Adventures and Misadventures Bonefishing in the Grand Bahamas

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 .

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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.

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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 .

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Time Is Precious – Frank Rowe Says Goodbye To Sister Myrtle

   

All of us know that every moment of every day is precious. But we feel the depth of this reality when someone we love and respect dies. My Aunt Myrtle Lutterbein died this week. On Sunday, her children Carol, Ruth, Bill, Alice along with their spouses and children will host a celebration of her life in Edgerton, Ohio. 

The John and Myrtle Lutterbein Family

The John and Myrtle Lutterbein Family

Myrtle’s death leaves my father, Frank, as the last living child of Floyd and Mary Ella Rowe.

Grandma Rowe and her kids, Myrtle, Frank, and Mary Lois

Grandma Rowe and her kids, Myrtle, Frank, and Mary Lois

Several months ago, my Dad suffered a serious stroke and remains challenged when speaking. In keeping with his life long habit, I am sure he will have a few words to say this Sunday. But just in case those words are a tad jumbled, I would like to speak for Frank and Beverly’s side of the family in this post.

Myrtle, you are a saint! When our beloved Grandma Rowe, who all of us adored, moved back home to Edgerton, you and your generous husband, John, provided a home for her. Now, I have always speculated that the small one floor home was a spec property of the The Lutterbein Lumber Company that never made it to market as its completion date may well have coincided with Grandma’s need for a home. She stayed for a very long time in the loving care of you and your family. When Grandma moved to a nursing home, none of us worried because we knew Grandma was safe and loved every day of her life because you were her rock. Your love and care kept her alive until she was 102.

Grandma Rowe Loved To Fish Even If He She Had To Use Her Wheelchair

Grandma Rowe Loved To Fish Even If He She Had To Use Her Wheelchair

When my brother John and I were young, we knew Christmas was going to be at your house. We loved staying upstairs with all the cousins where chaos ruled the dark of night. We knew we would spend Christmas in a home filled with family and fun.

Christmas  at the Lutterbeins (1962)

Christmas at the Lutterbeins (1962)

Only years later have I come to appreciate how much work you did in preparing to make all of us feel so welcome. I was inspired to start my blog because my Dad began to write his life stories to present as a gift to his great grandchildren. I have searched those stories and would like to share a story of his as a tribute to you, his wonderful sister.

Frank writes, “The Sleep Walker”

I used to talk in my sleep, and if that’s not bad enough, I also walked in my sleep. If that sounds kinda creepy and crazy it probably is and it can also be dangerous. One night I woke up to find myself sitting on the edge of the porch roof. It was just outside the bedroom window, which was at the Pennock’s house in Zanesfield, Ohio.

I loved staying over at their house on the farm. Every night they popped popcorn and we had a party and played games. Then we ate the left over popcorn the next morning for breakfast like cereal with cream and sugar. I thought that was special though popcorn for breakfast never became my favorite meal. At the Pennock’s house, my bedroom was this tiny room upstairs at the front of the house with the window. Mrs. Pennock believed you should sleep with the windows open because fresh air was good for you. And that was even when it was freezing cold outside. If it seemed too cold, you just took a couple irons off the old kitchen stove and that would keep your feet warm until you fell asleep.

I also like the big feather-down blanket they had to cover up with. I guess the open window was too much temptation even in my sleep. Maybe it was a good place to look at the stars. It was, however, a little scary when I woke up sitting on the edge of that slanting roof, freezing my little behind off.   I don’t know what kept me from walking or sliding off that roof top. Mrs. Pennock had told me one day while helping me make my bed and when I started to climb out that window. “ Ellis, please don’t ever do that, it could be dangerous.”

The thing is…I’m not recommending this philosophy of life even though we must all have guardian angels watching out for us.

Another time my mother woke me up, “Frank,  What are you doing?” That’s a question I’ve been asked numerous times during my life. “What are you doing?” That night in the middle of the hot summer, I had gone around the house, gathered up all the blankets I could find, and piled them on top of my sister Myrtle while she slept. “What are you doing?” Before I actually woke up, my mother said that I simply said: “Myrtle is cold.”

The thing is…I still haven’t figured out why I do some of the things I do, sleeping or wide awake. Then there was the time my sister Myrtle asked me one morning at breakfast, right in front of our parents and everybody, ”Frank, do you curse a lot when you are not at home?” Where did that come from? Red faced, I swallowed deeply and replied, “Why?” “Well you were talking in your sleep” she said “and you were cursing up a blue streak!”

Caught again, the truth was, while in high school, working at the foundry after school and summer, I had enlarged my vocabulary with words spoken in our home only in a religious context. The truth was I had taken to cursing a bit (maybe alot) around my peers. Caught and embarrassed as I was, seeing the disappointment, if not shock on my parents face, I decided right then and there that I had best clean up my “bad mouth”. At a younger age, I had had my mouth washed out with soap for far less foul language. Now that I was a “man”, I decided I didn’t have to talk like the men at the foundry or like the guys in the locker room and, that I would stop cursing and taking God’s name in vain. Figuratively speaking, it took lots soapy mouth scrubbing and considerable tongue biting to break that bad habit. To help me break that habit I decided to bite my tongue when I said a bad word. Generally speaking, I’ve done pretty well at cleaning up my bad mouth.

