Capt. Gary Henderson, Florida

September 26th, 2005


By Captain Gary (Flats Dude) Henderson
"If I had to live my life over and only carry one learned thing with me on my new journey, it would have to be, without a doubt, fishing." ~ The Flats Dude

Fishing is a unique word, and Mr. Webster describes it as: "To catch or try to catch fish." He also goes on to give many other definitions that really don't apply to our sport. However, Mr. W leaves out the most important caveat in the art of "fishing," or in our case, fly-fishing, and that would be the camaraderie.

Through the years of my fishing career, and that would be a bunch of 'em, I've met a mess of people, and I've found them, for the most part, to be fine examples of the human race, and it really didn't have anything to do with what kind of fishing they were involved in. I have established many sincere friendships with men, and women alike, by the mere mention of angling. It happens all the time. How often have we forgotten the number of fish, or the size, but we can recite, in vivid detail, the experience of that particular day? The sights, the smells, the sounds of conversations and laughter, these emotions, and all of this brought on by something we call fishing. I had such a day this past weekend.

I had two days to prepare for this trip. Flies were tied, lines cleaned, leaders packed, booties tucked away in the truck. The yard was mowed; pool serviced and filters spic and span. Two, nice thick New York strips were seasoned with cracked pepper and salted with kosher salt, rubbed with fresh garlic, ready for the grill when Linda came home from work. The potatoes waited on the counter; salad was in the 'fridge. The alarm clock was set for four in the morning. I rechecked it all in my mind as I lit the charcoal. Again, after supper, the mental list was rehashed. Before ten, I went to bed and, once again, went over the list in my head as I stared sleeplessly at the ceiling. The big, bright red numbers looked back at me from the clock...12:15. Then 1:12. Then 3:42. Then, just as the irritating tone was to sound, I turned off the clock, dressed and headed east toward my rendezvous with Ed Mercado (FloridaFlyer) and Jed Proujansky (Jed) from the FAOL bulletin board.

I had fished with Ed last year on the west coast when five of us gathered to welcome Harold Hattaway back into the Gulf waters, along with Bill Sorbie (purebs), Stev Lenon (Slenon). But I had yet to meet Jed face to face.

It's quite unique how this thing called a computer, and this place called the Internet, has affected our lives. It has introduced many of us by way of its communication. Our fathers and grandfathers would have surely thought it to be possessed by internal gremlins. But as I drove easterly along SR 46 towards Titusville, Florida, the last thing on my mind was a computer. But the very reason I was heading in that direction, at four-thirty in the morning, had been caused by one, and a shared desire to hunt the flats of the Indian River Lagoon for red fish and sea trout.

The full moon cast its glow over the highway, illuminating the deep woods on either side of the road. I passed the spot where Steve Letchworth lost his life and silently invited Steve to join us. I thought of my dad, and wondered what he would think of the flats he never got to see. He was the one responsible for my love of the sport, even though he barely fly-fished. But still, he initiated the spark when I was a mere three year old, towheaded boy, fishing the lakes in central Florida.

My truck seemed to know its way there, to the river. It had made the trip hundreds of times. The Hewes, my flats skiff, was missing though. I had sold it several years ago, and now I missed her more so than ever. And, as I sipped the hot, black coffee from the Styrofoam cup, reflections of past trips with friends began to make me realize how fortunate I was to have grown up a fisherman; a fly-fisherman. God, all those people I had met! People from all over the world, and I knew them by their first names. I was adding another today...all because I grew up a fisherman.

I had called Ed a few days prior to the trip and asked if he would like to meet earlier since Jed had a longer drive and wouldn't be able to meet there until eight am, Ed agreed to meet me at Parrish Park in Titusville somewhere along six in the morning. I figured we would be able to fish for a couple of hours, and scout out at least one location before Jed arrived. But being unable to sleep before a fishing trip, I arrived at Parrish an hour earlier than our planned convergence.

Usually the boat ramp at Parrish is bustling with people, tow vehicles, flats skiffs, and guides waiting for customers. But this morning, due to my early arrival, the lot was empty, except for a lone, black and white cat that roamed silently, looking for breakfast. I studied the feline as it stalked its shadow, lit only by the yellowish tones of the mercury-vapor lights. His prowess, not unlike ours, was a lesson in quietness, the same way we would wade the still waters of the flats, stalking our own prey.

