When a kid offers a hand- take it!

The wooden rocker legs creaked softly as I gently flexed my knees. Alone on the front porch of our rented fabulous mountainside vacation home, I happily reflected on our busy week. Three generations of our family gathered in the Smoky Mountains outside Asheville North Carolina. All were there…Mimi, as my wife Lauri is called by her grandchildren, and Oompah, as I am called, our five children, their spouses, and eight grandchildren. Ginny happily carried then unborn Jack along for the fun.

We enjoyed a full week of experiences ranging from family photos, mountain hikes, creeking in the cold North Carolina streams, evening trips to craft breweries, drum circle in downtown Ashville, games on the back porch and late night chats. The week was capped off with a Hallmark-like celebration of Christmas in July and s’mores over an open fire on our last evening. Throw in good food together with a few well-timed adult beverages and the foundation for cherished experiences was rock solid.

Drum Circle on Friday Night
Gamed on the back porch!
S’mores on get away evening

As I rocked, pleasant thoughts drifted slowly across my mind like the puffs of white North Carolina clouds which appeared to bounce off the tops of the tall mountain pines surrounding the porch. Eyes blinked shut as I drifted towards a nap. Screech… the gentle sound of the front door opening. Nolan, who was four years old at the time, slowly poked his head around the edge of the door as if in the midst of a game of hide and seek. He seemed to be checking on who might be hiding on the front porch? “Oompah, what you doing out here?” “Enjoying this rocker,” I replied. Nolan walked over and reached out his hand for mine and asked, “Can we go back to the pond and try to catch tadpoles again.” I took one long deep energizing breath and took his tiny hand, “Sure.”

The pond was down the pine straw lined hill a piece. We walked hand-in-hand down the steep three twist driveway to the roadway lined by lush mangroves thriving majestically in the red clay of the South. The road led to the pond where earlier in the day, the family enjoyed a bluegill fishing bonanza. All of us caught a mess of bluegills in a dream pond for kids. A long fishing dock extended from the South shore providing a safe space for parents to help their kids use the tried and true method of cane poles to which we tied 8 feet of monofilament line with a split shot crimped on the line below a small bobber designed to float over a thin wire cricket hook baited with a juicy wax worm.

Sean gets after ’em!
You want me to kiss that?

Bites on every attempt generated familiar fishing chatter. “I got one”.. ”If the bobber goes under, pull up”.. “If the bobber slides one way, pull the other”.. “Look mommy, a fish”.. “You got a bite”.. “We been cleaned, peeled like a grape”.. “Want to give the fish a kiss?”.. For me, these are words of fun, excitement and effective indoctrination. Cane poles, bobbers, and bluegills create anglers from children. There is no better way to assure generations of fishing buddies. The bluegill fishing was also an excellent test of attention span, interest level, and the tolerance of both children and adults to a warm, then hot, rising midsummer North Carolina sun which caused the shade cast by the pine trees outlining the pond to shorten as the air temperature rose. Izzy and Hudson soon walked to a small swimming beach and tried to catch quarter sized tadpoles with the Dollar Tree pink net which Mimi had wisely purchased in Columbus and remembered to pack and bring to North Carolina. No Luck. Izzy and Hudson were no match for the speed of a soon to be frog. Walker, Andy and Megan took a few turns on the small playset at the edge of the beach as Ginny and Sean explored the shady areas on the north side of the pond protected by a beautiful group of overhanging willow trees.

Nolan, looking quite dapper in his fishing vest, was suddenly my last fishing companion.

Nolan dressed to get it done and he did!

Everyone else had wisely retreated to the shade and air-conditioning of our vacation oasis. The fishing lagged as the angle of the sun’s’ angle sharpened. Suddenly, Nolan spied the pink net at the end of the dock. Let’s catch some tadpoles, Oompah!” We slowly skirted the edge of the pond, tiptoeing as we approached the gently sloping beach. Very sneaky. The white sand bottom sharply contrasted with the black tadpoles whose slowly moving short black tails poised them to race from neutral to escape swim speed as soon as we poked the pink net in their direction. There was no catching a tadpole. Not Nolan, not Oompah. Hoping for a more successful next adventure, I said, “Nolan, let’s check out the other side of the pond.” As we left the beach, I steered us towards a trio of willow trees. The weeping branches provided a 10 foot overhang of shade on the north side of the pond.

The fishing lagged as the angle of the sun’s’ angle sharpened. Suddenly, Nolan spied the pink net at the end of the dock. Let’s catch some tadpoles, Oompah!” We slowly skirted the edge of the pond, tiptoeing as we approached the gently sloping beach. Very sneaky. The white sand bottom sharply contrasted with the black tadpoles whose slowly moving short black tails poised them to race from neutral to escape swim speed as soon as we poked the pink net in their direction. There was no catching a tadpole. Not Nolan, not Oompah. Hoping for a more successful next adventure, I said, “Nolan, let’s check out the other side of the pond.” As we left the beach, I steered us towards a trio of willow trees.

The weeping branches provided a 10 foot overhang of shade on the north side of the pond. “Oompah, what’s that,” Nolan asked, as he pointed to a streak of motionless orange in the clear water under the willow branches. “That is a Koi,” I replied.

