Capt. Gary Henderson, Florida

April 4th, 2005


By Captain Gary (Flats Dude) Henderson
Last Tuesday night, Linda and I were sitting on the back porch overlooking the lake right before dusk. The smell of the March bloom of orange blossoms filled the still, warm air. Two ospreys hovered over the lake hunting supper, ducks were flying in to partake of our next door neighbor's offerings of crumbled bread, and several white and blue herons were stalking the shoreline for their supper. I knew at that very moment, I was actually and maybe for the first time in my life, where I needed to be. I was home.

Maybe it was the orange blossom perfume that comes in so strongly once a year. It could be the house, and as new as it was, it had become home and all things inside and out was supposed to be, us included.

As I sat there on the porch, enjoying Nature's play, my thoughts drifted back to my younger days when Daddy would sniff the perfume-laden air in mid-March, smack me on the shoulder and say, "Get your pole boy, they oughta be there." The smells of those orange blossoms were so strong and sweet, they would mask the smell of fried chicken and biscuits on Mama's stove. And as sure as the orange trees were in bloom, the bluegills were in the beginnings of their three-month bedding season. They would be feeding. Their favorite foods were worms, crickets... and poppin' bugs on the end of our fly lines!

I sat silently reliving the past. Things have changed so much all over Florida, had the bluegills' world changed also? I guess I had become so quiet, Linda asked me if something was wrong. I didn't know how to explain my stillness, other than to just smile as I left the porch and went inside. "I'll be right back."

I rose from the wrought-iron table, went to my fishing room, fetched my five-weight, tied on a new poppin' bug and walked down to the shoreline. I was, once again, fifteen years old.

I was suddenly transported back to my youth, standing shoulder to shoulder with Dad on the shoreline of Lake Ariana, or Lake Van, or Lake Mattie, casting small, brightly-colored, cork, popping bugs over the beds of big, fat, blue bream. I could almost hear the sounds of sharp slapping, as the pan fish would smash the fly from the surface of the lake, just above the beds of hundreds.

I stood there casting the small fly against the surface of Lake Angela, I sniffed the orange-scented air still in a trance, a familiar "smack," followed by the tightening of my fly brought me back to the backyard and the lake behind the house.

I raised my rod tip only to have the resistance of the big, copperhead, bluegill pull it back down, and strip line from my hand. I looked over my left shoulder, and there stood Daddy, smiling and casting that old black, fiberglass fly rod. I spoke out loud. "It never really changes, does it?" I reached down and plucked the hand-sized bluegill from the lake. I observed the same colors of iridescent blues and coppers I remembered from years before. Instead of putting the bream on a stringer, I gently returned it to its watery home. I looked once again into my dad's eyes and smiled as his spirit slowly vanished. I asked one more question as he was going.

"Can they smell the blossoms, too?"

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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