Fishing Through The Corona Crisis

March 2020

I’m an old coot who has been through my share of crises, national and otherwise, over my 70-plus years.  During my college days there were the marches and raucous demonstrations over the Vietnam War culminating in the horrific Kent State shootings that sent the nation reeling. 

Flower Power Ends Vietnam War

They were followed by the race riots where Chicago and other big cities burned.  I remember well sitting in long lines for gas during the 70’s Arab oil embargo with fights breaking out when guys tried to cut in line, then a few years later nervously watching news of the Iran hostage crisis. 

Arab Oil Embargo Gas Crisis

I kept right on fishing through it all, including fly fishing through my mid-life crisis in the 90s (tipping my hat to Howell Raines who chronicled this time for all of us angling boomers).  Then there was 9-11 when I got stuck on the runway at O’Hare Airport in Chicago for three hours only upon disembarking to watch incredulously on a TV in the terminal the terrorist-piloted jet crash into the second Twin Tower in New York City.  I was thoroughly shaken and stranded in Chicago for three days, but back on the water a week later.  Fast forward to the Great Recession.  That crisis too would pass.

But none of those crises compares in my mind with the Coronavirus calamity sweeping the nation and world.   It’s an existential threat when despite all the years under your belt, you have no established frame of reference for anything like it. The only thing remotely comparable in my life is the first time when I was in California and a big earthquake hit.  It’s almost impossible to regain your equilibrium when the basic rock-solid reference point of your being shifts ominously beneath your feet.  It generates a sense of dread that is hard to shake.

I had that moment in March as the Coronavirus infections began to spread like wildfire in Washington and New York then mushrooming in Florida where I spend the winter.  Being among the so-called “at risk” population, I hid away early in my little abode near Everglades City.  But after a few days of reading and watching Chicago P.D. reruns, I was going more than a little stir crazy.   I figured a fishing trip into the wilds of the Everglades out of my home base on Chokoloskee Island might be the answer, the mental salve that I needed.  I have found time and again solitude and fighting fish are the antidote for many ailments.  Fortunately I could get away in my kayak to close-by spots without having to fill-up with gas or cross paths with other anglers at boat ramps. But the weather and tides were conspiring against me.  The wind was blowing like a banshee, and the tides were super low during the prime fishing times.  That meant I couldn’t risk getting out on Chokoloskee Bay or probably wouldn’t have enough water to get into some of my favorite backcountry creeks.  And of course the authorities were issuing dire warnings as they belatedly closed beaches and restaurants in Florida.  What’s an angler to do??

As I plotted my next move, I also knew I had to respect the admonitions about social distancing and staying sheltered away from the madding crowds to protect others and myself.  To make things even more challenging, several of my favorite routes weren’t options as nearby state parks and many public boat ramps had wisely closed.   I needed a paradigm shift. 

Then if by magic, a friend who lives just outside Everglades City called and asked if I’d like to try fishing on a sheltered freshwater lake that his home borders on, one with public access.  Not an angler himself, he mentioned that he’d seen some big fish swimming and rising along the shoreline during one of his walks.  Probably bass, I thought.  He added he’d never seen a boat out on the lake.  No wind, no tides, big fish, and no people—sounded like the perfect Corona escape!  And it was!! 

Big Bass Hiding In Plain Sight

I rerigged my snook rod/reel outfits with lighter leaders and dug out my old bass fishing lures that I hadn’t used for years.  I tied on an old reliable baby bass-colored fluke on a 1/8 oz. jig head.  Bass are cannibals so it seemed like a good bet.  No one was on the lake when I shoved off in the early morning in my kayak.  Ten minutes later I had managed nary a strike when I hooked the bottom off a stand of sawgrass….or at least that’s what I thought until it moved.  Five minutes of chaos later, I landed one of my biggest bass ever—pushing seven pounds.

Lunker Largemouth Bass

The bonus was the wildlife that I crossed paths with as I paddled the beautiful clear spring-fed lake.

Fellow Angler
Gator Time

That outing started me on a quixotic quest to find more hidden freshwater bass lakes in my immediate neighborhood overlooked and ignored by saltwater anglers like myself pursuing snook and tarpon–ones I could get to and fish from my kayak without endangering anyone. It didn’t take long with a little sleuthing to find a hidden series of lakes just down the road from me. This one produced some exotics from South America–a beautiful big Peacock Bass and a colorful Mayan Cichlid, AKA Atomic Sunfish.

