Capt. Gary Henderson, Florida

April 24th, 2006

The Value Of Alignment

By Captain Gary (Flats Dude) Henderson
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the new little skiff I pulled out of a somewhat less than desirable, floating Beverly Hillbillies pickup truck looking thing-a-ma-jig. It weren't purdy! However, with a little elbow grease, and some cash, she came around. At least, I thought so.

I'm convinced, boats have souls. Every one that I've owned, or been a part of, had their own distinct personalities; some good, some not so good. Some sweet, some just down-right stubborn. After all, they are referred to as "she". Yeah, I know, that's gonna draw some heat. Well, it's true! Take my ex for instance..."please, take my ex!" (badda boom!)

Three weeks ago, Linda and I towed the little skiff to the east coast and launched her for the first time. We are used to a much larger flats skiff, and to put it mildly, the thirteen-foot, ten-inch boat looked and felt a little strange coming off the trailer, which Linda handled with a little apprehension. After all, she was accustomed to the eighteen-foot, Hewes Redfisher, and that was a sweet boat.

I must say, once I got behind the wheel, I felt like a little kid with one of those old foot-pedal driven toy cars. We both realized, without admitting it, the boat was tiny. But with a fifty-horse engine, the skiff did run like the wind. But that doesn't mean much to me, except when outrunning an afternoon thunderstorm.

It's only a short run to my favorite flats, and as I brought her down off plane, I was about to find out how quick she would take to the pole; again, almost too fast. My Hewes had a wide transom and she would gently slide to the port or starboard as I would maneuver to keep a frisky red fish from going under the boat. This new pup would respond with an extreme energetic whip around, almost tossin' Linda in the drink if I got too quick on the trigger. After a few glares from the admiral, I adjusted my poling techniques.

Boats always look bigger on the trailer. This one certainly did. But once in the salt, she shrank to nothing. Then add a forty-eight quart cooler, two rods (no room for a fly-rod), a dry bag for various other stuff that our women folk can't live without...there just ain't no stinkin' room!

On the bright side, though, I did catch the first red fish on the little boat (there are no pictures of this fish, it too was small). Then Linda got a nice twenty-four inch red and later got a twenty-three incher, both nice fish.

As the day progressed, I decided to take the boat out in the open inter-coastal waterway and cut her loose; free the reigns, let the big dawg eat. As I approached the NASA railroad bridge, I slowed her down to an idle, and what did she reward me with? Dead in the water, that's what! Stalled right there with all the huge boats having to go around. The starter wouldn't engage the flywheel. I took off my deck shoe (no tools aboard, yet) and proceeded to beat the fool out of the! She fired right up, then coughed and stalled. Linda had never before had the embarrassing experience of being towed to the boat ramp. It was not a pretty sight, either!

On the way home, my bride informed me that she hated the boat. It wasn't that bad! A trip to the repair shop and a couple of hundred more bucks would take care of it, right? Okay, I realized it may just be a female thing. You know, one verses another...Linda and the skiff, right?

"Uh, okay, I'll put it in the newspaper. Somebody will want it." Linda just sat there and growled like a she-cat. You know, one of those low-toned, I'm fixin' to go up 'side your head growls.

Then things started to get interesting...

I don't know too many women who would wake their old men up on Sunday morning and ask, "Isn't there a boat show in Orlando this weekend?" But Linda did. Talk about trying to keep my inner-child from doin' "the dance" all around the house as I got ready to go to the boat show, well, just try and hide all that exuberance in a six-foot one-inch, two-hundred pound grown up...HA! She had gotten a taste of a long-lost friend! The Indian River flats! After we had sold the Hewes, she hadn't been back on the water, and she missed it enough to drag me, kicking and screaming the entire time, thirty miles down to Orlando to a boat show! Ha, again!

The first boat we came across was a beautiful new skiff, a Sterling. Not a Hewes, but hey, I ain't openin' my big mouth. She asked that guy a million questions about the boat. I have to admit, after teaching her to fish the flats, and to operate the Hewes, I was quite impressed with her "techy" questions. Then she got down to the price tag...thirty-thousand smack-a-roos! I heard that deep-down cat growl again, dang it!

With a polite, "Let us have a few minutes to think about it. We'll get back with you," we took off toward the Carolina Skiff display as she shook her head and mumbled that for another three grand, we could go get another Hewes, but that wasn't about to happen, dang it!