Minutes later a familiar face pulled in next to me, it was Ed. It had been since November of last year since we had met for the first time, but as Ed and I talked, it seemed as if we had known each other for a longer time. Again, the common thread of sharing fly waters, stories and meals, bound our thoughts and values and beliefs into a friendship.

As we traveled the dike roads in near darkness, the anticipation of waking up with the river came back to me as if it was an everyday occurrence. The sounds of mullet splashing next to us in familiar waters, yet to be graced by the sunlight of this new morning, added a rhythm to the silence of daybreak. The squawks of disturbed herons, as my truck wakes them with its rumbling along the roughness of the shell roadway, as we grew closer to the brackish waters we would fish. This time in the morning, traveling just at her edge is ritualistic for me. It's part of my religion.

As the black night sky, lit only by the faint light from a setting moon, began to show signs of a violet blueness to the east, and stars began to fade slowly giving in to an approaching sun, the river came up to us. An old gator floated nearby, still and waiting. He's accompanied by a snorting manatee wallowing in the grasses, feeding. And a blowing dolphin gracefully scooting along the shallows looking for her breakfast, greeted us where we were to enter the waters. We spoke softly at first, taking all of the river's sights and sounds, familiar to me, but territory not yet explored by Ed.

After a short time in the water, the cell phone rang. Jed had arrived at the park.

I had missed meeting and fishing with Jed last year, and the ride back to Parrish Park wasn't filled with the thoughts of ending a day, as it usually is for me as I would leave the river. But instead, the short trip back was filled with a touch of anticipation and excitement; another meeting was to take place, a meeting of someone I had spoken to on the phone and through threads on FAOL; someone that had sent chocolate-covered coffee beans to Linda last year during the hurricanes, so she could have, at least, the flavor of coffee as we were out of electricity. Thoughtfulness with a touch of humor, I liked that.

Ed and I pulled into the parking lot, which now was crowded with trailers and tow vehicles. A noisy place now, much different than a couple of hours earlier. A place alive with activity, as anglers staged their boats as I once did, and others began to set out their rods and their picnics on concrete tables, and children ran along the seawalls caring less of fishing, and the bother of it all. A place of gatherings.

As Ed, Jed and I exchanged greetings, smiles and handshakes, my thoughts returned to the river. Where were we to fish next? The place Ed and I were earlier wasn't in the best of conditions since our recent hurricane, Ophelia, had sat along the coast trying to decide who she would bother next. She had angered the river and dirtied the clear and pristine waters, turning them into something similar to the color of café au lait, and scattered uprooted grasses along her normally clean skirt.

Searching for cleaner waters, we decided on the Dummit's Cove area and Marsh Bay a little more to the north and east.

A series of more dike roads, white with the bleached shell base, led us in loops along the lagoon that now was lined with families searching for blue crabs at the throats of drainage pipes that carried the fresher waters of the interiors out into the salty flats. I felt as though I needed to apologize for the hazy waters that are usually glass-clear. The fish simply were not there. I explained a theory that may also have led to the absence of fish. It was the day after the full moon, and as small crabs and shrimp wash toward the inlet miles north, the reds and trout gorge themselves on the crustaceans, and a golden fly isn't on their menu.

But as we fished this area, I watched the two to my right as they cast the thick lines into my home waters. We talked, we laughed, we kidded around. Today was coming full-circle, as it was meant to be. There were no strangers in this trio that had converged in a tangle of salty estuaries along the eastern coast of my home state. Fishing simply didn't matter.

Finding little there, it was decided among the three of us that lunch was in order. Conversation continued as we headed to a well known seafood joint in Titusville; "Dixie Crossroads." And over broiled rock shrimp, fried mullet and a dark beer, we again laughed, talked and kidded around.

As we returned to the flats, and as I pointed out sunning alligators along the ditch banks, and schools of jumping mullet on the smooth surface of the Indian River, we agreed that fishing had little to do with Mr. Webster's simple definition. Fishing was simply the tool needed for a reason to converge and offer friendship and tell stories. ~ 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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