An Exotic Invader–A Peacock Bass

Atomic Sunfish

And the bonus in one was a surprise snook, a saltwater fish that can survive in freshwater, that went almost 30-inches. The mystery is how she got there miles from saltwater. But then whose to argue??

Surprise Snook!

I have even started chasing toothy gar in the canals along the Tamiami Trail a few minutes from my home.  Fortunately I have been able to enlist the help of a human pack mule to haul my kayak into more remote spots. He works for good red wine.

More about those bass, gar, and hidden lakes in the future…and believe me they are mental antidotes for the pandemic.

The whole experience reminded me that life goes on, offering new patterns and adventures along the way, often in your backyard. Mind you, I am not advocating straying miles from home like the knuckleheads from the Miami area who are evading the state and local stay-at-home orders and closed boat ramps there to descend on Everglades City and Chokoloskee Island with its populace overwhelmingly made up of vulnerable senior citizens. The nearest hospital is over an hour away. Stay close to home so you aren’t putting yourself and other people at risk. There’s so much about this virus that doctors and scientists are just discovering—like some people who are infected never exhibit any symptoms.

If you live in Florida, and especially in the Miami or another urban area, take another look at those nearby canals.  Monster Peacock Bass and big Mayan Cichlids are probably lurking and hungry.  Take the cue from anglers in Denver who are restricted from going out to the mountains to fish so they are catching carp AND big trout in the South Platte that runs through the heart of the city.  And whatever you do, just be careful out there.   

2019 Hooknfly High-Water Marks: The Best, The Bummers, and the Blood-Curdling

Late December 2019

Greetings to all my friends and readers. I hope your holidays have been peaceful, and here’s wishing you the best for a great 2020. It’s been a very interesting and rewarding year writing my blog. In addition to providing an admitted excuse to go fishing and explore remote places and share them with my friends, my main goal continues to be helping reinforce and building the constituency to preserve and protect these wild and wonderful places fish inhabit. Given the current state of politics in the country and multiple threats to our environment and natural resources, it’s more important than ever to take a stand and do whatever we can to protect Mother Nature and her finny denizens.

I was especially gratified to have some of my piscatorial peregrinations published by Florida Sportsman magazine in an article about kayak fishing in the Everglades. You can find a link to it in my October post.

It was also great to see that by late December, the Hooknfly blog has had over 53,000 views and over 23,000 visitors, a 40%+ increase over 2018An added and very satisfying benefit has been connecting with people and making new friends around the USA and the world.

Among them are readers from over 60 nations.  Now it’s easy to figure out why people who follow my blog are mainly from English-speaking countries, but who am I to ask why anyone from Belarus, Ukraine, or Russia would read my articles.  Hmmm, but on second thought perhaps there is indeed a common thread here—could it be I’m on Putin’s watch list after posting a not-so-flattering wise crack and photo of him in a 2018 article on upper Saguache Creek:

“By now it’s nearly 2 p.m., and the sun is beating down and things are heating up.  I decide to shed some clothing and strip off my long-sleeve fishing shirt and polypro T under it, reveling in my bare-chestedness in the mountain air with no prying eyes.  Visions of Vladimir Putin, similarly bare-chested and buff, riding over the ridge float through my mind.  No wonder Agent Orange couldn’t resist him at Helsinki! What a hunk!!”

Agent Orange’s Dreamboat

But seriously, as the year comes to a close it gives me great pleasure to look back on the best, the bummers, and the blood-curdling moments of 2019 from an angling perspective. It’s been a treat to have you with me! Here we go…

Continue reading

Chokoloskee Up Close: Chasing Snook, Tarpon, And Reds In The Everglades

October 2019

As the temperatures start to dip into the 30s and below here in the Colorado high country, my thoughts are starting to turn from trout to chasing snook, tarpon, and redfish in my winter home in Florida’s Everglades.  I live on a little island in the Glades called Chokoloskee surrounded by miles and miles of beautiful saltwater teeming with big fish.  Here’s a sampling of my favorite places that can be reached easily by kayak or small skiff from my latest article from Florida Sportsman with the inside skinny on lures and technique as well.  Come on down when you want to thaw out and catch some fish this winter!

Click on the link below to view a copy of the article “Chokoloskee Up Close.”

Chokoloskee Article FS

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.

img_7266

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!

Continue reading

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.

img_3957
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.

img_3443
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.

img_0881-1
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:

Continue reading