'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
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
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
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
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
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
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