He sat in the corner of the restaurant; the
lighting etched him out as if he were sitting
patiently for Norman Rockwell to finish painting
him. It was late in the afternoon and I had just
sat down at the bar sipping a beer, waiting for
My company had sent me on a week-long seminar
to the southwest coast near Fort Myers, Florida.
What a deal! I was near some of the best snook
fishing waters in the state, and the thought of
several nights of snook fishing took away the
bitterness of the long and drawn out days of
sitting in a sterile room, listening to some
monotone voice drone on and on.
I studied him. The wrinkles on his leathery face,
I bet, could tell many a story. I could just tell
he was from around these parts. He appeared alone,
maybe even lonesome. I barely could see him through
the bluish wisps of pipe smoke, and the aroma of
Prince Albert was unmistakable. He was studying
something in his hands; something that, from
across the room's distance, I couldn't make out.
The bartender sat my hamburger and fries in front
of me, asked if that would be all; I barely heard
him. I sat mesmerized staring at the old man in
the corner. His old fishing hat held a few small
plugs and was stained with what appeared to be ages
of layered salty spray, and the unmistakable dark
impression on the bill where, maybe a thousand
times, he had adjusted the hat to block the glare
of lights as he cast to unseen snook in the waters
around Sanibel Island or out in Redfish Pass, years
before the ritzy shops and fancy motels and boutiques
"He's one of the old locals." The bartender had
noticed I hadn't touched my supper.
"Who is he?"
"Don't know. He kinda showed up one day after
they turned this place into a restaurant."
"What did it used to be?" I never took my eyes
from him as he fidgeted with whatever he held
in his delicate, but aged hands.
"An old tavern. Many of the old guys used to
hang out here. A water'n hole where they told
their fishin' tales. I reckon it don't matter
much anymore. He's the last of 'em. I remember
it back when I was a little kid, then it burnt
"Too bad. Can you wrap that up; I'll take it
back to my room."
Just as the sky to the west was turning into that
purplish deepness, I began to cast a large, dark
hair-bug into the gentle swells. I wondered if
the old man back at the bar had ever stood here,
and if he had, had he ever hooked into a "nice one."
I stared up at the stars. There was no moon out
that night, and I was far enough from the glow of
the town's street lights that I could see the Big
Dipper and the Milky Way. "It would have been a
lot better place back then" as I thought out loud.
I didn't sleep well that night in the newly
decorated motel room; smelled like fresh paint.
I rolled over and wondered where he was. Did he
live around here someplace? Where was his family?
I bet he could tell a few whoppers.
Sunlight became my alarm clock the next morning,
as I realize the young man downstairs didn't call
the room to wake me. Hell, it didn't matter. I
dreaded the six hours of droning, and, if I was
late, I sure wouldn't miss a thing I had heard
before. I hated these things.
That evening I went back to the eatery, hoping
the old man was there.
My eyes adjusted to the darkness of the bar
area. A few folks were there sipping colorful
cocktails, dressed in the typical, print shirts
and Bermuda shorts, a sure sign of tourists;
their legs pink and sore from a day of collecting
shells on a crowded beach. I found a sense of humor
in their pain. "Damned Yankees," I whispered a
chuckle and found my place at the bar.
"You back again?" The same bartender from the
night before sat a cold Bud in front of me,
sliding a coaster between the varnished wood
and my frosty glass.
"Yep. Is the old man here yet?"
"Naw, he doesn't usually come out 'til around six."
A few minutes before six, the door opened and
he slipped to the back of the room; same table;
same old worn hat with the lures. He never
looked up. His back bent by old age, and a
slight limp in his right leg. But he seemed
to belong here; a fossil in a changed world
that somehow managed to pass him up. The new
surroundings didn't fit him, but somehow
accommodated the man with the leathery hide.
"I'm sorry, what?" The barkeep snapped my
attention from the old man.
"Not yet, maybe later. I'll take another beer,
though. Does he drink?"
"Scotch...he drinks scotch."
"Pour me his favorite, I'll take it to 'im."
