I am excited to report that Lauri and I are off to Alaska for a two week adventure. One week on land and one week on the sea. I hope to have at least one fishing story to tell upon my return. I will be fishing the Upper Kenai River on September 6. I am told there could be some Granddaddy rainbow trout in the river. Now whether I can catch one is a totally different matter. Nonetheless, we all need rest. And for now, just as I rested with my Grandpa Hessey after a hard day of fishing in the photograph below, my blog, Front Yard Fishing, will be taking a brief rest until our return. Best wishes to all of our friends and family. Go Bucks! See you soon!
Several days ago, I posted a story about my Grandpa Hessey. The events described occurred a long time ago. As we all know, time scorches by. I am now a Grandfather, commonly known in the family as Oompah. My first grandchild, Izzy, was born very early. She weighed 1 lb. 11 oz. Her home for the first several months was Children’s Hospital. Since my law office is only a few blocks away from Children’s, Izzy and I spent many weekday lunch hours holding hands through the holes in the side of her isolette. No doubt there are a few nurses in the ICU who remember a white-haired grandfather singing songs to his new granddaughter.
She has done so well. Nate and Amanda, her Daddy and Mommy, are such great parents. She has blessed our lives in ways unimagined by us until she arrived. But of course, I could not wait to see Izzy catch her first fish. Patience has never been one of my virtues, but Izzy made every day waiting for her to be big enough to go fishing with her Grandpa a day worth remembering. She has been the focal point of many happy and joyous moments for her Oompah and those who love her! For example,
Izzy took me to the Worthington Memorial Day Parade.
Izzy introduced me to the stylish new hairdos of bathing infants in America.
Izzy makes Lauri, her Mimi, very happy and in turn that makes me very happy.
Izzy loves to flirt with Oompah in her sunglasses.
Izzy helped Oompah recover from knee replacement surgery by joining me for long peaceful naps on the front porch.
Izzy takes me to eat ice cream.
Izzy tucks me in bed when she gets her sleeper on and combs out her hair for the night.
But time passed quickly and a couple of weeks ago the big day for catching her first fish arrived. Her Daddy, Nate, my Mom and Dad, and I were allowed to go along. I had fished this gorgeous farm pond a couple of weeks earlier and I knew Izzy’s chances of success were extremely high and warned everyone to pay attention because catching that first fish would not take long. Our cameras and cell phones were ready to capture the action. Nate was of course in charge. I hope you enjoy seeing Izzy catch her first fish at age 3 as much as the rest of us did.
The most exciting part of sharing stories has been that good friends respond by sharing their own. Over the years, York Golf Club has had the good fortune of having a Club Manager named Chuck Dahn. Chuck is a man who goes about his job as if it is not work. Chuck recently shared memories of his Dad and a couple of photographs which I will share with you. Chuck was a crafty left-hander in junior high and played an important role on a great Miami University basketball team. However, his words make obvious that his athletic memories are best recalled in the context of his Dad. As you read his words, remember your family members and give thanks for the important inspirational roles they have played in your life and for the stories you have to tell about them. As Chuck tells the story:
Miami University Basketball 1984
………..I can still hear my dad yelling at the ball games……….most memorable yell from dad, Assembly Hall (Indiana, Bob Knight), 1983, Indiana ranked #5 and we win by 8!! I played the whole game and was exhausted after the game, but thrilled!! Dad had 2 things to say to me at half court (where I met him and mom following the game)…1. Did you hear me yell? (17,000 screaming Indiana fans) 2. How does my shoulder turn look?? (Dad was a member at York till he passed away in 1991)……….My answers, “ I heard every word ” and “ your shoulder turn looks great ”………..He was diagnosed with cancer the week before the game and battled till his last day!! Dad was a WWII pilot (B-24) and an All-American football player at University of Dayton alongside Chuck Knoll!
Thanks for sharing Chuck!
