Okay, now that I have your attention,
this has nothing to do with scotch whiskey.
I met Johnny Walker (seriously, his real name)
in 1998. He and I were members of another
fly-fishing website. He is from the Dallas/Fort
Worth area in the great state of Texas. And,
since my dad was from Texas, I figured we had
a little more in common than just fly-fishing,
although I've never been to Texas.
After conversing with John for over six months,
I invited him to visit us whenever he could get
away and do a little fishing on the flats, which
he told me he had always wanted to do. A few
months after the invite I received a phone call
from John, accepting.
Linda and I were both excited about meeting
Johnny at Orlando International Airport, and
we both expected him to be the stereotyped,
long and lanky Texan. Not hardly! John ain't
real tall, he's fair-haired; nothing like we
had expected. It's rather humorous how we
imagine folks we talk to but have yet to meet
them face to face. Now don't get me wrong, I
had spoken to John on the phone, we had conversed
for hours in the chat room, so it's not like I
didn't know the guy.
As I arrived at the airport, the only info I
had was his flight number and the arrival time.
That doesn't mean a whole lot at Orlando, but
the only saving grace I had was to look for
someone carrying a rod tube and looking like
a "Texan." Yeah, right! So, I park myself at
the baggage claim, since I was a little late
parking the truck and figuring I wouldn't waste
time riding the monorail out to the arrival area
(I love riding that thing) and waited. Nothing
looked like a Johnny Walker. But just as my cell
phone rang, I just happened to look in the
direction of a pay phone and there stood this
dude in an "Indiana Jones" lookin' hat, a
carry-on piece of luggage and most importantly,
My cell phone began to ring as I tapped him
on the shoulder...'bout scared the heck out
of the guy! We introduced and off to the local
fly shop to fetch a few leaders and John a
non-resident, saltwater fishing license; chewin'
the fat the entire journey.
The weather in June is sometimes quite
unpredictable, well, let's just say the
weather in Florida is totally unpredictable,
and just so happens the week that John decides
to bring himself to our subtropical state,
the weather goes nuts. I seriously believe
through some strange phenomenon, the sun
either came nearer the Earth, or old Beelzebub
himself decided to go to Disney World. Now
mind you, I could've warned the poor guy if
it had have been any other state in the Union,
but not in Florida. As we say, "If you don't
like the weather, hang around a few minutes;
John had already purchased his plane ticket
well in advance, and who would have thunk it?
Our night temperatures were in the mid-nineties!
Not to mention the daytime highs were in the
teens, hundred and teens, that is!
As John and I discussed the possibilities, I
explained to him that we could hit the flats
around dawn, fish 'til nine or ten o'clock,
head home and go back late in the afternoon
and fish until past sundown. Sounded like a
plan, so off we go on our first morning
adventure. It's always a little cooler on
the coast anyway. Wrong!
To add to the situation, John was on some
sort of medication that depleted the PABA
in his system, but not to fret! Linda dug
through her numerous bottles of suntan oils,
and sunscreen and came up with a tube of number
50spf. That ought to do it! But it wouldn't
do a bit of good for the hellish condition
on the waters of the Indian River.
I don't mind the heat, really. I hate cold
weather, really. But this was ridiculous.
We happily blasted our way to the north end
of the estuary at a mere fifty miles an hour,
salty spray adding a false sense of "oh, this
ain't too bad" security. Heck, I even let John
take the wheel of the skiff as I snapped his
photo, even let him pole it later on. Big
grins and whoopin' and hollerin'. But when
I settled the Hewes in the area I wanted to
fish, it was though the caverns of Hades opened
up just to our rear, and the breath of a thousand
dragons breathed fire from within.
I immediately saw red fish. They weren't tailing,
but were just sitting there, as they sometimes do.
John launched a fly. Nothing. Again. Nothing.
This went on for over an hour. I decided we
should wade. As I stepped overboard, I realized
what the problem was. These fish were poached!
The water, only being a foot and a half deep,
was on fire. But we fished on. Ten o'clock came
and I told John we could head home and try again
late in the afternoon. He wasn't havin' it. He
was here to fish. Period!
