Each one of us, at some point in time,
has been taught a life lesson. One of
those lessons that strikes a note that
echoes clearly in our hearts and heads,
and even though it was many years ago,
it still repeats time and again. One of
those notes was sounded many years ago,
when I began to stretch my wings from
adolescene out into the first stages of
This week's article doesn't have a lot of
fly-fishing content; it has almost none. I
sometimes become disenchanted with waters
that frustrate me to a point of giving up
fly-fishing forever. That's when the note's
major chord strikes those keys again, and I
am reminded that I am more at home on my
salty flats, than anywhere else. Home,
My dad loved mockingbirds. He respected their
habits and would mimic their sounds, adding
words to replace their calls we heard so often
in the spring. He would mow thirty feet around
an old, golden rain tree in the side yard, where
they always nested to raise their young, so as
not to disturb the "pups." That's what he called
Our wooden house had a detached garage that
was used mostly as a storage barn; I never
knew it to protect a vehicle, not even the
old, green skiff he built was tucked inside,
ever. My grandmother used the shelter of the
garage to quilt beautiful bed covers when she
stayed with us in winter, and other old women
would gather there on the brown, clay floor,
dipping powdery snuff, and gossiping as they
stitched the top to bats of cotton and
ticking. I always found the attic interesting.
That's where a box of my worn playthings was
stored. Sometimes I would climb the ladder
that led to the dank and dark and dusty place
to look through the box that held my first
Teddy bear, and a few slingshots, wooden tops
and stuff. The garage was an important extension,
I suppose, to the home and the life we lived.
I was sixteen, and it was Saturday morning;
first day of dove season.
I was excited. Cool, morning breeze, a day to
spend with a few buddies that were, for the
most part, a little older than me, and a nice
beginning to opening day of bird hunting
around the orange groves in central Florida.
My dad, unknown to me, had other plans.
Before readying the shotgun, loading the
hunting vest with shotgun shells and adorning
my green, tan and black camouflaged outfit, I
went out to let Dad know where we would be
hunting. He didn't oppose hunting; he had done a
little hunting back in his younger days. But there he
stood with two, four-inch wide paint brushes
and a couple of gallons of white enamel paint.
My young common sense told me he wasn't planning
on using both brushes at the same time.
"Get your paintin' clothes on; we're goin'
to paint the garage today."
"I can't. I planned on going huntin' with Joe
and some of the guys. It's the first day of
the season." I knew full well, when his mind
was made up, it didn't matter what I had
planned, or with whom I had planned it with.
I felt a sick feeling of disparity rolling in
the pit of my stomach. But I was in high school,
and he had just lectured me on being responsible
for my actions because, "You are almost an adult,
so start thinkin' like one."
"But I'm going hunting and I'll help paint
the garage later."
"You'll do as I told you, so go get your paintin'
I could tell he was miffed at me already, so
I figured taking it to the next level wouldn't
make that much difference. Besides, I was
now pissed, and my mouth over-rode my
non-thinking brain. Who the hell did he think
"Well, I'll just pack my stuff and leave home.
You told me yourself, you left home at sixteen."
So there, I guess I told him. But I still winced,
figuring he would crack me a good one for smartin'
off...but he didn't.
Behind the house, at the rear, screen-door was
a large slab of concrete that served as a step
to the back-porch. The old slab had served many
a purpose from being a pirate ship, to a lookout
for a young Daniel Boone as he scouted for bears
and Indians. Many make-believe scenarios had
played out on the slab.
"Well", he started out, "I reckon we need to
have a talk, before you up and leave out." That
sounded strange coming from this man. Usually,
up 'til now, it was his way, or his way, period.
Something was different in his voice, even the
look on his face had changed from slightly stern,
to a look of possible understanding. But,
something was amiss. I was still mad as hell,
and surely didn't want to hear anything he had
"Come over here and sit down." It was almost as
if he were asking, not telling.
"You know those mockingbird pups that nest in
the rain tree?" I pretended to not pay attention,
looking out into the empty field behind our house.
"Mama Bird and Daddy Bird work their butts off
day and night from the very beginning, even
before those eggs show up in that nest. They
have to build the nest first. So off they fly,
gathering sticks and pieces of fuzz. Then when
the eggs are laid, they sit on 'em, day and
night, rain or shine." I tried to appear
"After those pups are born, Mom and Dad go to
work everyday huntin' worms, grasshoppers, and
bugs to feed the young 'uns. They never rest.
Then, one day, one of those pups stands on the
edge of that nest up there, and begins to
stretch those wings. Now, he ain't got all
of those feathers, yet. But they watch him
and hold their breath as he flaps those
I could visualize that little bird; I had
seen it happen many times. But I stayed
defiant. Had he lost his mind? What did
baby mockingbirds have to do with painting
that old garage? If he would just shut up
so I could go about my business. He went on.
"Finally, the young pup gives up and sits
back down in the nest. They take a deep
breath, look at each other, and start
huntin' bugs again."
My interest was showing without me realizing
it. I now stared at him painting the scene,
as he told the story. He wasn't looking at
me, and seemed to have a certain sadness
about him. Intrigued, I caught myself asking
him to continue.
"In a few weeks, the little bird, now full-dressed
in feathers, stands on the edge of the nest again.
This time Mama and Daddy Mockingbird look at each
other, and he flies away."
I was growing uncomfortable, but interested
in his story. He had never sat down like that
before and spoke in a soft voice that almost
broke a few times.
"You know, that young 'un will always be
welcome to visit that rain tree. But he
will never live in that nest again."
With that said, Dad got up, never looking
at me and never waiting for any type of
response. He just got up, picked up one
of the cans of paint, and a brush, then
walked towards the garage. I sat numb and
watched the back of him walk away.
I remained seated for a few minutes in
silence. Never once did he say another
word. He just opened up that can of paint
and started working. I had just been dealt
a life-altering hand, and now it was my
turn to call or raise or bluff.
I picked up the other can of paint and
brush and stood with him that day. We
painted the garage together. I had sat
back down in the nest. I know he took a
deep breath that morning. But he never
let me see him exhale.
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.