Salomone: The lights are brighter at night
Vail Valley Anglers
When you are out on the ocean at night, the city lights breathe with life and pulse in the thick, humid air. But it’s quiet, you don’t hear her voice spoken from every car, train and local, outdoor band.
Just the water, you can hear water. I’m aboard a tiny flats skiff with Captain Scott Miller of Reel Intense Fly Fishing and we are looking to dance with the locals under some of the best “city lights” you can find.
We met at the boat ramp at 10 p.m. with not another angler around in this normally congested area. The parking lot was completely empty and if not for the sheriff’s substation located in the same parking lot, I would be worried about a break-in. I parked the Cadillac 400, an unexpected upgrade, under a bright light for my late night departure, collected my gear and met my friend.
Captain Miller has developed some strong connections to our little mountain valley. He spends his vacation time skiing in Beaver Creek every year. And he trades out trips with fly-shop managers and guides who travel to South Florida. It’s a win-win situation for both guides involved.
Up on plane across the bay behind Macarthur Beach State Park, one of my wife’s favorites beaches, we pass Munyun Island on our way to the first “discotech.” We maneuver the nimble flats boat around dock pilings and boat lifts.
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The underwater glow from purposely installed fish attracting lights illuminates the silver, scaled, disco-ball tarpon that have gathered for show. They flash and roll, chasing minnows that swim into the light. At times three or four compete chasing off the suddenly targeted baitfish.
It’s a fun game, motoring into position with the quiet hum of an electric trolling motor, jockeying for a shot at the light and a clear back cast. The room for error is as small as the casting target. Tarpon explode with the set of a hook and head straight for obstructions to free the connection. Holding one from the barnacle encrusted poles is a game won with the boat captain. Backing the boat away from hazards while the angler tries to contain the freight train attached to the fly is a game won as a team.
Gauging casting distance with pinpoint targeting and care to not hook wood, carpet or cables is a tricky game. Compound those variables with limited light and the world of fly-fishing takes on a whole new meaning. Everything that pulls in the saltwater uses the weight of the tides to create speed and muscle. Broad tails push water with a strength not encountered in the freshwater.
The tarpon are dinosaurs with eyes as big as tennis balls and a gruff, no-nonsense face even momma might not like. Their solid bone mouth seems to be wrapped in aluminum foil and guarded by sandpaper lips. They have no trouble bending cheap hooks and destroying flies.
Intermixed with the smaller class tarpon are big snook. Popping on shrimp and glass minnows, the ever favorite snook, know how the game of chess is conducted among the dock lights too. Running for structure and severing thin tippets with rough mouths and glass sharp gill plates, the dock light snook is a tough fish on the fly.
We motor up the Ermine River. A smaller pinch of water that has a more discernible current for the tide we are experiencing and places the fish in a more predictable position. Captain Miller uses his knowledge of the local water, lights and the tide to choose our route. We bounce around, revisiting some lights after giving the fish and water a break.
Tarpon and snook are the major players when it comes to fly-fishing the dock lights around West Palm Beach, Florida. Making your rounds to the many discotechs where these fish like to dance is a game all fly anglers need to experience. The city lights at night give these well known fish a whole new perspective when you target them at night on the fly.
Michael Salomone moved to the Eagle River valley in 1992. He began guiding fly-fishing professionally in 2002. His freelance writing has been published in numerous magazines and websites including; Southwest Fly Fishing, Fly Rod & Reel, Eastern Fly Fishing, On the Fly mag, FlyLords, the Pointing Dog Journal, Upland Almanac, the Echo website, Vail Valley Anglers and more. He lives on the bank of the Eagle River with his wife, Lori; two daughters, Emily and Ella; and a brace of yellow labrador retrievers.