My Grandpa Hessey was and still is my fishing hero. I have so many images of Grandpa which bring smiles to my face. Almost always, those images have to do with Grandpa and me in the outdoors. The photo below was taken in March of 1949, just one month before I was born. I wonder whether Grandpa knew his soon to be born Grandson would be a lifelong fishing buddy.
Grandpa worked for the United States Postal Service. His shift as a mail sorter began at 3 AM returning home at noon. Depending on the weather and time of year, he spent his off work time fishing, hunting or gardening. His interests complimented each other. He was quite a successful fisherman in his own right. He loved fishing for catfish. Apparently, some of his catches were worthy of publicity in the local paper.
Grandpa was an organic gardener. His compost pile was the envy of everyone on Cory Street in Fostoria, Ohio. His fertile garden and lush lawn provided a perfect home for fat juicy night crawlers. As dew began to settle on the grass, he would grab two flashlights, hand me one, and into the backyard we would go. Slowly we eased our way through the lawn and along the flower gardens all the while moving the faint edge of the light cast by the flashlight slowly forward. The goal was to catch a glimpse of a night crawler on top of the ground. If you were really lucky, you could see two night crawlers intertwined. I of course had no idea what that was about. Once you memorized their location on the ground we would move the beam of light away and grab the slimy crawlers.
Fostoria is located in Seneca, Hancock, and Wood counties which intersect at the top of County Line Road one block from where my mother, Beverly grew up watching her father explore the outdoors. My Mother was also exposed to fishing at an early age. Apparently, Grandpa and Mom could not wait to get out of their Sunday church clothes before showing off a great catch of crappies.
The geology his home area was a boon to catching our own bait. Grandpa took as much pleasure in catching bait as he did catching fish with the bait. Agricultural ground in that part of Ohio is underlain by a seam of blue clay which is nearly impenetrable by water. In order to drain crop land, farmers of the area excavated ditches around the perimeter of their fields. Drain tile was installed two to three feet below the surface to carry rainwater from the fields to the ditches. As a result, the ditches would fill with water. Many of these water filled ditches were home to minnows, hard craws, and an occasional bonus of a bona fide bass catching soft craw.
My Grandpa made us narrow mesh seines which looked like two pieces of cheesecloth strung between bamboo handles approximately 3 feet long. The bottom edge of seine mesh was strung with lead stick sinkers. With the seine bumping the bottom of the “cricks”, we would slowly move upstream. For a little kid who was active enough for his Grandpa to call him a “wiggle worm”, bait catching was as much fun and sometimes a whole lot more active than fishing.
I can still sense the excited anticipation as my skinny arms lifted the seine from the water. I would peer over the edge of the net eager to discover what wriggling creatures would attempt to escape into the stream. When we were sufficiently armed with bait, we went fishing. Often, catching bait made a guy thirsty necessitating a stop at Stewart’s root beer stand where we would pull the car up to the old fashioned drive in. The cute waitresses would roller skate to your car, take an order for root beer in frosted mugs and return with a tall glass filled with the sweet tasting icy cold soda destined to wet our lips.
I learned a very important Grandpa Hessey lesson on those bait catching adventures. He would always say “Stevie, remember, you can never have too much bait!” To this day, I know that two dozen soft craws are better than one and three boxes of wax worms are better than two.
In early spring, Grandpa had a favorite quarry which he just knew was full of hungry pre-spawn white crappies. The quarry was nestled up against some railroad tracks. Often trains would go by. In early spring, I would amuse myself by watching the trains when there was no action. These were the same trains which you could hear from my bedroom in his home late in the evening. The conductors blew lonely whistles indicating the progress of freight across the street track intersections of the small Ohio town. I loved that haunting whistle because when it blew, I knew the next morning I would wake up and go fishing with Grandpa.
