Capt. Gary Henderson, Florida

September 20th, 2004

A Reflection in the Lake Behind the House
By Captain Gary (Flats Dude) Henderson

Publisher's Note: This was written before the current hurricane season.

I awoke yesterday before dawn. My wife was sleeping peacefully and comfortably, wadded in her favorite blanket. The dogs barely raised their heads, yawned and looked rather puzzled as I slipped out the bedroom's sliding glass door.

I keep my fly rod on the screened-in patio, or lanai, as the builder called it. Too classy of a description, if you ask me. The back porch is all we ever called it where I grew up.

I slipped on my wading shorts, put on my shallow-water booties, eased my rod from behind the folding chair and slowly and quietly opened the door to the outside. I listened for a brief moment to check for any movement from within the house. All was silent; that was good.

I began my short stroll to the lake behind the house. The sun wasn't yet poking its crown above the tree-line far on the other side of the lake. I stood there for a few minutes enjoying a mockingbird's song as he welcomed another new dawn. I strained my eyes to see if the ducks had arrived to meet me. They were nowhere to be seen. I wondered where they were. The morning was already warm, and a light fog had formed just above the surface of the lake. I really didn't want to move. My hand was on the wooden gate. I could smell the musty scent of the decreasing shoreline. We hadn't had any rain in weeks. "Boy, we could use some rain, and lots of it." I'm not sure if I had said that out loud or not, and felt silly that I was probably talking to myself.

The painting that lay before me was mostly all muted tones of grays and charcoal. I stood there for minutes; maybe a lifetime, as the slight clouds began to turn a rosy, gray-gold; that color just before the blossom of the day, that color that many folks never get to witness.

From the other shore, I thought I could see something that wasn't familiar to me. It appeared to be an old dock, kind of hidden in the elderberry bushes. How could I have ever missed something as obvious as a wooden structure? The front of the dock shoved just into view but not projecting way out. I could have overlooked it, maybe.

I waded quietly down the shore to get a closer look at this new discovery, stopping in the water to calm the wake I was making, and straining my eyes to see through the obscuring mist rising from the warm water. I thought I could hear the faint sound of an old sixties song playing on a radio coming from the direction from the old, graying dock. I began to hum the tune. I could hear it. "Sittin' in the mornin' sun...I'll be sittin' when the evenin' comes..." I could just make it out, but I could see no one. The elderberry bushes blocked all of the structure except for a corner. I crept closer, becoming quieter as I approached. It was so early. I rubbed my eyes and tried to get a glimpse. I decided to walk up the bank. Maybe I could see where the music was coming from. I stalked toward the sound, looking to the ground so as not to break a twig and scare anyone that may happen to be there.

The sun was showing its upper half by now and the fog had begun to burn off. But everything was still and silent, except for Otis' singing.

A yellow-haired boy came into view, sitting cross-legged on the brush-blocked side of the dock. A small, orange transistor radio sat beside him and the familiar tune came from it. He was slight; maybe eight or ten years old. In front of him, a shellacked, cane pole projected out from the dock and the pole was tucked under his right thigh. He sat motionless. His concentration was on an old, cork bobber that sat still on the surface of the lake; the likes of which I hadn't seen in a long time. The same type of bobber I had used when I was his age.

He seemed to be aware of my presence, but never looked in my direction. He could not have heard me. I stood there motionless as the new-day sun silhouetted him and the morning's golden light filtered through his yellow hair. He seemed so young to be out here by himself so early on a Saturday morning. Where did he live? No house was visibly connected to the property. Nothing looked familiar to me. But, I had never visited this side of the lake, even though I lived directly across the lake, and it wasn't that far away.

Silence was broken. "Good mornin', Gary." This kid knew my name, but how? He still stared at the cork, never looking away from it, waiting on a bream to pull it under.

He spoke again, seeming to be much older than he appeared. "Ain't you gonna speak?" I could only stand there and stare at the back of this boy in silence; trying to seek out in my mind why he looked so familiar. Damn, I know this kid, I thought to myself. Where have I seen him... what was his name...so blasted familiar.

He turned slowly toward me, still not looking directly at me, almost to acknowledge my presence, but never taking his eyes off that old, brown cork.

"You're lookin' well", he said, still watching the cork. His words almost startled me. "Ain't you gonna fish?" I still hadn't said a word. I don't think I was supposed to. Tears began to well in my eyes as I watched him watch the cork. I looked down at my graphite rod. I wiped a mist from my eyes so that I could look from where I had come, but I wasn't able to take a step in that direction. "I have an extra pole and lots of worms," he said. The only direction in which I could walk was in the direction of the yellow-haired kid.

I knelt down next to the boy, crossed my legs, and began to whisper the words to the song on the radio. I dug through the cardboard carton of red wigglers, baited up my hook that was beneath an old, brown, cork bobber. I tucked the shellacked, cane pole underneath my right thigh and took my first look directly into the eyes of the child. "It's been a long time, hasn't it?" As he looked up at me and smiled.

I replied, "It sure has."

A splash of a bass along the far shore interrupts the beautiful silence that has fallen between us. The dock, the elderberries and the cane pole have vanished. My right hand is tightly gripping my graphite rod. I look down into the shallow, still surface of the lake. The reflection of a bearded, grown man is smiling back at me. "It's been a long time, indeed." ~ Capt. Gary

About 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.


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