Koi

“Why is he hiding under that tree?” I explained that fish do not have eyelids and often hide in any available shade to keep the sharp biting rays of the sun out of their eyes. Nolan looked at me skeptically as he checked out his own eyelids with a gentle touch. We got closer. With each step we took, the orange carp sank a smidgen, like a submarine slowly diving to the bottom of an ocean. Eventually, the fish vanished. “Oompah, where did he go?” “Somewhere he feels safe,” I replied.

Having explored the pond fully, we returned to the dock. I picked up the fishing gear. Nolan carried the pink tadpole chaser. We were quiet as we enjoyed the more difficult climb up the hill in the shade of the tall pines which moved slowly well overhead in the late morning breeze. As we approached the house, we heard the sounds of a brewing ruckus of grandchildren playing in what they adopted as their hideaway. NO ADULTS ALLOWED! Nolan streaked inside joining the fray. We both returned to other activities as the last day of our trip slid by shrouded in the melancholy of endings.

I next saw Nolan when his late afternoon porch visit jolted me out of my reverie. As I rose from the rocking chair, I took Nolan’s extended hand. He grabbed the pink net and we left the porch to retrace our morning path to the pond. It was quiet. The downhill stroll was easy, pleasant and peaceful. As nature dictates daily, the earth had been moving and now the sun streamed through the pine trees which cast their shadows on the evening side of the pond next to the road where we walked. As anglers always do, I redirected my attention to the water as we approached our morning fishing hole. The mountain slope covered with pine straw was steep from the berm of the road to the pond’s edge. “Nolan, look”, I whispered as I slowed, knelt and pointed over his right shoulder to a motionless orange streak in the shade next to shore. Nolan looked, “What, where?” “There”. We were still hand in hand. The orange Koi had switched sides of the pond during the day and floated motionless at the very top of the pond. As Nolan slowly raised his tiny hand using my pointing arm and hand as a guide, a huge bullfrog cut loose a ferocious frightened croak, leaped from shore, and landed directly on top of the Koi.

Watch out below!

The pond surface, frog and Koi simply exploded in a tremendous splash and instantly vanished. “Oompah, what was that?” “That was a big old bullfrog attacking our fish!” He seemed satisfied with the answer and not terribly impressed. “Can we go catch some tadpoles now?” “Sure,” I replied. As we walked on, I was struck by the notion that I had just witnessed an event in nature for the first and probably last time. I smiled as I reflected on how important it is to take the hand of a child every time it is offered. You never know where you will be led.

Take That Family Vacation!!!

The rocking chair creaked quietly as my knees gently moved back and forth. I was alone on the elevated front porch of our home away from home gazing at the wooded mountainside. The peacefulness of the rocking chair was the perfect backdrop for my fond reflections on our family vacation week in Asheville, North Carolina. Most of the family was staying in a huge three level home built into the side of a mountain in the shade of a canopy of tall skinny pines and huge leafed magnolia trees. Hints of the red earth of North Carolina peeked through the ground covering of pine needles which were slick as snow when walking down the surrounding slopes. A weary smile rested easily on my face. The week’s activity level had been robust.

Oompah and Mimi, our five children and their spouses along with the seven grandchildren were all together – as my preacher Daddy used to say, attendance was brisk.

Look what we did Mimi!!!!

We shared hiking and believe it or not no child or adult was lost.

We enjoyed showing off the grandchildren in matching tee shirts.

We tested the local breweries with outings to the Sierra Nevada Brewery and New Belgium Brewery for dinners.

Sierra Nevada’s brewery in Mills River, N.C., aglow in early morning light. The company was attracted to the Asheville area because it offers access to good water for brewing and the outdoors for employee recreation.
New Belgium Brewery Overlooking The French Broad River

Our grandchildren demonstrated their personalities while “creeking” ,,,Hudson the adventurer, Ezra, the cautious, and Izzy saving every shiny rock reflecting a flash of the brilliant sun as the fast running ice cold water distorted the image of gold.

Thank goodness this was not the creek!

Maybe Creeking Here Next Time?

Everyone enjoyed holding the youngest, including Uncle Seth!

Mimi imported games from Columbus to keep the grandchildren entertained.

Hudson, Izzy, Nolan and Walker gaming and snacking!

When a break in the action occurred the kids created their own private hideaway alcove which the rest of us avoided entering at all costs. NO ADULTS ALLOWED!.

When it rained Elliot took Mimi and Oompah to the sand pit at the downtown museum knowing full well where to spend his time to be out of the chaos!

We participated in the Friday evening drum circle in downtown Asheville.

Ainsley, Ezra and Nolan preparing to bang those drums!

The girls trusted the men with the kids while Ginny enjoyed an intimate baby shower at the Chocolate Shop!

Girls Afternoon Out For Ginny’s Baby Shower! WHERE ARE YOUR CHILDREN?

The pond on the property provided a ton of bluegills and a couple pictures. I wish there were more photo moments but the adults were doing their best to keep the kids from falling off the most perfect fishing dock. Kids, I can edit this post and I beg for more pictures of the grand-kids, Sean, and Ginny holding fish!

Nolan dressed to get it done and he did!

I tried to introduce Ellliot to the family tradition of giving your caught fish a little smooch on the fish lips but he was having none of it!

