Category Archives: Florida

How To Make Cuban Coffee

The convenience store at the gas station had an aromatic little kitchen tucked into the corner, behind the registers, so there was no way to resist buying an empanada.

I have heard two working theories about the prevalence of spices in meat dishes of tropical origin. But whether the spices harbor antibiotic properties or trigger cooling perspiration seemed beside the point: I’d already built a sweat from walking the canal perimeter.

peacock water
Hit them where they live.

I like to fish the culverts and the dead ends where the water is a mirror that shatters upon impact, after the fish jumps out of it to escape what’s fighting against it only to be pulled back under by gravity. Five minutes later it is a mirror again. (Thank the miracle of surface tension.) The next interruption comes from the far gentler landing of a size two ensconced in craft fur. It causes tiny ripples to pulse outward in concentric circles.

Fresh water is the most under-appreciated aspect of the Florida experience. (They wanted to drain the entire swamp in the 19th century, the sonsabitches.) But there’s also food. Key lime pie made with real key limes, moros y cristianos, ropa vieja, country grits and collard greens, Bahama bread and cracked conch and grilled pompano that your neighbor gave you.

The trick to Cuban coffee is the espuma–the foam they make with sugar and a little just-percolated espresso. This little cafe next to a barbershop in Miami Beach makes it perfect. They pass it over the counter with four plastic shot glasses but I just drink it straight from the styrofoam cup.

BOOKS: My Life In Fishing by Stu Apte

I had heard and read that Stu Apte was a pilot, first for the Navy and then for the old Pan American airlines, and when I interviewed him for a Midcurrent.com article about the late George Hommell, I remember thinking, “That’s the kind of voice I’d want to hear over the intercom at 35,000 feet.”

He sounded confident and direct over the phone, with a hint of military cadence, and when he started telling stories about his pioneering fishing experiences in the Florida Keys, I just shut up and listened.

That’s the same way I felt reading through Apte’s new book My Life In Fishing, ($29.95, Stone Fly Press). It’s a collection of 38 short essays where Apte tells anecdotes collected during his life chasing fish.

my-life-in-fishing

There are stories of Apte fishing for snook with Ted Williams, traveling to Costa Rica with Curt Gowdy, and hosting the ex-president Harry S. Truman on a bonefishing trip that also involved the former first lady, a full bladder and an open livewell lid.

There’s the story of a chance encounter with Ernest Hemingway in Cuba that led to mojitos, of being pulled into the water by Joe Brooks’ record tarpon, of wade fishing for largemouth bass in the Everglades….The whole collection is fun to read.

The best thing about the book is the brevity of each individual story. You could imagine Apte in his guiding days, entertaining clients with such stories while poling around for a shot at a big tarpon.

On that note, I always love hearing the stories of these early anglers figuring out the tackle and techniques to land big silver on a fly rod . In one chapter, highlighted in a pull quote, Apte says, “I am never happier than when I’m prospecting the Florida Keys flats for tarpon, fly rod in hand.”

Although I must admit when I read that quote it reminded me of an  episode of Andy Mill’s “Sportsman’s Journal” show from the old Outdoor Life  Network. I remember Apte fighting a tarpon from the bow of the boat and Mill asking something along the lines of, “Is there any better feeling in the world?”

“Yes,” Apte deadpanned. “Sex.”

You could say Apte was right on both counts.

Little Faces

The last thing you want to do is humanize them because they’re not looking at the world in the same way. But they are looking at you.

Others may think we treat them like toys with the hollering and fist bumps that ensue from hooking them but that’s not what we do.

The eyes are alive and maybe their brains don’t process us like facial recognition software but their photoreceptors still collect the light. I’m no scientist but I know these fish remember.

Possibly (hopefully), some day 15 years from now this baby tarpon will be far removed from the swamps and moving along the coast, and it will notice the potential food twitching in its face that looks a little bit like craft fur.

There’s the chance it will catch sight of your refracted profile rising from above the waterline, which will trigger an historical recollection of trauma, and it will pass.

And if you’d like, you can blame me for that.

Buzz or Howl Under the Influence of Heat

The good thing about fly fishing for peacock bass is that it don’t cost nothin’ except for sweat and time.

I’m lucky that way in that when I’m down in South Florida I can find ways to expend both. It’s funny, though, how many people in Florida don’t break a sweat. They move down  for the weather and run from air conditioned cars to air conditioned houses or the restaurants that have their thermostats set at 64 degrees.

Another aspect of note is that, while driving through neighborhoods looking for new water, the farther you get from the coast the more oceanic the street names become. Nothing like being 50 minutes from the beach and headed west on Sea Breeze Lane.

I love it all, though. I’m useless for the winter things like steelheading but I can hang in a wilting corner of the Everglades all day long. If that’s the way the day goes down, it is a good day.

Enough Of Your Borax, Poindexter

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It’s not complicated. If you find the water and its surface temperature is in the 70s and the air temperature is in the 80s, they will be hungry. And if you cast  they will chase. And when they do that and you watch it go down in the shallows it sets off a wave of opioid polypeptide compounds that washes over your neuro-receptors, and you are happy.

Profiling Mr. Matthiessen

The 10,000 Islands are fantastical without the help of literary flourish but their significance, for me, has been amplified tenfold by the words of Peter Matthiessen in Shadow Country, his great work that combined the trilogy of Killing Mr. Watson, Bone By Bone and Lost Man’s River.

Matthiessen would be a giant based on the Watson trilogy alone, but  add in his collected works and life story, and you get something seriously heavy.

So I was thrilled that Chris E. passed along this profile from the New York Times:

Peter Matthiessen’s Homegoing