The phone rang around five-thirty that afternoon and I
was a little hesitant about answering it. The lightning
was popping so close there wasn't any silence between it
and the thunder. It was the middle of February and a
vicious cold front had me tucked away in the back room
working on a piece of stained glass. As I worked, the
lights kept going out and coming back on.
The voice on the other end wasn't familiar, but had a deep,
"Is this Captain Gary Henderson? This is Jack Thomas from
Idaho." I answered yes and he went on. "I'd like to book
a two-day trip down there, if you have a spot open."
I looked outside and held the phone away from my ear as
the room lit up blue-white from yet another crashing
"I hope it's not for today," I laughed nervously.
"No, in September, if that's not too far out." His voice
was clear, and well spoken.
I told him my prices and terms, we chatted about the obvious.
What to bring. What might be biting, equipment needed, and
Jack had booked a two-day trip for mid-September, and though
we hadn't had a hurricane in years, I knew it would be dicey
to say the least. Hurricanes don't abide by anyone's schedule
but their own. I explained this to the customer, then he went
on to tell me he was going to be down for some kind of conference,
so he'd be here anyway.
A few days before he was to show, I decided it would be a
pretty good idea to scout a few areas before his arrival.
I loaded the Hewes and took off on a Monday morning before
daylight by myself, taking only my nine-weight G. Loomis
IM6 and a handful of golden bend-backs. I figured I'd only
be gone a few hours and then return home to tie some more
before Jack was to be here on Wednesday of the same week.
The Indian River mirrored the early rosy sky to the east
where I normally like to fish. The sun wasn't up yet, but
the horizon, just past the mangrove shoreline, had already
begun to wake with a deep, reddish-gray greeting.
I love this time in the morning. It's when everything starts
fresh. The wading birds are flying in to have their breakfast
of glass minnows and small chub minnows; possibly a careless
shrimp. The osprey streaks from the sky with the deadly
preciseness of an F/A-18 Hornet; a sight that always causes
me to freeze in amazement as they explode the glassy surface
and, if they are accurate, come out of the water with morning's
offering of fresh mullet or trout.
Being by myself this morning gave me a chance to slow down
and take in the sights, and as it wad a Monday, no one was
at the ramp, not even another guide. I absorbed the quietness,
and once I had the skiff in the water, sat on the casting
deck and watched several bottle-nosed dolphin push slowly
to toward the bridge that separates Titusville from the NASA
property to the east. I'm at home here, and with no one to
cause me to hurry along, I was at peace with my surroundings.
I idled the skiff under the same bridge where the dolphin were,
hoping to see them again, but the slick surface of the river
was too much to resist, I just had to turn those one-hundred
and fifteen horses loose...and I did.
The Johnson Ocean-Runner roared to life as the bow of the
skiff came up slightly and then came on plane in an instant.
From zero to fifty-four miles per hour in a split-second.
It was as if I were riding a magic carpet. There was no
chatter from the hull, no vibrations from a choppy surface.
It was as if someone had waxed the surface and then buffed
it out to a fine gloss, and the two of us became one. Pure
exhilaration. And as soon as it started, it was time to ease
off the throttle and glide into the area of the osprey and
I chose 'The Hell Hole' to start; an area that Linda had
discovered a few years prior. A place I had avoided for
decades due to the muddy conditions and the lack of fish,
even though I had never fished it. She proved the old
captain wrong, discovering fish the first time she insisted
I pole into the nasty waters. It has another name, but to
keep it a secret in unfamiliar conversations, we nicknamed
it. A method that I'm sure other fishers and hunters practice.
As the skiff settled, I began to carefully watch the shoreline
for signs of bait activity. I observed the half-dozen, or so,
great white herons standing in knee-deep waters. It was kind
of like I were watching the first act of a play. Several schools
of fingerling mullet shimmered nervously in tight schools,
indicating the presence of a predator nearby, and then they
exploded as a hefty trout blasted them from the water's
polished film. They're here!
Quietly staking the skiff, I climbed overboard armed with
the long rod and a sparkling fly, stripping line from the
Valentine Planetary reel as I walked in the warm waters;
all the while my eyes are fixed in the direction of the
murderous explosion that had taken place just minutes prior.
My heart began to pound in my chest to the point I thought
I would spook the invading monster that had broken the
silence of morning. And just before I reached my target
zone, three redfish tails ascended from the grass bed
before me. I froze. I tried to slow my breathing, but
found my attempt useless. With a quick double-haul I sent
the bend-back within a foot of the first tail...two fast
strips...and he plows through the shallow water's surface
chasing the fly and then inhales it. I feel the heaviness
of his strike as I hit him three, maybe four times, driving
the 1/0 hook into his tough jaw, and instantly he reacts
with a blistering run to my right, ripping the line out
of the guides and out into the backing. I glance in the
direction of the other fish and they've paid little
attention to my hooked quarry. I bring him to me, unhook
the bronze beast and straighten out my line and check the
fly. Within twenty minutes I bring four, beautiful reds
to me, each one fooled by the imitation shrimp. My thoughts
are not on the Idaho visitor that will be here day after
tomorrow as I wade further toward The Hell Hole.
Each step I slowly take, I scan the far and near waters
looking for signs of tailing fish, or scattering mullet,
and they are there, and there, and another pod of fish
over there. The place is lousy with fish!
Just before noon, I'm exhausted. There have been eleven
reds and three respectable sea trout brought to hand and
four flies totally destroyed. And now my thoughts drift
away from the river and to my customer that was to be
with me Wednesday morning; same time; same place. I became
excited for him, and wished he were here now, but in the
same instant became selfish, wanting this morning to be
To be continued next week. ~ 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.