There’s a fish near me and I hate him.
I don’t know what kind of fish it is, but it’s probably either a snook or a large snapper. This fish teases me and then taunts me. I know right where he lives and I keep visiting him. He doesn’t seem to care. He just looks at me as a source of free dinner.
He lives near Shell Point in Ft. Myers, Florida in the mangroves on a deserted island just off the Caloosahatchee River. The mangroves hang over the water, which provides him with perfect cover. I can’t see him, but I know he’s there waiting for me. I have to be careful because the water is only a foot or two deep, and it can be tricky getting my boat near him. I suspect he can hear me coming and knows that dinner is about to be served.
I approach carefully, and as quietly as I can. Set the power pole so the boat doesn’t move, and I’m about thirty feet from his favorite mangrove tree. I can’t really see him hiding among the roots, but I know he’s there and he knows I know he’s there. Let the games begin.
Today I’m using live shrimp as bait. I’m also using circle hooks, which are supposed to a kinder, gentler hook. It doesn’t do as much damage to the fish, but it’s harder to hook bait and it doesn’t set well during a strike. I’m doing everything I can not to hurt him, but I am going to catch him. If he doesn’t appreciate my efforts not to injure him, I’m going back to the J hook and he’ll just have to take his chances.
I run the hook through a live shrimp and toss it about three feet from where I know he lives. I’m using braided line, so there’s no stretch if I have to do a quick hook set. I watch the line carefully. If it moves, I’ve got a strike. The line moves and I quickly jerk the head of the rod straight up to set the hook. Nothing. I reel the line back in and he’s taken the shrimp clean off my hook. Nothing left at all. No problem, I’ve got lots of shrimp.
Rig another shrimp, another perfect cast, and I wait. It’s not long. In less than thirty seconds, he’s stripped the shrimp right off the hook again while avoiding the hook completely. The next few times I try rigging the shrimp in different ways, trying to trick my adversary into swallowing everything. Ahh, he’s far too clever for that. In short order he steals five more shrimp from me. He’s got to be getting full, but I keep feeding him with no letup. Occasionally, I see a flash of white as he rushes to grab my latest snack offering. This is what makes me think he’s a snook. A wily, annoying ambush predator who hides in the roots of the mangrove tree and waits for me to bring him dinner.
I feed him for about forty-five minutes and then give up. I don’t know how many shrimp I’ve fed to him, but I started with fifty and I have very few left. I didn’t think he could eat that much, but what the hell—for him it’s free. I turn the boat around and head back home, already planning my next attack on my own personal Moby Snook.
Back in the 1970s there was a giant trout that played the same game with me. My friend Bob and I were fly fishing the Mashpee River on Cape Cod. At one point the river ran through a culvert under a main highway. As we approached the culvert, something sped through the water directly into the tunnel. We only got a glimpse of it, but it was huge. Somewhere around thirty inches, and very, very fat. We figured the trout lived in the culvert and started tossing every fly we had into the tunnel in an attempt to catch it. Nothing.
Several weeks later we returned and decided to see if the trout was still there. I went to one end of the culvert and Bob started to walk through the tunnel from the opposite end. Trout came swimming out—I counted over fifteen of them—and suddenly, there he was. The biggest trout I’ve ever seen. Okay, we thought, now we know where he lives. All we have to do is catch him.
For four years we chased that fish. We sent everything through that tunnel: flies, live bait, corn—everything we could think of. We never even got a nibble. Every year we would check just to make sure he was still there. He was. Laughing at us. I can still hear him. Finally, after four years we saw him no longer and gave up. Another one that got away.
Every fisherman has stories similar to these. Fishing is challenging enough without having them tease and laugh at you. When you know where they sit and can see them refusing to take your bait—or even worse, stealing your bait right off the hook—you’re tempted to just drop a blasting cap right next to them and knock them out.
It wouldn’t be fair, but he wouldn’t get away from that.