I deserve this fish. Stefan and Mike, after all, had gotten what they came for. They even had new nicknames. Our guide for the 10,000 Islands, a wunderkind named Ryan Allen, hadn't seen fit to give me one. But Allen, who's fished these waters since birth, did put me on a snook. As soon as I get it to the boat, the Trifecta will be complete. Naturally, the snook pops off.
I deserve that snook, too, because yesterday I had successfully stayed one step ahead of the rolling thunderstorms that followed us west from Clewiston. On the Caloosahatchee, I hammered the throttle on the Polar 2110, pushing the 150-hp Yamaha four-stroke to its limits trying to put some blue sky between us and the ominous clouds. We traversed the remaining three locks, sharing a ride with a couple of manatees in the W.P. Franklin Lock.
The Caloosahatchee connects Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf of Mexico, dumping its westward flow at Ft. Myers. After the locks it is interrupted only by a series of tedious no-wake zones, giving the thunderclouds a chance to catch up. At the Intracoastal, after 156 total miles traversing the state, they did. When we passed under the bridge to Sanibel Island and hooked a left, the sky turned black.
Here's where a bay boat has a distinct advantage over a flats boat. The wind chop kicked up and lightning crashed along the beach. At the throttle, I showed no mercy. We made it to the boat ramp in Naples just before the sky opened up.
The snook I hooked obviously didn't think any of that warranted me catching him. "Don't worry," Allen says to me. "We've got all day to hook another one." Turns out I'd need it.
Allen guides us further into the mangroves, where we spy some redfish skittishly feeding on a flat on a falling tide. Mike, Stefan, and I take turns casting crab and shrimp patterns with fly rods. I get a follow but at the last second the red thinks better of it and bolts from the flat. The other reds see this and freak out, too, leaving us empty-handed.
"Let's go to the money spot," Allen says. He takes us to a spit of beach with a channel running along it where snook sit and ambush tide-swept baitfish. We beach the Polar 2110 and walk the shore casting live greenies. "Hey, look at this," Mike shouts. He smiles goofily, reeling in the first snook of the day. Thanks Mike, you're ruining my narrative.
Today's dark clouds start rolling in from the west, blackening the sky behind us. Each thunderclap increases the odds I'll go snookless. Suddenly, my light spinning rod doubles over. A little snook draws up and leaps into the air, like Stefan's bucketmouth. I quickly subdue him, grab his lip and hoist him before he can reconsider. Check off the final box on the wishlist, the Trifecta is complete. Hey Cuz and Buster, I've got something you can call me. Money.