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.
A north, northeast wind with gusts to 30, even 40 mph can make the east coast of Florida an unpleasant place to be, especially outside the inlets. But there’s a lot of water to cover between the coasts, too, and there’s always a lee somewhere¹.
Bass in Florida are like Led Zeppelin on the radio: Always on somewhere.
I’ve said that before* (in one of my infrequent posts on Buster Wants to Fish.) But I am saying it again because the words and the actions behind them are repeatable.
Sometimes I wonder if it seems like a broken record with me, and maybe it does, but we all need sporting traditions.
One of my main riffs goes like this: Fly down, rent car, criss-cross the State on back roads and wait for the rain to break. Drive past a body of water, look for access, cast.
The coasts and the Keys are incongruous with the interior, the land of Marjory Stoneman Douglasand Marjory Kinnan Rawlings. All the way up to Shingle Creek (documented by a green highway sign on S.R. 528 as the Headwaters of the Everglades) the fresh water that flows South through Okeechobee and the big swamp is dyked, funneled, redirected, canal-ized and otherwise manipulated so that the River of Grass and Florida Bay do not get their full eventual dose.
The roads cut through cattle ranches and orange groves and migrant farms and small town main streets that maintain an Eisenhower ambience despite the scarcity of Buick Roadmasters.
The water is a distraction. It’s always sitting just off the main road or down obscure side streets, where it would remain undiscovered if not for the invasiveness of Google Maps. Whether it should rightfully be swampland or something other than a containment born of front-end loaders is past the point of consideration.
It could contain bass, and is impossible to pass by.
The fly line entangled in some shoreline debris and I looked down to yank it free, and at that moment a green shape chose to cut through the water to my popper. I had no tension on the line so I watched its fat profile surge and descend on the popper, create a brief interlude of chaos and disappear.
The excessively corpulent type of largemouth, the kind that would give FLW types arrhythmia, has eluded me for 12 years, ever since a memorable encounter on a small lake in Michigan. Since then I’ve had to settle for the small to decent to merely large.
In the end it gets added to the personal rolodex of frustration, along with the monster snook that broke free on the jump, the convincingly stuck tarpon that did the same, the bluefin tuna that spit the hook boat-side and the striped bass that straightened the hook before you even saw it.
It can reduce your evening to a good walk and and some attempted pictures of wading birds.
When there is no time afforded you have to steal some. Five casts. Fifty casts. Five hundred. Whatever it takes to make something out of another thing that you don’t rightfully have. One jump should suffice to bend it back in your favor.
The whole thing started with the least of expectations. I had a rod and some time to kill due to a delayed appointment. I made some casts. I caught nothing. I drove to the appointment. Delayed again, for another hour.
I google mapped. I found nearby water. I tried a new fly.
On my first cast I caught a mayan cichlid. Sweet.
Then I saw a dark swirling shape hanging out near a submerged drain pipe. I made a cast.
A largemouth bass with a middling amount of heft liked my offering. OK, cool.
I released the bass. Then I saw two bulbous fish cruising the shoreline at a fast clip. I made a lead cast. One charged like a mofo.
It took off with the force of a Tri-Rail and I had to run down the bank for 20 feet or so until it settled. Actually took me to the reel. My uncertified genero-grip registered the openly hostile oscar at around two-pounds.
What an ornery little cuss.
This became interesting. The fly I had tied on looked similar to a juvie peacock, proving the cardinal law of fish: Everything eats everything. Could I make some sort of slam out of this?
My cell phone rang. I had to meet my appointment in 15 minutes. I was five minutes away.
Would a peacock bass hit a fly that looked kind of like a littler peacock?