Friday, October 25, 2013

St. George Island, FL........Then

My first trip to St. George Island was by ferry in the 1960s.  There was no bridge and the only access was across the Apalachicola Bay from Eastpoint.  As day trips go, this required some planning on my Mom's part.

We packed straw bags, a picnic lunch, Sea & Ski, and crossed the choppy Apalachicola Bay arriving at a  simple landing.  From the ferry, no transportation.  It would be by foot.  We grabbed our belongings and made way for the beach.  There was one store on the island then.  The structure was made of weathered wood siding, concrete floors, with a single screen door.  Located conveniently between the landing and the beach, I now know why.  There were no restaurants then.

We walked toward the beach.  My flip flops filling with sand and my little legs approaching weak.  I didn't care as relief was in sight.  Water so clear, a breeze so soft, and an overwhelming feeling of bright!    Yes, bright white sand which made me squint but still smile with joy.  

One more stop before the water.  To claim our picnic table.  Sparse and far apart from one another, they there for the taking for visitors to enjoy.  We unload all of our belongings and head for the beach.  There was no traffic.  Only what the ferry could shuttle.  There were no worries of theft.  It was summer and we were a million miles from home without a care in the world.  We played and swam and took in all the simple pleasures of that day; including an appetite that should have been fed hours earlier.  

The picnic tables appeared miles away.  They were carefully placed close to the one road, in the sand and provided much needed shade.  Oh the feeling of reaching the covered table still dripping of salt water and adjusting my eyes to the sweet cool shade.  What was just a warm glistening little body would quickly change to goose bumps on cold concrete public benches.  But warm beach towels and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches took care of that.

After a brief nap, we collect our belongings to run to catch the only transportation back to the mainland.  Many, many more visits, and decades later, this place shaped who I am today.  I still return and fill my soul with all of the warmth it gives to me.  

Where will you take your family this year?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

It's So Much More Than An Oyster

For those of us that prefer briny Apalachicola oysters, the time is now!  The adage that oysters should be eaten during fall and winter months, and contain the letter "R", is a rule for many.  The months of November, December, and January are my personal favorite time for oysters.  Growing up on the gulf coast, I can attest that the rule of thumb is spot on!

In the 1970s and 80s, I would venture out to the boat landings and greet the oyster men (and women) after their long day of tonging.  The salt air was crisp, the tide low, and the thought of oysters and beer consumed me.  For this meant, the next several hours would be spent with family and friends telling stories and eating some of the best oysters on earth.

The oysters were cold, muddy, and placed in large brown croacker sacks. The oyster men unloaded their wooden boats and placed the sacks into their pickup trucks.  From there, they would drive and deliver to local wholesale and retail fish houses.  To bypass the stores and get the goods became a story in itself.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Fishing Fall's Change

On October 18, I couldn't decide whether to load the boat, pack the cooler, check the trailer, and get out on the water or stay home with regret.  Normally, nothing would stay between me and the Panhandle bay; however, the wind was blowing and the tide was low in 45 minutes.  This meant to fish the falling tide I needed to hustle.  In record speed I was on my way.

Launching and loading in the wind can be tricky when alone.  Without incident, I navigated the exposed and unexposed oyster bars.  Made it!  I headed towards the back of the island hoping that the pines would block most of the Southwest winds.

When fishing the grass flats or edges of the oyster bars, I prefer a nice drift.  Lures of old standby red-headed MirrOlure for sight and action.  Today, I will also try a "Penny" Gulp to bump along the bottom with the drift.

A few mishaps, a lot of moving for that perfect spot in wind and tide rise, and a lot of beautiful wildlife. An eagle, an oyster catcher, and a sea turtle distract me during the day.  

My first catch 'and release' was a 14.5 speck.  Fun but back in the water it went.  Moving on to a new spot, I select the back of the island where I find a large school of lady fish.  Oh my!  Need to move and quickly avoid the frenzy and blood that comes with hooking these gems.

My last spot--the edge of an exposed oyster bar with a quick depth to 6-8 ft.  I decide to anchor, open a beverage, and take in the day.  

The sun is a warm golden tone that has eased out over the water from its normal summer position.  Even though I am in sight of three other boats, there is a sense of quiet.  Until, my rod with the Penny is buzzing.  Oh yes, I lost the MirrOlure a while back and decided to replace with a gold spoon which I am working back and forth.  I quickly put this tackle aside and reach for the buzzing reel.  Too late!  I return to the gold spoon knowing that it is doing nothing sitting on the bottom to find a huge Red struggling to release the lure right at the boat! The red won!

So, one trout, numerous lady fish, and one almost landed red fish are safe with me and remain in the water.  It's time to head for home.  Without incident, I trailer, head home for my day's stories.  Hours later, I capture the impending front of Fall's Change.

I'll get'em tomorrow!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

What Exactly is a Florida Cracker?