The thing is…talking and walking in your sleep may be a dangerous thing to do, but with the help of loving friends and family, and with the help of God, there may be in the revealed sub-conscious mind, that about ourselves which we can change for the better. Myrtle, thanks for holding your little brother accountable and loving him. A now share my father’s acknowledgment which concludes his writing.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS FROM FRANK

I want to thank all those who have lived and survived with me all these stories. First, my wife Beverly June and all my family and friends. For years your Great Grandma and our sons, Steven Douglas and John Michael have been the wonderful characters in my sermon illustrations. They’ve borne the brunt of my warped humor, but also have been the heroes of my life’s stories. Thank you for your patience with me. I pray that never did I tell personal stories without the clear inflection of my love for you. No person, at 84 years of age, would have memorable stories to tell, without the loved persons who are part and parcel of the stories they have recalled. I thank my adult mentors and role models, like the Gills, the Pennocks, Mr. Wooden, my vo-ag teacher, principal, Mr. Hartsook, parents, Floyd and Mary Ella, and numerous others from whom I learned the meaning and the value of unconditional love. I thank my sister, Myrtle Irene, who was 7 years my elder and whom I called “Myrtle the Turtle”. And for baby sister Mary Lois, who was 7 years younger than I for putting up with my sometimes ferocious teasing. The thing is…memorable life’s stories just keep happening until the day we die. We keep meeting new friends and new daily events expand our repertoire of memorable stories. So keep those stories coming, good friends, old and new, because even on the day I die, I pray I’ve got a smile on my face and experience a story worth telling. The Bible says: “I have not stopped giving thanks to God for all of you. I remember you in my prayers.” Ephesians 1:16 Myrtle, I give thanks to God for your life.

Frank Rowe      

The Flying Christmas Tree

Several years ago, at the suggestion of Seth and Julie, our family started a new Christmas tradition. Each year, one of us is to write a memorable family story to share. Seth wrote chapter one which recited the tale of a Mason jar filled with a very special gaseous gift given by Pete to Andy. The details are not PG rated but as the story was read by Seth to the family, tears of laughter rolled down our cheeks.

I have not received permission from Seth to post his story. As he now teaches English to high school students in Asheville, NC, he has a reputation to protect. However, I have rewritten chapter 2 of our Christmas Family Journal as an early Christmas gift to my family and friends. With great love and affection, I present,

The Flying Christmas Tree

Ordinarily, the Rowe household at Christmas was full of cheer, fun, gift giving, churchgoing, and Santa. However, there was a year when Santa was cranky.

Santa Can Be Cranky

Santa Can Be Cranky

At the time of this misadventure, four of our five children had been born. Nate, Andy, Pete, and Ginny were at an age when Santa’s presents under the tree were sleeplessly anticipated. Lauri was also often sleepless at Christmas time for reasons only mothers can fully appreciate.

No matter the season or circumstance, when Lauri was home alone with the kids, I was completely confident they would be safe and loved. And when Lauri and I were both home with the family, an energetic but safe order existed. When she was not there, the ever present possibility of chaos breaking into uncontrollable disaster became a near certainty.

Our first family home was on Hayhurst Avenue in Worthington. As our family grew, the house shrunk. Lauri and I agreed that more space to raise our family was essential. The remodeling doubled the size of the family room and kitchen and added a pantry to hold the food for our large clan. We also built a mud room with lockers and a shower. We convinced ourselves that the kids needed a downstairs shower when coming inside from a muddy or snowy outdoors adventure. As often happens, the mud room idea had more promise than benefit.

The potential for chaos when the kids were “in charge” of me most often turned into a harsh reality when their mom was at the grocery. I often wondered why her “milk runs” took so long, until I realized years later that Kroger represented Lauri’s only opportunity for peace and quiet and possible adult conversation.

On this December evening, supper had been completed and I was happily doing dishes in our brand new kitchen. Christmas carols played in the background. Lauri had a tired look of relief on her pretty face as she headed out the door of the mud room to “pick up some groceries”. “Hurry back, honey!” I encouraged her as a sense of dread drifted into my gut.

The kids were in charge! And they were excited!! The Christmas tree had been decorated and stood tall and proud on the brand new carpet of our remodeled family room.

As was the tradition of my parents, once the tree had been precariously placed in the stand, I had added pancake syrup to the Christmas tree holder. Without hesitation or doubt, I insisted that my family would put into practice my parents’ heart felt understanding that a freshly cut Christmas tree would absorb pancake syrup thereby replacing leaking pine sap.

Syrup Can be Sticky

Syrup Can be Sticky

The goal – keeping the tree fresh longer. I am still unclear where the pine sap went but I needed no scientific evidence to affirm the unassailable validity of the Rowe reality that syrup was better than water.

As Lauri headed out the door, I was in the kitchen finishing the last of the dishes. The kids were playing loudly and cheerfully in the family room. The sounds seemed to be coming from an area near our beautiful Christmas tree.

By that time, our kids had provided Lauri and I enough on-the-job-training for us to know that when the kids became deathly silent there was only one thing to do – WORRY!!!

I Am Not Here

I Am Not Here

Suddenly the silence was deafening. I yelled out from the kitchen “Kids where are you?”

No answer.

“Kids, I mean it where are you – what’s going on?”

No answer.

