Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Fishy Greetings from Southwest Florida

Mangroves in Boca Grande Pass

Sometimes, life takes me to places that live up to the expectations, the stereotypes, and the stories that have been long-attached to them.  For me, the coastal American South is such a region, and in fact I'm a product of the place (southeastern Virginia).  Southwest Florida particularly fits the bill on all counts.  What do I mean by that?

In Southwest Florida, a "young" county has a residents' median age of 62, compared to the "old fogies" county next door, with its median age of 68.   No one is from the area, as very few islands or towns were built prior to the 1980s.  But the throngs who have arrived have very predictable, if varied, politics, based largely on the area from which they came.  Strong statements about "The Damn Tea Party Idiots" clash with vitroil about "That Damn Muslim up in DC" depending on whose table is the scene of the conversation.  Generally, though, folks are exceedingly politely and are disproportionately carrying handguns.   Very few people of color are present, but that doesn't eliminate the crime that has come with heroin, oxycontin, and methamphetamines, all three hanging like the smoke of a burning trash barrel over poor white communities in the region.  However, since the development of the area is still quite new, people are spread out, and the odds of running into a bad person are fairly low (although we witnessed a very high junkie with his kids at a public playground one day).  He had a heroin lean and could barely speak, so to be fair, I do not think he was planning any property or violent crimes.

What still remains is water.  Or more precisely, clean water full of aquatic vegetation and healthy populations of fish and migratory birds.  As I told a colleague today, it seemed like stepping back in time in the Chesapeake Bay to roughly 1945-1955 - before pavement increased from 5% of the landscape to 60% of the landscape. Before the Chesapeake died.  Of course, there are very specific plans to accomplish just that in Southwest Florida.  The recession has indeed ended, and I saw construction starting everywhere - largely on huge developments that were halted in 2008, many of them possessing a labyrinth of roads through forest slated for hundreds or thousands of homes for retirees and seasonal tourists.

But me, I came to fish.  I learned that Floridians are spoiled, as catching a grand slam of game fish from a kayak on artificial lures was deemed "a slow day" since it took six hours.   Powerboat charters that return with less than obscene piles of fish (the redfish limit was 10 per person/day until recently!) are referred to as wastes of money.  I'm not sure if folks know how good they have it, and how sensitive the resource truly is.   I really hope they figure it out in time.

But at least for now, it is a place of beauty.  I got to explore the Peace and Myakka Rivers by kayak, and got to fish them both.  I fished historic Boca Grande on the flats, from the beach, and from the kayak.  And we caught fish, including two new "life list" fish for me:  permit and bonnethead sharks. I learned to ignore the spooky  sunrise calls of sandhill cranes in the drainage canals, which is something I never thought I'd accomplish.   I'll be sharing my stories in the coming weeks.

Thanks for stopping by.

Peace River Mangroves

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