Kip, my roommate from graduate school, called. In his ebullient have-I-got-a-deal-for-you style, he asked if I would like to join him and an Ormond Beach friend, Tom, to fish for snook in the Everglades National Park for a couple days. Kip and Tom are hard core fishermen. We would not be resting on a Barcalounger bolted to the deck, soaking bait, glancing occasionally at a bobber while sucking on a Bud. Kip and Tom would be furiously chucking artificial lures at mangrove shorelines, only occasionally stopping to pee, if a hand could be freed. Of course, my response to Kip was yes. My genes doom me. My grandfather, John “Honus” Craig, died on a Tennessee trout stream with a fly rod in his hands. My father would have had a hard time deciding between going out with a seven-iron or a fishing rod.
The Everglades National Park is a vast expanse of tannin-tinted water and green mangroves. Wherever you go, it looks like where you just left. There are no “This Way to the Exit” signs. Kip’s MBA program was in Operations Research – numbers requiring computations (mine was in Marketing – words, with crayons optional.) His smarts and the fact that he grew up in Miami and has logged over 50 years fishing out of Flamingo, make him the guy to be with. That said, he does not have a GPS tracker on the boat. When he coughs or teeters while at the helm, I flinch.
A fishing trip is like a picaresque novel, think Huckleberry Finn or Don Quixote, a journey with a series of adventures, the journey objective being beside the point. Adventures in a typical fishing trip involve injuries with blood, injuries without blood, lost items, broken items, running aground and the like. Broken items in the past have included motor mounts, push poles and, of course, fishing rods. On a prior trip Tom had reached to land a big snook and been slashed by razor-sharp gill covers. In seconds, the boat resembled a MASH unit operating room, awash in gore. Kip rummaged in a compartment and came out with a first aid package last used at the Battle of Balaclava. We made do, binding the injured warrior with torn strips of cloth.
For me, fish catching is incidental to the experience of sharing adventures with guys. I have been in the company of males since my parents sent me off to an all-male boarding school at age 15. From there it was off to an all-male college. Graduate school was largely an all-male proposition. Guys tend to be non-judgmental, lest they be judged. No one cares if you leave your u-trou on the cabin floor, leave the toilet seat up or drink directly from the milk container (OK, delete that last.) Guys aren’t concerned about couture, although I note that of the three of us, Tom is the best-dressed, in the boat or off. His stuff mostly matches, and his shirt tail doesn’t hang out. He wears a belt. A boat is a judgment-free zone.
This trip’s adventures began with provisioning. Like Sancho Panza in Don Quixote loading up his donkey with loaves of bread and a bota of wine, we stopped at Dion’s Quick Mart in Florida City for fried chicken – the gold standard for a fishing trip – and empanadas, and gasoline for Kip’s fifteen-year-old boat engine. We paired the fried chicken with Heineken beer.
The boat ramp at Flamingo was quieter than a church under COVID lockdown. Two empty boat trailers were in the parking lot, watched over by a resident croc at one of the ramps and a flutter of black vultures. I was given a line to hold and struck a “been there, done that” pose as Kip and Tom launched. On the few occasions I have been allowed to back a trailer down a boat ramp, Daytona 500 fans relishing bent metal come from miles around to view the carnage. As we motored down the canal leading out to Coot Bay, clouds of ibis flew at us down the mangrove tunnel, white “v”s that burst aside to pass over the boat. We grinned as we turned our necks to watch them whoosh by.
The first run of any fishing day is exhilarating. We sliced over the slight chop, dark water creaming away from the bow. Tom was hunched over the console, me beside him on the bench seat, and Kip in front of the console. We shivered under three layers, bouncing, blasted by the wind, eyes tearing. All in a bubble of anticipation and excitement. As with a first date or a job interview, we were prepared, had a fundamental understanding of the process, and knew things could get interesting.
I have fished through a lifetime of “you should have been here yesterday/last week/last century” comments by a fishing partner when our fishing results were on the skinny side. But on this first week of December, we had to fend off snook. They gobbled. They smashed. Fishing rods got a permanent bend as we tiptoed from bow to stern along the 13” gunwales or stepped from cooler to bench seat to motor mount, keeping a surly snook away from obstacles. “Take in your line!” “Get out of the way, damn it!” “Watch the freaking rod tip!” and some comments unsuitable for a family blog post polluted the air. On guy fishing trips those with sensitive feelings can suffer; those with a low EQ survive unscathed.
Each day finished with a post-action debriefing at the ramp. For an entire day we had avoided thinking about anything that would tax our minds, like the national debt or an upcoming visit to the proctologist. Sipping a few fingers of Jameson’s on the rocks and noshing on slices of Manchego and sausage on a cracker, we reviewed our brilliant moments, with only the croc and the vultures there to contradict us.
The Old Road Peddler