You Want Me To Kiss That Fish? Are You Crazy, Oompah?

We even found time to present Seth with the Rowe Family Toilet Bowl for his victory in the Rowe March Madness Bracket Challenge. Trophy designed by Mimi!

Cherish It Seth! This year it is March Sadness…

There was so much more activity but best of all there was abundant love and laughter. Nothing rewards parents like the sound of their adult children talking late into the night laughing about life and stories of the past about which Lauri and I remain blissfully unaware. All the while their precious children have fallen into an exhausted sleep after a day of trying to figure out the complicated business of being part of the social structure of seven cousins ranging from 1-9 years of age.

Of course, the last night’s camp fire caused inevitable consternation as parents worried about keeping the children who were roasting marshmallows safe. But what a way to end the week. An open campfire in the mountains of North Carolina. The wood smoke smell which drifted down the hill side reminded us of family camping when our children were little. The smores were wolfed down. The graham crackers and chocolate disappeared as the grand-kids began to chase fireflies in the waning light of a wonderful week.

Bonfire Saturday Night With Smores

Before the campfire was so skillfully lit with flammable liquids, my rocking chair slowed and my reflections deflected to thanks. Thanks to the entire family for their sacrifices in planning and organizing. I could start listing who did what but you all know the old memory is not what it used to be. The truth is we are a great family because we each bring unique gifts which we offer to one another in a spirit of love. That powerful unshakable combination made this a family vacation to remember!

Caye Rosario

Fishing trips foster first-day jitters. Questions flirt through the angler’s mind. Did I practice my fly casting enough? Will practice translate into quality casts while standing on the bow of the boat with catch-able fish in range? Will the guide calling “bonefish 40 feet” have the same foot size as me?

Tony Peveler and I were among 14 anglers from Ohio gathered at the Blue Bonefish in Ambergris Caye, Belize, for six days of flyfishing for bonefish, permit, and tarpon. As we stood on the dock looking into a bright yellow rising sun as it sparked flame points on gentle waves, we strained to hear the outboard motors powering the Panga, the boat of choice in Belize, towards the dock to pick up anglers for the first day of fishing. I wondered, when will our guide arrive, first… last… what will he be like? Patience was thin.

Panga

Our trip host from Mad River Outfitters, Jerry Darkes, had selected David as our first day guide. I had traveled to Belize to catch a permit on fly. Not an easy feat. My good friend and neighbor Tony Peveler was on his first flats adventure.

Jim, the owner of the Blue Bonefish, stood on the dock to manage distribution of prepared lunches and drinks to the guides as they arrived dockside. “Here comes David”, Jim indicated. Two young Belizeans were in the boat. David brought Richard, also known as “Spice”, who was an apprentice working through the Belizean guide program. We learned later that Spice was afraid of the written portion of the examination which was required to complete the program and obtain a guide’s license. Nonetheless, over the next two days Spice showed off three essential elements of great guiding; enthusiasm, great vision, and solid local knowledge of the flats and fish.

Introductions were made, permission to come aboard the Panga granted, and our gear consisting of eight and nine weight fly rods with reels loaded with matching lines was stowed. In a few words, we became clear on two parts of the plan. First, despite our intent to ask our guides what they thought would work best, they insisted we tell them what we wanted to catch. Leaving the first type of fish to be sought on any given fishing day up to the anglers is the Belizean custom. “I would like to catch a permit”, I said. Simple enough. We would be fishing for permit. While still at the dock, a second part of the day’s plan was discussed. David and Spice would be smoking but not as Marlboro men. The legal marijuana of Belize was the smoke of choice. “Would it be okay if we smoked”, they asked. Knowing that a disagreement with the guide while still at the dock is not a great way to kick off a fishing day, we voiced no objection. As it turned out, if they smoked a joint, we would not have known it by their performance. They were great fun.

Once the Panaga was on plane, we streaked towards Rosario Caye, a run of thirty minutes over water where every second we thought silently, why don’t we stop and fish here? The water was crystal clear and the lush turtle grass covered flats screamed FISH LIVE HERE!

Site Of The Big Wader

A faint green edge appeared on the horizon as the outline of a mangrove island took shape. My eyes attempted to transform the three faint shapes in the foreground of Rosario’s into something, anything, other than fishing boats in “our spot”. No transformation. Two pangas with a guide and pair of anglers were poling the South side of the Island. As David came off plane he whispered, “Mario”, pointing to the Panga nearest the shoreline. Mario had two of the Blue Bonefish Ohio anglers, JD and his wife Shonda who we had met at dinner the evening before. They were fishing with spinning gear and live bait. Tony and I sensed our guides disappointment as they quietly discussed a revision to their fishing plan.

Sensing motion movement near the mangroves, we looked shore ward just in time to see JD and Shonda surrender the bow of the Panga to their guide. On his way forward Mario grabbed a spinning rod from Shonda’s hand and while stepping forward made a mighty heave with a live shrimp on a bait hook. The cast splashed down 10 feet in front of the visible wake of a school of permit swimming quickly down the edge of the mangroves lining the island edge.

