A canal runs along the berm separating wilderness from civilization, but that demarcation is lost on the alligators. They migrate out of the swamp and into the canals and the farm ponds until a dog goes missing and someone calls for their removal.
We rode a gas-powered cart along the edge of the canal in search of largemouth bass and we saw the white underbelly of a floating alligator that was missing its head. My friend speculated that some crackers had done it, on a midnight joyride. The odor of decay wafted over the area and in the morning heat we moved on.
Another canal ran parallel, about a half mile to the east, abutted by a series of horse paddocks. The horses mostly worked the fields with their heads down, swatting their hind quarters with their tails. At dusk they’d move into the stables to feed. As with pool tables, swimming pools and Irish pubs, it’s better not to own a horse but to have a good friend who does. I had been offered the opportunity to ride the trail along the swamp’s edge, but chose to go fishing instead.
Bass are not too hard to find in the backwaters and if you make enough casts one of them is going to take a pass at a popper. Just don’t bend down for too long on release, lest you present a canine profile to the local reptiles.
Save The River, the organization dedicated to protecting and restoring the St. Lawrence River, is offering the above pretty awesome Michael Ringer print to anglers who catch, then release their muskie.
That’s way better than a skin mount. Or pretty much anything you can do with a dead muskie.
The land used to be pastureland, purchased by my father’s family in 1841 to graze dairy cows. In the early 1900s they converted it for recreation, building cottages along the banks of the river in sight of the rapids that existed before construction of the Seaway.
Two islands that were named for dad’s ancestors have been disappeared under the surface since the Authority raised the water levels for the shipping channel. A hazard to navigation buoy marks their presence.
My grandmother planted pine trees in the boggy land between the road and the river and they’ve grown tall in the decades and harbor deer and the occasional family of red foxes.
A nesting pair of bald eagles has made a home in the islands across the river and loons come in the spring before the boat traffic gets too heavy. Wild turkeys run on the islands too and when the great blue herons spread their wings overhead they look like flying dinosaurs.
The water is as clear as it has ever been and you can see the pike waiting in ambush or the bass hugging structure by the dozens or the giant carp or the chub schooling on the shoals like bonefish. Put in the time, you think, and they’ll be there. They’ve adapted and survived over the centuries but you can never shake the feeling that at any moment one doomed freighter can take it all away.
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.
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.
The first trout I ever caught, in upstate New York, came courtesy of the New York DEC stocking program. The first trout I caught on fly came courtesy of the fish hatchery at the Connetquot River. I spent a lot of time in the 1990s learning how to fly fish by targeting those stocked trout.
I’ve listened to others mock the Connetquot for it’s prior reputation as a trout fishing fantasyland, and I’ve written about my own conflicted thoughts about it here before.
And of course you can take it deeper and delve into why growing trout in a hatchery only masks the larger problem about why wild trout populations in the region would be unsustainable. That is all true.
But for all that it is and isn’t, the Connetquot is an excellent resource as well as a learning ground for teaching angling ethics and stream stewarship. The place demands it, and the threat of a year-long or lifetime banishment for violations is not a vacant one. (Read about the rules and etiquette on the Long Island Trout Unlimited site.) I look forward to taking my daughters.
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.
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.