The thick sweet aroma of cigar smoke, billowing out of Captain Dom, diffused easily—and nicely—into the salt air of the flats.

Slowly the skiff cruised along the banks of the mangroves; half under the power of the large Mercury outboard, half under the power of the tide's relentless pull.

Captain Dom stood relaxed with one leg propped up on the gunnal, in that way that old salts stand when their legs anticipate the sway and roll of the hull without needing to think, puffing slowly on a short old cigar, reaching periodically into a five gallon bucket filled with dead and dying shrimp with a wiffle ball bat that had been cut into a a large plastic scoop, throwing the shrimp into the water at the base of the mangroves. Slowly the shrimp corpses, some still twitching, would sink into the murkey water—or disappear beneath a swirl water.

"The current sweeps out the sand at the base of the mangroves," Captain Dom said with the cigar between his teeth, "it gets deeper right before you get to the roots—that's where the Red's hang-out. You gotta get em' up and out of the roots." Another scoop and throw of shrimp. Another swirll of water.


My momther sat at the bow, smiling beneath a large sun-had and a dark set of sunglasses.

I stood eagerly, perhaps even too close, to Captain Dom flicking my line with a bit of lead slit-shot and a hooked shrimp at the end into the water.

Captain Dom puffed away, tossing shrimp.

After so many flicks at the boils beneath which the thrown shrimp had disappeared, I offered the rod to my mom.

"No," she said softly with an earnest smile, "you keep fishing until you catch something, then I'll take a turn."

Finally, it seemed, Captain Dom had drifted to the spot he had been looking for, or had decided he'd thrown enough shrimp to raise the leviathans. "Throw that shrimp over there," he said, pointing his stubby and weathered finger towards a particular jut of mangrove roots.

I tossed my line, let it sink, waited.

"Now give it a tug, then you'll see," Captain said as he reached over and pulled at my line above the reel. With a surprising gentility he pulled at the line with his thumb and forefinger, let the slack settle out, then slowly pulled again and drew his hand away.

Instantly, his trick conjured a fish as the line started peeling through the drag.

red fish

Captain reached over and tightened the drag a turn. "Now, rod tip up, hold the reel," he directed, "good, how drop the tip and reel in, hold it and do it again."

Up, hold; down, reel. I did as I was told and soon the fish was at the boat—a beautiful Redfish, drumming softly as it shook it's head trying to throw the hook.

Captain reched down, with a calloused thumb in the fish's mouth and the other fingers supporting the jaw, and pulled the fish in. With another magic slight of hand, the hook was out of the fish's mouth. The Red was gourgious with it's shimmering copper scales, puntuated with the large black dot at the base of the tail and the slightest pale blue border to the tail fin.

As I danced with excitement, my mom dug in her bag looking for her camera.

Captain quickly measured the fish. "33inches, too big to keep. Here," he said as he took my hands and placed them with one thumb slid beneath the gill plate while the other fingers held the head, with my other hand holding the tail so the fish's markings could be seen.

The fish's weight took me by surprise, heavy and slick an warm. Maybe it was the warmtht that caught me off gaurd the most.

Finally, my mom looked up with slight disgust, "I left my camera at the cabin! I am so sorry, great job Zac. I'm so proud of you."

I didn't care, the praise and accomplishment were reward enough.

"Here," Captain said as he guided my hands and my fish over the rail of the boat. He told me too let go of the head but hold onto the tail. I did. Taking me by the wrist which held the fish, he slowly pulled and pushed the fish through the water. "When he kicks, let em' go," he said.

In an instant the fish shook free of my hand and swam into the murky water, on a fast track to the mangrove roots.

red fish

I beamed with accomplishment, full-chested and proud. "Here," I said and held out my rod to my mom.

"No, that's ok," she relied, "I want to see you catch another."

The sweet smell of cigar smoke drifted across the boat.