Fleeing Over Sand

A quick lift of the rod tip…fish on. Mario calmly handed the rod to Shonda. She was screaming with excitement and the permit did what all hooked permit do…. streaked across the shallow flat… bulldogged…looked for a crab pot or any other obstacle to rub the offending line against….ran towards the Panga and then away from the Panga. We could see the hooked fish slip momentarily on its side at the surface creating a flash of chromium reflected sunlight. Surrender, no. The fierce fighter righted itself and tore off again. Shonda’s shoulders slumped marking her anxiety.

As the battle wore on, David slowly poled our Panga towards the end of Rosarios heading to the far side of the caye away from the commotion of the fish fight. Only later that night did we learn over adult beverages that Shonda had landed a permit of 20 pounds…her first.

Tony and I redirected our attention to our task. Hunt for signs of permit. The windy day started to settle as the incoming tide slowed. The surface became slick calm creating the illusion of connected water and sky.

Mud Key Channel
Infinity

Suddenly, David whispered, “tails”.

Finned Out Permit

Fifty yards distant a slowly weaving school of permit laid on the surface finned out. Tails and dorsal fins looked like birthday candles on a cake of still water. The guide slowly poled us closer in around 4 feet of water. The permit were motionless, perhaps sleeping, more likely staging to await the moving water of the next tide. “Tony, we need to wade, mon! Only way to have a shot! Wanna go?” “Hell yes” whispered Tony.

Stay Sharp

Gently, Tony and David slipped over the side of the Panga as Spice took the pole and gently stuck it in the sandy sea bottom holding the boat motionless. We watched an advanced permit lesson unfold as Tony approached his first cast at permit in his initial encounter with these dishonest fish. Dishonest? Yes, because even when the angler does everything right… see the fish… make a good cast… see the fly in the water.. make the fly look like a crab or shrimp…entice the fish to rush up and inspect the fly… all of it. More often than not, the permit will gleefully spurn the angler and slowly swim away. And as the finicky fish flees. it feels like the first time you had the courage to ask.a teenage girl for a date and she said firmly, no, which you heard as “why would a pimply faced boy like you think a girl like me would be seen with you in public”.

David, no more than 5’8″ tall, was standing chest deep in 4 feet of water as he held Tony’s trailing fly line out of the water over his head. Side by side, they inched closer to the school of fish lying motionless at the surface. The submerged broad bodies of the permit looked like brown streaks in the water adorned by above surface fins which sparkled with reflected sun. A cast… the fly splashed down short. The permit tails sunk imperceptibly. Tony gathered himself… a second cast…too long and the tails dipped lower by an inch. Tony’s body language of tensed shoulders and more rapid muscle movement predicted the results of the third cast as fly line slapped the water and the fly landed with a larger splash as it landed in the middle of the school. Fly casts betray a person with a try harder work ethic such as Tony. Bigger effort begets busted loops and collapsed fly line. The permit tails were like watching a sunset as a setting sun descends with no apparent movement.

Setting Slowly

The permit fins and tails disappeared like a wisp of smoke in a brisk sea breeze. The school of twenty fish simply vanished.

Vanished

The learning curve was sharp for Tony as he waded with water up to his chest and the lesson harsh…tailing permit in slick calm water cannot be caught. This was classic permit fishing where the story rarely ends with a caught fish but always leaves a searing memory that wakes the angler up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night. Drinks anyone?

Sometimes A Small Fly Catches A Belizean Beer

Great Gift Lauri!

Celebrate 70 At The Blue Bonefish, San Pedro, Ambegris Caye, Belize

On my 69th birthday, Lauri and I shared a romantic dinner in Columbus. While we sipped a glass of wine, Lauri slid a small package across the table. Inside was a crab fly intended to entice a permit, one of the most challenging fish to catch on a fly. Along with the fly came a trip to Belize for my 70th birthday. Lauri is the best gift giver I know and her insight that a full year of preparation,reading, and anticipating the trip would stretch the trip from the scheduled 8 days to a full year of enjoyment was true.

Welcome To The Blue Bonefish

My good friend and fishing buddy, Tony Peveler, happened to be preparing to celebrate his 50th birthday and all of a sudden two milestone birthdays were to be celebrated on the flats of Belize. Adventures? Stay tuned.

Stay Sharp

Everglades Fishing Hot!

Yesterday we promised answers to the question of what adventures the Everglades would produce on day one of our fishing trip. Short version: two grand slams consisting of a tarpon, redfish, and snook in the same fishing day. Variety being the spice of life we also caught or hooked the following: a lemon shark spooled Tony Mollica who we affectionately call Tony Backseat to describe where he sits in the truck as we head to the swamp; Tony Frontseat aka Tony Peveler caught the biggest fish of the day with a keeper snook of 32 inches which had a huge hump on its back because it was a stud. I caught a second keeper snook of 31 inches. Variety being the spice of life we caught a cichlid, snook, redfish, tarpon, black drum, ladyfish, sea trout, mangrove snapper, and a jack.

Second report will come tomorrow night. Tight lines! Snook for dinner and there could be an occasional adult beverage!

Thanks to our guides Chad Huff who is pictured with Tony Frontseat and Andrew Bostick who is shown with this huge Black Drum.

We miss our fishing buddy Chuck Sheley who was not able to be with us this year.

Here Is Chuck with a snook last year and on the ride in to Chokoloskee!

