After a couple of days of non-stop action and a severe case of ‘Cuda elbow, I took a day off to lollygag around camp, do a little reading and writing, and swill some margaritas on the sun deck at the Big Pine Key Lodge where I am staying in my mobile fish camp. Today I decide to go out, but stick closer to home. There are three keys within a stone’s throw of camp—Big Mangrove, Little Don Quixote, and No Name. All three have different personalities and offer great opportunities for a variety of fish, some big. No Name is frequented by tarpon, snook, and (of course) lots of barracuda. Big Mangrove is the haunt of snappers, cudas, and some hefty sharks. Don Quixote and the flats just to its north are favorites of permit, sharks, and occasionally some tarpon. This is a particularly good trip when the wind is blowing from the northeast after a front blasts through.
I am up early, timing my day to hit the flats between Don Quixote and No Name on an incoming tide. I could paddle out north from the ramp at the lodge, under the Overseas Highway Bridge, and directly to Big Mangrove Key, but my preferred route starts at the venerable Old Wooden Bridge Cottages towards the north end of No Name Key, about a 20-minute drive up the east side of Big Pine Key. I slip my $10 ramp fee under the office door and launch into the Bogie Channel, hankering for a shot at the sizeable snook that hide under the bridge that connects Big Pine to No Name Key. I pitch a white Gulp swimming mullet on a 1/8 oz jig head up against one of the bridge pilings, let it sink, and then….
Wham….something whacks it hard!