No self-respecting Seffrican fly fisherman is going to let a prime fly fishing opportunity pass by while abroad. Just before the world shut up shop, Hennie Viljoen went on a work trip to Southern Florida and snuck in a visit to the Everglades, one of the ultimate Florida fly fishing locations for snook and redfish.
“America – land of the free and home of the brave; where light beer rules the roost and pick-up trucks are the size of a two-bedroom townhouse. It’s also a place I have always wanted to visit and fish. Despite their current leader’s antics when it comes to rolling back environmental protections, the US still boasts a vast amount of incredible fishing for many different fly-chasing species of gamefish; some more obvious than others.
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Most people’s choice for an international fly fishing destination would probably be the Seychelles, or perhaps a place like St Brandon’s, but I’ve always had an incredible itch to scratch when it came to Florida fly fishing for snook and redfish in particular. Now don’t get me wrong, I’d jump at the opportunity to go chasing bonefish on the flats somewhere on a remote atoll in the Indian Ocean, but you take your chances when they present themselves to you. The stars aligned for me early in 2020 (before the whole world woke up to the impact of corona virus) when I had a work related opportunity to visit the US of A.
Confession time. Before this trip, I’d never been outside the borders of South Africa; I’d never even been on a saltwater fly fishing trip. So this was a whole new world of opportunity and potential reward. My work obligations dictated that I had to go to Southern Florida for a meeting (remember those pre-Zoom gatherings of people?). Finding myself in Florida was fateful, because it gave me a chance to put some green ticks next to redfish and snook on the fly fishing bucket list (something that I don’t really have but which sounds like a nice idea). I did a lot of research on the Everglades area: guides, recommended gear etc. before putting the wheels in motion and contacting Capt. Honson Lau. He was recommended by Christiaan Pretorius (a chicken salesman from Secunda*), and who am I to argue with Christiaan?
I only had the 29th of February available to go fishing, and guess what? That was, coincidentally, Honson’s only available day to take me to the Glades to chase after snook and reds. Sounds a lot like destiny doesn’t it? A deposit was paid, Google was consulted for snook and redfish fly patterns, and flies were tied. Fast forward a few weeks and there I was in Florida standing outside my hotel at 5:00 am waiting for Honson to pick me up.
The night before, I’d met up with Honson, a self-confessed foodie, for dinner at a local Peruvian restaurant in Miami. Other than having my mind blown by the incredible food and the fact that he was a brilliant host, it was clear that Honson was very excited about taking me out on his new skiff, a Maverick 17 HPX-V Carbon edition. This didn’t mean much to me at the time, but I quickly came to understand what all the hype was about when Honson pulled up at the hotel in his Dodge Ram 1500 with the Maverick behind it on a trailer. This is the skiff that all other skiffs want to be when they grow up. It’s not only one of the most beautiful things that I’ve ever seen but, every inch of that skiff is purpose built to be functional and to achieve absolute perfection.
Our destination was Flamingo, a village that is the southernmost HQ of the Everglades National Park. As he drove, Honson gave me a rundown on what to expect. My childlike excitement meant I hadn’t slept the night before. Just before the park’s entrance we stopped at a gas station to fill up the Dodge and to grab some coffee.
As we entered the convenience store, a lady’s voice greeted us with, “A little cold to go out fishing today, ain’t it?”
A harmless honey to someone, but a harpy of bad luck to me, she unwittingly pissed on my batteries because it was clear that A) she’d been there for many years and B) having been exposed to so many fishermen stopping there for the same reasons as we had, it was safe to assume that she had a very good idea of when the fishing was going to be good or not.
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Mildly annoyed at this portent of doom, I filled my flask with some liquid tar and jumped back into the Dodge to complete the final leg of our journey into the alligator-infested (and apparently too cold according to the fishing oracle lady) swamplands of the Everglades. By the time we got to Flamingo and launched the skiff, it was just after sunrise, which was truly something to behold. As we started cruising out of the marina, a school of baby tarpon porpoised next to the skiff, which resulted in immediate buck fever on my part. Motoring out to our first stop, I remember thinking how surreal it all was. Something along the lines of, ‘I’m actually here, this isn’t a dream, I’m actually going to chase tailing reds on the flats, in the Glades!’
“I don’t like the colour of the water” Honson said shortly after coming to a standstill at our first location. “I wasn’t expecting it to be this dirty.”
Well… too cold, too dirty, what’s next? Is there a hurricane on the way to perhaps just round things off nicely? To a South African with one shot at catching his dream fish on what is, possibly, a one-off visit, some mild water colour issues were not going to scupper my plans or my mood.
“Screw it, I’m here to make this work no matter what. Forget the forecast, right?!”
Honson started the outboard motor and we headed off to another of his favourite spots. On the way I was amazed at the amount of wildlife we encountered: sharks, dolphins, pelicans, turtles, and a lot of other bird species I never even knew existed. Everything except for fish. Obviously.
Arriving at the second location, the water was gin clear and only about eight inches deep. I couldn’t believe how the Maverick could operate in such shallow water. Honson got up on his platform and steered us with his pole. This was 100% a sight fishing game, no blind casting at all. We practised a few casts in different directions and distances so we both felt comfortable that I’d be able to hit a target if presented with a shot and there were some instructions from Honson. Then, it was game time.
Spotting something, Honson said, “Give me 30 feet at 10 o’clock.”
After just one false cast, I let the line shoot out to where I thought he wanted it. It was classic textbook stuff. I made the cast, the fly touched down on the water and Honson said, “Slide, slide, slide,” (which in Florida guide-speak means ‘long, slow retrieve’). In seconds, my line went tight.
Oh… My… Word… FISH ON!”
For the rest of Hennie’s story about Florida fly fishing, get stuck in to issue 21 of The Mission for free, below, or buy the print edition here.