Continue reading

Everglades 2018

The Everglades remain a slice of wilderness containing a maze of mangrove mysteries and subtle treasures. The twisting rivers, bays and cuts of tannin stained water draw the angler away from civilization and towards abundant opportunities to build memories seared into the brain by exposure to the intensity of unique experience.

Saltwater crocodiles, alligators, ghost orchids presented in the silence of the backcountry. Roseate spoonbills, egrets, eagles, pink flamingos…not every trip but just often enough to take your breath away.

Creek Redfish (00050048@xC4F0B)

Tony Peveler, Glenn Johnson, Tony Moillica and I head out tomorrow for three days of fishing in the Everglades. Will someone catch a grand slam… a snook, redfish, tarpon, and sea trout on the same day? Will someone hook a gator?  Will there be tarpon rolling in a remote channel? Can we catch a keeper snook? Will someone hook a tarpon and watch helplessly as the silver king launches itself into the top of a mangrove tree? Will someone fall in to the dark mysterious water? Will one of us stick a plug into the hand of another? Will the wind howl or will the backcountry be a peaceful slick calm piece of magic water?  Will the manatees gentle expose themselves? Will the dolphins paly along side the skiff as we streak across the bottom of Florida towards Lostmans River. The unanswered anticipated adventures represent the best of fishing.

Keeper Snook (00049667@xC4F0B)

Keeper Snook

Answers come tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Everglades

Adventures and Misadventures Bonefishing in the Grand Bahamasn

Tom Blake Catches First Bonefish

Traveling out of the United States always poses challenges, especially when part of the trip includes leaving a safe and secure cruise ship for the purpose of meeting a bonefish guide for a day on the flats of Grand Bahamas Island.

Tom Blake and his wife Davi and my wife Lauri and I embarked on a four-day cruise leaving from Miami which was scheduled to return in time for us to attend the National Championship football game to see our beloved Buckeyes capture the natural championship. When the Buckeyes were crushed by Clemson, we should have sensed that our fishing trip would also encounter a few challenges.

Ready To Look For The Cab

The Norwegian Sky

The girls scheduled the trip. I made arrangements for the bonefishing. As usual, the logistics made by the wives went more smoothly than mine.

Talk About Smooth

Talk About Smooth!

I received a bonefish guide recommendation  from Andrew Bostick who provides our fishing group with terrific guiding in the Everglades during an annual November fishing trip for snook and redfish. He suggested that I contact the Pinder family who have been  bonefish guides in the Bahamas for generations. Several members of the Pinder family  were featured as guides for Tom Brokaw, Lefty Kreh and Huey Lewis (among others) on the TV production Buccaneers and Bones which has aired  for the last several years on the Outdoor Channel.

Our January 3 date in port at Freeport, Grand Bahamas, was open on their calendar and the booking was made. Jeffrey Pinder  arranged for a cab to pick us up  at  point of  disembarkation.

Part of the fun of any fishing trip is the preparation consisting of packing rods, reels,  and related tackle.  Although the Pinders would have been happy to rent us tackle, I love using my own gear and providing the equipment for any friend who I can talk into fishing with me. Every glance at each rod and reel floods my mind with memories of fish caught and fish lost.

Unfortunately, the  dockside terminal security guard was not impressed  by my need  to personally carry my fishing rods to my cabin during the process of clearing security as we boarded the ship. Our communication was marginal  at best.  When I explained that the contents  of my rod tubes  contained fishing rods and yanked the rods out of the tubes for a demonstration, she promptly  wrote  “fishing  wings” on the inventory tag .

sdr0490

Fishing Wings

In broken English, she informed me that my rods would be confiscated and later delivered to Guest Services on the ship. My confidence level that the rods would actually make that journey was quite low.  As I walked up the gangplank, I  cast several  worried glances toward my rod tubes which had been wrapped together with masking tape.

sdr0479

Wrapped Rods

Once on board, I immediately asked  any crewmember who would listen about when my rods would be available. After hearing several different stories ranging from 5 PM that day to the last day of the cruise, a very helpful member of the crew staff told me to come back at 5 PM and discuss the matter further with Guest Services. I reappeared at 4:59 PM.

Corina was at the desk and informed me that indeed my rods had been delivered by  Terminal Security  to Ship Security . She had personally placed the rods under the Christmas tree in the back office. When I offered my opinion that  carrying the rods back to my state room would not be a burden, she  laughed. Corina told me that the rods would be available  after 6:30 AM the next morning so we could use the equipment on our trip .

sdr0478

Miami Skyline At Sailaway

I suggested that I would sleep better if she was on duty at 6:30 AM  the next morning.  She handed me her business card but would not promise  to be at work  at that ungodly hour.  Upon my arrival at exactly 6:30 a.m. the next morning, the Guest Services representative  on duty patiently listened to my tale of woe and disappeared in back for what seemed like many minutes. When he reappeared  with the rods, I was elated.

Tom and I met for breakfast at 7:15 as the ship  was to be cleared for disembarkation at around 8 AM.  As we headed to the bottom of the ship to exit, Tom realized he had left his sunglasses in the room.”No problem”, I said. “I’ll wait for you near the gangplank” Many minutes went by. Many more minutes went by. Finally, Tom approached the small hallway with a worried look on his face.

sdr0480

Tom Bake Approaches The Gangplank

While accessing his room safe to get money for the fishing day, he inadvertently changed the combination to the safe and was no longer able to open it. After numerous failed efforts to reset the combination, he left the job of fixing that problem to his wife, Davi. She was up to the task.