The walk over to where the old man was sitting
made me nervous. It seemed to take me a while
to reach his table, but it gave me a few seconds
to figure out how to introduce myself. I noticed
he was still holding something in his right had,
but his hand was kind of cupped and I couldn't
tell what it was.
"Mind if I sit down?"
The old man noticed the scotch in my hand, then
slightly touched his lips with his tongue, then
slid the opposite chair out from the table with
his foot. His eyes were gray-blue, matching the
smoke that curled from his pipe. The wrinkles
upon his face begged to tell their stories.
"Take a load off, son. That drink for me?"
I found warmth in his voice. A deep voice that
had been steeped in many a glass of good scotch
over the decades while sitting in bars telling
fishin' lies that I hoped he would relive for me.
"Boy, you look familiar. You from around these
"No sir, a few hundred miles northeast. Up around
Orlando. But I've been here a few times. Here on
business and a little fishin', I hope." I found
myself a little embarrassed by far too many words.
"You a snook fisherman?" He peered from beneath the
brim of his hat, squinting his eyes at me.
"Well, I try to catch 'em, but I switch to reds
and trout whenever I'm on the other coast."
"Huh. I used to go after 'em. Every night. Let's
go out on the deck out back. Got a nicer view of
the Gulf. Quieter out there, 'sides, I ain't too
much into watchin' them sun burnt people drink
them sissy drinks."
I followed the old man out the rear door to a
wooden deck that had a full view of the setting
sun over the Gulf of Mexico. He paused just before
he sat down, breathing the sea air deeply; then
looking over the Gulf, seeming to see the fish
he used to hunt.
"Gonna be a pretty one tonight." He spoke of the
sunset that was beginning color the evening's
horizon. I wondered how many he had watched, as
he stalked the beach in the late afternoons
searching for a bite. I could hear the whine of
the old, level-wind bait-caster, and taste the
salty spray as the black-silk line back-lashed
and spit the residue of seawater.
"You lived here all your life?" I tried to read
his face as he sipped his scotch and began to
answer my question.
"Pretty near, 'cept when I went off overseas to
fight the Germans. Other than that, yep, born
just up the road from here in North Fort Myers.
You been there?"
"Yes sir, but not in a long time."
I wanted hear him tell the hundreds of stories I
knew were hidden behind those piercing, and somewhat
spooky eyes. I wanted to know the man. From the
"get-go" his surreal appearance in the shadowy
lights of the restaurant caught my attention. Not
too many of the old natives were left, and folks
like him were my only connection to a Florida that
was slowly vanishing.
I watched him as he meticulously packed the canned
tobacco into the bowl of the nicotine stained pipe,
then struck a wooden match on the side of the matchbox
and took in deep puffs. The orange glow lit his
mysterious face in the evening's twilight.
"Started fishin' for snook years before anybody
figured out you could eat 'em. Most people just
buried 'em under their grapefruit trees for
fertilizer back then. They tasted like a goddam
bar of lye soap. I just happened to skin one out
one day and the Mrs. fried it up in some hot
grease. Been eatin' 'em ever' since. 'Course,
not too much anymore, got too old to fish. Bad
knee and the shakes. Hell son, I can't even tie
a knot anymore, damned cataracts. If'n it weren't
for that..." His voice faded, as he seemed to drift
away; as if he was remembering when the knots were
simple, even when he would tie them in the darkness
of the beaches where he fished, and did so still
in his memories.
"God, I miss her."
"Miss Sadie," then he withdrew again to a time
before my years, it seemed. His jaw muscles flexed
as if he was somehow pissed at the world and me
sitting in front of him, asking personal questions.
"Was that your boat?"
"Hell no, boy! That was the Mrs. No finer woman
in the world. She didn't fish much, the skeeters
and the sand gnats drove her crazy. All the bitin'
and buzzin', I reckon. But that woman tried for
years to pick up every shell on the beach. Yes
sir, she did enjoy that."
"Y'all have any kids?"
"Nope, she had some sort of female trouble. No young'uns."
