Capt. Gary Henderson, Florida

June 26th, 2006

Shake Down

By Captain Gary (Flats Dude) Henderson
Being rather "boat-less" for a little over three years to a skipper is just, well, unthinkable, let alone frustrating, and downright…wrong! Not that I was totally without a floatation platform, after all, I had the little canoe; not all that comfortable to fly-fish the flats, especially with Linda being somewhat scared to freakin' death to be in it! Then came the freebie aluminum Smoker Craft, but that's for messin' around in the lake behind the house chasin' after bluegills and bass. Y'all already know the story of the little flats skiff we put together, and the story of the 19' Carolina Skiff "V" series. Well, the Carolina is now home!

I've never owned a true, flat-bottom skiff, and the Carolina is just that. The thing will float in mud! And, as we all know that own boats, whether used or new, we have to get through the dreaded "shake-down" trip. This past weekend was just that.

Dateline: Wednesday, May 4th, 2006 2:00 am. (Suddenly awoke in a cold sweat)

The night prior to any fishing trip I don't sleep a lot. Too many things to worry about, like, did I get the sunscreen, the rods, the reels, are the rods rigged, do I have enough of this, or that, where did I put my sunglasses, will the engine start, tackle box, where's the dang tackle box with the other stuff in it, keys, dang it, my keys, camera (that will be mentioned later), batteries (will also be mentioned later), push-pole... as I said, I don't sleep much the night before. And now I have to worry about how the new skiff is gonna come off the trailer, will it pole as easily as the Hewes, it gonna look goofy, am I gonna look goofy (I really don't care), trailer lights, good grief Henderson, it's a brand new trailer (that will be mentioned later, also).

Dateline: Thursday, May 5th, 2006 5:00 am.

I'm bleary-eyed, need coffee. I haven't had a wink of sleep, and I'm more excited than a cat in a room full of rats! I think I have everything sitting in the garage floor that needs to be packed into the awaiting skiff that sits in the driveway firmly attached to the pickup truck. Linda comes out with a steaming cup of java, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (she can sleep through a train wreck). And, we're off! Oh yeah, I forgot something. Not forgot something and left it at home, I forgot to mention something.

The new skiff has rails along both port and starboard sides (that's the right and left side to you landlubbers). We both like the rails, but to mount a push-pole to the skiff, the rails would have to go. But, thanks to Capt. Ron Rebeck, a very good friend of ours, the railing system could stay. Capt. Ron invented this neat deal called Rail-Mates. They're nifty little gadgets that mount to the rails of any skiff, then a larger securing deal provides a place to clip the push-pole securely into place for traveling while trailering or over water. (Cheap plug for Ron has also invented quite a few gismos for kayaks, too. Check it out...tell Capt. Ron I sent ya, ya hear? Okay, back to the shake down. Now where was I? Oh yeah...

And, we're off!

The sleepy little road we travel to the coast is loaded with deer that can't read. It says, "DEER CROSSING" on the signs, but I don't trust 'em, no siree! Those critters will pounce out of the woods and try their best to run you in the ditch, paying little attention to those signs. I already nailed one of the little beasts when I took the son in law to the coast a few weeks ago. But I was expectin' 'em. Yep, I didn't hurt Bambi; didn't even dent the new truck! (focus, son, focus).

Anywho, Linda and I are traveling down Maytown Road in the dark and fog. I'm constantly looking in the rearview mirror, then the side mirrors to make sure the skiff is following, and all the trailer lights are glowing to warn those stupid deer musta worked.

We finally make it to Titusville, and after a quick trip to Burger King for a biscuit, we start to head over the bridge to Parrish Park…first SNAFU! The bridge is closed for repairs! Now we can backtrack for twenty-five miles to Haulover Canal to launch, or we can use the little ramp at the yacht club (you have to say "yacht club" with a rigid bottom jaw to make it work, like Thurston Howell did in Gilligan's Island). I guarantee you, those folks at the "yacht club" spent more money on the sign out front than they did on that gawd-awful ramp! I should have made the trip back, but I didn't.

As we went to unhook the boat strap from the trailer, we noticed the safety chain was bound up in the bow bunk on the front of the trailer and the only way to dislodge the confounded thing was to actually float the entire boat off the trailer. What a pain in the...but it's a "shake down," right? And that's what one does on a "shake down," right? Worked like a champ!

And, we're off!

This thing has a Suzuki four-stroke engine, never had one of those before. No smoke, unlike the Johnson skeeter fogger that powered the Hewes! Extremely quiet, too! We could actually stand in the boat, while the engine was running, and hear a mouse spit through cotton! Now that's quiet!

As we cleared the last channel marker from the yacht club, the old, familiar river came out to meet us in all of her predawn radiance. I brought the Carolina up on plane and listened to the spraying water leave the hull and return to its surface.

The sun hadn't broken the gray-blue horizon, and all of the bridge closures, the kinked safety chains, the less than desired ramps in the world went away. Linda and I were on the waters of the Indian River again, a place where time has no purpose, a place where there is no beginning or no ending. And, with all of this romantic writing taking place now, the only thing I could think about was how this barge was going to pole. I mean the thing looks like an airboat with an outboard motor buckled to the stern! It wasn't sleek like the Hewes! It's a damned giant wheelbarrow! I'm kinda pullin' your leg, but it is a very open boat. But in all fairness to our new skiff, she has all the amenities of a fine flats skiff. Heck, there's enough storage space up front, beneath the casting deck, for Linda's summer and winter wardrobe! Nice live-well, standup steering, rod holders enough for eight, fully rigged fly-rods! And the best part? It ain't fancy! Nope, bring her home, hose the beast out and you're done!