From that point, the trip smoothed out. Within minutes of exiting the ship, our cabbie, Terrel  Lightourne appeared curbside. A delightful man dressed in a business shirt and tie,  Terrel had the cab parked behind our guide after a short 10 minute ride. The father of five  who is a lifelong resident of Grand Bahamas drives 45 miles from his residence on a daily basis to provide transportation services to the tourists visiting his island home.

sdr0482

Terrel Lightbourne

Tom and I jumped out of the cab and approached Jeffrey Pinder with hands extended. Unfortunately, Jeffrey was really named David and after a brief embarrassed moment, handshakes were exchanged, rods were rigged, and the 15-year-old bonefish skiff was loaded with our gear and we were headed to the flats.

sdr0483

David Pinder Readies The Skiff

On the run out,  I asked  David if he is ever finished with the famous fly fisherman Lefty Kreh who appeared  on  several of the Buccaneers and Bones  episodes. Upon learning that he knew Lefty well, David and I decided that if Tom could accomplish the difficult task of catching a bonefish on his very first trip, he would deserve to share the revered fishing nickname of “Lefty”.

Tom graciously agreed to fish with me on this saltwater flats trip even though he is less than a fan of sharks which are often found prowling bonefish flats .His “reward” for bravery  was to stand on the bow  of the skiff first. Within 5 min.,Tom who had never cast to a bonefish or any other saltwater fish was attempting to catch the most challenging of all bonefish –  a large tailing fish which popped up just inches from the shoreline on the outgoing tide.

Bonefish in Mangrove Shoots

Tailing Bonefish

That chance did not work out well but Tom had two more decent shots at tailing fish. No takers even though he cast the  shrimp baited hook in good spots.David Pinder was full of encouragement and even as the spooked bonefish raced off the flat,  our guide assured us that here were more bonefish around and Tom would catch one.

After I took a turn on the bow with no luck,  Tom returned for an additional shot. Suddenly, David spotted three bonefish swimming slowly  down the mangrove shoreline. When the fish were in casting range,  David shouted ” Go”. Tom cast about 8 feet short of the fish David had spotted. Instantly,  a good  bonefish swirled with a huge boil on Tom’s shrimp and  the fish streaked off took off on a long first run with the drag on the spinning real screaming. Tom had obviously seen a different fish than David but the result was Tom’s first bonefish coming to the skiff after  a long and exciting battle. Tom was heard to  shout  a few excited profanities as he laughed with delight during his fight with the determined 6 pound bonefish!

For someone like me who loves bone fishing and knows how challenging catching this terrific fish can be, the thrill of being with someone who catches their very first bonefish   will be a lifetime memory. Tom’s smile tells it all.

sdr0485

Tom Blake and his first bonefish

Welcome to the ranks of bonefishing, Lefty Blake!!!

CAREFUL! YOUR GRANDCHILDREN REMEMBER WHAT YOU SAY

Ezra’s First Fish

With the blessings of grand parenting come a few stark realities, not the least of which is that our grandchildren listen to what we say and remember our promises. I was itching to help Ezra catch his first fish about two years ago while visiting Seth, Julie, Ezra, and Ainsley in Asheville, North Carolina. I had packed a tackle box and the family cane pole in the car before hitting the road.

Seth Rowe Seth With The Family Canepole

An internet search revealed some likely fishing spots where an eager bluegill could be caught. When I explained my plan to Ezra, who was 4 years old at the time, he did not share my excitement. Resorting immediately to bribes, I casually mentioned that family tradition required an ice cream stop after a grandchild caught his first fish. Reluctantly, Ezra allowed that he would be willing to join the adventure. Unfortunately, I had not brought any wax worms with me and the neighborhood bait shop had no bait. Bad omen.

Undaunted, Seth, Ezra, and I grabbed a shovel and dug up a few worms from under a tree next to their home. I worried as I inspected our meager take of four small night crawlers knowing I was ignoring my Grandfather’s admonition of sixty years ago: “A real fisherman never runs out of bait!” I should not have been concerned.

Our fishing day was gorgeous. The lake was stunning in its beauty and shocking in its lack of fish. Seeing Seth and Ezra gazing intently into the water trying to catch a glimpse of a fish caused me to reflect on how many bodies of water I have stared at hoping for just a hint of a reason to fish that water.

Seth and Ezra looking for fish Seth and Ezra looking for fish

Of course, I was disappointed when we were skunked. But being with family on a beautiful day in a beautiful spot put the lack of action into perspective.

Oompah and Ezra Quality Time Oompah and Ezra Quality Time

As for Ezra, his spirits were not dampened by the lack of fish. He has such a unique and refreshing way of encountering the world. I remember a day when as a three year old he spontaneously belted out the first verse of “Be Thou My Vision”. Lauri and I were thrilled to listen to this little guy singing as if inspired by our Creator to share this great hymn with the whole world. During every subsequent trip to Asheville, I have begged Ezra for an encore to no avail.

