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Chapter 7 "The Journey South"

Super Snook is tired, real tired. He has been on the move most of the afternoon, and he senses the imminent onset of dark.

Driven by a complex genetic code, fine-tuned for survival over hundreds of years, he “knows” it’s time to move south. All the environmental factors are telling him beyond a shadow of a doubt that the time is now. Long, warm, summer days are becoming shorter, and the languid waters of the back-bays of the Outer Banks of North Carolina are beginning to cool.

He is well prepared for his epic journey. Equipped with an extremely sensitive, over-developed lateral line, a fine-tuned sense of smell, and sharp visual acuity, there are no surprises in his world. He is a top-of-the-line predator, the hunter, not the hunted, that’s if you don’t count the hundreds, or thousands of hapless, self-proclaimed snook experts, that have dedicated the free time to fooling a survival expert like Super. SS has seen it all, diving plugs, jigs, and all types of live baits. The humans have hooked him, but that was long ago, an unfortunate accident, the details of which he has filed away in his memories, adding to his experience of survival. He has reached his fighting weight of more than sixty pounds, and has earned every pound that his lithe, muscular body belies.

Super is traveling with his usual entourage of, about, 25 large tarpon, all-intent on making the very same migration to the warmer waters of the Florida East Coast. Although Super Snook has no idea of where he will lay up for the winter, he will know the place when he gets there, probably a deep hole in a nice inlet on the coast, where he can lazily hang-out in the tide, picking off unsuspecting baitfish that are swept out to the ocean in the powerful brackish water currents. There he will become the center of conversation for hundreds of anglers, who will claim to have done battle with the legendary monster snook. Ha…”How dare the humans even pretend to be able to best me!” he snarls, his predominant lower jaw curling upwards in a sneer. “They have far too high of an opinion of themselves.”

But now is no time to gloat, he must keep a sharp out for predators. Although the tarpon will warn him of predatory infiltration ahead, he must keep his wits about him, and stay sharp. Surviving is a full-time job, and the aquatic enemies he faces daily play for keeps.

The point position is taken up by an old, battle scarred female tarpon of better than two hundred pounds and pushing eight feet in length. She is famous, and well respected by all fishes. Five years ago, the “Ole Lady”, as she is now known, won the prestigious Boca Grande Tarpon Rodeo, fins down, edging out the competition by more than forty pounds. She did lose a few scales in the process, and didn’t really enjoy being hoisted into the air on the weigh station gallows, but it was a small price to pay to earn the title of overall winner. She was one of the biggest of her kind and knew the ways of the water well . The warm waters of Charlotte Harbor sure did feel good, washing over her aching gills as she hit the water swimming. The rest of the Ole Lady’s entourage swam obediently behind her, in a loosely shaped V-formation, creating a flying wedge of superior, sleek, silver power, an impressive sight, as the soft afternoon light reflected off their dark golden backs specked with gold flakes.

Super Snook was laying back in the pack, where the waters were not so roiled up by the lazy tail beats of a ton and a half of silver. He occasionally pauses for a moment to pick up Stone Crab, spinning out of control in the muddy bottom. SS`s best buddy, Stoney the Crab is holding on tightly to Super’s first dorsal fin ray with his crushing claw, his more slender ripping claw waving wildly in the water, reminiscent of a cowboy riding a rodeo bull. Stoney`s association with such a top of the line predator as the huge, battle-scarred snook, is of mutual benefit to them both. Super provides high-speed transportation, measured in crab miles an hour, which are very slow, and Stoney helps Super Snook out with re-conissance and other chores which may involve cutting or crushing something, which Stoney is very good at. What he lacks in speed and personality, he makes up in precision cutting and ripping and his ability to breathe air topside. The unlikely pair makes a fine team, to be sure.

The group’s movement starts to slow, and Super Snook senses that they have arrived at a good spot to spend the night, lying off to the side of a small cut close to the North Carolina/South Carolina border. They will spend the next six hours here, noses pointed eastward, into the newly flooding incoming tide, picking off the occasional pilchard and threadfin herring, as the Atlantic breathes new life into the coffee-colored waters of the Intra Coastal Waterway. So it is, as it has been, for thousands of years, the endless rhythm of the tide, as it switches directions every six hours, ebbing and flooding, waxing and waning to the cycles of the moon, as the gold and silver orb rises and sets, in an ever-repeating, omnipresent power play, effortlessly moving millions of gallons of water a second. To the Silver Raiders, and the huge, sleek snook, the cycle of tidal flow is comforting and familiar. It is their life’s force timepiece, the likes of which controls and regulates their every move. But for now Super Snook and Stoney are content to let the clear water of the Atlantic flood past them, and they turn their thoughts to a much less complicated existence, the business of survival. For the next six hours they will swim into the flooding tide, waiting for the first rays of sunlight to bring in a new day. It is during the first light of day, Super Snook and his silver scaled friends will greedily gorge themselves on vast shoals of anchovies sweeping past them, carried inshore by the final hours of the flood tide. It is during this feeding frenzy that a few adventurous “Pro Anglers”, (Super hates the term), will pretentiously presume to trick some fish into inhaling a casted top water lure. “Ha! Look Out, SS, Stoney exclaims, one of those black and white fake fish almost snagged your tail!” “They have got to be kidding, they really think I’m would eat that stupid chunk of plastic with all those treble hooks?” “Stoney, hang on, watch this!”

Super Snook spins on his tail, grabbing one tine of the last treble hook in his powerful jaws, barely holding onto the curved portion of the hook, he kicks his fantail sharply side to side, and makes a lateral run along the bottom of the shallow inlet. His acceleration is impressive, as he burns off a hundred yards of dangerously strong and thin fishing line, in mere seconds. One pronounced headshake, and he drops the lure and swims confidently back to a comfortable position behind the lead tarpon.

“Man, what the heck was that!” the resident expert angler exclaims, “Musta been something big, the way it burned drag!” he says, looking around and then reaching for something to cool his burning thumb as well.

It was all over in a matter of seconds. Super Snook blew bubbles and chuckled as he now swam lazily with the gentle current, a barrage of lures pelting the water behind him, as a half-dozen, adrenalin charged anglers pathetically attempt to fool another fish into another bite, unaware that they are being played as fools in a pawn’s game of survival.

“Enough, time to move out!” the Ole Lady is ready to take up the lead again, as her years of wisdom and knowledge guide her entourage southward, and closer to the promise of the warmer fertile waters of the Florida East Coast.

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