While it is true that larger snapper are caught by night fishing party boats, the reality is that these boats are fishing over a reef, not on shallow water flats. Nevertheless, we decided to make a trek into the dark.
We were eating dinner at a table with perhaps the finest water view in the world, in my humble opinion. The Inn at Flamingo in Everglades National Park had only one dining room, but what a dining room it was. After a long hot day one the water, a hot shower and clean clothes, the air conditioning felt good as we ate our meal and talked about fishing that night. Is not it strange how a person in a pleasant environment can overlook pending discomfort?
We finished our meal and headed back to our cabin to change clothes. Launching was easy because the crowds at the ramp had disappeared north on the road back to Homestead. It was still light out. The mosquitoes and sand flies had not yet arrived, so our departure was a good one.
We headed straight for Man-a-war channel, a deep cut that connected the flats behind Carl Ross Key (Sandy Key) with the flats across the Rabbit Key basin. We had caught numbers of smaller mangrove snapper along the sides of this cut on many trips. At one time we even dove there for Florida lobster when they were in season.
I anchored the boat and set up to be able to fish once it got dark. We had only one flashlight, and the batteries on it were weak at best. But, we werent going anywhere but there, and it appeared that the night would be clear. Star light and moonlight would help.
We began fishing on the bottom behind the boat with live shrimp and cut bait. Almost immediately, fish began taking our bait. I had heard that snapper bite better at night. I guess I never thought about what the other brands of fish would be doing.
Catfish. Saltwater catfish. People in Texas call them hardheads. We could not keep them off our lines! About the only thing I ever found them good for was bait for cobia and jewfish. We were going through bait like there was no tomorrow, but I persisted knowing that a huge mangrove snapper was just watching and waiting to take one of those baits.
Its pretty tough baiting hooks and removing fish at night. Its doubly tough when you have to do it for you and the person fishing with you. I was removing yet another catfish from my wifes line when it happened. My rod was in the rod holder doubled over and the drag was singing that sweet tune that says a big fish on! I grabbed the rod and began fighting. At last, I thought to myself, the snapper have arrived!
As I reeled and the fish fought it became apparent that this was not a snapper. Long slow runs and dead-weight bottom hugging proved to be a rather large stingray. These are not fun to de-hook in daylight and certainly proved to be more than a handful at night.
We fished for about four hours, caught more catfish than I care to remember, a number of stingrays, and zero snapper. Discouraged, cold and wet from the dew, we decided to head back in to the dock around 1AM.
Because I feared navigating the fourteen miles and some of the small cuts through several flats at night, I decided to go the long route out into the Gulf, around Carl Ross Key, and then follow the big markers back to Flamingo.
On the north side of marker 5 runs a long flat. On the inside of that flat, the water is deep enough at any tide to run east all the way down the shoreline to Flamingo. The trick is getting around that flat. I wanted to run the shoreline because it was a much smoother ride. The only problem was, I misjudged the end of the flat.
In short order, we were all but high and dry in less than a foot of water on an outgoing tide. My poor wife was so scared she was crying. Of course I knew what I had done and that we would float off the flat in a few hours, so I was frustrated, but not worried.
I smoked, back then. At one point on the dead low tide, I flipped a cigarette butt out of the boat and it landed about ten feet away. The water was so low that the turtle grass was out of the water. I watched the red glow of that butt as it burned down, sitting on top of a clump of grass!
Several hours later, the boat floated off the flat, we cranked up, and in thirty minutes or so, we were at the ramp. As I idled over to the dock, I figured my worries were over. It was at that point I realized we were in for more grief.
First one mosquito, then another, and then the whole heard began attacking us. We literally had to cover our mouth to breathe. I sucked one mosquito right into my nose. It was torture, pure torture getting the boat back on the trailer, but I eventually prevailed, and we ended up back in our cabin.
It took about an hour for my wife to kill, by hand, every mosquito that had followed us into the cabin. With each swat she had words for me and the dead mosquito. With each dead mosquito those words were sharper and a little louder.
My wife still fishes with me from time to time. Its not her favorite thing to do, but she has fun as long as two things happen. First there must be no bugs of any shape or size. Second, she has to catch fish. And she has progressed beyond being happy catching just any fish. The requirement now is the fish has to be table fare. Hard heads and jacks dont count, and very many of them will mean we head for the ramp!
I havent fished at night in a number of years. Im certain I will forget the problems and issues and try it again in the near future. Im also certain my wife will not volunteer to be at my side!