With great dread, I walked into the newly carpeted family room. Glancing to my right, I was shocked to see the 7 foot Christmas tree on its side. Ornaments were everywhere. The Christmas lights still twinkled as the maple syrup slowly dripped into a 2 foot circle of sticky mess on the brand new carpet.

Tree Down

Tree Down

I am not typically a man who loses his temper or yells. When upset, my actions demonstrate the degree of my anger. Saying nothing as my face began to feel white hot, I surveyed the room. No children. The culprits had escaped.

I slowly walked into the kitchen and opened the newly constructed French doors leading to the deck. Returning quickly to the family room, I called upon my adrenaline assisted strength and grabbed the stricken tree. As I lifted, light cords ripped out of the wall socket. With tree overhead and ornaments jingling, I briskly walked past the pantry and towards the open French doors. Upon arrival, I launched the Yule tide treasure onto the empty snow covered deck.

Take That

Take That

I firmly closed the doors and returned to the kitchen. The kids were silent and hidden. I sat alone, also silent. Until Lauri returned, that part of the evening was truly a Silent, Unholy Night.

Shortly, she entered through the back kitchen door with grocery bags under her arms. She anxiously asked: “How did things go?” She was wise enough to know that “things” did not always go well.

“Fine”, I replied with an edge.

She then walked into the family room. In a remarkably calm voice she asked, “What happened to the Christmas tree?”

“It is on the back deck”.

She walked to the back porch and observed the sad sight of a fallen tree. She said nothing. I mean what could a wife say to make that mess any better?

The next morning, nothing was said about the tree. The kids and I avoided direct eye contact. I went off to work as if nothing had happened. When I returned home that evening, the tree was standing tall and proud in the family room. The syrup stain had miraculously disappeared. Lauri had wrestled the tree from the back porch, redecorated it, and like a guardian angel replaced the tense air in our home with a spirit of the joyful expectancy of Christmas.

Oh Christmas Tree!

Oh Christmas Tree!

As she has always has and continues to do, Lauri created the secure sense that her family would be ok.

Mimi Caring

Mimi Caring

Since that night, maple syrup has been replaced by water in our Christmas tree stand.

As often happens with memorable tales, the flying Christmas tree story added a chapter that spring. As Lauri began to prepare the garden around the deck for spring planting, she discovered several Christmas ornaments -some broken -some not- under the deck.

My children are now raising children of their own. In fact, this Christmas of 2014 will see 4 grandchildren gathering round our solidly standing tree. And so I offer them this parenting advice learned from the flying Christmas tree: Never wish your kids would be quiet when their joyful or not so joyful childish banter or screaming is driving you up the wall. For if silence greets you as a parent and it happens around Christmas, you may discover a cranky Santa in you!

Christmas Dad

Christmas Dad

Mistah, What Ya Usin For Bait?

Every time I go fishing, the parallels between lessons of real life and the fishing experience are revealed. Late this summer, my son, Nate, and I took my granddaughter, Izzy, to Sharon Woods Park for a late afternoon fishing outing. Our first lesson was learned because we used a good old-fashioned cane pole.

Cane Poles Have Worked For A Very Long Time

Cane Poles Have Worked For A Very Long Time

The cane pole we fish with now is not exactly like the 8 foot one piece bamboo pole my Grandpa Hessey used to teach me to catch crappies and bluegills. I remember vividly how he stuck the butt of the bamboo pole on the floorboard of the front seat of his blue and white 1957 Chevy with those really cool fins. The pole extended past the front seat where I was sitting with the tip running through an open back seat window. “Stevie, don’t let that pole fly out the window in the wind,” Grandpa would warn as he drove the car down the road.

I carried his cane pole tradition forward with my children and now, my grandchildren. However, I upgraded the equipment slightly some 30 years ago by purchasing an 8 foot extending cane pole.

The Old Reliable Cane Pole

The Old Reliable Cane Pole

After my kids “outgrew” the cane pole, I stuck the pole in the corner of the garage. The long neglected pole experienced a Lazarus like resurrection once grandkids old enough to fish were on the scene! The utility of the cane pole when fishing with kids demonstrates one of the life/fishing parallels: simple works!

After parking the car in a crowded parking lot, Nate, Izzy and I shared a long walk to the fishing dock loaded down with fishing gear, water, snacks, and of course, bait. Izzy walked while longingly looking at the playground nearby. We pushed ahead!

For well over 40 years, I have shared one my Grandpa Hessey’s fishing mantras with anyone who offered the opinion that perhaps I did not need quite as much bait as I brought to the shore or boat. Grandpa said: “You can never have too much bait”. Earlier in the day, Oompah (that is me as far as Izzy is concerned) made a run to the R&R bait store and purchased a box of bait containing 100 pieces of fish catching magic – the simplest of baits, wax worms.

You Can Never Have Too Much Bait!

You Can Never Have Too Much Bait!

The fishing dock was crowded with several families who were enjoying the afternoon. As any angler would, I checked out the fishing action as I walked towards the dock. There was no catching going on even though all the families were fishing with rods and reels much fancier than our simple cane pole.

The left side of the dock was open. We set our gear down near the water. Izzy immediately headed towards the edge of the dock and stuck her head across its margin peering intently into the water. I graciously allowed Nate to take care of the safety talk. He repeated the warning a number of times that afternoon.