On one trip to the railroad quarry, Grandpa hoisted me up onto a stump some 4 to 5 feet off the ground. He handed me my 10 foot bamboo cane pole rigged with black linen line and a round red and white bopper. After baiting the hook with a “minnie”, I swung the bait into the water and watched impatiently for any quivering of the bobber indicating a bite. “I think you’re getting a nibble”, he would say often in an effort to keep me on my toes. My attention span was okay but not indefinite. On this particular day, the crappies were sleeping. I put the cane pole under one leg and began to pick bare vines from the side of the stump. I found that if I tugged just right, the entire bare vine could be stripped from the top of the stump to the ground. Being bored, I removed most of the vines from the fat stump and was quite proud of my efforts. I woke up the next morning an itchy mess with poison oak on every inch (yes, I mean every inch) of my body. Grandma chastised Grandpa, “Dick, what in the world did you do to this boy?” He shrugged as if to say this one will only learn the hard way. He was right.
On the southeast side of Fostoria, a series of quarries were dug as sources of water for the community. Well-stocked, we often fished these quarries in early spring. I remember days when the bopper continuously went under and I would yank my long cane pole with a well hooked crappie attched up over my head and behind me on the bank. I would laugh and scream, “I got one!”. Grandpa would smile.
In the fall, Grandpa would wander through the woods in the country. He must have known every farmer in the area because we never ran out of woods in which to look for squirrels, harvested fields where we could hunt rabbits and pheasants, orchards in which we could seek morel mushrooms and plots of walnut trees which yielded the strong tasting black walnuts Grandma used in Holiday desserts. Grandpa always asked permission to use others land even if he had been there before. I remember many a neighborly conversation about the weather, crops, and the Cleveland Indians. When we left a farm, we would always return to the farm house or barn and offer part of what we were taking home.
For the most part, Grandma tolerated the fishing. In fact, occasionally she fished with Grandpa.
She did put her foot down on one occasion when Grandpa decided he could pickle a 15 pound carp he had caught. My Grandparents home was originally heated by coal. The furnace had its own storage room. Black chunks the size of soft balls were dumped by chute through a window which could be opened to accept delivery into the basement coal bin. At some point, a conversion to gas occurred permitting my Grandpa to put the bin to use as a storage room to dry out the black walnuts he collected. Also located in the former coal room was a chest freezer in which my Grandmother stored fish, game and other food. Unfortunately, there was no light in the coal bin. The only source of light was from the adjoining room of the basement and the bare bulb cast illumination only a few feet into the bin. Grandpa had placed a large roasting pan filled with carp and saltwater on the un-illuminated end of the chest freezer. Not yet knowing about the carp, Grandma went down to get some food and opened the freezer lid. Splash! The slimy wet cold ugly fish glanced off her house dress and slid down her legs coming to rest on her feet. Thereafter, Grandpa did not brine fish in the basement.
Despite the carping she took, one Christmas Grandma gave her husband a canvas on metal frame ice shanty. I remember the ice shanty had been assembled, apparently by Santa Claus, as it was standing next to the Christmas tree when my brother John and I rushed down one very early Christmas morning to see what Santa had delivered. Grandma felt the shanty was needed because the previous year an ice fishing mishap had occurred. Grandpa had taken me ice fishing near State Dock located on Catawba Island which juts into Lake Erie. It was a late winter day. The sun was shining raising the temperature into the 40s. Grandpa had built a tackle box with two sled runners on the bottom to ease transporting his fishing gear across the frozen lake. He pulled the box across clear ice which reflected a deep blue sky while carrying an ice spud to be used to cut our fishing hole. When we were about 200 yards from shore, he stepped on a partially frozen hole and one leg was suddenly soaked to above the knee. He hoisted the dripping leg from the freezing water, shook it off, and looked at me. “What are we going to do now, Grandpa?” He took a brief chew on his unlit King Edward cigar and said “We’re going fishing. That’s what we came here to do.”
We fished the rest of the day. As the afternoon sun set and the temperature dropped, his pant leg froze. As I have pondered that extraordinary Christmas gift, I have come to understand that Grandma bought the shanty to keep Grandpa safe. I do not think she really grasped just how far out on Lake Erie he would walk to reach a spot where he sensed there were hungry yellow perch waiting below the frozen surface.
