The water hisses against the underside of my SUP as I paddle across a small saltwater lake, connected to the Gulf of Mexico by a short creek that cuts underneath an impassable tangle of mangroves. The clouds hang low in the sky, purple and swollen with rain that has yet to fall. I feel their weight somewhere deep within my consciousness and kneel as I strip line from my reel. From my knees I lift the line into the air, casting sidearm toward a hole in the shoreline, a shadowed cave where the snook of my imagination dwells, a thick beast of a fish hovering near the bottom, finning slowly against the tide, growing with each false cast until I let the line go and send my fly to its fate.
I strip the line through my fingers, waiting for the fly, an abstract foam and feather shrimp imitation that I had lovingly tied only hours before, to be engulfed, to be sucked into the raspy maw of a backcountry leviathan. Strip. strip. strip. The fly pops on the surface. Rain begins to drizzle, pattering on the brim of my hat. Strip. strip. strip. The fly is moving farther from the edge, out of the strike zone. Nothing.
I repeat the exercise again and again, dissecting the shoreline. With each cast, hope ebbs and wanes, until a fish strikes. Not the snook that’s been swimming in my head, but a snook. It takes the fly just as I’m about to lift my line from the water once again, a pleasant surprise, but overmatched by my eight-weight rod. It jumps two times, shaking its head and cartwheeling back into the water. The fight is over quickly, and I slide the fish into my hand, maybe fifteen inches long, warm like the water, like the air, like me.
It happens like this three more times this evening -- two snook and a chunky mangrove snapper that fought bigger than it was. Thunder sounds in the distance, and I reel in my line, hook my fly in the stripping guide of my rod, and paddle back across the lake, water hissing softly underneath me.