At the very end of the fishing dock near where we were setting up was a tree which had fallen into the water. It’s now dead branches extended below the surface of the beautiful fishing pond. I took the cane pole which was already rigged with line, put on a small hook, a little split shot about 12 inches above the hook and attached a wax worm. After affixing a small red and white round bobber 2 feet above the bait, I underhanded the cane pole in such a way that the wax worm settled down next to the drowned tree branches barely visibly in the murky green water. “Izzy, come here and stand with me. When the bobber goes down, I want you to pull up on the pole and bring in the fish.”

After a brief wait, the tiny bobber began to bounce, then wiggle, and suddenly it eased steadily below the surface as the rig was pulled towards the underwater branches. “Pull, Izzy!” Pull she did. After the bluegill was bounced against the wooden dock a couple of times, she had the fish flopping on shore. I removed the bluegill from the hook and showed it to Izzy. She gave it a brief kiss, as is her custom, held the slimy wiggling pan fish in her tiny hand and threw it back. People on the dock were watching.

Izzy Kisses her catch!

Izzy Kisses her catch!

The whole scene repeated itself. This time Izzy caught a nice crappie. People on the dock were watching. Izzy, Nate and Oompah were excited.

Nice Crappie, Iz!

Nice Crappie, Iz!

The scene repeated itself a third time. This time a bluegill was landed even bigger than the prior two fish. After Izzy returned the third fish to the water, a young girl left her side of the dock and walked quickly towards us.

Our New Fishing Friend

Our New Fishing Friend

She was not shy. “Mistah, what ya usin for bait?” “Wax worms,” I said. She quickly wheeled around and headed toward her mother. “Mama, do we have any wax worms?”

By now, Izzy was hanging on to the pole waiting for the tiny red and white bobber to disappear under the gentle ripples of the pond surface. It did. Fish number four was on the dock in no time. Here came our new friend to teach us the second fishing/life parallel of the day, namely, it never hurts to ask.

“Mistah, can I borrow some of those wax worms?” “No, but you sure can have some,” I replied. She opened her little hand and I placed five or six wriggling wax worms covered in sawdust in her palm. Her fingers gently closed.

Would You Hold These In Your Hand?

Would You Hold These In Your Hand?

We watched her walk quickly back to her family. In a couple of minutes, a happy raucous ruckus arose at their end of the dock as our tow headed little friend landed a feisty bluegill.

While all of this fishing and sharing was going on, we had noticed a little boy and his father fishing in the middle of the dock. The third life/fishing parallel began to unfold, I want what you have.

With every fish we caught, the little boy would scoot a little closer to our fishing spot By the time we landed our fourth fish and our new friend at the other end of the dock caught her first bluegill, the little boy and his father were standing within a couple of feet of our “honey hole”. The little boy was watching us fish. His father was busy trying to catch a fish with a huge bobber and large night crawler which none of the fish which had been caught could ever pull under the water.

First Fishing Trip

First Fishing Trip

“What’s your name?” I asked the little boy.

“Billy.”

“Billy, have you ever caught a fish?”

“Nope,” he replied softly. I looked at his father and asked him if he minded if I helped Billy. “Sure”, he said as a look of relief and hope crossed his face.

Billy and I settled in to catch his first fish. “Now, Billy, here’s what we’re going to do. See these wax worms? I’m going to put one on this hook and then I’m going to swing this wax worm and hook right next to that tree. You see that bobber?” He nodded. “It that bobber goes that way, you pull this way. If that bobber goes this way, you pull that way.” He nodded. “You ready?” He nodded. The wax worm drifted through the air and gently dropped in the water and sank towards the underwater tree branches. I pulled Billy in front of me and handed him the cane pole which he held stiffly in front of him as he stared at the water. His father was watching.

“Now, Billy, look at the bobber!” We were both excited about the possibilities. Shortly, the bobber began to wiggle. “Billy, watch close!” Slowly, the bobber drifted downward and to the left. Billy instinctively pulled to the right. He yanked the cane pole so hard that I thought the bluegill would fly up and over our heads. The pole bent sharply at the end but no fish surfaced. Billy struggled for a few minutes to get the feel of it and slowly lifted a 12 inch catfish onto the dock.

Billy dropped the pole and ran to the writhing catfish. He took a close look and began to jump up-and-down like he was on a pogo stick. “Daddy, daddy, I caught one, I caught one!” Billy had caught his first fish. Izzy watched while holding her Daddy’s hand. I smiled. Together, we appreciated the final parallel of the day, giving is more fun than getting!

 

 

 

 

Wrong Even When I Thought I Was Right

Sorry Alice Cooper

My blog takes the name of one of my favorite ways to enjoy fishing. Practice casting in my front yard which has no water nor fish. Our home is located at the top of a tee intersection with a three way stop.

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Home of Front Yard Fishing

Trees prevent effective casts in our back yard and so I use the unobstructed portion of the front yard to practice my casting and conduct a long term study of the behavior of my neighbors. I have gathered sufficient data to conclude that 50% of the drivers stopping at our intersection roll down their car window. 75% of those rolling down their windows ask, “Catching anything?” The question is often delivered with a smile and a smirk that delivers the message, who is this curious man or as my daughter just said, Who is this total weirdo?

