I have visited her shores hundreds, perhaps
thousands of times, both mentally and physically.
She's so familiar that I have her memorized; the
sand bars, shallows and obstacles and mangrove
shorelines. She is home, in a sense. I know her
residents and a few of her secrets, though not
many. I have sat quietly on the deck of my skiff
watching her as the sun begins to peek above those
mangrove shores. I can visualize her smoothness
and hear her sounds as she wakes. I have served
as her amusement when her angered waters have
sprayed over my vessel as I've attempted to out-run
the storms that collect in the nearby Atlantic,
then move inland to her shallow waters, causing
placid waters to turn ugly and dark and dangerous.
Here, I find solitude. I find peace, just she and I.
Tomorrow, I will introduce her to another. One
that has never seen or felt her the way I have.
I hope he finds her the way I have seen and
imagined her many times. I hope she is in a
My friend doesn't live far from me, and we agreed
to meet at my house very early Wednesday morning.
I scurried around Tuesday evening gathering the
seven weight and nine weight rods; cleaning lines,
tying flies, fetching the necessities we would
need for our rendezvous with the river. Linda
even remarked that I was never as nervous about
a trip when she and I went. But, she had been
introduced to the river a long time before that,
and I reminded her of what I was like back then.
She didn't remember, but I got a faded, "Oh yeah"
from her in a display of sympathy, I suppose.
I didn't sleep Tuesday night. I never do before
a special trip; an introductory trip. And just
before the alarm clock was to wake me, I, of course,
fell into a deep sleep for seemingly, fifteen seconds.
I got to the alarm before it sounded, dressed and
met my buddy in the driveway.
"You ready?" I whispered so as not to wake the
dogs. "Let's go and meet her."
We arrived in the dark and drove the winding dike
road to my special place where, for many years,
I had poled the Hewes into the very waters we
would now wade. I had sold my flats skiff less
than a year before and now missed her more than
Awaiting the "blue in the east," as Dad always
called it, I could hear the river awakening, even
though I couldn't see it. A few leopard frogs sang
in the freshwater pools opposite the river's
brackish waters, perhaps giving thanks for the
previous night's rain. I could hear big, sow
trout exploding through schools of six-inch mullet
in the far distance. Some sort of night-visioned
heron swished his wings as he flew within feet of
my truck. "It's happening, the river is waking up."
My friend had fallen asleep and was missing the
moment when the magic was about to happen; the
moment I lived for. I wondered if he knew the
importance of all that was about to take place,
and I felt a little smug believing I had the
upper hand in all of this.
"Wake your sorry butt up! You're going to miss
all of what I've been talking about for the last
ten years!" He yawns and looks at me with that
"huh" look, and then looks past me and spots
her in the blue dawn, no more than ten yards
from where we are sitting. The yawn stops half
way through, and he is now clamoring around
inside the truck, then outside, as I had the
night before at home. I got out and leaned
against the fender to enjoy the moment. Patience
young man, patience.
I had pre-strung the rods the night before, and
I must admit, I always feel that yearning to run
down the dike's bank and begin rippin' up the
water with a 2/0 deer-hair slider. But today
was meant to be savored. It was a day for slowing
down the fast tempo the earlier part of the week
had dealt. It was a time for learning, and lessons
to be taught by the river.
I was still at the rear of my truck when he entered
the river's edge with the grace of a Labrador
Retriever puppy. I saw it coming, or going, I
guess I should say. The wake appeared to be a
red fish of at least twenty pounds. The fish
had been in the reddish grass that grows there,
resting in the quiet waters. He didn't hurry;
just slowly swam away leaving the submarine-like
wake, as though he wanted my buddy to get a glimpse
of what was to come. "What in the hell was that?"
I motioned for the "rookie" to come back to the
truck. The Lab pup returned. I took a few minutes
to explain why we were there.