Grandpa also taught me that it is impossible to keep accurate time while fishing. One summer Sunday morning, we arose early to fish at the nearby stone quarry. We had some beautiful soft craws left over from the day before and it was essential they be offered to hungry bass before church. My Grandparents attended the Methodist Church where my parents were married. As my Father was a Methodist minister, church attendance was mandatory for me even when my parents were not around. So on this particular morning, we got an early start knowing Grandma would be waiting in her Sunday dress and hat ready to worship.
We fished off a bluff about 9 feet above the surface. The limestone wall was sheer and you could easily look down into the submerged trees which had fallen into the edge of the water. The plan was to hook soft craws through the tail and gently drop them down among the snags of the underwater tree limbs. Grandpa always taught me something new about fishing each time we went. Today, I was to put the soft craw on the hook. I was a little nervous. Having seined for soft craws previously, I was fully aware of the feisty critters pinchers. At Grandpa’s urging, I stuck my hand into the dark hole of the bait bucket and came up with a craw. I held it in one hand and as I moved the hook towards the tail, the agitated bait pinched my finger. I dropped the soft craw, it bounced once on the rock ledge and fell gently into the crystal clear water. As soon as it plopped near the submerged trees, the biggest bass I had ever seen gently eased itself off the bottom, opened its mouth and inhaled the free swimming bait as it scurried tail first towards the bottom.
Grandpa said, “Stevie, it works a lot better if the hook is in the craw.” The gentle reprimand was delivered with a smile in his voice. He then glanced down at his watch and I for the first but not the last time realized the impossibility of keeping accurate time while fishing. By the time we arrived home, the collection plate was no doubt heading around the church after the preacher had delivered his sermon. To make matters worse, Grandma had not gone to church because she was waiting to go with her husband and grandson. As we stepped into her tiny kitchen, she gently shook her head and said, “Well, if we had to miss church, I hope you caught something”.
Wandering through these memories brings to mind a permanent image of Grandpa which vividly connects us. I can still see him exiting his blue and white 1957 Chevrolet and walking up the path towards the back porch of his home. Between the driveway and the back porch was the largest sweet cherry tree in Fostoria. Below is a photo of my brother John and I with Grandpa as the cherry tree blossoms in the background.
No five people could pick the cherries the tree produced each June. The lowest branches were the same distance off the ground as Grandpa’s head. As he took large long strides with his King Edward cigar trailing smoke from his hand, I remember Grandpa would slide his head and shoulders to the left to pass safely under the lowest branch. As he ducked, he would glance at me with a smile.
The sweet cherry tree held symbols of the fishing customs of the 1950s. Grandpa was not a catch and release man. Every caught fish was cleaned to provide food for his family and neighbors. If the fish was an egg laden female, the eggs were fried and served at dinner. I really hated those! Grandpa respected the fish he caught in a way which scared me at the time. If he caught a really big fish, he would cut off the head and nail it to the trunk of that big old cherry tree. It seemed very gruesome to a young child. In fact, it still does. Reflection has helped me accept those rude fish mounts as Grandpa’s way of telling his fish stories. And so as I fondly remember my Grandpa ducking under the cherry tree and tell fishing tales of my own, I remember his smile and the stories those fish told. Grandpa you are missed and loved greatly by your fishing Grandson.
One of the Rowe family traditions was to let our children take a trip with a parent in celebration of their graduation from high school. Our son, Andy, had listened to me speak of fishing the Florida Keys for bonefish, permit and tarpon for many years. I am sure that all my children could sense their Father’s excited anticipation as the first Monday in November rolled around each year. I have been blessed to fish in Florida for a week each year since 1988 with a group of close friends and guides who became close friends as we shared caught fish, lost fish, stories, adventures, misadventures, and icy cold adult beverages.