I have taken pride in this yard over the years but there is another yard in the neighborhood, a ball yard, upon which I have spent a lot of time over the last twenty five years.

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Home of Thomas Worthington Baseball

My sons Nate, Pete, and Seth all played baseball for the Thomas Worthington Cardinals on the field. While they were in high school, I participated in the parent group and did work on the field, spring, summer, and fall.

After the varsity Cardinals went 0-18 during the spring of 1990, the head coach went to Italy for the summer and I was drafted to coach the summer version of the Cardinals upon which son Nate played. I coached legion baseball on the field. I started a summer baseball team for college aged players after son, Pete, went to Baldwin Wallace and returned after his freshman year with no summer team to play on. We called the team the Columbus Bombers.

Following the example of my wife, I felt that if you host a party, the party site needs to be perfect. Bomber games were typically on Sundays and I would arrive at the field at 6 am to mow, weed, edge, drag, sweep dugouts, and paint bases! The field was always spectacular by game time, at least through my eyes.

After my boys graduated, I began to coach Cardinal baseball with Steve Gussler as my leader. We lost heart breakers and won championships. We laughed together and as Coach Gussler fought cancer, we also learned to cry together. We taught a little baseball and a lot of life and I even led yoga in the outfield.

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Coach Stephen Gussler

My connection to the front yard of Cardinal baseball was so strong that I would drive by the field to check to make sure things were in order on the way home for church on Sunday and on the way home from work Monday through Friday. Coach Gussler worked on the field with a relentless passion to make the field a show place. In fact, the field is now known as Gussler Park. Guss made one thing clear! No one was to use the field other than the Cardinals and their invited guests.

Dedication Of Gussler Park

Dedication Of Gussler Park

So you can imagine my shock and intense dismay when I drove by the field on the way home form work one July evening about ten years ago only to see the normally locked gates open and a bunch of scruffy guys in shorts and jeans playing softball on what I considered to be MY baseball diamond.”

As I slowed my car in the roadway which circled the field and rolled down the window, I tried to keep the irritation out of my voice as I hollered, “hey guys, what are you doing?” “What’s it look like we’re doing genius, we are playing softball!”

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The Culprit Is On The Left

The retort was delivered by a dude with long hair, skinny, with an intonation that my Grandma Rowe would have concluded belonged to a smart aleck. I was certain Coach Gussler would never have given permission for a pick up softball game to played on our baseball diamond. I had not been so upset since I made my only trip to Fenway Park on a non game day and during our tour discovered that there was a celebrity softball home run derby being conducted in front of the Green Monster! Outrageous!

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The Fenway Green Monster

I confronted the scruffy one, “You know you need permission to play on this field!”

“We have permission, Sirrrrr.”

“Well, in twenty years, I have never seen anyone playing softball on our field! Do you mind if I call the head coach who by the way is the only person who can give permission?”

“Call whoever you want, ……” shouted the scruffy one as he completed the sentence by referring to a typically unseen part of my anatomy. Sullenly, I rolled up my window and headed home. The intruders continued hitting that obscene softball all over our beautiful baseball field paying me no mind and giving no respect.

As soon as I arrived home, I grabbed the phone and called Coach Gussler. “Coach, when I drove by the field on the way from work, the gates were unlocked and you are not going to believe what I saw on our ball field!” Coach let me prattle on for minutes about the scruffy, hippy looking dudes who were defiling our diamond in blue jeans and shorts playing softball shirtless. After I vented, he simply said, “Oh, you mean Alice Cooper and his band? They are playing the State Fair tonight and I got a call from the fair manager who asked if we would let them use the outfield for a game of softball. I said yes!”

Seattle Mariners v Cincinnati Reds

CINCINNATI, OH – JULY 6: Rock musician Alice Cooper throws out the first pitch before the interleague game between the Cincinnati Reds and Seattle Mariners at Great American Ball Park on July 6, 2013 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Bonefishing In Roatan

 

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The Island of Roatan

 

Several years ago, good friends, Dave and Margy McCarthy joined my wife, Lauri, and I on a cruise on the Norwegian Cruise Lines ship, Epic. The itinerary included a day long stop at a small island off the coast of Belize named Roatan.

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The Rowes and McCarthys

 

 

As soon as the trip was booked, I began investigating the possibility of a bonefish trip while in port. A Google search of “Roatan bonefish” revealed a website for an eco-lodge known as the Mango Creek Lodge.

Sunset At Mango Creek Lodge

Sunset At Mango Creek Lodge

My phone call to the Lodge went to voice mail but was was returned in a few minutes by the owner, a former resident of Colorado. I learned that when the economy was booming in the early part of the decade, he decided to buy Mango Creek which was built in 2003. His plan to be an absentee owner with an on site manager had failed and as a result he and his wife moved to Roatan to manage the five bungalow mini resort.

mango creek

A couple of years before the cruise, I had begun to teach Dave how to fly cast. My good friends at Mad River Outfitters in Columbus shook their heads in disbelief when they heard I was trying to instruct somebody in the art of fly casting as my own casting skills are modest at best.

Dave is an agreeable friend who would never do anything to disappoint a buddy. Once while we were fishing for smallmouth bass in the Olentangy River, Dave fell and gashed his wrist on a rock in the first 15 minutes of fishing. We had waded in opposite directions, so I knew nothing of his fall until the end of our fishing an hour and a half later. Even then he said nothing. The dried red blood from his wrist to his elbow told the tale of the mishap.