I felt older than I was, as I explained why we
were there. I thought of my dad as he explained
intangibles to his kid, hoping he was being
understood, but knowing that it may take decades
for me to get it. "We've got all day. We have no
other place to be. Slow down." I could hear my
dad's voice coming from me, forty something years
later. I remembered when Dad had told me the old
joke of the young bull and the old one, and running
down the hill to have one of those cows, and the
old bull said to walk down the hill and have them
all. I almost laughed aloud, but kept it to myself.
At this point, he wouldn't have understood.
We entered the water together this time; quietly,
slowly as if by ceremony. I stopped in calf-deep
water and looked around, observing with reverence,
my surroundings. He stood and watched me closely.
"Good morning, Old Lady. And thank you for being
in a good mood."
My friend said nothing as we waded out there where
red fish tail. He finally said in a low voice, "I
think I understand it now, this place. It really
is your religion." I didn't say anything or even
look his way.
I knew he wasn't experienced in fly fishing, being
only exposed for a few weeks to my casting lessons.
I wasn't sure he was ready for what the river was
about to do to him.
I had tied one of my best golden bend-backs to his
shock leader. I checked the fly to be sure it was
the best one, well balanced, just the right bend
in the eye of the hook. We waded to where the
Brazilian pepper tree juts from the mangrove
shoreline. Reds always feed there. And, without
fail, they were there, nine tails. I pointed to
where I wanted him to cast and moved him closer
to accommodate his lack of distance. "Remember
what I've shown you. No pressure, but you've only
one shot. Make it good. Two feet in front of, and
six feet past them. Are you ready?" He landed the
fly perfectly, then three strips. The red whirled
and plastered the fly and was off to the far side
of the river, unattached to the rod. In his excitement,
he set the hook before the fish closed his mouth.
Sight fishing at its finest, I thought. "Next time,
close your eyes when he charges the fly." It took a
few minutes for the school to settle down and resume
feeding. I explained to him he had watched the fish
open its mouth, but hadn't closed it and he had set
the hook a split-second too soon.
The reds came back to the same spot and tailed.
"Slow your cast; look at the spot where you want
to place the fly. Strip and close your eyes.
Become the rod." The next red followed the fly
for fifteen feet before he nailed it. He struck
the fish and all hell broke loose. Doin' the red
When the fight was over, I walked to the shoreline,
lit a smoke and sat down as the "puppy" cast to
numerous fish. I watched him for a few minutes,
then faded off mentally into the river. It was
early. Spoonbills waded for breakfast, trout
were still bustin' bait. The surface of the
river reflected the early morning sky and the
horizon became as one with it. An osprey crashed
through the film of the river some distance away,
coming up empty-handed. "That's got to hurt." I
thought out loud. I watched the bird of prey dive
again; persistence and the pay-off. Again he
returned to flight with the shadow of a fish
gripped in his talons. This is the place where
magic happens. The place where waters turn to
mirrors; where I'm at peace alone or with friends.
It is a pact I have with her. I will be cremated
and my ashes are to be scattered here. Linda
understands my relationship with this river.
I have watched in sadness, a dolphin push its
dead mate for hours along the flats, then swim
in tight circles around it, slapping its tail
on the surface to wake the other. Then swim away,
looking back...weeping, I think. Linda and I said
a prayer for the two. We've enjoyed the antics of
056, the retired military dolphin that has a tattoo
on his dorsal fin of "056". He will respond at
boat-side to beg for handouts, and then spit them
back at you if he doesn't like the offering.
Here, on the river, life is as I want it to be.
We took five reds apiece that morning, could've
caught more, but that is unimportant to me this
day. I showed my friend the beauty of digging
through the sea grass, and the critters hidden
in it; baby shrimp, and tiny fish. In the sand,
just beneath the surface, live small clams and
other crustaceans, too small to be noticed by
the jet skiers and the weekenders. They pay no
attention to the finer details of this place.
My friend had returned to the bank a little ways
down from me. I didn't see him leave the water
and, for a few seconds, was a little concerned
that something was wrong. As I sat watching him,
I noticed he was staring off into the river. I
realized he was now where I had been most of
Here, I find solitude. I find peace, just she
and I...and a friend.
See y'all next week. ~ 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.