Of course, I was thrilled when Andy decided that a trip to the Keys would be his graduation adventure. On our first morning, our guide, Dustin Huff, launched the bonefish skiff from the ramp of the Marathon Yacht Club. He raced to a bridge abutment on the old portion of the Seven Mile Bridge which runs from Knight’s Key (part of the city of Marathon, Florida) in the Middle Keys to Little Duck Key in the Lower Keys. Among the longest bridges in existence when it was built, it is one of the many bridges on US 1 in the Keys where the road is called the Overseas Highway.
There are two bridges in this location. The older bridge was constructed from 1909 to 1912 under the direction of Henry Flagler as part of the Florida East Coast Railways Key West Extension, also known as the Overseas Railroad. After the railroad sustained considerable damage due to the effects of the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, the line was sold to the United States Federal Government, which subsequently refurbished Seven Mile Bridge for automobile use. Dismantled trackage was recycled, painted white, and used as guard rails.
The current road bridge was constructed from 1978 to 1982. The vast majority of the original bridge still exists, used as fishing piers and access to Pigeon Key but the original swing span over the Moser Channel has been removed. The old bridge is an idyllic place for walkers to exercise and gaze at the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other. If you ever get a chance to walk Seven Mile Bridge at sunset take it. You will be awestruck.
We were blessed that morning with gorgeous weather. The sun was bright, the sky was a crushing blue, visibility on the flats was excellent. Dustin shut down the skiff near a bridge abutment on the old portion of the bridge. We were using 7 foot spinning rods and Shimano Stradic 4000 reels loaded with 10 pound test Ande monofilament. Dollar sized blue crabs were the bait. Dustin staked the boat off about 80 feet from the bridge abutment and instructed Andy and I to stand on the bow. Andy was to cast to the right and I to the left. We both loaded the rods and launched the crabs. As the baits landed we left the bails of our spinning reels open permitting the drift of the racing current to take the crabs towards opposite sides of the bridge abutment. Two permit were waiting. Each of us got strikes and set the hooks. Chaos erupted.
Andy’s fish went to the Gulf and my fish went to the Atlantic. Dustin screamed at me to back off my drag. “Rowe, you’ve caught permit before! Let’s get Andy’s fish and then we’ll see if yours is still on.” So here was Andy, taking his first cast at any saltwater fish and hooking up with the determined and wily permit. He fought the fish very well. Dustin, as always, gave great instructions. The permit made several bulldog like runs. After spending substantial energy, the fish began to circle the boat. Since the skiff was staked off, Andy began to walk along the gunnel, across the stern and back up the other gunnel to the bow. The fish continued to circle pulling as if it was a sidways frisbee straining into the current. Dustin was directing traffic from the poling platform. Each time Andy passed around the stern, he had to pass the tip of the spinning rod underneath Dustin’s legs and out the other side. On the third trip around, the taut monofilament brushed the screwhead which fixed the poling platform to the brace. “BING” It was over.
The disappointment settled on Andy’s face, but Dustin and I still had a permit out there somewhere free swimming in the Atlantic Ocean. Dustin got down off the platform, stored the push pole, and fired up the engine. I jumped up on the bow of the boat and tightened down my drag slightly, just enough to be able to slowly gather line as Dustin guided the bonefish skiff in the angle made by my line entering the water. We safely passed close to the old bridge abutment and slowly edgeed across the 300 to 400 yards between the old and new bridges. As we approached the new bridge, it became apparent that our permit, as most do when hooked, had swum at the nearest obstacle in the water. In this fight, our fish had somehow found its way through the H frame bridge abutment supporting the new portion of the Seven Mile Bridge deck. Unfortunately, the skiff would not fit through the uprights of the H.
Dustin slowed the skiff and seemed to be thinking. Silence hung over the boat. He said after a moment, “Rowe, you mind if I touch your rod?” The G. Loomis rod was brand-new. The reel was brand-new. I asked, “Why, what are you going to do?” Dustin’s question was directed to the notion that if a guide assists an angler in any way by touching the rod or reel while a fish is being fought, the fish could not qualify if it happened to be a world record. I wasn’t worried about that. Although a very lucky man, I am not that lucky. Dustin replied, “I’m going to tie your rod and reel to a life jacket, throw all of it overboard and drift it through the other side of the H.” I looked at the water. The tide was ripping from the Gulf to the Atlantic and the current was streaking right through the opening of the H. “Sure, why not?”
