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At the golden age of 45 I’ve spent the last 30 years or so thinking of the state of Florida as some sort of theme park / sauna room devoid of any redeemable features. It should be noted though that this summation of this southern state was formed while on a family trip and in my teens. If you have ever by chance been on a family trip whilst a teenager, there is a good chance that you understand that the combination of these two insure that no fun will be had, and that the gawky, awkward prism of adolescence will skew and alter all memories until they are re-visited, re-examined and hopefully born anew.

Grabbing the easily recognizable luggage, (it was the one with wide shoulders, rod tubes practically protruding from the bag) i passed through the sliding doors of convenience out into what felt like a movie set for a tropical adventure. Lush verdant plants and tropical flowers the size of bowling balls practically exploded in my face, as water falls (albeit man-made) provided a sweet symphony of white noise that backed up the call and response of a menagerie of exotic birds i’d never seen.

I was enamored, charmed, and bewildered, and i hadn’t even made it the 30 yards to my rental.

Locating my rental car i drove straight to the hotel, veering ever so slightly out-of-the-way to locate the nearby convention center that would be my workplace for two and a half long days of iCast, the end all, be all convention and expo for the fly fishing world, but that was still two days away. In the mean time the plan was simple, drop off my bags, head to the local fly shop, grab some information and flies and then spend the next day combining the two with a little alchemy in an effort to make the impossible happen.

The next day i awoke sharply at 4AM (no alarm, just excitement) with all the information gathered from the incredibly helpful Michael at Orlando Outfitters (above photo) the previous evening swimming through my head. Grabbing my newly purchased minnow flies (nothing more than a hook with clear tubing and a whip of maribou) i was quickly out of bed and out the door.

An hour and a half later with the sun still strangely absent i pulled into the Biolab boat ramp area and watched the sun poke up and tease the still, Mosquito Lagoon waters with the first rays of light. It was a lagoon, but it might as well have been an ocean with the opposite shore lying so far in the distance that it seemed to be another land.

Heeding Michael’s advice i took a right at the ramp and started the 6 mile, 15MPH drive that took me through what can only be described as an immense array of technicolor wilderness brimming with egrets, herons, ibis, cranes and an infinite array of other unfamiliar birds. The waters on the lagoon side was punctuated by manatees frolicking and forging in the shallows, while the other side of the road played host to endless sloughs filled with the obligatory alligators (so ominous but shy) but also kaleidoscopic crabs and the gentle rolls of juvenile tarpon.

Stopping at a particularly tumultuous looking backwater slough, i cast over and over for two hours coming up empty time and time and time again. Pausing and watching the water for a few minutes it dawned on me that i was assuming every boil was a tarpon hovering right below the surface much like a sunfish. Realizing that they were likely cruising and ambushing bait I adjusted my casting style slightly i quickly hooked my first tarpon ever.

Within seconds of hooking the tarpon the water erupted as the tarpon thrashed and tossed all while seemingly heading towards heaven, before changing its mind and diving back in to the comfort of watery liquid. A single run to the left, and then suddenly it shot forth from an explosion of water that reminded me of farm days in my youth throwing M-80’s into grandpa’s pond.

Eventually the fish was brought to hand (“Look ma, no nets!”) and I kneeled down in the sweat inducing heat, placed my hand tentatively in the water and slid it under the tarpons belly to brace it while I removed the hook, all the while hoping that alligators didn’t enjoy sushi half as much as I do.

As the day and the experience progressed the fish came faster and faster, until eventually it was strange to cast near a boil and not have the water explode in a display of schizophrenic water. At some point in this day of days the spell of the fishing was disturbed by the uneasy sight of massive smoke clouds coming roughly from the direction of Orlando. As the fire and smoke quickly engulfed a large part of the horizon, a fighter jet suddenly announced its presence by shaking the ground around me with its roar though it was a tiny speck on the horizon making passes near the fire. Something strange was going down.

I remember my thoughts going roughly like this:

  1. Oh boy, here we go, terrorist (either external or internal) have launched an attack.
  2. Crap! No cell phone coverage?! What is going on?
  3. I can’t reach my loved ones to check on their safety.
  4. Well, if this is the end at least i was doing something I love.

Later on the drive back, leaving the plume of smoke behind me it would occur to me that the “Fire of Unknown Origin” in the distance had me far more worried for my safety than the crocodile that had dived below the surface 30 feet from where I was landing fish. I guess for me the predictability of man is far more terrifying than the un-predictability of nature.

After the initial freak out, i got back in the groove and landed tarpon after tarpon, easily landing 20 or so and missing many more on the two minnow flies i had bought in Orlando. Eventually both of those flies fell apart from all the jaw activity and i happily sacrificed a deep-water Clouser minnow by trimming its fibers down and fishing it until that too fell apart in the maws of my quarry.

Later, writing in my journal by the hotel pool, i was awed by how much my outlook of Florida had changed in one day just by getting out into its hairy wilderness. It was no longer the place I knew in my teens, an endless, boring, brackish swamp punctuated by theme parks. Now it conjures images of endless bays, pools, channels and rivers connected by the most tenuous threads of water that enable both fish, humans and other wildlife to find their way back to the wild expanse of infinity.


It’s really hard to overstate how much your local fly shop shares your passion, but this video comes as close as you can to knowing that love! Be sure to check out your local fly shop, whether it’s Sportsman’s Finest, Living Waters, Gruene Outfitters or your own resident local hangout, and say “Hi!”

There are so many benefits of bringing together your personal passion with your professional life that it’s hard not to make the analogy of heaven or nirvana. In a perfect symbiosis such as this, one fuels the other and vice versa.

As a decade long fly-fisherman i’ve always hoped to merge that aspect of me with the outdoor store manager that has been my role for decades. Since taking my new job as buyer (etc.) for Gruene Outfitters i’ve had the wonderful fortune of falling into a wide array of wonderful adventures that would likely never had occurred had i stuck to the safe and familiar.

One such adventure arose recently after sitting through a line showing for Simms with the excellent rep. Eric Kraimer. The showing (where product for next year is shown by him and pondered over by me) was held on the shores of Lake Bastrop that coincidentally happened to have his bass boat (circa the 80’s?) sitting close at hand.

Ending the meeting he asked if I was interested in some late afternoon fishing? Graciously accepting the invitation we loaded the boat with the sparse but important tools to suck the marrow out of the next few hours before sundown.

As someone who has spent a LOT of time paddling my kayaks around this lake, working hard to make it from shore to shore, it was pure joy to zip from spot to spot in minutes though there was definitely the catholic / white guilt of having it a little to easy.

The first two cast really were the short story in and of themselves. Cast one was a strike without a hook up, but the second cast landed with the Mr. Minnow popper landing within a hair’s breadth of the grass 20 feet out from the bank. There was an awkward silence after the popper hit the water that was immediately punctuated by what seemed like a toilet being flushed in the reeds as a decent size largemouth sucked everything in front if it through its gills and in the process inhaling my popper.

While it was a great fight, the real excitement of the day was hooking up with someone who was not only passionate about fly fishing but full of stories and thoughts that tend to only come out while fishing for bass, at sunset, while motoring in and out of endless possibilities.

There is no doubt that I’d love to run into you at Gruene Outfitters where i work and am currently working to add to the awesomeness and help build an awesome fly selection. Still, i understand not having money to toss around and want to keep you all informed as to how to get the biggest bang for your buck. Suffice to say, that can currently be done at Cabelas where they have six packs of freshwater and saltwater flies currently selling for $9.99! So get what you can there and come spend the money you saved at Gruene Outfitters where the selection is growing daily!