About a year later, Ezra and his parents were in Worthington. I was eager to give Ezra another shot at his first fish. I reminded Ezra of the sweet reward that awaited once he successfully caught his first fish. His interest soared.

Seth, Ezra, his cousin Izzy, Uncle Nate, and I drove to Sharon Woods park where there is a very reliable fish holding bush submerged close to shore. The cane pole was back in action and I had plenty of bait. Seth baited up and I turned on the camera as the bait settled in the water under the bobber. It did not take long.

So grandparents remember, if you promise ice cream be prepared to deliver!

A Year Later With Aunt Ginny A Year Later With Aunt Ginny

How To Weather Tough Times

Worms and Coffee

This has been a tough week for all of us. And yet life races ahead. For me, our world is a better place when each of us love, embrace a positive passion, and enjoy the simple pleasures our world offers.

For me, MY BRIDE, MY BAIT, MY BREW!!

My Bride, My Bait, My Brew

My Bride, My Bait, My Brew

I beg you to grab someone you love, do something that fires you up, and keep life simple.

Is This Heaven!

Is This Heaven!

Yoga Chant Attracts Large Tarpon

Many years ago, a workout partner suggested that I should take up the practice of yoga. The suggestion was accompanied by the comment that I was one of the most inflexible people he knew. I thought to myself, “In so many ways!”

The encouragement led me to take a few classes, buy a DVD, and hide in the basement with my mat to become familiar with the art of yoga. The most fun part was chanting. Little did I know that years later, a yoga chant would help me catch my first 100 pound tarpon.

Beautiful Tarpon - The Quarry

Beautiful Tarpon – The Quarry

From 1988 through 2011, a group of my fishing buddies and I fished annually in the Florida Keys. We were fortunate to have the best guides in the Keys trying to put some very average but enthusiastic anglers on the fish of the flats, namely, bonefish, permit, and tarpon.

As we drove to the Keys for the second year of the trip, stories from the previous trip were shared in a tone of excited anticipation. I observed a significant discrepancy in the way each of us remembered the details of the previous trip. As a result, I bought a blue journal at the K-Mart in Marathon, which has been referred to as the fishing bible ever since.

For the next 22 years, I recorded the fish caught, lost, and the adventures shared. The result – my buddies often contended that the stories of the fishing bible, which were written daily as the events unfolded, were wrong. So instead of arguing with each other, they argue with me over the “truth.”

The Fishing Bible

The Fishing Bible

I have the journal in my hand reviewing the events of November 4, 2010.

I was fishing alone with Guide Dale Perez who is an extremely talented flats guide. On difficult fishing days, Dale referred to himself as “Captain Snake Bit”. I often reminded him that poor fishing results are typically caused by the angler or the conditions encountered, not the guide.

Guide Dale Perez On The Poling Platform

Guide Dale Perez On The Poling Platform

Dale launched the skiff out of Little Torch. As we cleared the narrow channel lined with beautiful homes, the skiff was punched up on plane and we started the long run into the backcountry of the Content Keys which are a slice of heaven nestled in the flats bordering the Gulf of Mexico. The early morning run was made as Dale and I silently shared the optimism of endless possibilities. The skiff skimmed over the surface pushing a gentle wake as a soft hissing sound caressed our ears. Dale raced to the first fishing destination as I daydreamed of fish to be caught and stared into the water looking for signs of life.

That morning, the skies were a flat slate gray as a single sheet of low hanging cloud stretched to the horizon. A mild breeze was blowing. No sun meant visibility into the water was zero, but fortunately, we arrived at our first flat as the water began to rise with the tide. Good fortune followed.

Once In  A While The Sun Does Not Shine In The Florida Keys

Once In A While The Sun Does Not Shine In The Florida Keys

Dale had been poling along the edge of the flat for no more than 10 minutes when a large school of bonefish pushed water ahead of them as the fish left the deeper water of the channel and swam up on the edge of the flat staging to feed as the turtle grass began to flood with saltwater. The “wake” resembled a v-shaped flock of geese migrating through a Midwest fall sky.

Although I could not see the fish, I understood from years of mistakes under similar circumstances that the actual fish were swimming well ahead of the wake. I threw my shrimp about 10 feet in front of the wake and as the bait landed Dale shouted, “Rowe, you should get one!” I did.

The First Of Two Content Keys Bones

The First Of Two Content Keys Bones

We had several more shots at schooling fish coming up on the flat and I caught an eight pounder before the fishing shut down which coincided with worsening weather. The wind came up and rain drops began to fall. Dale hopped off the poling platform, stored the push pole, and fired up the engine as I stowed my spinning rod and reel. We were off to what we affectionately call the 26 foot hole.

Captain Perez and Larry LaFleur Hooked Up To Big Tarpon In The 26 Foot Hole

Captain Perez and Larry LaFleur Hooked Up To Big Tarpon In The 26 Foot Hole

Over the years, I have fished the 26 foot hole a number of times. When we are out of good fishing options in the Contents because of a lack of sun, poor visibility, too much wind or from some other combination of the endless variables which affect the fishing, we will run to the 26 foot hole. When the tide is right, tarpon resident to the hole often will roll in the channel which is at least a mile long, a couple hundred yards wide, and yes, 26 feet deep. Typically, the rods and reels remain stowed as we all scan the surface for signs of rolling tarpon. As soon as a roller is spotted the tension and excitement in the skiff explodes.

