Like many anglers, I cut my teeth chasing bluegills and sunfish in farm ponds, first with worms under a pencil bobber, then graduating to cork popping bugs trailing behind a spinning bubble, and eventually to a fly rod. It’s fun to revisit those carefree kid fishing days when I caught fish-after-fish in the warm Kansas summer sun courtesy of a newcomer to Florida that’s a bit of a bluegill look-alike—the Mayan Cichlid (p. sicklid), also called Atomic Sunfish because of their explosive colors. When the snook are snoozing, the redfish retiring, and tarpon torpid, these hard-fighting invaders from south of the border provide endless entertainment.
Indeed, my fishing buddy Bob Wayne and I are so enamored with them that we call them Mayan Chicklettes, which sounds ever so much more inviting and appropriate than the unappealing name some scientist visited upon them.
What’s not to like about these invaders? They may not be all that big, rarely growing larger than nine or ten inches, but in addition to their flamboyant colors, they are eager to eat anything that moves and feisty with pulsating runs courtesy of a big fantail caudal fin.
It’s so nice to have an immigrant from Central America that even Trump could love…if he fished. Chicklettes are indeed invasive, found throughout the Everglades in fresh and brackish water. They were first discovered in the area in 1983, probably released from home aquariums by owners when they got too big or perhaps escaped from aquaculture impoundments. Now they are everywhere in canals lining highways throughout the region like the Tamiami Trail (US 41) and in backcountry brackish water lakes and ponds and waterways like Halfway Creek and the Turner River. The real treat and test is in the backwater lakes where sight fishing for Chicklettes along shorelines in shallow water is a real possibility.
In early May I embarked on my annual road trip, migrating from my warm winter haunt in the Everglades to my summer retreat in the cool mountains of Colorado. It’s a long 2,500 mile excursion in my Xterra SUV towing a 25-foot travel trailer that serves as a mobile fish camp. The first day and a half went smoothly, and then I took a detour off Interstate 95 to visit Charleston, South Carolina, where I had worked on a legal assignment for a private client some four decades ago and then again in the 1990s drafting historic preservation plans and standards. Back in the 1970s the city was struggling economically and trying to leverage its historic buildings to revitalize the community. I was more than pleasantly surprised to see Charleston looking great!
Hundreds of new apartments have been built outside the historic core, which is thriving. When I crossed over the Cooper River on the stunning Ravenal Bridge, I was greeted with a scene of hundreds of young people jogging, walking, and pushing baby carriages, a testimony to the new lifeblood of Charleston. What a great tribute to visionary Mayor Joe Riley who served the city well over 40 years from 1975 to 2016.
But then disaster struck about 100 miles north just outside Myrtle Beach. Tired of the gawd awful traffic around that ode to sprawl, I took a cut-off to get back on Interstate 95 post haste. Little did I know that I was joining a traffic nightmare created by weekend beachgoers hustling home on this narrow four-lane highway. About 10 miles up the road a young woman turned in front of me at a busy intersection. I swerved but with the big trailer in tow, couldn’t avoid her and with a sickening crunch my trip came to a crashing halt. I struggled to gain control of my rig and almost succeeded, but the trailer veered to the side and skidded into a deep ditch, then began to roll on its side. The force of the careening trailer tipped over the SUV as well. The whole thing played out in slow motion. As my truck lurched over on its side, I remember thinking “will I ever see my sweetheart granddaughter Aly, my two boys, and all the other people I care about who put up with me.” Next I remember the side air bags blowing. When it was all over, I was suspended high up by my seat belt in the SUV which was on its side. I couldn’t get out because the driver’s side door was jammed, which gave me time to think about the important lessons in life as I waited to be extricated by the firefighters who arrived from a nearby station within minutes. Fortunately, aside from a few scratches on my leg, I wasn’t hurt, and the young woman escaped unscathed as well. Of course, the saga didn’t end there. It took better than an hour to winch the SUV and trailer upright and tow them out of the way. Miraculously, my prized Hobie fishing kayak lashed to the top of the Xterra was unscathed!!
And when the mechanics at the tow yard said they could get the truck and travel trailer patched up so I could continue my journey, I foolishly agreed. They said just don’t drive over 55 mph. The thought of having to rent a truck and empty out my SUV and trailer to get back home was just too daunting to consider. But of course that’s exactly what happened a day up the road when the differential started leaking oil on the hot rear brakes, and I flew down the road billowing smoke. It took me four hours in the hot sun to transfer all the gear, etc. from the SUV and trailer to a U-Haul truck and hit the road once again, waving goodbye to my faithful Xterra and fish camp that appeared headed to the salvage yard. Now I will tell you 1500 hundred miles in a noisy rental truck so loud I could barely hear the AM/FM radio (no Sirius, no Bluetooth, no CD player) gave me even more time to mull over life’s lessons and other observations. Here they are, in no particular order.