I had the poling tower made slightly higher than normal for a reason. Being the skiff is nineteen feet long, I figured the higher I was, the better I could see. Worked great, too! I could see a country mile, whatever a country mile is. It takes a little more giddy-up to climb up there, but that could be that I might, just might, be getting a little older. Nah!

With a slight grunt, and I swear I thought I heard Linda giggle, I climbed atop the mighty poling platform, took 'hold of the twenty-foot, graphite push-pole, and struck a course southward. Not bad, not bad indeed! And off we headed, a captain and his ship with his first mate perched atop the casting deck.

It wasn't long before the first school of reds was located as they created large swirls in the smooth surface. Several tails popped up and Linda nails one. After a brief fight, the redfish was brought to the net, and I grabbed the new digital camera (this is where the batteries come in). Yep, deader'n a hammer! The first redfish on the boat and the dad-burn camera is useless! My 35mm never failed me! Why did I ever resort to gettin' "high-tech?" So, there will be no picture of Linda's first redfish on the new skiff... but he was a pretty fish. By the way, we don't harvest reds, he was released.

I guess we were like a couple of starvin' kids in a candy factory, 'cause we stayed out there all day. Just couldn't get enough of it, but all good things must come to an end. Oh yeah, Linda did manage to catch a couple of more reds, and I did get the first snook on the boat; a little twenty-one inch guy. And, it's probably a good thing, 'cause the west wind picked up signaling us it was time to head back to the "yacht club."

Being it was Friday, there weren't a lot of folks at the ramp when we returned, and it was a good thing, too. As I said, this Carolina Skiff will float in mud. The draft of this thing is incredible. And considering it's a new boat, they just all don't go on trailers the same. Oh, I expected that, but I didn't expect the bow bunk to be too blasted short and not catch the front of the boat properly! Whoever rigged this trailer surely had never operated one of these extremely shallow draft boats, and danged sure never put one on a trailer. Did I get a little hostile? You betcha! Idiots! (not what I really said, but this is a family site.) Did I mention the boat wanting to go catty-womp-puss (southern term for sideways) just as it started up the loading bunks? I swear the thing was possessed. After a few minutes of cussin', strainin' and generally throwin' a fit, we got the boat loaded on its trailer and headed home around seven that evening. Not a bad trip, considerin'.

I have to admit, I was flat worn out. We got the skiff cleaned up and decided we needed to get the yard work done on Saturday, so the rest of the shake down would have to wait until Sunday.

With the yard cut and all, we were chillin' out front when Linda picked up the phone and called the two gals down the street and asked them if they wanted to go with us on Sunday (The couple I wrote about a few months ago in "Civic Duty.")

There's nothing better, in my opinion, than ruining someone's life, and I was just about to do that to two of our neighbors. Saltwater sight-fishing is addictive. It's more of a hunting trip than just plain fishing. And when one tries it and sees for themselves what it's all about, well, their focus changes; a paradigm shift (ten-dollar word for messin' up somebody's look on life). I've tried to explain this to others that fish the lakes around here, and once they go to the flats, nothing will satisfy that desire other than getting back in the salt.

Standing in the garage rigging two more light-tackle rods, I snickered and wondered what tomorrow would bring. Linda and I are used to actually staying out on the flats witnessing the sunrise, then fishing all the way through the day to see the sunset, seldom taking a break from casting to reds, trout and an occasional snook. I know the gals aren't used to such fishing, and we decided we would leave early and come home early, something that seldom occurs with the two of us. I also knew they weren't used to getting up way before the crack of dawn, or sitting out in the hot Florida sun, or casting all day to tailing redfish. Even a half-day trip can seem like an eternity if one becomes bored or tires easily, and I expected both to occur.

Dateline: Sunday, May 7th, 2006 5:30 am

I was actually shocked to see both of the girls walk up the driveway on time and ready to go, well, with the exception of purchasing their saltwater fishing license the night before, however that was a minor technicality.

Knowing they had never fished the flats before, Linda and I did our very best to warn them it wasn't a typical "fishing" trip, it was more of a hunting trip. Again, the Florida sun will beat one down if one isn't used to it.

As luck would have it, the fish were there, and within a few minutes Linda hooked up and so did Nancy, (shown below). But I decided to call the trip short around noon as I noticed the girls were fading quickly.

At the ramp, the wind kicked up and the trailer and the boat decided to get into an arguing match about how things were supposed to go, and right in front of a whole bunch of onlookers...quite embarrassing, since I was supposed to know what I was doing. But the skiff wouldn't stay on the trailer, and then it hit me. This trailer needed side bunks to keep it from actually blowing off the trailer.

The next day was spent at the dealership explaining the problem, and they actually listened. The side bunks were ordered and installed and now life is good.

Dateline: Saturday, May 14th, 2006

Linda and I fished alone, and as usual, she out-fished me, but all the while I kept thinking of how the boat and trailer were going to mate up. It worked out perfectly!

Dateline: From then to present

I have to apologize for this story turning into a novel. But as I told Deanna in an email today, I got extremely busy and now I'm trying to catch up on all that I was supposed to be doing. You know, like rigging a new flats skiff, building an enormous wood deck in the backyard, working, mowing the yard that was beginning to look like a hay field, clearing the shoreline of the lake behind the house.

Oh yeah, I got the new Marryat Plus hooked up to a Sage RPLXi 9x9 this weekend...nice combo. Even fished it last Saturday in a twenty-knot wind. No fish, but the rod handled it fine. I can't wait until a big old redfish tests out that new reel!

Guess that's about it for now. '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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