Barracuda: A kind of fierce tropical fish that has strong jaws and sharp teeth
I’m headed out early again way before first light, creeping slowly out of the RV park in the dark, lights dimmed. I hoping to avoid waking my sometime fishing and drinking buddies in their nearby trailers, an august assembly of accomplished tarpon and permit fishing mavens. I’d have to explain how I could eschew those iconic game fish, instead pursuing a holy quest for as many barracuda as I can catch (and release) in one day. They already turn their noses up and make sport of me as the Kayak Cuda Buddha for my unfailing devotion to these toothy torpedoes! My destination for this quest is the colorfully named Toptree Hammock Key. The launch point is at the end of Niles Road on Summerland Key.
I’m on the water at first light, but even though the tide has just peaked, I am having to paddle rather than peddle in the shallow water as I head north. I can hear the fins below the boat scraping on the hard corals that dot this hard-bottom flat. Which is a good sign usually because barracuda tend to prowl these areas. Finally I make it to the old bridge that links Summerland to a series of smaller keys. It was apparently blown out partially by the last big hurricane, so a span is missing, and the trail to it from the ramp is getting overgrown. I’m continually amazed at all of the abandoned and storm-wrecked structures that abound in the Keys, testimony to the hardy and fool-hardy souls who actually lived on them, farmed them, and raised families before being driven off by hurricanes, bugs, disease, or the heat. Most are overgrown and wild again, part of the Florida National Marine Sanctuary. Maybe a harbinger of things to come as sea levels continue to rise down here. But I’m not about to let dark thoughts of climate change deter me from my barracuda quest! Those thoughts are better contemplated over a margarita.
As I creep closer, I see the falling tide is flowing hard around the bridge abutments, so I figure there must be some barracuda hiding there, picking off forage fish washing by. My first cast with the trusty Mirrolure MR18 is greeted with a solid hit, and a nice 20″ barracuda comes to the boat after some strong runs. A good start. But the bubble is soon burst as my kayak runs aground on a grassy shoal near the bridge, and I discover the water is only a few inches deep under the span and far out into the Niles Channel to the east. My hopes of joining the Century Club–catching over 100 fish–are starting to fade! So somewhat dejectedly, I head further north towards Wahoo Key, where I find another expansive, beautiful hard-bottom flat. I bail out of the kayak and begin wading in the beautiful clear water as the sun starts to light things up so I can see anything that moves. I spot a couple of long darker forms near the shore that seem to be moving and loft a cast that way. One of the shadows darts towards the sinking lure and before I can even crank the reel once, KERBLAM!!