We launched that morning under a patchwork of golden sunbeams stitched into the quilt of low grey clouds.
After wallowing a bit in the subdued surf as I coaxed the Evinrude to wakefulness, we buzz off towards the horizon.
My plan was to use the remainder of the morning to blind cast for kingfish around the rigs, or peel off and check any substantial floating debris for mahi or tripletail.
After searching the skies for birds and the immediate vicinity for debris, we ended up drifting near the barnacle encrusted legs of a rig. Dredging with a heavy clouser failed to bring any strikes, so we motored around and headed for the next rig on the horizon.
Arriving there, we immediately noticed the presence of baitfish. Standing in the zodiac revealed a glimmering swarm of anchovies stretching from the surface film down into the depths out of sight.
It looked like some 2nd grade girl had gotten over-excited with the glitter; as the fish turned and shifted they would alternatively flash their flank and then disappear again as their dark back was presented to us. Where the school was pressed against the surface, thousands of dimples formed from the tiny fish feeding and moving. On the slick surface of the becalmed ocean, it appeared as if a light sprinkle were falling on an area only a hundred yards square, texturizing the surface film. A sight to behold, this horde of rainbait, but I knew this was only a warm-up for the weeks to come. The 'chovies are about to start moving through in huge swarms, and it's gonna be awesome. But I digress...
I laid out casts and let the fly sink deep. The clouser was tied with kings in mind, heavy on weight and flash, to get down to the mid-level water column the big mackerel like to hunt. I had a feeling that below the anchovies was where I wanted to be, so I counted the fly way down.
After several casts like this, I got halfway back to the boat on my retrieve only to have it stop dead. I quickly strip-struck and lifted my rod slightly to help drive the hook home, coming tight for several seconds before the line went slack.
Expletives happened. I realized as I quickly brought the line to the surface that I still had a fly on the line - it hadn't been clipped off by the king's razor-mouth. When I actually saw the fly as it neared the surface, I realized what had happened; it had been neatly sheared in half. My eyes focused on the fly, and then on the blur of movement close behind - a pack of kings had followed the fly up! Lit up and aggressive, they charged out of the depths after the prey that dared try to swim away from them. I quickly dropped the fly back down to them, then began moving it upward again just in time to watch a king pushing 48-50" streak vertically up from below and clip my fly off as neatly as I could ever hope to do with scissors. Just like that, the iridescent blue-green torpedoes were gone, jetting back off into the cobalt gloom.
Well. That was exciting.
I quickly tied another clouser on the tippet and was back in business. I've gotten used to losing flies in this manner - so far this year the tally is kings - 17, me - 2.
Hearing slashing splashes behind us, we quickly turned to see a baitball of anchovies getting mauled by spanish macks. Then they too were gone, almost before I could catch a picture.
Another cast; more time spent drifting down, down into the anchovies and the unknown.
I began my retrieve, slowly moving the fly through the water column in the manner of a wounded baitfish. Another thump; I set the hook and the fish immediately turned and dove towards the bottom. It was much weaker than I expected - I could feel the thumpthumpthump of a tail beating frantically but it wasn't the blastoff scream of a king. I immediately assumed it was a small jack crevelle, due to the presence of all the anchovies. Immature jacks are a common by-catch for fly slingers around baitballs, so I was a tad bit annoyed as I ripped the fish upwards as quickly as possible.
Right up until I could see color, about 20 feet down. Then, with each strip closer to the surface, my delight grew. A snapper! YES! I felt extremely lucky as I brought the fish on board. Not only was it a snapper, but it was just long enough to be a keeper in Texas state waters. A tad over 15". My first red snapper on any tackle, and a fly-caught keeper no less!
Just goes to show, I suppose, that you don't need to catch the biggest fish to get a great deal of satisfaction out of it. And as you can see from the vessel that I am sitting in, you don't need the most expensive gear to get out there and push a few boundaries for yourself.
Be smart, be careful, but be brave. You never know what you will find, out in the unknown.