Anything Fly Fishing

Three days in Florida

3 Mins read

We trace the coast, gliding high above the estuaries of the Southeast. I watch the interchange of nutrients and sediment, fresh and salt water from my window seat, wondering how long it takes the silt particles I kick up in Blue Ridge trout streams to make it this far downriver. A lifetime? A millennium? I like that there are still unsolved mysteries left in the world.

The plane banks westward, and soon I look down upon central Florida. Urban sprawl races outward from Orlando, the development surrounded by marshes and forests that try in vain to keep people at bay. A mosaic of lakes and ponds pockmark the ground for as far as I can see, shimmering a hearty welcome under the bright sun.

Acquainting myself with the local anglers.

My grandparents moved from New York to Florida in 2010, having decided that they’d rather spend their summers indoors with the AC on low than spend their winters indoors with the heat on high. Their move saddened me. I was ten at the time and it was hard seeing my grandparents go from a town away to many states away. However, this sadness was somewhat mollified on our first visit to their new home. I was shocked by the sheer amount of water in Florida. I wanted to fish it all then, and as I touch down once more in Orlando, I want to fish it all now.

At the time of our initial visit, my career aspiration was to be Roland Martin or Kevin VanDam—bass fishing was the predominant focus of my life. I devoted the time that I didn’t spend bass fishing to researching tackle and techniques, watching bass tournaments, and reading everything that I could find on the topic. This obsession with bass fishing lasted until I was handed a fly rod on a trout stream in my early teens, an experience that led to a complete 180 in my piscatorial pursuits (though maybe not in my obsessive tendencies). Time spent on the lake decreased in direct proportion as time spent on the river increased. Trips to Florida now provide a divergence from the pleasant monotony that has consumed my angling life.

I leave the airport in the back of an Uber, alternating between watching the passing landscape and my driver’s rapidly fluctuating speedometer. I give up on trying to differentiate the little blue herons and tri-colored herons probing along highway drainage ditches as we swerve into the left lane at 90 miles per hour. Cookie-cutter stucco homes and ornamental palms blur past as I lapse into a thousand-mile stare through the front windshield, fighting back motion sickness. When I finally arrive at my grandparents’ house, I feel the same haziness I’ve experienced after a day spent riding roller coasters at Universal Studios. I chalk the Uber ride up as an authentic Florida experience.

Morning topwater eats make early wakeups worthwhile.

As I’ve grown older, my Floridian fishing has matured from intense research-gathering missions in preparation for future tournament wins on Lake Okeechobee to a more tranquil experience that’s tinged with second-hand guilt and a little sadness. Walking the manicured banks of the ponds in my grandparents’ neighborhood, it is impossible not to imagine the virgin cypress swamps and oak savannahs that were cleared to make way for the retirees. Everything I see and touch is inherently artificial, including the bass and the water they reside in. The plaintive cries of Sandhill Cranes lose some of their mystique when the courtship occurs on a golf course fairway. It’s like listening to loons in an aquarium.

The tragedy of Florida is that it held the last true wilderness in the East and was rampantly developed when we really ought of have known better. Between red tides, Burmese pythons, and pharmaceutical chemicals accumulating in bonefish, the death of a thousand cuts progresses steadily today. Outside the gate of my grandparents’ neighborhood, bulldozers and skidders clear room so more Northeasterners can soak up vitamin D under screened-in porches. My grandfather laments the growing traffic congestion and I wonder where the wood storks will go.

In spite her faults, sunrises like this one make Florida hard not to love.

Despite my indignation about Florida’s diminished ecological heath, I fish every morning and evening and enjoy every minute of it. Rising with the sun, I slip on flip flops and walk the 100 feet to the nearest pond, where hues of purple and orange meld across the mirrored surface. Bass and gar eat with eagerness as wading birds swoop in from their rookeries.

Occasionally a curious alligator gives cause for walking to the next pond, a welcome touch of wild. Hot afternoons pass under the veranda sipping martinis, my grandmother’s favorite drink, as thunderheads billow and anoles scurry across the tiling. When the sun greets the western horizon, I return to the ponds and hurtle poppers through sultry air, searching for one last topwater blowup to close the day.

Three days in Florida pass in peaceful torpor.

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