Road Work

There’s a lot of actual work that has to get done in the angling business, but first—we fish.

American Angler
September/October 2014

We take to the highway five days before the world blows up again, our eight-passenger Excursion dropping into the coastal plain with a bouncing rhythm. It’s a long way to Jupiter, but Floyd is a driving machine, a coffee-stained, two-fingers-on-the-wheel kind of I-95 road warrior who, two weeks earlier, had looked at the map of South Florida and said: “Buddy, that ain’t nothing to me. Let’s just do it.”

So southward we run deep into Cracker Country: land of rattlesnakes and longleaf pines; gator wrasslers and swamp buggies; Epcot and egrets; green grass and high tides forever. Our big red rig is stuffed to the dome lights with a trade show booth, 400 copies of three different magazines, posters, logoed shirts, nippers, stickers, hats—and a small arsenal of fly rods.

Four days from now we’ll be rigging our booth in a dimly lit Orlando convention hall, but until then, Floyd and I are looking to stretch some string in the salt. Nine hours later we stop along the Jupiter Island beachfront to let a sea breeze sweep the dust off our hides. At the local La Quinta Inn, we ask for the special “captain’s rate,” then eat dinner nearby, pop a sleeping pill apiece, and turn in early.

The next morning we find Capt. Ron Doerr at the waterfront, stalking the wharf with a cast net over one shoulder. In red block letters across both hulls, his 32-foot catamaran is christened: BITE ME

Inside, snook are spawning on the sandy rim of Jupiter Inlet, where the Loxahatchee River pours onto the continental shelf before mixing with deep blue water a few miles offshore. Two handfuls of glass minnows bring some snook to the surface, and after playing pitch and pull with several schools, we head out of the inlet in search of bigger game.

On the edge of the Gulf Stream, long casts and several sharp strips invariably elicit a blistering run from false albacore—or bonito, as anglers down here call them. They range from 8 to 15 pounds, and playing one to the boat means running a toothy gauntlet. Bull, sandbar, and hammerhead sharks swirl about the chum bait so closely that Captain Ron occasionally reaches over the transom to grab a dorsal fin.

Floyd and I are in Jupiter to fish with Kristen Mustad of Nautilus Fly Reels. He comes here to test new reels because the albie action is smoking hot. For several hours the three of us run a circuit around the cockpit with rods deeply arced, passing one line over another as the boat pitches in rolling swells. Eventually, Floyd offers his own contribution to the chum slick, and I have to sit down and keep my eyes on the horizon.

But all this fun is just a temporary diversion, and soon enough we are hauling tail toward Orlando to wheel our crates into booth space 122 at the 2014 International Fly Tackle Dealer show. This annual trade expo is an important industry event, but ever more so for our publishing group because we have a new editor at American Angler. Ben Romans, formerly an editor at both Fly Fisherman and The Flyfish Journal, is here in Orlando to pick up the baton as I move over to our sister publication, Gray’s Sporting Journal. This is my last issue as editor of American Angler, and if serving its readership during the past six years has not notably improved my fly fishing skill, it has certainly worsened my addiction.

And so for two days we dutifully work the show and press the flesh until we can figure out how to get fishing again.

After checking into a local resort with a sprawling golf course, Floyd and I stroll out back to investigate the lake situation. Sandhill cranes stand like sentries on parched greens, as white egrets bend their fragile legs in the marsh grass. Around the rim of the manicured watercourse, abandoned beds pock the shallows like blackwater craters, telltale signs of largemouth bass. And so for two days we dutifully work the show and press the flesh until we can figure out how to get fishing again.

Then a Malaysian airliner gets shot down over Ukraine, and Israel sends ground troops into Gaza. News of global conflict sweeps the convention hall like a rumor of individual death, until becoming just another black mark in the ledger of human events. But with little more than our own anxiety to offer the situation, several
 of us wait for night to fall in the heavy air and then meet for our own special ops on the golf course. Floyd opts out of the night maneuvers, but Miles has clearly planned ahead, appearing near midnight ’round back of the hotel in a black T-shirt and shorts. Ben and Dave and Lauren also show up for duty, as five anglers sharing two rods fade into darkness across the fairway, a hard day’s night ending with wet grass underfoot, sand gnats around the ankles, croaking frogs, chugging poppers, and alligator snouts reflecting in the moonlight.

Being the two most, let’s say tenured anglers, Dave and I fade first, and eventually I hand the rod to Ben and call it a day.

“Watch out for gators,” I say, and stroll back to the hotel tired but content, the rest of our crew still hard at work on a warm Florida night. ✦