Dave knew me to be a bonefish addict and in a true demonstration of his habit of putting others first, he readily agreed to accompany me on the bonefish trip in Roatan even though he had never fished for bonefish or any other saltwater fish.

The proprietor of Mango Creek Lodge informed me that he would send the most reliable taxi driver on the island to pick us up at the pier where we were to disembark. The driver’s name was Jose.

I was assured that Jose would be holding a sign with the words “Mango Creek Lodge” so we could easily pick him out of the crowd of drivers seeking the easy tourist fare.

Roatan is a narrow island approximately 30 miles long and the owner asked if we were docking at Port Royal Harbour, one of the two Roatan piers, where cruise ships disgorged their passengers. At his suggestion, I called the customer service number for NCL and the hard to understand operator confirmed that indeed our ship would be docking at Port Royal.

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The plan was for José to transport us to a little bar called PJ’s at the opposite end of the island where our fishing guide would be waiting with his skiff to transport us to Mango Creek Lodge which was not easily accessible by road.

Knowing that cruise ships wait for no passenger, we needed reassurance that there would be a foolproof plan to return us to the ship on time. The owner said that José would return to PJs at 2 PM to pick us up insuring a timely return. Based on this long distance information from someone I had never met, I confidently promised Dave and our wives that there would be no problem with the return. We would be back no later than 3 PM as the ship was to sail at 4.

Our ship docked early in the morning.

Roatan-Honduras-Mahogany-Beach-p

Dave and I were first in line to disembark and we were loaded with fishing gear and the requisite amount of cash, eager to begin our fishing adventure. After clearing security, we descended the gangway and gazed the length of the very long pier for the most likely exit to start our search for José. Of course, we picked the closest exit.

As we neared the street, we carefully scanned the horde of taxi drivers for someone holding a sign that said “Mango Creek”. There were no signs. I shouted out, “Is there a driver here named José?”. Surprisingly, every single driver waiting was named José. Now we were confused. No sign but 50 Joses’.

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Suddenly, a young local named Michael frantically approached us asking if he could help us arrange transportation, give us a local tour, or serve our needs in any other way. I asked Michael if he knew where a bar named PJ’s was located. Of course, he was certain of its location. Michael and I were approached by a local policeman who told Michael to leave us alone. Obviously, self-appointed tour guides were not popular with the local gendarmes.

Another quick but futile glance for a sign led us to head to the other end of the pier where we approached a security desk and asked if there was any particular place where we could expect to be picked up by a prearranged taxi driver. Security personnel directed us back to the exit where we had encountered Michael. Then I asked Security whether the pier where we had docked was Port Royal Harbour. “No, Mahn, you are at French Harbour, Port Royal is at the other end of the island.” So much for the accuracy of NCL’s customer service operator upon whom I had relied.

By now we had spent the better part of a half-hour attempting to make connections on the first leg of our fishing trip. Great uncertainty clouded over our once optimistic heads. Obviously, our José was at Port Royal Harbour and we were not.

We returned to gate one and suddenly the fear of missing out on a fishing adventure overcame me as I gazed desperately across the street looking for a Mango Creek sign with a José attached.

I noticed Michael. “Michael, got a minute? Can you get us to Port Royal Harbour quickly? We have a driver named Jose’ waiting for us there!” We were now only a half hour away from the time we were to meet our fishing guide at PJ’s bar. “Of course!” Michael responded with great enthusiasm.

Michael approached a taxi driver, spoke in Spanish, and suddenly the driver threw open all three doors and gestured for us to climb in. Dave and I jumped in the back and Michael jumped in the front. Off we went. Only after we were underway did I ask, “How much?’ Michael responded for Pedro, “$30!” “Fine, keep driving, we have to find Jose’ as soon as possible!”, I pleaded. Dave rolled his eyes.

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Pedro

 

We traveled no more than 200 yards down the crowded street when Michael said “Mahn, while you are here, do you need any drugs or women?” Dave glanced at me with a look that screeched the words, “Rowe, what have you gotten me into?”

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Narrow Streets of Roatan

 

As it turned our taxi driver was not a José. His name was Pedro.

After a 15 minute drive down narrow traffic jammed roads, Pedro pulled to the left and exited at Port Royal Harbour where another 100 drivers were waiting for the passengers of the second ship to dock at Roatan that morning to disembark.

We repeated our desperate scanning of the gathered drivers who were enjoying their morning coffee as they jabbered excitedly in anticipation of naive travelers such as me and generous tippers…such as me. As we watched, Michael approached us. “Hey, Mahn, why not let Pedro and I take you to PJs?” I replied, “Let me make a call.” I quickly called the proprietor of Mango Creek, who sounded relieved to hear from me. “Where are you?”, he asked. “José has been looking for you.” I explained our predicament and the proprietor insisted that José was at Port Royal waiting. I promised to look again.

After a 10 minute search, no José appeared carrying a Mango Creek sign. I approached Michael and asked “Are you sure you know where PJ’s is?” Without saying a word, Michael walked away and approached the gathering of taxi drivers with whom he started talking in an animated fashion. Apparently, Michael was trying to figure out where PJ’s actually was even though he had been certain of its location earlier. In a minute, he returned with the promise that he had talked to someone who had given him explicit directions on how to get to PJ’s. I looked at Dave, we shrugged simultaneously, and crawled back into Pedro’s cab. Michael crawled in the front seat and off we went. This leg of the trip cost $75.