Growing up in Florida, I often heard someone referred to as a Florida Cracker.  I didn't understand if this was a derogatory description of a Floridian or of a cracker.  It was apparent to me that this description did have a negative connotation.  Not so.

Years later living in Georgia, I joke about growing up with other Florida Crackers and most Georgians declare their state owns the "cracker".  To stay away from controversy, can you imagine telling a Cowboy in Montana or Wyoming today that the first cowboy came from Florida?    Bar fight for sure.  For another blog...  For now, back to the Florida Cracker.

Let's eliminate some confusion.  A Florida Cracker is NOT: A white southern racist, a hillbilly, or a refined flour crunchy snack.  

It is said by many that the name "Florida Cracker" came from Scott-Irish and English descendants and pioneers that moved and settled in the back southern woods.  With them, they brought and bred Spanish Horses for working cattle and ranching.   These folks were later called the Florida Cowboys and Cracker Cowboys because of the Whips they cracked herding the cattle.  Florida is, in fact, the oldest cattle raising state that required these shepherds and handlers mounted on horseback.

As these settlers migrated west for gold and the opportunity for cheaper land , the climate and clothing requirements changed.  The clothing needed to adapt to the environment.  Moving west these settlers experienced wind, snow, and generally blustery conditions.  Some of these items still used today are bandannas, chaps, cowboy boots, and working gloves. 

For more, watch this interesting video and never think of a Florida Cracker the same way again.    Perhaps in my next blog, I'll discuss the history of the Western American Cowboy.  I did not create this video, nor do I claim any rights for this video found on YouTube. here ...   Florida Cracker

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Can't wait to go fishing? Slow down and take inventory

As fall is upon us, the water is changing, the motors are getting zapped by cool weather, and we still can't wait to get out on the water.  But, first things first.  During this transition into fall and winter, take inventory of your on-board safety gear, licenses, emergency supplies, tire pressure, etc.  It's also a good idea to throw in dry clothes and some Emergency Mylar/Thermal Blankets

It's great to be excited and enthusiastic, but not so great to be ill prepared.  There are many local marine shops or on-line provisioning stores to keep you, and your first mates, safe and warm this season.  For everything in one bag you may consider the Stansport Emergency Preparedness Kit An ounce of prevention...... you know the rest!

Just a friendly reminder from someone that has rushed and ended up out on the water without bug spray, sunscreen, water, band-aids, etc.  

Now, catch those fish!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

For the Love of Fishing, a "re-post"

At the age of three, I saw my first "cane pole".  Not long after came a complete "rod and reel outfit".    I remember looking out over the end of the last eye and off into the horizon waiting patiently for the slightest bend.  My Mom tells me that I would stand in the same spot for hours waiting ever so patiently.

My first cast net was made by my uncle in Apalachicola, FL.  I am not sure who was more proud of this beautiful four foot treasure made of nylon, lead-line, and strong smelling lacquer.   After all, I am sure this was the smallest net he had ever made.

Soon,  after practicing my throw in the thick St. Augustine grass, my parents and I were off to a week's vacation on the Gulf of Mexico.  We were renters of a cottage right on the bay with a dock that extended out into dark water. 

In preparation for fishing, I was slathered with Sea & Ski, sprayed with DEET, and tied into an over sized orange life vest that gave me whiplash and a headache.  It was to protect me if the lead-line threw me into the water.  I was more likely to break my neck than drown.  

Once on the dock, my very first throw was off.  As the net left my hands and teeth, it's shape was thin and pulled me close to the railing.  That was that!  My Mom insisted that I wade in the thick smelly mud until I mastered balance.  This did not deter my enthusiasm.  I loved everything about that day.  My Mom and Dad happy to be on vacation, the water, the sun, the mud, the shiny glistening grass, the late morning heat, and the general feeling of all is right with the world.  That day began my love for fishing. 

Along with the net, I tried various rod and reel combos; however, my first was the push button Zebco.  My patience waned with the salt and sand crippling the clicker.  So, I advanced to an open bail.  The action was pretty simple with two positions - open and closed.  I learned to cast and my bottom fishing paid off in Catfish and Whiting..  In order to catch bigger and better fish, I needed to learn THE REST:  And the rest is history.

When, Where, How, What, TO FISH..........Thank goodness this changes with the seasons, the lures, the tides, the moon, the grass, and you know the rest  - The pursuit of the best fish!

Take your child, neighbor, or a friend fishing first chance.  These memories last a lifetime.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Ten Random Reasons to Have a Canine Companion

1)  They think your burned toast is the best meal they have ever had
2)  They keep practicing those stupid dog tricks no matter what the reward
3)  They are excited to see you when you return 3 minutes later
4)  They growl at the right people and let you know to stay away
5)  They will go with you any time, any where, in any moving vehicle.

6)  They love the words ride, car, and "do you want to go?"...
7)  They don't know the difference between Monday and Saturday
8)  They are happy in Detroit or Paris
9)  They have the best bad breath you have ever loved
10) They live in the moment and don't carry a grudge