I looked forward with great anticipation to this year's 2006,
FAOL Florida Fish-In. After all, I was to meet up with folks
I had met before. Even with more enthusiasm, I was to add
faces to the typed words on this site. However, with all that
said, an excitement flooded my thoughts, and brought up memories
that had been captured in the mid-seventies when I traveled to
the Venice, Florida area to cast large plugs underneath lighted
docks that loomed from the three o'clock in the morning darkness,
and the early fog casting trick shadows out into the slick and
still, Lemon Bay.
There are no photographs to accompany this story, it was
intentional. There will be images captured by others who
attended this special gathering on Florida's southwestern
coast. I make no apologies for this, and I truly hope you
understand. Some things are better left to the imagination,
besides, the older coast, thirty years ago, to me, was
I invited Ed Mercado (FloridaFlyer) to drive up to our home
on Wednesday afternoon and have supper and spend the night
so we could get an early start down to our fishing destination.
Ed arrived around six pm, ate and settled in. And, as always,
I spent a fairly restless night going over things I had packed
and trying to remember all that was left to do the next morning.
Around five-thirty, the next morning, we loaded the pickup
and headed out through Deltona to Interstate Four. I hate
interstate driving, so as we approached US 27, I exited
and headed south. I always loved driving US 27. This is
the same road that my parents and I used to go get lost on
back when I was a kid. Long ago it was lined with thousands
of acres of citrus groves, and down through those old groves
were clay roads that often led to fish camps and sights and
smells, that left an impression on a ten year old boy's soul
that now are some of my fondest memories. For the most part,
the old groves have been replaced with strip malls, gas stations
and rows and rows of new houses, but the evidence is still
there. I still caught glimpses of the clay roads, but we didn't
have time to travel their dusty paths in search of the old
ghosts that still haunt me.
Down along the spine of Florida, past Bok Tower, skimming
the western shore of Lake Jackson in Sebring, then to SR 70,
turning west heading in the direction of saltwater, still
some fifty miles away. Suddenly, the old Florida came up
to meet us as we entered the town of Arcadia, a town that
was slammed by Hurricane Charley in 2004. The old Florida
homes still stood damaged and abandoned, begging for someone
to stop and breathe the life they once knew back into them.
Upturned, ancient live oaks lay in the yards of these fine
old ladies, and "For Sale" signs stood guard over their dead
limbs. I grew silent. I swallowed my emotion, and drove on.
As we came to the end of SR 70, I turned south on US 41 and
headed toward Sarasota. Sarasota Bay was on our right with
all of her shimmering, emerald waters. All of my old familiar
waters were coming into view.
Ed and I arrived in Venice thirty minutes later, found our
motel and checked in. We were met by Dave Brody (Salty
Dancin' Dave), and I realized the nickname suited him well;
laid back, friendly. Les Maynard, and his wife Judy, and Dave
were in the midst of having lunch. So Ed and I decided to
check in, unload and rig up.
Shortly we were knee-deep in the waters of Lemon Bay. Mullet
sprayed everywhere, but unfortunately, we were at the end of
the bite. I stood there and looked across the bay toward the
eastern shoreline, it dawned on me just how long it had been
since I was in these same waters. Almost thirty years had
flown by, and as I tried to make up for lost time, it began
to show as I rushed my back-cast, slapping the water behind
me with my prized, golden bend-back. It seemed the more I
tried to compensate, the worse I made a mess of my casting.
I knew what I was doing wrong, but I just couldn't slow down.
The next morning, I decided to do what I normally do. When
we arrived at the same location, I walked down to the water,
waded out about knee deep, cradled my nine-weight in my arms
and stood there in the early morning fog and relaxed, then
took her all in. Trance-like, I began to see back to the past
when Steve Garnsey and I threw plugs underneath the lighted
docks; same fog, same waters, and now the same attitude. I
stripped the line from the reel, picked it up and cast the
entire line out into the turtle grassed flats. I was at
That old saying came to be that day, "The fishin' was great,
but the catchin'...", well.
Around noon, Ed and I decided it was lunch time, and after
receiving directions from Dave, we headed in the direction
of Englewood, a place I knew all too well; the old wooden
bridge where I caught coolers full of sheepshead, the
narrow roads that were canopied with lush palms and
tropical foliage; driveways that led to single-family
homes where locals lived their lives like everyone else
did at the time. But now the old bridge had been replaced
with a new concrete bridge, a "round-de-round" had replaced
the slight curve there beside the Gulf of Mexico. A fancy,
new public beach lined with a paved parking lot replaced
the sea oats and sand dunes.
We entered the Lock and Key restaurant, but prior we had
to circle the crowded parking lot several times to find
a place to park. Once inside, it seemed there were a
hundred people with slight sunburns and very pale skin,
the ones us natives know are from "up north." But the
grouper sandwiches and fish stew were pretty good, but
even the waitress had a Yankee accent.
Ed and I decided not to return to Lemon Bay that afternoon,
but instead, look for some of my old haunts. I had to find
The Angler's Resort Motel. Driving along the shaded, narrow
roads, I had lost my way. Nothing looked as it did thirty
years prior. But after searching, we found it. It looked
the same. Clustered cottages in a semi-circle, backing up
to a small lagoon where flats boats were kept at a moments
notice. Years ago, I stayed there as a guest of Capt. Mark
Johnson. Snook were practically jumping in the boat in
Stump Pass. There were no noticeable crowds, and if there
were, we didn't take the time to notice - there were snook
to be caught out there in that pass.
We had an appointment to keep, so we left the island and
headed to Casey Key Fly Shop to once again gather, socialize
and laugh with new and old friends alike. Good humor and
kidding filled our souls, as we cast new rods and told
tales of the day. Photos were taken to record the event,
and yes, it's true, I did get a strict lesson from a guy
that stopped in the middle of the road, flagging traffic
around him as the told me in a slurred voice to slow down
my cast, much to the delight of the ones that stood on the
front porch of the shop.
All good things must come to an end, and we said our goodbyes
to the group on Saturday morning. I had a lot of stuff left
unfinished back home. But before we totally left the west
coast, I had to show Ed my island, Anna Maria Island. It
was almost lunch as we pulled into the shell-covered
parking lot. Nothing had really changed, with maybe
the exception of the "pier rats." Strangers' faces
had replaced the familiar ones that I once knew so well.
Houses where I stayed, were now for sale, or were remodeled
and repainted. Kind of sad for me, but things change and
folks move on.
Before long, I was standing in my driveway as Linda met
us smiling and asking if the trip went well. I was really
I learned a few things in those few short days.
Thirty years ago, I visited the southwest coast to take
it all in; to fish the waters and meet new and old friends.
The area had changed, dramatically in fact. But you know,
perhaps this weekend a kid walked those shores of the Gulf
and took it all in, perhaps he caught a fish or two, maybe
even with a fly-rod. In thirty years he will visit the same
shores again and comment how much things changed while he
was gone. Perhaps.
But hopefully, he will realize what I certainly did. There
will be new friends to meet. There will be old, familiar
faces that will warm his heart, and they will cast those
colorful lines into the same waters again. And life will
go on through all of the changes, and he will realize that
what he can't change isn't important. It's the memories
that he creates, and they will blend with those that have
already been created many, many years ago.
'Til next time. ~ Capt. 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.