Capt. Gary Henderson, Florida

February 28th, 2005

Common Thread

By Captain Gary (Flats Dude) Henderson
As I drove toward the west coast, I began to think back when I was a young boy growing up in central Florida. I never realized, at that time, that my dad's lessons were actually laying a foundation of the fiber of life. Fiber, or structure, of the "good" inner-self that seems to have been, unfortunately, left out of the life-lessons in today's rush hour of human expectations and demands.

I value my fiber; my common thread that he instilled in me; the trusting of others, the true meaning of a good neighbor, seeing the goodness of strangers no matter their status or title. That was what they were, not who they were. Dad was a wise man. And these lessons were to unfold and be proven, once again, in the next few days.

Returning to the west coast of Florida is always exciting for me. I spent a good deal of my youth on the Gulf of Mexico side of the state. The Atlantic coast was farther away, so all of our trips ended where the sun sets on emerald waters and glistening, white, sandy beaches. This particular area, Dunedin, I hadn't seen or fished, and the expectation of meeting new faces encouraged me to drive a little faster to my destination.

The three and a half hour drive gave me time to imagine what I was in for. Would that same common thread be within them? I know saltwater; no unusual concerns there. I knew four of the folks I had met several months prior; Bill Sorbie, my host, Harold and Sue Hattaway, Stev Lenon. We had once gathered south of my future destination to reintroduce Harold back into the salty flats of the north Skyway Bridge area of St. Petersburg after his bout with cancer. But the others I had only spoken with electronically through the invisible world of cyberspace; the world of "Fly Anglers On Line." I silently wondered what might happen when an Old Geezer, a Dot Man, a Dun Fly, mixed with pureBS, got together with twenty or so others with equally strange names. I continued fighting the heavy traffic on the paved ribbon that would take me to my native waters. The same saline solution I had become accustomed to as a child. Once again, anticipation filled my thoughts.

I sat on a bench that overlooked these same waters Friday morning, and I must say thanks to Ms. Dorothy Dill, a lady unknown to me. She must have meant a lot to someone, they had dedicated this seat overlooking the lagoon in her memory, it was routed in the wood that now rested my back. Her soul haunts this place where she apparently found the same peace I found there that morning.

The ancient, long-needled pines reached skyward eighty feet or more. Their branches waited for the ospreys to land among them. Even the old, dead pines offered up their broken down tops as refuge to the owls and birds of prey. The descendant pines of the same trees that the Tocobagans hid behind the day Panfilo de Narvaez led his men to shore.
It wasn't hard to imagine the cries of the original natives that lived here. Their concern was evident as rigging was lowered from the large and strange, wooden ships ran aground in the white sand just offshore. They hid behind the mammoth oaks and the yellow pines as they observed the Spaniards unload their horses and supplies. Children were hushed as the rattling sounds of anchor chains were thrust though the hull of the monstrous ships. Men yelled to each other in strange tongue, and women scurried to the shelters that they had built just above the flood plain of the tidal waters around that island. Never had anything disturbed them more as they crouched and watched the strangers wade toward them, tall and dark strangers wearing metal shirts and long, leather boots. Some of the wise elders knew deep within their hearts trouble was surely coming their way, and the life they knew was to be no more.

The bones of the Tocobagan tribe now rest in the burial mounds on the low-lying areas of the island now known as Honeymoon. Diseases the strangers brought drew the life from them, and they would be no more.

The trees whistled and sang in the brisk and cool breeze of this February morning. I watched from afar, un-noticed by the strangers, as they cast colorful lines in the air forming tight loops. Again, strangers to the salt had appeared from far away places; not to invade, but to discover and observe, and cast long rods. I sat for quite a while, loosing track of time. Protected from the winds, I warmed in the sun, taking my time to look into areas that may have gone unseen by the visitors. I saw souls still hiding in the palmettos and underbrush. I offered an apology to the spirits, then bid farewell to Dorothy Dill, and left her bench in search of still, fly waters.

The waters in the inner lagoon of Honeymoon Island were the calmest Bill (pureBS) could find for us to fish. Protected by the antediluvian pines and mangroves from the nagging north wind, the water still possessed a distinct chill and the winds would work their way around the cove to find and buffet us.

The only encouragement, there wasn't anyone around except for the abundance of fly-fishers from our party, with the exception of the out-of-state bird-watchers that stared at us in the parking lot as we strung rods, donned waders and other fly-fishing paraphernalia. I must admit, I found the 'watchers' quite amusing as they would all but trip on themselves as they 'watched' us.

Two by two, strangers of a common thread walked through trails of pine needles as conversations took place between them. Stories unwound, and the strangers became familiar with each other. Before the day would end, warm, Florida sun would be found setting on old friends as they shared cheeseburgers and beer sitting on a wooden deck overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.

In summary...

Driving home, I began to think about the gathering. It's true; we all share a common thread, a thread, or fiber that runs deep within us. It became apparent that extended weekend in February of 2005, when a collection of fishers came to be on the west coast of Florida.

Common threads were gathered to form a strong bond, and I am a better person because of it. All is well.

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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