We pulled into Flamingo and made a few loops through the campground trying to decide on a good campsite. It had been a long day in the truck and we were eager to pitch camp and relax. We got setup, cracked a cold beverage and started going through the boat and getting things ready for the next day. We spread the map out across the hood of the truck looking over the marked areas that several friends and generous folks had given us to check out. Not spots mind you, but areas. We didn't want charity, we just wanted an opportunity to figure this out.
About a year prior a good friend, Rich Walker, had invited me to go with him and chase some redfish on his skiff. It was 2009 and I had just graduated from Nurse Anesthetist school. I had always fly fished , but mostly creek and pond fishing for bluegills and bass with a little trout mixed in. I knew absolutely nothing about saltwater fly fishing and less about redfish. I'd been catching bass for a while and having caught a few redfish on spin tackle I was eager to give it a shot. I caught my first redfish that trip on a tan over white Ep minnow I had tied for a finger mullet imitation. I stood on the bow of a poling skiff for the first time. I saw fish pushing and busting shrimp for the first time. For the first time, I was introduced to the world of sight fishing with a fly rod.
I spent all of 2009-2011 improving my casting, learning to pole a skiff, and chasing redfish with Rich as often as I could. Be it low tides or in the grass I just simply couldn't get enough. It was sometime around then that Rich suggested that I should come down to the everglades in late winter and try my hand at snook and tarpon. He explained that he and good friend Capt. Jack Brown from Lady's Island, Sc, went on this adventure every year. There was only one problem. I needed a partner and a skiff. I knew just the person. Nate Hexamer had been one of my best friends since the 6th grade and we had grown up crawling through creeks and fishing any pond we could get access to. Nate was always up for an adventure. He also had a fifteen foot war eagle jon boat with a 25hp yamaha on it. I spoke to Rich and he assured me that would be just fine for the glades. I was going to bring along my fly rod, but we planned to fish conventional gear for the most part as Nate didn't fly fish and his boat sported a trolling motor instead of a push pole.
Our first morning, as we watched all of the technical skiffs and flats boats launching at the ramp, we took our place in line making the run down buttonwood canal and out to coot bay. We were wide eyed. It was truly the most amazing place either of us had ever been. We pulled up on our first spot and started working down the bank. I was walking a bone colored zara spook along some drift wood in the water when suddenly the water imploded right behind the plug. I paused and then resumed walking the spook and again someone threw a cinder block in the water next to my bait tossing it from the waters surface into the air. I reeled in the bait and made another cast along the downed tree and before I had twitched the bait twice another explosion ensued and my rod was doubled. The fish pulled hard and then breached the surface turning end over end shaking its big mouth trying to get free of the hooks.
That was the first snook I had ever caught. The sound a snook makes when sucking a bait down from the surface is very unique. Even when you hear it from deep within the mangroves its unmistakable. I can still remember every detail six years later. We went on to catch redfish, trout, and even saw some tarpon. We fished hard. We wanted to see it all so badly, but it was so big. It was the most grand adventure we had been on in our lives. Unfortunately it was cut a day short by a learning experience that took place on a very famous flat known as Snake Bight. That's a story for another time. The most monumental event that took place on that trip changed Nate's life forever. This was the trip that nate would lose his life. Well, maybe not his life, most definitely his soul.
We stopped between some islands in whitewater bay. There was a deep channel with shallow flats on each side and we were out of the wind. I took this opportunity to get out my fly rod. The lady fish were everywhere as were the trout and I was dying to try to catch something on fly. I started chugging a small white popper over the deeper channel and out of nowhere small jacks began packing up like wolves and trying to destroy the fly. I cast again and again stripping that popper as fast I knew how and hooking fish after fish. Before long I noticed nate had stopped fishing and was just watching me. I turned extending the fly rod to him and said, "Do you wanna give it a shot man?" With a big grin across his face he reached for the rod and said, "Give me that damn thing!"