Capt. Gary Henderson, Florida

February 14th, 2005

Need For Serenity

By Captain Gary (Flats Dude) Henderson
I had fished the lake behind the house for four months straight. Not that I am bored with it, I do find a certain peace there in the "sweet water." I missed her, The River; she was what I needed now, and soon. She was calling to me.

I had been in the lake for an hour and a half the other afternoon and the guy's dogs, in their fenced-in yard a few houses down, had something cornered in the fence, a turtle or a snake, perhaps. The staccato barking interrupted my serenity, my selfish need to be at peace with myself and the world. I only wanted a few minutes to unwind from the daily hassles of a week of meetings at work, was that too much to ask for, I thought? I wondered why the guy in the house hadn't come out to find out why they were raising all sorts of hell. My concerns over why he didn't see to the dogs flooded my thoughts and drove me further into insanity. I gave up.

I returned to the waters just behind the house to rid myself of the mayhem, only to have three large, uninvited ducks decide to partake in a bathing ritual just behind me, hissing angrily at me for not going away. I was there first, and it was my backyard. I gave up...again.

I returned to the screened-in, back porch without the peace I had sought from the lake. Linda came out and immediately noticed my discontent. I raved and ranted for a few, and then listened to my inner-self. I needed a healthy injection of saltwater air in my flared nostrils. I needed my river. Linda understood my need for that solitude; that need to be where I could be alone, but not be lonely.

That same evening, I fetched my nine-weight from the garage and began my scurrying around, searching for items I hadn't used since we moved into the new house with the lake behind it; things that had been buried in boxes yet to be unpacked.

I felt a certain satisfaction in un-tubing my nine-weight. It felt as though I was popping the cork on the proverbial "genie's bottle" when I brought it out. It had been waiting for months cooped up in that PVC tomb for way too long, waiting to see daylight again and I swear I heard it breathe a sigh of relief when I mated the ferrules. I believe inanimate objects take on feelings the longer I own them; fly-rods certainly have their own personalities, now don't they?

I found my reel bag and pulled out the matching reel. It too was tired of the wait I had put it through, and it demonstrated its dismay by presenting me with a fly line with nicks and cracks I didn't remember before the move. I felt sorry for the rod and reel and promised them both I would do better and use them more in the near future.

The next evening I sat at the wrought iron table on the porch, overlooking the lake through a light drizzle. Occasionally, a lightning bolt would flash and I wondered if it was really safe to sit there with a graphite rod within inches of my arm, as I replaced the old, tired line with a new one. I also tried to remember the last time I tied a nail knot, and frustration set in again, as I fumbled with the new line and thought about the barking dogs and hissing ducks from the afternoon before.

The lightning had stopped when I finished loading the new line, new butt leader and attaching the reel to rod. I noticed the heaviness of the rod compared to the five-weight I had been using in the lake behind the house. I noticed it more as I began to double-haul casts in the front yard, out into the neighbor's grass. I had become a wimp. The rod felt like a nine foot broomstick. I cast five times and went back inside with a tension headache and an achy, right arm. More frustration set in.

"Just where the hell are my saltwater flies?" as I began to unearth neatly stacked boxes of things we had yet to unpack. Then Linda, the "Finder of all Lost Things," shows up and hands me my boxes of flies. I smiled and began opening their clear, plastic sarcophagus, poking and prodding at them as though I had never seen them before. I plucked them out, one by one, and stared into their fixed eyes, as if to apologize for abandoning them, still remembering the heaviness of the big rod.

Before dawn, the next morning, I had the truck loaded and was on the way to my salvation; The River.

As I crossed the bridge, I looked over the vastness of the flats, the acres and acres of mangrove swamps that lined the shores where the reds and trout were awakening. There was no need to hurry, today was mine, and I silently prayed for the old river to grant me a day of peace from the hurried world we all live in.

I turned on the dike road that borders the familiar waters I have fished for three decades. I had become spoiled over the years as I glided into the shallow waters by way of my skiff. It had been a long time since I had driven to those areas and I felt each bump and lump of the narrow dirt and shell road. But now the roughness of the road became unimportant, and far less uncomfortable. On my left, opposite the flats, were the almost fresh waters of the swamps. I slowed to a crawl as I took it all in. There were herons, cranes, roseate spoonbills, and black ducks...there, in the midst of all that was going on, was my peace I had lost. I wound past the culverts and slowed to a stop just to watch finger mullet schooling near the pipes. I began to read the waters out in the flats from my truck, searching for tailing reds. But I was still too far away; still in no hurry to get there.

As I parked my truck on the shoulder of the winding road, I found no trace of any boats or people. Perhaps the old river had heard me. The river was quiet and smooth and waiting for me. Then I remembered the heaviness of the nine weight that was already strung and waiting for me, adorned with the golden bend-back.

The rod was removed from the truck and I thought back a few nights before and remembered the difficultly I had with it; the stiffness of it that I hadn't felt in many months. But when I picked it up, the heaviness had gone away. It had become familiar again, as comfortable as an old pair of deck shoes.

I climbed down the slope to my awaiting flats. I wanted to smell it, to taste it, to feel it in my hands; to baptize myself in those waters. I waded out to mid-thigh and stopped to pay homage to her and all of her subjects. I stood there in the warm, salty water, watching the rising, golden sun and I enjoyed feeling it hot on my face. I dipped my hand into her water and took in the aroma I had needed two days prior, then wiped it through my beard and hair. I began to cast.

The new line had an unfamiliar finish to it and it sang through the guides as I double-hauled it and shot line on my back and forward false casts. The rod came alive, for it too was now in familiar waters, again. It forgave me for being ignored, and spoke to me as it flexed, sending the new line and its tethered friend out into the clear waters. I stripped the line and felt it between cork and fingers. I raised the tip and repeated the cast. I was back in my element. Again, the fly was brought back, as my mind drifted to another area that could possibly hold a fish.

Suddenly, the line halted and returned in the same direction as to where I had just cast. I had drifted away, and was awakened by the burn of loosely held fly line across my stripping finger. A large sea trout ripped the line through my fingers, out into the backing, then threw herself from the water in attempts to be free from the single talon of the golden fly. I thanked the trout and thanked the river for their understanding my presence. This was repeated five more times that day, as I wandered the flats in search of tailing fish.

Becoming thirsty and tired, I returned to the shore with a feeling of completeness and fulfillment. There waiting and watching me, was a stranger. He talked of fishing, as we both kept a watchful eye over the flats. We spoke as we had known each other for years, as trout and reds broke the surface of the slick water. I felt no desire to leave where I was standing; contentment had surrounded my soul. The meeting was just another facet of the day; something that was supposed to happen. We talked for an hour, or so, about where the stranger had come from. He asked if I had ever visited the Keys. We spoke of fly fishing and life, and then he had to leave.

I was ready to head towards home with the same anxiousness that I had felt early that morning. I was rejuvenated. I was healed by the salt. Linda met me outside with a glass of iced tea and a smile, as she read my thoughts. She had been there many times and understood the medicine of the river. I had found what I was looking for; the serenity. It was never really lost. Life was good again.

A soft rain began to fall as we sat on the back porch, watching the lake behind the house.

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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