by Dave Micus
don't go on many fishing trips, partly due to the expense, but mainly because there is no need. I live at the mouth of the Eagle Hill River where it empties into Plum Island Sound, and have easy access to an unheralded but excellent striped bass fishery. Why spend thousands of dollars to travel thousands of miles to fish unfamiliar waters when I can walk 10 yards and launch my kayak? Still, when the opportunity arises, I will take a fishing trip (usually cloaked in the guise of a family vacation), and I had such an opportunity recently when the bride booked a trip to Florida to spend Christmas with my parents and then four days in the Keys.
The logistics of travel are much more complicated than pre-9/11, even more so for the sportsman (I don't know how hunters do it). I suspected that the airline would frown on me bringing a cased-rod on board as carry-on luggage, seeing that it looks like a bazooka. And I might be paranoid, but I also didn't want to put a $500 rod in luggage as I think these specialty items might provide too much of a temptation (and I have heard tales of golf clubs disappearing in transit). So I purchased a 7 piece 8-weight that fit in a suitcase, and made certain to put anything that could be construed as a potential weapon (leatherman, hooks, nail clippers) in the luggage that would go aboard as baggage.
I've never really liked flying. First off, there is the hassle of getting to the airport. Our flight was at 7 AM, we were required to be there two hours early, and, not wanting to park at the airport, we had to be at the bus station at four. This meant getting up at 3 AM, which is something I can willingly do for fishing but not for travel. And, though not phobic about plane crashes, I can't help but think that I don't want to die trapped in that dark depressing claustrophobic little tube with its 1960s color scheme, a bag of peanuts as my last meal. (On this flight we weren't even offered a bag of peanuts but a menu from which to choose-and pay for-our meal. I passed but an elderly gentleman next to me got a small can of Pringles and a can of beer, an odd breakfast, to be sure. His bill was staggering-six dollars for one beer and a small can of chips!)
But all went well, and after a visit with my parents it was off to the Keys and winter fishing. I have to say I was a bit ambivalent about fishing in January. Sure, it would be fun, but it seemed, well, somehow wrong. Agonia is a term coined by Christian monk and aesthete Thomas Merton to describe man's awareness, alone among God's creatures, that this wonderful gift of life has to end. Nor'eastern striped bass bums have their own Agonia, knowing that, come late October, this wonderful fishery is gone for another season. And now fishing in January seemed blasphemous.
Before our trip I had posted some questions about Keys' fishing on a Florida salt-water website, and I received a wonderful e-mail from Hal Jacobs (thanks again, Hal!) giving me the location of a nice but little known flat. I tend to rely on the kindness of strangers, and I'm always impressed with the generosity of fly-fishers, saltwater anglers being particularly gracious. This is not to disparage the freshwater brethren; it's just much easier to share an entire beach than a small bend pool. Using Hal's instructions I located a beautiful flat, devoid of fishermen except for an occasional guide with a sport in a flat's skiff, further indication of the high quality of this particular spot.
But, though beautiful, it was unfamiliar, and I am a creature of habit (to the extreme). I didn't know the rhythms, where to be at what tide, and, it being a family vacation, I didn't have the luxury of fishing one spot through an entire tide cycle. It was hit or miss. And while I caught fish, barracuda and needle fish, and other toothy creatures from the Jurassic period, it wasn't like home, where I know that three hours before high tide a nice rip forms over the mussel bed at Pavillion Beach where the big stripers gather to feast or how the bass will hold in the deep slot off of Little Neck road at dead low. And how when I hear the train whistle on a weekday morning it's the 6:30 AM from Newburyport at the crossing on Federal Street, which means I have exactly fifteen more minutes of fishing if I'm going to make it to work on time. I missed my home waters.
But they have bonefish and permit you might say. I'd counter, I've never heard of anyone catching twenty bonefish or permit in a day, though I've done that and better with bass so many times I've lost count. What about tarpon? you ask, and may well feel you've won the debate. However, I'm reminded of Hemingway's analogy of elephant hunting with burning the taste buds off of your tongue when, after a heavy night of drinking, you mistakenly swig the lye product Eau de Javel instead of bottled water. Extremes like elephant hunting and tarpon fishing and lye drinking will leave you unable to savor anything less heady. I'll stick with stripers (which can, by the way, exceed four feet in length).
"Heaven for the climate, hell for the company," suggests Mark Twain, and the same could be said of Florida and Massachusetts. When we arrived in Boston our luggage was delayed, the Logan Shuttle was behind schedule, and it was colder than a well digger's ass-pretty much what I'd expected. Yet, while some might think that the water is always bluer on the other side, I have to say there's no place like home waters. It was good to be back.
Dave Micus lived in Ipswich, Massachusetts where he was an avid striped bass fly fisherman, writer, instructor and "star" of an episode of the outdoor show, Fly Fishing America. In 2006 he made the move from sea level to the Rocky Mountains of Montana where he has taken up fly rodding for trout, hunting and enjoying life in the "Big Country."
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