About 300 yards down the road, Michael and Pedro began to speak urgently to one another in Spanish. Suddenly, the conversation stopped, Pedro jammed on the brakes, and Michael jumped out of the front seat. He leaned in the back window and said “Give me $30 and Pedro will do the rest of the round-trip for $40. I need to get back to town and arrange more tours!” Pedro nodded his agreement. After I handed Michael the $30, Pedro sped off toward the end of the island. As we traveled, there were fewer and fewer houses and more jungle. We began to sense a tad of isolation.

After another 10 minutes of driving, Pedro seemed to slow the cab and began looking from side to side. A bad sign, I thought to myself. All of a sudden a native of the island who was dressed in orange exactly like Ricky Fowler, the PGA golfer, on a Sunday, came striding down the road. Pedro eased the cab a stop and rolled down the window. More excited Spanish was exchanged. Now “Ricky Fowler” jumped in the front seat and Pedro somehow communicated to us that Ricky claimed to know how to get to PJ’s.

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The Real Ricky Fowler

 

At Ricky’s bidding, Pedro turned off the paved road and the cab began to navigate a narrow gravel road that headed up a very steep grade to the top of a very, very tall hill. There were no houses anywhere. Dave leaned over and whispered “I think we are going to be killed.” As we crested the hill, Ricky pointed to a ramshackle hut on a small sliver of silver bay with a dock in the rear. “PJs!”, he exclaimed. As Pedro parked the cab, we peeked through the four stool bar and saw our guide waiting patiently in his bonefish skiff which floated gently against the dock. His anglers had arrived.

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PJ’s Bar

 

Pedro and Ricky seemed quite proud. Ricky of course had earned a $10 bill. I approached Pedro and gave him half of the remaining fare and reminded him that we needed him to be back at PJs at 2 PM to pick us up and return us to the ship. There would be no other cabs in the very sparsely populated residential area surrounding PJ’s. Without hesitation, he promised to return on time. He jumped in the cab and took off spewing gravel as the rear wheels spun. We walked through the empty bar with no bartender and asked permission to board. Permission was granted and the fishing part of our adventure commenced.

Our guide shook our hands and welcomed us. He was 19 years old and was also named Michael. He had reasonable English which he used to inform us that he was taking us to the lodge to prepare for fishing. After a short boat ride, we saw five gorgeous pastel colored bungalows on stilts in the water next to a sturdy dock attached to what turned out to be the kitchen and dining area for the eco-lodge.

Once we were introduced to the proprietor, everyone seemed to settle in as we were all very relieved that the logistics had somehow worked out. Of course, poor José earned no fare even though he was the “best taxi driver on the island”.

We fished for bonefish through late morning and early afternoon. The flats were spectacular. We waded on bottom which felt like coral popcorn as our feet crunched around our feet which shuffled through crystal clear water.

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The Hunt

The skies were piercing blue and the sun was determined to illuminate everything that swam. There were fish everywhere. Many of them were bonefish. We did manage to catch one after about an hour.

A Small Roatan Bonefish

A Small Roatan Bonefish

At noon, we were returned to the Lodge where we were served a spectacular launch of fresh mahi-mahi, hush puppies, and fruit.

Dave, Steve, and Michael Back For Lunch

Dave, Steve, and Michael Back For Lunch

The Lodge owner insisted on giving us a tour while extolling the merits of our planning a return trip. I was antsy because the clock was ticking and the bonefish were waiting. Or so I thought. We caught no more bonefish after lunch.

All the while, of course, in the back of our minds, we were wondering “would Pedro show up on time?” The words were not expressed but I am confident that Dave and I were sharing the same thought. As our guide eased us back to PJs at 2 PM, we saw Pedro standing next to his cab. He had obviously gone home and showered because he was scrubbed up and in his Sunday finest. We paid and tipped our guide and headed through the still empty PJ’s. Pedro explained that we had enough time to make a slight detour on the way back. He also mentioned having to make a stop. As it turned out, shortly after dropping us off, Pedro was in a taxi wreck and needed to stop at a body shop to make arrangements for the repair. We overheard the animated tone of spirited negotiation as Pedro and the body shop owner hammered out the terms of the estimate. After the deal was struck, Pedro jumped back in the cab and drove us a scenic coastal route on the north side of the island as we enjoyed the spectacular scenery of Roatan.

At five till three, Pedro pulled up at the dock and we hopped out. After settling up, Dave and I looked at each other and laughed in relief. As we began to walk towards the ship, our wives were approaching from the other end of the pier. We met them in the middle and Margy asked “How did it go?”

“No problem, Mahn!”, I replied. “And, we even caught a bonefish.”

Giant Redfish Easter Sunday On The Indian River

I am the son of a preacher. As a youngster, Easter Sundays were spent in church. Once married, Lauri and I enjoyed Easter with our family.

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Coloring Easter Eggs

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Dressed For Church

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Yes, We Made The Kids Pose!

 

 

However, one Easter Sunday I played hooky and went fishing for “bull reds” in the Indian River watershed near Titusville, Florida.