After crawling around in the displayed Carolina Skiffs for an hour and Linda asking another million questions from stem to stern, she decided on her new skiff, a seventeen-foot DLX. Not bad, roomy. Then she turned the floor over to me for the more technical stuff, like props, poling platforms, fuel, engine, you know, that kinda stuff. We wrote the order.

Monday, on the way to work, Linda changes her mind. Women have that unwritten right. I ain't met one that didn't! But this wasn't a bad thing; it was an "upgrade"! Seems that Carolina Skiff makes a "v-series" model and as Linda was scanning the good old Internet, she found one and liked the looks of it better than the DLX style. I was instructed to drive to the dealer and change the order if I liked the "V." Who am I to argue?

This past Monday, two weeks after ordering the new skiff, I dropped in to speak with the boat dealer and was told it may be a lot longer than the three-week delivery date because of production problems at the factory. My suspicions that I had been weaseled came up like bristles on a mad cur dog. I wanted the skiff delivered at the beginning of May, simply because the big sea trout come into the flats, and I haven't missed out on that in seven years.

On the way to work this morning, Linda again pops up and says, "Why don't you go down there and see how much the nineteen-footer is." Wow! Another two foot upgrade! We had test driven the nineteen a few weeks earlier, and it only had a hull weight of a hundred pounds heavier. They are now rigging the boat as we speak!

Now here's the other dilemma. What to do with the other skiff? I could put it in the newspaper, or any other means to get the word out. It would probably sell, especially now that the weather is getting right for flats fishing. I, more than likely, wouldn't get the money back that I've put in it. I would have to listen to most folks demean the skiff to get a better price, or want to take time to water test it. Then, if they happened to purchase it, they would expect me to write a warranty on the thing. NOT! I could see what a pain in the side this was going to be, and I really don't have the time. I thought all of this on the way home from picking up the boat after having the carbs rebuilt. Another buck and a quarter invested in the "kicked to the curb" skiff.

It was about this time I thought of the little seahorse that my dad left as a sign, the one I wrote about a few weeks ago. Then it struck me. A new alignment needed to take place. All of my boats had souls, and this one, tagging along behind me, was no different. Our personalities didn't match; they weren't aligned.

Pete is my son-in-law. Pete and April have four sons. I ruined Pete's life several years ago when I first introduced him to our east coast flats. After catching his first red fish, he was never the same. Those boys need to fish, but they have no way to reach the waters I find so rewarding. I watch them when they come over and fish in the lake behind the house, and the interest they show while doing so. I started putting the alignment into play, but I needed Linda to help in this decision. After all, we had invested a pretty good chunk of change in the boat, and to just give it away, well...

As I backed the boat into the driveway, Linda came out to inquire what had been wrong with the engine. I explained the problem, and as I looked up, I told her that I needed her input on something. "I want to give the skiff to Pete, April and the boys." She told me that she was thinking the same thing, but wasn't sure how I would feel about it. We do that a lot; think along the same wavelength.

It was time to repay the debt. Weeks earlier, I had been given a boat with sentimental attachments, but I still needed to ask Pete how he felt about the gift, whether or not he wanted the huge responsibility of becoming a boat owner. He accepted graciously.

Last Sunday, I had the honor of taking Pete and my oldest grandson, Ian, out to the flats. It was Ian's first trip. I figured at nine years old, it was time to introduce Ian to "grown-up" fishing. After a few casting lessons on a light-tackle spinning rod out in the front yard, and a few pointers from Gramps, he was ready to go. I told him he would have to get up early, and his response was, "I'll go to bed at six-thirty."

Ian doesn't show a lot of excitement, but I've learned to "read" the kid. I watched him closely as I brought the skiff on plane and ripped down the inter-coastal, and then turned the wheel over to his dad after we had cleared the bridge. Three generations, three types of happiness. Pete was the new owner of a flats skiff, Ian was on his first flats trip with his gramps, the old guide. But I know, as the old guide, "Pops," as Pete calls me, was the happiest.

As I watched both of them and coached them from atop the poling platform, my life had changed. I was settled. Then Ian hooked and brought his first red fish to hand without the aid of his dad or me. It wasn't a huge fish...didn't matter. It was to him.

What price does one put on the smile of a nine-year old grandson?

What price does one put on the pride that exudes from a proud dad and gramps?

Certainly more than the price of a little skiff…

'Til next time. ~ 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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