Words and Photos by Judith O'Keefe
On a recent trip to the Florida Keys, I didn't fish for bonefish or tarpon, I fished for snapper. It seems I was a bit early for tarpon and we just didn't spend much time on the flats looking for bones. It was a wonderfully warm, blessedly windless week, and it just made sense to venture out into deeper water to snorkel and fish for food.
When most of us think about a trip to the Bahamas, Belize or The Keys, we think about fishing the flats or a day on the front of a boat in search of tarpon. There is something adventurous and romantic about stalking bonefish or permit, or fooling a tarpon into believing that your red and black deceiver fly is lunch. We’ve seen the photos in the magazines, watched the films, bought the gear and tied the flies. When it all comes together it is magic, and I would not trade the experience for anything.
Now if you’re a veteran saltwater angler, you've traveled south often enough to know that there are times when it just doesn’t come together: The rain comes in sideways, the airline has “misplaced” the gear that you agreed not to take in your carry-on, last night’s prawns brought on Montezuma’s Revenge, or the fish just aren’t there. When you’re dealing with one or all of the above, don’t despair, borrow a rod, grab a simple bait-fish fly like my favorite, the Clouser Minnow, and go fish for snapper, or jacks or maybe even the tasty grouper! Casting around a reef, into a channel or where birds are diving into the open water, you are almost guaranteed to get that satisfying tug on the end of your line. And if you catch one, you’ll catch many. Most of these fish travel and feed in schools. You don’t need a guide for this kind of fishing, it’s simple. A boat is always helpful, but not always necessary. Take a walk down the beach and you might be surprised to find that small channel, or rocky outcropping. You can catch and release if you like, or like me, you can bring back enough for dinner. Any of these fish are easy to cook on the grill or if you’re staying at a lodge or motel, often the kitchen or a local restaurant will be happy to cook to order.
It’s an unexpected pleasure, those times when it all goes wrong, but turns out just right.