Capt. Gary Henderson, Florida

July 10th, 2006

The Customer

By Captain Gary (Flats Dude) Henderson
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, smoky resonance.

"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 lightning bolt.

"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 so on.

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 shore birds.

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 only mine.

To be continued 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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