Overboard went my rod, reel and the life jacket. The splash left a sinking feeling in my gut. I was out of touch with the fish and my gear. Somehow, the odd misshapen raft drifted just as Dustin predicted under the uprights and out the other side. We picked the floating equipment off the surface of the water and unstrapped the life jacket. Relief shook my wet hands as I grasped the recovered rod and reel.
At this point, no one was certain we had a fish on the the hook. I had never gotten tight on the still unseen permit. But we had been able to follow the line from the old bridge to the new bridge and through the H frame. Unfortunately, as the fish swam through the H, the line had snagged somewhere below the waterline. It was impossible to see where.
“Rowe, can you handle the boat?” “Why, what are you going to do,” I asked. Dustin shouted,”I’m going to dive in, get the line in my hands and follow it down till I find where it is snagged! If I can free it, we’re gonna catch this fish!” I have never owned a boat but regardless of my inexperience, I said, “Of course I can handle the boat!”
I took the steering wheel and put my hand on the throttle as Dustin dove off the bow. By now, the tide was absolutely ripping through the bridge abutment. Nonetheless, Dustin found the line in the water, followed it hand over hand and then suddenly extended his arms towards the bottom and dove out of sight. Moments later he came up with the line in hand. He let go as the ocean bound current swept the line away from more trouble. He quickly swam to the skiff, gripped the bow edge rail with both hands and literally launched himself on board.
Andy had been holding my rod and reel as I was controlling the boat and Dustin swam. Andy handed me the rod and reel. Once again I tightened the drag. This time there were no obstructions and soon I could feel the pulsing shake of the no doubt utterly confused permit at the end of the line. As the fish felt the pressure, he streaked off suddenly recalling the original hookset some thirty minutes earlier. Five uneventful minutes later, we had a 20 pound permit.
I suppose there may be other guides who would jump overboard to provide his angler with an opportunity of having a fish story to tell for the rest of his life. If so I hope you are fortunate enough to fish with such a guide. I have enjoyed such a privilege. Thanks, Dustin!
As all parents know, teaching your children to fish does not mean that the teacher will participate in the angling. We have five children- four sons and one daughter. As I was taught to fish at an early age by my Grandpa Hessey, I could not wait to take my children fishing. Being an eternal optimist, I was convinced that while helping the kids fish by extending cane poles, tying on hooks and bobbers, putting on bait, removing wriggling fish, all the while trying to keep the kids from falling in a pond or river, I could still catch a fish or two myself. How wrong I was!
But Ginny proved to be a very adept student!
However, I am sure she never enjoyed taking a caught fish off the hook.
As all parents know, whether or not lessons taught our children are carried foward into adulthood is often not known until years later. Recently, I learned that my daughter, Ginny, was fishing with friends at Indian Lake in central Ohio. Little did I know that her early fishing instruction would lead to creating a new and unique method of catching fish. I received a text from her describing her gift to the angling world. Let me describe it in her own words!
“Caught two catfish. Jessica caught this one. Video of us trying to get it off the hook. We needed a boy to help! The fish was caught using a very advanced “hot dog on hook” method. Hooked it through the eye… Was so grossed out by it’s whiskers and the fact that it was hooked in the eye that I couldn’t even try to take it off the hook. Needed my bad ass Mom’s help with that part!”
Makes a Father proud!
Key West has a mysterious and exciting reputation for an angler. Although I had pursued bonefish on many of the beautiful flats of the Keys, I had never fished out of Key West. So when my guide, Steve Huff, suggested that we fish Key West on a beautiful crystal clear November day, I was excited. The trip from Marathon was approximately one hour. We pulled the trailer and skiff into a marina and quickly launched into Key West Harbor. The broad basin is much larger than other harbors in the Keys. Substantial numbers of large sailing and pleasure yachts were moored in the aquamarine basin providing ample evidence of the affluence of the owners.
