Capt. Gary Henderson, Florida

February 7th, 2005


By Captain Gary (Flats Dude) Henderson
It usually takes me thirty of thirty-five minutes to drive to work. This gives me time to think, and usually I find myself involved in silent conversation with myself concerning what may happen to be the story for the following week's column. Here lately, I find nothing but traffic-filled roads ahead, glaring headlights in the morning darkness, and a slight melancholic feeling as I miss the river I normally visit. As Norman Maclean writes in the end of A River Runs Though It, "I am haunted by waters."

I'm sure, well, probably sure, the majority of northern folks see Florida as a tropical paradise; palm trees and sunsets, warm breezes blowing inland, and some of the times, as dictated by location, this is true, just not 24/7. Maybe it's not cold here, as compared to the upper or western reaches of the United States, but I was born to Florida, and by all means, to's cold. Of course, I get a chill if it gets below sixty, and I find myself not being able to function normally. Okay, so I'm a wuss. But given the opportunity, come on down here in August when the temps outside match the humidity and you will find "Old Flats" as comfortable as a bug in a rug.

Last week, the temps dropped into the upper twenties. That's just wrong! I didn't go out of the house, except to cover the palms and other tropical plants. But to see me adorned in waders and a flyrod in my hand heading out to cast at rising fish? That ain't going to happen. Besides, my idea of a "hatch coming off" is a door to a bulkhead in an offshore boat coming unscrewed.

So just like Roger Stouff and Dave Micus, we have to look at everything as being an essay for next week, and the week after, and so on and so on.

Stories sometimes smack me right up side my head. Others have to be searched out, still there, but hiding, existing in crevices deeply embedded. I could write fiction, but that doesn't come naturally to me. Well, with the exception to "An Old Man and a Lure" that came about a few months ago. That one was kind of weird. It seemed as if "John Sellers" just stepped into my truck as I was on the way to the bank to make a car payment. He just appeared right there beside me, smoking his pipe, and tapped me on the shoulder, introduced himself, then instructed me to write the story. I have no clue where he came from, but I think he really once lived down there.

There are the stories that happened a year ago, or many years ago, that I relive and put down on paper. I sometimes worry if they are good enough for my readers. Of course there are events that take place from time to time that are unexpected. These are usually the ones that come from deep within my soul and are sad, for example, "Ripples" and "Max." They are stories I write to help me cope with losses in my life. They flow from me in the same way backcountry waters rush to the sea, then return again, cleansed. I usually can't go back and reread them, they are filled with emotion and they make me sad.

I keep driving down this road on my way to work; thinking and searching within, trying to remember where I put the mental tape that may show a trip, or a glimpse into my past that would possibly be entertaining enough to catch a few readers. But this morning, I find nothing but the long drive in the dark.

I notice the once-virgin, full moon hanging above the St. Johns River casting a lonely and pale reflection on the northbound waters. I even look for a story there, as the bridge taps out a rhythm under my tires. I feel empty. Maybe there's a crease in my soul's continuum that has disturbed my feelings of security this morning. Something just isn't right.

Wanting to turn back towards home to bury my head beneath the covers and hide from everyone, I reluctantly keep driving. Maybe somewhere down this road a story remains hidden, then appearing from beneath the shadows of the cypress trees where the moon's glow can not reach. I strain my eyes in their direction, seeking answers to my obsessions.

Maybe I'm looking too hard at what is really there and just not seeing it. Maybe, just maybe the spirits of things past have gone away no longer to visit here, or they too are hiding around the banks of the river and in the marsh that is cloaked from my sight this early morning. Maybe. Maybe I've allowed this melancholy to seep into areas deep within me, and it's just my imagination playing mean tricks on my outlook of the positive, maybe.

I drive on. Looking.

See y'all next week. ~ Capt. Gary

About Gary:

Gary grew up in central Florida and spent much of his youth fishing the lakes that dot the area. After moving a little closer to the coast, his interests changed from fresh to salt. Gary still visits his "roots" in the "lake behind the house."

He obtained his captain's license in the early '90's and fished the blue waters of the Atlantic for a little over twelve years. His interests in the beautiful shallow water flats in and around the famous Mosquito Lagoon came around twenty-five years ago. Even though Captain Gary doesn't professionally guide anymore, his respect of the waters will ever be present.

Gary began fly fishing and tying mostly saltwater patterns in the early '90's and has participated as a demo fly tier for the Federation of Fly Fishers on numerous occasions. He is a private fly casting and tying instructor and stained glass artist, creating mostly saltwater game fish in glass.

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