"If I had to live my life over and only carry one learned
thing with me on my new journey, it would have to be, without
a doubt, fishing." ~ The Flats Dude
Fishing is a unique word, and Mr. Webster describes it as:
"To catch or try to catch fish." He also goes on to give
many other definitions that really don't apply to our sport.
However, Mr. W leaves out the most important caveat in the
art of "fishing," or in our case, fly-fishing, and that would
be the camaraderie.
Through the years of my fishing career, and that would be
a bunch of 'em, I've met a mess of people, and I've found
them, for the most part, to be fine examples of the human
race, and it really didn't have anything to do with what
kind of fishing they were involved in. I have established
many sincere friendships with men, and women alike, by the
mere mention of angling. It happens all the time. How often
have we forgotten the number of fish, or the size, but we
can recite, in vivid detail, the experience of that particular
day? The sights, the smells, the sounds of conversations and
laughter, these emotions, and all of this brought on by
something we call fishing. I had such a day this past weekend.
I had two days to prepare for this trip. Flies were tied,
lines cleaned, leaders packed, booties tucked away in the
truck. The yard was mowed; pool serviced and filters spic
and span. Two, nice thick New York strips were seasoned
with cracked pepper and salted with kosher salt, rubbed
with fresh garlic, ready for the grill when Linda came
home from work. The potatoes waited on the counter; salad
was in the 'fridge. The alarm clock was set for four in
the morning. I rechecked it all in my mind as I lit the
charcoal. Again, after supper, the mental list was rehashed.
Before ten, I went to bed and, once again, went over the
list in my head as I stared sleeplessly at the ceiling.
The big, bright red numbers looked back at me from the
clock...12:15. Then 1:12. Then 3:42. Then, just as the
irritating tone was to sound, I turned off the clock,
dressed and headed east toward my rendezvous with Ed Mercado
(FloridaFlyer) and Jed Proujansky (Jed) from the FAOL bulletin
I had fished with Ed last year on the west coast when
five of us gathered to welcome Harold Hattaway back into
the Gulf waters, along with Bill Sorbie (purebs), Stev
Lenon (Slenon). But I had yet to meet Jed face to face.
It's quite unique how this thing called a computer, and this
place called the Internet, has affected our lives. It has
introduced many of us by way of its communication. Our fathers
and grandfathers would have surely thought it to be possessed
by internal gremlins. But as I drove easterly along SR 46
towards Titusville, Florida, the last thing on my mind was
a computer. But the very reason I was heading in that direction,
at four-thirty in the morning, had been caused by one, and a
shared desire to hunt the flats of the Indian River Lagoon for
red fish and sea trout.
The full moon cast its glow over the highway, illuminating
the deep woods on either side of the road. I passed the spot
where Steve Letchworth lost his life and silently invited
Steve to join us. I thought of my dad, and wondered what he
would think of the flats he never got to see. He was the
one responsible for my love of the sport, even though he
barely fly-fished. But still, he initiated the spark when
I was a mere three year old, towheaded boy, fishing the
lakes in central Florida.
My truck seemed to know its way there, to the river. It
had made the trip hundreds of times. The Hewes, my flats
skiff, was missing though. I had sold it several years ago,
and now I missed her more so than ever. And, as I sipped
the hot, black coffee from the Styrofoam cup, reflections
of past trips with friends began to make me realize how
fortunate I was to have grown up a fisherman; a fly-fisherman.
God, all those people I had met! People from all over the
world, and I knew them by their first names. I was adding
another today...all because I grew up a fisherman.
I had called Ed a few days prior to the trip and asked if
he would like to meet earlier since Jed had a longer drive
and wouldn't be able to meet there until eight am, Ed agreed
to meet me at Parrish Park in Titusville somewhere along
six in the morning. I figured we would be able to fish for
a couple of hours, and scout out at least one location
before Jed arrived. But being unable to sleep before a
fishing trip, I arrived at Parrish an hour earlier than
our planned convergence.
Usually the boat ramp at Parrish is bustling with people,
tow vehicles, flats skiffs, and guides waiting for customers.
But this morning, due to my early arrival, the lot was empty,
except for a lone, black and white cat that roamed silently,
looking for breakfast. I studied the feline as it stalked
its shadow, lit only by the yellowish tones of the mercury-vapor
lights. His prowess, not unlike ours, was a lesson in quietness,
the same way we would wade the still waters of the flats,
stalking our own prey.
