A Road Trip Through Hades Delivers A Reminder Of The Important Things In Life

May 2019

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!

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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!! 

Hobie Kayak Survives!!

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.

 

 

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Collier-Seminole State Park:  Surprise Serendipitous Snook

April 2019

On my drive from Everglades City to Naples, Florida, for weekly provisions, I routinely hustle by Collier-Seminole State Park.

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Collier-Seminole Park Just Off US 41 Outside Of Naples

For the past three years I have been meaning to plan an outing down the Blackwater River in the park, a trip I need to make to complete the kayak fishing guidebook to the Everglades environs that I’m working on.  But I’m always put off because I know the park, being so close to Naples, gets heavy use, especially on weekends when canoes and kayaks descend for ecotours.  The image of being engulfed by a flotilla of brightly colored boats filled with chattering tourists has limited appeal.  But with my annual migration to Colorado looming, I figured it was time to bite the proverbial bullet and get on the water.  I’m glad I did…SO glad!  When I start to do a little pre-trip research, my interest is definitely piqued.  None of the dozens of posts by visitors mention any serious fishing.   I find almost no information about fishing in the park on official websites aside from some general remarks about it having both salt and freshwater fish.  I do finally discover on Pinterest one post by a nature tour company offering guided kayak fishing that features a photo of a happy angler with a big snook.  Maybe the place is a sleeper!

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Now For The Rest Of The Story:  Behind The Big Fish And Big Smiles Lurks Mangrove Mayhem

Early April 2019

Anglers can’t resist showing off a big fish, where size really does matter.  Ever wonder about the back story behind the smiling pix, the agony as well as the ecstasy?  Here goes….and this is a true story!!

My erstwhile fishing buddy Bob Wayne and I love to probe hidden backcountry tidal creeks in the Everglades where big snook lurk in narrow channels lined with downed trees and mangroves.

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Robert Wayne, Esq., An Expert Fly Fisherman And Noted Big Fish Angler, Subdues Muscular Mayan Cichlid In The Wild Everglades Backcountry

The mangroves are an essential element of the ecosystem here, providing shelter for myriad small fish, crabs, and other life.  But their thick, dangling air roots will tangle a fishing line in a flash if a hooked fish dives under them, not to mention they are covered with razor-sharp barnacles that will slice and dice anything that rubs against them.

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Grasping Air Roots Of Mangroves Spell Trouble For Unwary Anglers

In these tight quarters only a small, narrow boat like my Gheenoe can squirm through, and our hard-earned experience has taught us it is a real team effort to hook and land big fish successfully.

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Author And His Trusty Gheenoe

One Angler with a 6-to-7 foot medium/light spinning rod and 2500 Series reel is positioned upfront on the small bow deck with the Wingman in the back of the boat where he is outfitted with the remote controls for a small quiet electric trolling motor and the shallow water power anchor that with a push of a button unfurls and pins the boat firmly in place.  The Wingman doesn’t fish.

Our efficacious technique to land big fish in these mazes has been honed through trial and error, with the emphasis on the latter.  By the numbers, here is how it is supposed to work:

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Rabbit Key Pass/Lopez River Loop: A Piscatorial Smorgasbord

Late March 2019

After a couple of days last week navigating and casting in the tight, sometimes maddening, quarters of backcountry mangrove tunnels, I’m ready for an easy day of fishing in my kayak.  One of my favorite close-in trips starts at the historic Smallwood Store, just a long stone’s throw from my winter abode on Chokoloskee Island, Florida.  The route wends its way past some productive oyster beds then snakes up channels to cross Rabbit Key Pass before circling back to the Lopez River and back home.  It’s a trip that always produces a grab bag of fish with a good chance at a slam—a redfish, speckled sea trout, and snook, with feisty jack crevalles and high-stepping ladyfish to keep you busy throughout the day.  Let’s go!!

 

 

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Fishing The Forgotten Parks Of The Florida Keys–Curry Hammock State Park

January 2019

For the first two articles in this series, see my earlier pieces on fishing Indian Key and Lignumvitae State Parks 

Most visitors to the Florida Keys whiz down the Overseas Highway (US 1) heading for destinations in the Lower Keys like Bahia Honda State Park (Florida’s most popular) or Key West, oblivious to the natural beauty, solitude, and hungry fish literally a stone’s throw away in four fabulous state parks—Indian Key, Lignum Vitae, Curry Hammock, and Long Key.  I have to confess that for many years I did.  A fortuitous convergence of unfavorable winds and tides on Big Pine Key where I usually set up my mobile fish camp for a couple of weeks every year got me to doing some research.  I wasn’t about to sit at home all day in my travel trailer twiddling my thumbs.  A little on-line sleuthing revealed more favorable tides and breezes back up the road about an hour between Marathon and Islamorada, as well as a string of state parks that would give me access to a lot of water.  It paid off in a bonanza of barracuda, jacks, and snapper with shots at bones, permit, snook, and sharks.

In contrast to Bahia Honda State Park near Big Pine Key that hosts over 400,000 visitors annually, with long lines of cars waiting to get in most days, the parking lots of the hidden four are rarely full and each has fewer than 10% of the tourist numbers.  Rarely do I run into other kayakers and even more rarely other anglers, and even if I do there are miles of shoreline and flats to fish.

These four state parks have now become a destination for me, not an afterthought.  In the series of articles that follow on each of the hidden gems, I will take you on an angling tour with some fascinating history and nature tidbits thrown in.  This is the third of the series featuring a hidden gem of a park that offers solitude and excellent sheltered fishing cheek-to-jowl with the hubbub of Marathon along its own fascinating history involving a genteel southern teacher lady who made it all possible.

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