Historically, Key West was a military outpost which in the late l800’s grew to a community of some seventeen thousand citizens and outlaws who had communications with the mainland of Florida only by boat. In that the first road through the Keys was not constructed until the early l920’s, Key West took on an isolated independence. That independence is still reflected in the attitudes of the Key West natives who are not bound by societies or governments norms or expectations.
Just as Key West’s quirkiness is first rate, so is its fishing. We were there to fish. Permit were our quarry. Steve shut the 90 horse motor down, staked off, and began to rig my spinning rod with a Bimini twist leader and bait hook suitable to secure the dollar size blue crabs we intended to use as bait. My knots had yet to meet with his approval. As I looked up from the rigging efforts, I noticed a large barracuda sunning easily in a state of motionlessness. The day before while fishing a flat near Marathon, Steve’s son Dustin was my guide. When we sighted a cuda, Dustin rigged a spinning rod with a tube lure constructed of a single piece of bright green plastic tubing with three hooks running the length of the lure. He handed me the rod and I fired a cast well in front of what turned out to be a hungry fish.
“Reel the lure as fast as you can! If wants to eat you cannot reel too fast.” I cranked furiously. The cuda exploded on the lure and jumped several times, elevating high above the churning water. The fish made short, quick runs of approximately twenty to thirty feet and after about 5 minutes, I was able to land the twelve pound barracuda with brilliant blue tones accented by black vertical bars etching its missile shaped body. My fishing buddy, Lee Mitchell scoffed. It was as if I had caught a carp back home in Ohio.
On this Key West morning, we did not bother the lazy barracuda. After the rigging was completed, Steve poled the sixteen foot super skiff for approximately an hour searching for a flashy silver side of a permit or a black sickle shaped tail sticking above the water. We sighted nothing. Huffer suggested that if we were up for a ride, we might see permit if we could make it to Marquesas Keys.
Marquesas Key is a group of small coral islands half-way between Key West and the Dry Tortugas. The small atoll, which means a group of barrier islands with a harbor in the middle, is the last stop before Cuba. The Marquesas are uninhabited and are surrounded by some of the most beautiful water anywhere in the Florida Keys. The flat bottom is a supercharged ecosystem where an infinite variety of salt water creatures live in a complex chain of predator and prey.
To get to Marquesas Key from Key West, the angler must cross the Boca Grande shipping channel which connects the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean. Typically, the channel is choppy, especially when the wind and current are running in opposite directions. On such days, a skiff will move like a large bobber being tossed in multiple directions at the same time. On this day, the water was relatively calm and the seven mile crossing was uneventful.
As the crossing progressed, I had a feeling of vulnerability as I gazed into the violet colored water where I could not see bottom. Typically, I feel safe and confident while fishing. However, I had never before been aboard that little piece of fiberglass as it bounced around in water with a depth of thirty-five to forty feet. Needless to say, a bonefish skiff does not have sufficient room to carry a spare motor in the event of a mechanical breakdown.
As the mangrove covered Marquesas came into sight, the beauty of the moment was overwhelming. The water was absolutely crystal clear and the visibility as we scanned the surface ahead of us for signs of fish with the sun directly overhead was seemingly unlimited. Every shadow, movement, sandy spot among the waving duck grass lining the bottom of the flat held a promise of fish. But the permit were elsewhere. Instead, after poling into an inner bay of one of the islands, we found ourselves surrounded by a large school of lemon and nurse sharks. The cruisers swam gently around the boat as if they were a squadron of soldiers resolutely marching to battle. As these magnificent sharks swam underneath the boat, I glanced up and found no other human beings, boats, or signs of civilization. This sun crushed isolation created a sense of oneness with the elements I have never before or since experienced.