Minutes later a familiar face pulled in next to me, it was Ed.
It had been since November of last year since we had met for
the first time, but as Ed and I talked, it seemed as if we
had known each other for a longer time. Again, the common
thread of sharing fly waters, stories and meals, bound our
thoughts and values and beliefs into a friendship.
As we traveled the dike roads in near darkness, the
anticipation of waking up with the river came back to
me as if it was an everyday occurrence. The sounds of
mullet splashing next to us in familiar waters, yet to
be graced by the sunlight of this new morning, added a
rhythm to the silence of daybreak. The squawks of
disturbed herons, as my truck wakes them with its
rumbling along the roughness of the shell roadway,
as we grew closer to the brackish waters we would
fish. This time in the morning, traveling just at
her edge is ritualistic for me. It's part of my
As the black night sky, lit only by the faint light
from a setting moon, began to show signs of a violet
blueness to the east, and stars began to fade slowly
giving in to an approaching sun, the river came up to
us. An old gator floated nearby, still and waiting. He's
accompanied by a snorting manatee wallowing in the grasses,
feeding. And a blowing dolphin gracefully scooting along
the shallows looking for her breakfast, greeted us where
we were to enter the waters. We spoke softly at first,
taking all of the river's sights and sounds, familiar to
me, but territory not yet explored by Ed.
After a short time in the water, the cell phone rang.
Jed had arrived at the park.
I had missed meeting and fishing with Jed last year,
and the ride back to Parrish Park wasn't filled with
the thoughts of ending a day, as it usually is for me
as I would leave the river. But instead, the short trip
back was filled with a touch of anticipation and excitement;
another meeting was to take place, a meeting of someone
I had spoken to on the phone and through threads on FAOL;
someone that had sent chocolate-covered coffee beans to
Linda last year during the hurricanes, so she could have,
at least, the flavor of coffee as we were out of electricity.
Thoughtfulness with a touch of humor, I liked that.
Ed and I pulled into the parking lot, which now was
crowded with trailers and tow vehicles. A noisy place
now, much different than a couple of hours earlier. A
place alive with activity, as anglers staged their boats
as I once did, and others began to set out their rods
and their picnics on concrete tables, and children ran
along the seawalls caring less of fishing, and the bother
of it all. A place of gatherings.
As Ed, Jed and I exchanged greetings, smiles and handshakes,
my thoughts returned to the river. Where were we to fish
next? The place Ed and I were earlier wasn't in the best
of conditions since our recent hurricane, Ophelia, had sat
along the coast trying to decide who she would bother next.
She had angered the river and dirtied the clear and pristine
waters, turning them into something similar to the color of
café au lait, and scattered uprooted grasses along her
normally clean skirt.
Searching for cleaner waters, we decided on the Dummit's
Cove area and Marsh Bay a little more to the north and east.
A series of more dike roads, white with the bleached shell
base, led us in loops along the lagoon that now was lined
with families searching for blue crabs at the throats of
drainage pipes that carried the fresher waters of the
interiors out into the salty flats. I felt as though I
needed to apologize for the hazy waters that are usually
glass-clear. The fish simply were not there. I explained
a theory that may also have led to the absence of fish. It
was the day after the full moon, and as small crabs and
shrimp wash toward the inlet miles north, the reds and
trout gorge themselves on the crustaceans, and a golden
fly isn't on their menu.
But as we fished this area, I watched the two to my right
as they cast the thick lines into my home waters. We talked,
we laughed, we kidded around. Today was coming full-circle,
as it was meant to be. There were no strangers in this trio
that had converged in a tangle of salty estuaries along
the eastern coast of my home state. Fishing simply didn't
Finding little there, it was decided among the three of us
that lunch was in order. Conversation continued as we headed
to a well known seafood joint in Titusville; "Dixie Crossroads."
And over broiled rock shrimp, fried mullet and a dark beer,
we again laughed, talked and kidded around.
As we returned to the flats, and as I pointed out sunning
alligators along the ditch banks, and schools of jumping
mullet on the smooth surface of the Indian River, we agreed
that fishing had little to do with Mr. Webster's simple
definition. Fishing was simply the tool needed for a reason
to converge and offer friendship and tell stories. ~ 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.