watched the two smaller spouts go up into the air and disappear like wisps of smoke. The big spout eventually began to narrow and appeared to literally be sucked back up into the sky. Rain falling more gently now and the sky beginning to lighten a bit, I breathed a sigh of relief. Then I contemplated my options.
Physically drained from the paddling sprint and accompanying adrenaline rush and with a still dark sky, I decided not to venture back to the cove nor to get off the water. Opted instead to stay where I was and to practice pounding the mangroves a bit with a fly, while setting up a smooth drift. Snook season will be here soon. Caught a couple of small Mangrove Snappers, hardly worth a mention but a fish is a fish I guess.
Paddled in before dusk and loaded up. Of course I came right back out the next day and fished the cove. Hey, it was an amazing and rare tide. Clouds and sky the same but without the drama. Never been so addicted to anything in my life. Kayak fly fishing is such a total joy and rush. I love this game.