He grew quiet as he looked longingly at the
sunset, perhaps trying to imagine what it
would have been like to teach his very
offspring to follow him down some deserted,
west coast beach. To pass the snook fishing
tradition on to them, but there was none to
inherit this wonderful place where tides of
emerald waters meet the purest of white sands.
"That woman could skin a fish and have it in
the fryin' pan afore I could bury the guts.
They don't make 'em like that no more. You
got a wife?"
Recently divorced, and still feeling the sting
of some lawyer's callousness, I shook my head,
no. "Divorced." I could sense his disapproval
in the failure of my matrimony. Old folks like
him married for life; better or worse, 'til
death parted 'em.
"Yep, I was married to Miss Sadie for goin' on
fifty-six years. She was my best friend." His
voice began to crack, and a wet film of misery
glazed his eyes and the words of being alone
stuck to the rim of the nearly empty scotch glass.
"Damned breast cancer killed her, and nary a son."
"Well, boy," grunting as he rose from the
deck chair, "I need to get on to the house.
You comin' back down here tomorrow night?"
"Before you head out, what's that in your hand
you've been guardin' for the last two nights?"
He sat back down, as if for the first time that
evening. Reaching out in my direction, he opened
his right hand and there, clutched as if were a
secret treasure, was an old, red and white,
wooden lure. Its paint cracked and marked with
many scars from scaly, toothy critters. The white
paint turned a yellowish-tan from years of being
worked in the salt currents of many decades. The
hooks weren't rusty, but several were warped
opposite the bend of the treble. Several chips
in the red front of the plug told of mishaps,
as it danced among barnacle-crusted pilings.
"Oh hell, it's just an old Creek Chub, but it's
the only one of its kind." He, again, began to rub
the paint with his thumb. I could see where it had
been caressed so much the once white paint was
missing from the left side.
"Miss Sadie made this one, 'specially for me. It
seems I ended up in Garrett, Indiana many years
ago. Had a stop-over on a bus. That's where I fell
in love for the first and last time. You see, Miss
Sadie worked for a man named Henry Dills. He made
these here Chubs. Most of 'em were kinda greenish,
but I wanted a red and white one. She painted it
for me, and I married her."
"Damn, just like that?" I laughed aloud at
"Yep, just like that. Moved her down here, much
to her daddy's dislikin', but he warmed up to
me a few years later. I reckon it keeps me in
touch with her, somehow. I gotta go, it's past
my bedtime. I'll meet you tomorrow if you want
to. Long about six okay"?
The next afternoon I waited anxiously in the bar
for the old man. Six came and went without his
entrance. I left, figuring something had come up.
It was nine o'clock, just after sunset. I cast the
dark fly westerly. I couldn't see the fly, only
casting by feel. The exaggerated sounds of a quiet
evening allowed me to "see" in the dark. A
thunderous explosion in the direction of my fly,
followed by a sudden rip of the nine-weight line
through the water caused my heart to skip several
beats; the unmistakable run of a fat snook heading
toward Texas was enough to almost give me a heart
attack, especially in the dark.
"I never did use one of them fly poles." I damned
near jumped out of my skin. The old man had slipped
down the beach and stood quietly to my left as I
cast into the dark waters of the Gulf.
"Christ! You scared the hell out of me!"
He kind of chuckled and lit his pipe. "Always used
an old Pflueger Supreme and Miss Sadie's plug.
Caught a many of 'em right where you're standin'."
I waded out and lipped the fish from the water,
held it a second and released it. "How 'bout me
buyin' you a drink, boy?"
It was a short walk to the stairs that led from
the sand to the deck of the bar and grill. I
leaned my "fly pole" on the wooden railing, went
inside and bought a beer and a glass of scotch,
We sat there as he talked about the island. He
spoke of narrow streets lined with bungalows
where he knew each of his neighbors; an island
less of shops and "tourist traps," as he called
them. He spoke of the war and some of his buddies
that never came home. And Miss Sadie and the hours
they would sit on the white-railed porch of their
house on the opposite side of the street that
overlooked the beach, as she fiddled with her
collected shells, and he with his rods and reels.
He spoke of the old ferry they would board to get
to and from the mainland. He said he always hated
to leave the island, even to buy groceries.