Tarpon Rolling Off Seven Mile Bridge

Tarpon Rolling Off Seven Mile Bridge

The first step is to rig a small spinning reel with a sabiki rig. Each tiny hook of the sabiki is tipped with a small piece of shrimp as we fish for live bait, the feisty pinfish. For me, a pinfish is the saltwater equivalent of the freshwater bluegill. The next step is to get out a tarpon rod and reel, sharpen the hooks, and cut a hunk of Styrofoam as a bobber. Two slits are cut in each side of the hunk of Styrofoam into which the guide wraps a couple of turns of line. If a fish strikes, the line cuts through the Styrofoam as the angler sets the hook. Instantly, the bobber is gone and the angler is tight to the fish.

Crab Pot Styrofoam Makes Great Bobber

Crab Pot Styrofoam Makes Great Bobber

Once rigged, the technique is simple. I lob the pinfish which is hooked in the back and the Styrofoam bobber out into the current. As the rig lands, the spinning reel bail is left open so the bait will drift with the tide and current. If the lob cast is too aggressive, the Styrofoam bobber will break and the guide will be cranky! Next, you watch the bobber as it ducks and weaves on the water while the feisty pinfish tries to escape. It takes little imagination to envision a huge tarpon causing panic in the pinfish as the Styrofoam chunk skitters across the surface.

Pinfish Are Great Tarpon Bait

Pinfish Are Great Tarpon Bait

With no other good options that afternoon, we drifted pinfish in the 26 foot hole for five hours. Almost immediately, the bobber disappeared and I caught a beautiful jack crevalle. Although not our quarry of choice, the jack put up a tremendous fight full of pumping runs and a singing drag. As the fish was released, I was sure there would be bigger and better fish to follow.

Jack Crevalle

Jack Crevalle

An hour passed. As tedium descended and my eyes began to get heavy, I decided to lob my bait to the opposite side of the boat. As the bobber settled in the water just a few feet from the port side of the boat, it just kept going. Before I could tighten on the fish and set the hook, a 4 foot barracuda exploded through the surface and jumped some 6 to 8 feet ascending to our eye level.

Jumping Barracuda

Jumping Barracuda

As it splashed back into the water, the fish reversed direction and streaked across the bow jumping a second time as if it was a thoroughbred clearing a hurdle. As soon as the cuda hit the water, it swirled around churning the surface as if it was trying to escape a dreadful fate. Suddenly, the fish was again airborne as a huge boil of water erupted underneath the flying fish. Out of the water came a 500 pound bull shark with jaws wide open not 10 feet from the boat. The hungry shark caught the barracuda and disappeared under the surface.

Bull Sharks Like To Eat

Bull Sharks Like To Eat

The line went slack as the refrain from “Jaws” drifted in my head. “Do, do-do, do.” It was one of those events where a month of intensity was jammed into a few seconds. Dale and I looked at each other in disbelief. “Can you believe that? “. Our knees were shaking.

Many more casts followed. I wondered why any fish would be swimming in the 26 foot hole after the bull shark exploded on the barracuda.

After another hour, a third bite. The bobber slowly disappeared some hundred yards from the boat. I reeled down to tighten against the fish and set the hook. Immediately, a large tarpon jumped some 6 feet out of the water.

Jumping Tarpon

Jumping Tarpon

That was the last time we saw the fish as it seemed to burrow to the bottom of the 26 foot hole. After 15 minutes of bull dogging, the line went dead. There was no hook and no fish as I reeled in the slack line with the hip thrusting slumped shoulder bad body language of disappointment. I cast my eyes skyward to ask the fishing gods when I might expect to catch a big tarpon? There was silence on the boat.

Dale rigged. Another 90 minutes passed. No bites. Boredom set in. There was no conversation. Finally, a strange thought popped into my head. I set the rod down next to me and climbed up on the bow of the boat. I sat in an upright cross-legged position with my knees spread apart. Putting my index fingers against my thumbs, I placed a hand on each knee. “What in the world are you doing, Rowe” Dale asked. “Dale, nothing is happening. We haven’t had a bite in over an hour and half. So I am going to call the fish to my bait by doing my yoga chants”. Dale shook his head.

“Ooooommmmm. Ooooommmmmm. Anshati, shanti,” I chanted surrounded by the stillness of the ocean and an extremely skeptical guide. As the last word left my mouth, the bobber disappeared. I had been chanting for all of five seconds. I laughed out loud, stood up, put both hands on the rod and reel and set the hook. The fish erupted from the water. After a long battle with many runs, jumps, and scary moments, Dale fired up the skiff and chased the fish from the depths the 26 foot hole onto a shallow flat.

Caught Tarpon

Caught Tarpon

We had our hundred pound tarpon. The fish swam slowly under the bow of the boat as Dale reached over and touched the leader making it a “caught fish”. He then yanked and broke the line. The tarpon eased off as its silver green color drifted out of sight.

I went crazy! My first tarpon exceeding 100 pounds had been attracted and caught under the spell of a yoga chant! “Only you, Rowe, only you…” Dale sighed.