With the wind astern, we crossed the Key West harbor and cut into the broad basin called the Lakes. The 18-foot skiff slapped the wind-driven chop, and the speed blew the spray out in quick shots. Mounted on one gunwale was a long push pole, essential to quiet movement on the flats. Racked under the gunwales were a pair of fly rods and two spinners. My Wonder Rod, three times refinished, presented itself as a worn but proud relic of an era long gone.
On the young flood tide we ran in and staked out on Lavina Bank. The sky was mostly overcast, and the wind blew straight across miles of open flats. Key West lay low to the east, and the mangrove islands of the Lakes country were flat and dark. The wind was blowing, 15 knots and gusty, and a riffle lay across the chop, although we were in only two feet of water. We would have a problem seeing fish in that water.
But Drake said, "They'll be here, just be ready." His dog, a golden retriever, curled up on the rear deck.
By now it was midmorning as Drake stepped up on the poling tower that was built over the outboard engine. He was high over the water, maybe 10 feet off the surface, and soon he called, "Here they come...two o'clock"—the Chairman and I looked off to the right—"closing fast, maybe six fish."
Where? I thought. The Chairman asked, "Where?"
"Twelve o'clock, 40 feet away. Cast now!" But the Chairman was as dumbfounded as I. The low light and wind riffle created an opaque green surface over the dark grass bottom. I scanned right and left. The Chairman stood still on the foredeck, fly rod straight out in the wind. Then he saw the fish. He made a fast roll cast, a double haul, and his line was out. As the fly hit the water, there was an explosion 30 feet in front of the bow and a flash, and the black spike of a dorsal fin was in the air and gone again as the fish turned and fled. Four or five dark shapes, every once in a while flashing silver, followed. Permit.
Drake was patient. "You've got to be fast."
"Fast?" the Chairman said. "Man, how did you spot those fish that far out?" I was damned impressed. A single streak of mud hung in the water like a missle contrail.
"You've got to look very sharply.... It requires great concentration."
The Chairman coiled line at his feet, and it blew across the deck. "Yes, I'll have to be more attentive. They were just too close."