"After they built that bridge, things changed. More
and more people poured in here and bought up the place.
Oh, I got offered a lot of money for our little piece
of paradise, but it didn't seem right to leave here.
Me and Miss Sadie thought about it a few times, but
just couldn't imagine where we would go and find
what we had here. I made a few folks mad at me for
not sellin'. It's home; I reckon it always will be."
The place was closing as we headed out; me to
my motel room, him to his paradise.
"See you tomorrow?"
"Naw, I got a doctor's appointment. Don't know if
I'll be here. I never got your name. Funny, all
the talkin' we've done and never properly
introduced myself. I'm John Sellers."
"Never thought about names, really. I'm Mike,
Before he offered his handshake, he shifted the
old, wooden plug he had been holding the entire
time to his left hand.
"Well, Mr. Sellers, I've a few nights left before
I head back home. Hope I see you before I leave."
"No need to call me that. I'm just John. Write
your phone number down. We just might need to
go fishin' sometime. Catch a few snook."
I jotted my name and number on the back of a
napkin from the bar, knowing I would probably
never see the old gentleman again. Sadness
filled every course of my being as I watched
him walk down that empty street towards home,
that very sadness I felt back in the early
seventies when my brother in law, Paul, called
me to tell me my dad had passed away.
I sat at my fly tying table catching up on
tying much needed flies for an upcoming trip
to the flats with a few buddies from out of
town. They would be here in three days, and
my supply of flies was miserable. Just one
more golden bend-back and two more deer-hair
bugs, and that would be it. I was exhausted
from tying all day and half the night. Bed
sounded good, as I clicked off the TV and
got the coffee pot ready. Two more days at
the office and the party would begin. The
boys would be on the flats, together again.
It was around two thirty am when the phone woke
me out of a deep sleep. A stranger on the other
end was asking me if I was me..."What...Who is this?
"Do you know a Mr. John Sellers?" I shook my head,
rattling the sleepiness away.
"You must have the wrong...wait, yes...I know Mr.
"This is Dr. Fitzgerald at the Veteran's Hospital
in Tampa. Mr. Sellers past away last night and
the only name and phone number we could find was
yours written on a napkin in his wallet. Are you
"No sir, just a friend."
I had almost forgotten the old guy. It had been
almost two years since that eventful trip to
Ft. Myers. Suddenly, it all came back. I
remembered the warm and colorful conversations
John and I had on the deck of the bar; the snook
and the sunsets, Miss Sadie, neat scotch and a
cold beer shared in conversation. I suddenly
felt ashamed and saddened.
"Doctor, when's his memorial service?"
"Not sure, but here's the number for the funeral
home, they can tell you. Sorry for the loss of
The following morning, I made the call to the
number and was shocked to find out the folks
at the funeral parlor knew my name. They gave
me directions to a small, Baptist church on
the outskirts of North Fort Myers.
The colorful flies sat on the table in my
apartment, seeming to have little meaning now.
The rush to tie them had become less important,
and the phone call was made to my buddies to
let them know I wouldn't be making the trip
so looked forward to for six months. I had
to meet an old friend once again, and this
meeting was dreaded. I should have stayed in
touch, but work had somehow wedged its way
between, once again, the most important parts
of life...life itself. The importance of work
caused the divorce several years back. Something
that John didn't understand. He told me so.
"Marriage is forever, boy. Just like them eagles.
They just stay together until one of 'em doesn't
come back one day. Forever, just like me and Miss
I arrived at the little church around six that
afternoon. I thought for a while I had the
wrong place. No one was there.
I hesitated at the front door. God only knows
I hadn't been in a church since I was a kid.
But there, in front of the pulpit, was an urn
sitting on the small table. An old preacher
with graying hair stood behind it looking
over some words, perhaps. He looked up at me
and walked from behind the podium towards me.
"Are you Mr. McCoy?"
"Mr. Sellers wanted you to have this."
The preacher handed me a small, pasteboard box
and an envelope. I took notice of the box and
its old, tattered appearance, the label on it
almost worn invisible. "Creek Chub". I knew
immediately Miss Sadie's lure was inside. I
tucked the envelope inside my jacket pocket.