Looking like a mummy with a long rod, he was
quite visually entertaining. We joked about
the slathering of white cream that coated all
of his exposed skin, the long-sleeved Columbia
flats shirt, the Indiana Jones hat, and all the
while, I honestly wished I had worn more clothes.
Actually, I wished we were back at home in the
Five days went by with no relief. The fishing
was out of the question, even though we went
each and every day. We did eat well; grilled
shrimp and pina coladas, cold beer and smoked
fish. And we had a great time of it. We
discovered that my grandfather is buried in
the small town of Alvord, Texas only twenty
minutes from John's house. We discovered our
structure, our beliefs, our upbringing and our
whole outlook on life was almost parallel. It
seemed as if we had known each other for many,
many years. The heat suddenly just didn't matter
as we conversed for hours on the drives to and
from the river, and spending time looking over
areas he had never seen.
Anyway, as the title reflects, now you understand,
"Johnny Walker, Red". He did get quite red. Funny
now, miserable then.
The seasons passed, but we stay connected and
the next year, John brought his wife, Joyce,
with him. The heat had diminished, but the
second day he was here, a hurricane was
brushing along the west coast of Florida
which disrupted the gentle, warm breezes on
the east coast, rendering the usually clear
waters of the flats to a substance that took
on the appearance of coffee with a small
amount of cream thrown in for good measure,
and a brisk thirty-knot wind that rendered
the captain of the small vessel useless as
he attempted to pole his worthy skiff,
dodging arrant flies.
John went home again, fishless.
Year three came to pass. John called and
asked about the weather, the fish and my
schedule. All was well, but as stated earlier
in this story, things are subject to change
without warning. This time they stayed the
same. John was off the meds that caused him
to turn bright red and then peel like a shrimp.
The wind was variable to calm, and the mornings
were rose-gray. These were the mornings I
always sought out. The engine was pre-tested,
the trailer was checked over. Tackle was
pre-rigged, flies tied, and once again, we
were ripping over glassy, saltwater flats.
I throttled the growling monster back to
idle and shut her down in less than two
feet of invisible water. All was quiet,
until John yells out, "What the hell is
that?" Looking over the starboard side
of the Hewes, a four-foot long bull red
fish cruised within reaching distance. He
was huge, maybe thirty, thirty-five pounds.
He knew he was in no danger. That fish knew
our names, what type of boat we were in and
its serial numbers. He just cruised lazily
out front of us and swam away. I kept scanning
Just ahead, and out of casting distance, at
least twenty red fish tails were visible,
projecting just above the film. I suggested
we get out of the boat and wade to them, since
the water was less that a foot deep where they
fed. John agreed, and we both slipped our
wading boots on, trying to be as quiet as
we possibly could.
Slipping over the side into warm water,
we waded within thirty feet of the bronze
and blue tails, then cast to two different
fish. Instantly we were both attached to
two reds that were boiling the once slick
surface of the river. The pressure was
finally off after the two previously empty
trips in as many years. John finally had his
first Indian River red fish! My thrill, of
course, was two-fold. I had a red on my
nine-weight and was watching Mr. Walker
fight his first. The observation was far
more rewarding than my catching another red.
Over the past years, John has visited us
many times. He is family. Was to begin with,
I reckon. We've shared many meals, caught a
few nice fish. Laughed a whole bunch,
especially about that saltwater catfish
he caught on his "special" fly.
Funny, isn't it? These relationships that
are formed by a long rod...
'Til next time. ~ Capt. Gary
Gary grew up in central Florida and spent much
of his youth fishing the lakes that dot the area.
After moving a little closer to the coast, his
interests changed from fresh to salt. Gary still
visits his "roots" in the "lake behind the house."
He obtained his captain's license in the early '90's
and fished the blue waters of the Atlantic for a little
over twelve years. His interests in the beautiful shallow
water flats in and around the famous Mosquito Lagoon came
around twenty-five years ago. Even though Captain Gary
doesn't professionally guide anymore, his respect of the
waters will ever be present.
Gary began fly fishing and tying mostly saltwater
patterns in the early '90's and has participated as
a demo fly tier for the Federation of Fly Fishers
on numerous occasions. He is a private fly casting
and tying instructor and stained glass artist,
creating mostly saltwater game fish in glass.