By Ken Schultz
I was a new staff member at Field & Stream decades ago when I made my first summer-time visit to Florida. I’d been at a tackle show in Atlanta and rented a car to drive to Cocoa, where I was meeting acquaintances to fish for largemouth bass at a fish camp. It was late July and I arrived via the air conditioned car late at night, went right into an air conditioned mobile trailer, and did not experience midsummer Florida’s real steamy conditions until the next morning. At dawn when I stepped outside the trailer, my glasses fogged up and the humidity grabbed me in the chest, reminding me of the hothouse in a botanical garden. My first thought was, how am I going to make it through the day?
I made it through several days, as it turned out, and caught the largest bass of my life in the process, a near 12-pounder. Since then I’ve managed pretty well in hot, humid, and even jungle/rain forest fishing situations.
But it was hotter than hell when I got to the Gulf Coast last summer for
a family gathering. The daily heat index was in the low100s. I had driven down from Virginia, where the heat index was only slightly less inexorable, cartopping my vintage Old Town Loon 138 open-cockpit kayak, just in case.
One morning I went to a spot in Tampa Bay that I’ve fished a couple of times before, in the winter and while wading. I unloaded the kayak along a beach just as dawn was breaking, and I’d already rigged up two spinning outfits, one with a Zara Spook for surface fishing and one with a Mirrodine suspending plug for below-surface twitching. I had no advance knowledge of the fishing conditions, but figured that I might be able to find some speckled trout.
I was still unloading my gear when the water erupted a little ways up the beach in 5 seconds of frenzied slashing. I hurriedly finished up, parked the car, and returned to the kayak, just as a mullet boat came roaring around the bend plowing through the shallows and screwing things up. Nevertheless, I hung around for a few minutes, got myself adjusted, and made a few casts with the Spook. A Spanish mackerel surprised me a few minutes later, and when I got him in the boat realized that I didn’t have a stringer or rope to tie him up with, and didn’t know what the legal size for this species even was in Florida.
I threw the fish on the floor, made a few more casts, hooked and lost another mackerel, then put my rod down and got on my smartphone to see what the legal size was. At 22 inches, this mackerel was more than enough, so I cracked him on the head and put him up under the bow.
I couldn’t manage another Spanish mackerel, but over the next few hours I caught eleven speckled trout, keeping two and releasing the rest, some of which were undersized anyway, and also catching and keeping a 12-inch pompano. After three hours of fishing I quit, and loaded boat and gear onto my vehicle. I was totally soaked from this effort, and it wasn’t even 10 o’clock.
But there’s something about having unplanned and unanticipated fishing success that makes the heat and the humidity more bearable. My wife, who was not in Florida with me and who has previously expressed disagreement with my suggestions that we should live in Florida, called me just after I got on the road, and asked if I’d caught anything.
“Yeah,” I said, “it was a good morning.” I gave her the details, then added, “I think I could live here and do this every morning.” She was silent a moment.
“What’s your plan for dealing with the inevitable hurricane?” she asked.
I said, “Load up the kayaks and head to Minnesota.”
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