"I guess I'm the only one around here that knew
John. I married Miss Sadie and him many years
ago. I was a younger man then, so was he. I lost
contact with him after Miss Sadie died. I guess
he's with her again. He missed her immensely,
you know? How do you know him?"
"I only knew him for a brief time. Met him over
at a little bar and grill on the island. I do
know he was an old salt, snook fisherman. He
must have lived a good life. He and I, well...
I hoped to fish with him one day. I got too busy."
The preacher, still fumbling with his words,
looked up with a smile on his face and a tear
in his eye. "John was older than me, a decade
or so. I met him on that same beach one afternoon
while he was wrestling a snook too big to handle,
it seems. He took me under his wing when I took
interest in fishin'. Taught me to catch 'em.
I'll never forget my first. 'Course, I reckon
nobody forgets their first snook."
"No sir, I remember mine. Up the coast a' ways.
Anna Maria Island."
"I suppose you ought to read that note in the
envelope. You want to say anything over the
I'm really not good at those types of things,
especially being put on the spot like that.
Didn't seem right, now that he was in that
little urn. He was much bigger than that to
me. So, I just shook my head and sat down on
the front pew with the preacher and opened
I sat there stunned. I looked up at the reverend
and asked him if he knew about all of this. He
I reckon if you're readin' this, it means I
ain't here any longer. I thought about you
many times down there on our beach whuppin'
that snook with that fly pole. Me and Miss
Sadie sure had a good time there. I sure hope
this letter finds you well, and I hope this
finds me sittin' in that old rocker on the
front porch right beside her.
Something I never told you. That place I sat
that night, well, I used to own that place before
it was what it is now. Old man Edwards always
wanted to buy it from me. Said it was prime
property...offered me up a lot of cash for it,
but I didn't budge. All the old fools that fished
around those parts needed a place to hang out and
tell lies about fishin' over a cold drink.
Problem was, it burned down one night. Kinda
figured Edwards did it, couldn't prove it, though.
Oh, he came around shortly thereafter and offered
me money again. I held on to that piece of sand,
'til one day a nice couple came down from Sarasota.
Offered me and Miss Sadie more money than we had
They opened up that motel you were stayin' in and
that bar and grill. Told me I could stay as long
as I wanted.
Me and the Mrs. bought us a little house on that
empty street right up the road so we could be close
to the sand and salt. It wasn't much, but it was
home for almost fifty years. It withstood a couple
of good blows and I tried to keep it up.
Well, here goes. As I told you, we never had kids,
and for you to come along when you did, and was
willin' to come over and talk to an old fart about,
none the less, snook fishin', well, here's the deed
all signed up proper. She's yours.
See you in the funny papers.
"Funny thing about John. If he took a likin' to
somebody, he'd do anything to see 'em happy. I
reckon he went out of this world keepin' up his
The ride out to the beach was quiet and peaceful.
John's wish was to have his ashes spread on
Sanibel's western shore so he could always be
close to home and see the sunsets. That's
where Miss Sadie was placed.
I'm still living in that little house, goin' on
six years now. I've kept it as it was. I find a
lot of serenity sitting out here on this porch.
I keep the railings painted pure white, and the
rest of it a light, shell color; just like Miss
Sadie liked. The old rods and reels still hang
on the living room wall where John kept them,
and the Creek Chub sits on the mantle over the
fireplace where many a conversation took place
between the two. I've been offered more money
for it than I'll ever see, but it boasts no price
And, every once in a while, I think I can smell
fresh snook fryin' in the kitchen as Miss Sadie
calls for John to come an' eat supper. I keep
a bottle of fine scotch under the counter; one
just never knows who might show up. I still
venture down to the surf in search of those
elusive snook, I even catch one now and again.
Every sunset is different, and I think about
the old man and the lure as I stand there with
strangers watching the sun kiss the Gulf. The
two, old green rockers on the front porch sit
side by side, must have ten coats of paint on
'em. And, that's the way things will stay. That's
how they wanted it.
See y'all 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.