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Parrish Park Titusville Causeway

I traveled to the area with my son, Seth, who played baseball the following week with his Thomas Worthington High School baseball teammates at the Cocoa Beach complex. The Cardinals competed against different high school teams from all over the country who would escape northern climates and head to Florida for an abbreviated “spring training”.

Having done some research, I booked a fishing trip with Capt. Kelly Wiggins. Kelly had worked for many years at Cape Canaveral but had always dreamed of becoming a fishing guide in his home waters of the Banana and Indian River watersheds. Upon retirement from his real job, he did just that. Kelly loved fishing for what he referred to as “Buuuulll Reds” in his slow southern drawl.

Redfish Are Gorgeous In The Everglades

Redfish Are Gorgeous In The Everglades

We agreed to meet at 7 AM on the causeway leading from Titusville to the Cape Canaveral National Seashore. After launching the boat, we stored our fishing gear and lunches and roared off in pursuit of redfish. 200 yards from the dock, the outboard engine began to sputter and after a few meek coughs, the engine died. Kelly administered first aid to no avail. He pulled the push pole from its chocks and poled us back to the dock. It was 7:15 am as Kelly apologized and said that perhaps we could fish later in the week after his engine was repaired. Unfortunately, the exciting baseball schedule permitted fishing only on Easter Sunday.

I looked around. There were very few boats or trailers at the ramp or parking lot. Of course, most sane people were either at sunrise church service or sleeping in the church of the “holy comforter” getting their last minutes of rest before spending the day with their families.

I asked, “Kelly, do you have any buddies who are guides? If so, maybe they do not have a charter and you could borrow their boat.” Kelly hesitated and I could sense the wheels grinding. I said, “Tell you what, Kelly, I’m going to go over to that picnic bench across the parking lot, sit down and relax. I have nothing else to do. Why don’t you do some checking and see if you can find a boat? Let’s fish as much of the day as we can.” I walked across the parking lot to give Kelly some space and time to come up with a plan. He went to a phone booth and began to make phone calls.

Ten minutes later, he gave me a thumbs up. Thirty minutes later, a friend of Kelly’s pulled up in a pickup truck with trailer and skiff attached. Kelly and he launched the replacement boat and then Kelly poled the disabled skiff close enough to attach the sick skiff to the hook and cable of the power winch of his friend’s trailer. As my Grandpa Hessey would say when the fishing was looking up, “Now we are in business!!”

As we roared away, Kelly said, “Good idea, Rowe”. I replied, “Well, I have known for a long time that I cannot catch a fish sitting at the dock!”

As the day rolled on, we had a few shots at redfish but caught nothing. My casting was mediocre as usual. At about 2 o’clock, Kelly floated the skiff towards a group of three teenagers who after exiting their canoes were wading about 200 yards from shore in water three feet deep. Bait buckets floated at their sides. They also had several nice redfish on a stringer which they were not shy about showing off.

Kelly asked “What are they biting on?” “Mud minnows”, was the reply. “Got any extra?” “We could spare a couple.” One of the young teenagers handed Kelly a couple of mud minnows which he threw in the live well. After easing the skiff away from the wading boys, Kelly slammed the throttle forward as we raced to the mouth of the Indian River to a spot just outside the restricted area near Cape Canaveral.

Once we were in position, Kelly hooked a mud minnow below an egg sinker and encouraged me to cast the rig as far towards the mouth of the creek draining the restricted area as I could. Moments earlier, he had warned me that unfortunately, the best fishing was INSIDE the restricted area. Not today, I thought to myself.

The bait splashed into the tannin stained water which appeared brown as it reflected the cloud cover of a sheet metal gray sky. I reeled up the slack line and we waited. After about ten minutes, the tip of my rod began to pulse as a fish slowly pulled the mud minnow through the egg sinker. “Let him take it, ” Kelly whispered. I opened the bail of my spinning reel and let the fish run with the bait until Kelly told me to strike. When I struck, it felt as if I was attached to an automobile.

The drag began to scream and for a what seemed like a half hour, all I could do was hold on. Finally, I began to gain line by reeling down towards the water and pumping back with rod. Repeat often. When the fish was twenty yards from the boat, we could see a hazy bronze flash from the light reflecting scales of its thick body. The fish began to steadily swim around the boat. Kelly had staked the skiff off and so when the fish circled, I followed the fish by walking with fishing rod held precariously over my head. I left the bow and wobbled down the six inch wide port gunwale. Around the stern the fish raced with his angler attached – then up the starboard gunwale.

We repeated this tight rope fish catching dance three times. As I approached the starboard corner of the stern on trip four, I began to lose my balance and teeter towards the water. My past “falling in” fishing experiences, which had been frequent, informed my actions. I simply jumped in while holding the rod high over my head still tight to an irritated bull redfish.

“What are you doing Rowe?”, Kelly screamed as his now wet angler standing in 3 feet of water. “Well, Kelly, it was either fall in and lose the fish or jump in and catch him,” I shouted with a smile in my loud voice.

After climbing back on board, I was able to bring the redfish to the boat and Kelly hoisted it onto the bow. As I held the 30 pound red for pictures, I felt no guilt about my decision to play hooky from church on Easter! I am sure you understand why!

Easter Sunday Redfish

Easter Sunday Redfish