We’d get up around four in the morning to make the long drive from Miami to Key Largo. The john-boat was loaded with coolers, soda, beer and sandwiches. If you’ve ever read Pogo, you know what a john-boat looks like. About fourteen feet long, it sported a squared off prow and three bench seats. Made of aluminum, it was designed for fishing the flats. Like those in Florida Bay within the Everglades National Park. And the shallow waters along the mangrove swamps in the Florida Keyes. The name of our craft was proudly painted on its side. “The Honorable Walaby T. Flirch”.
It had a platform forward where one would stand with a long pole, if one was stalking the wary bonefish. But no poling today. Today our quarry was the fearsome barracuda. We hitched up the Wallaby and headed south. Along the way, we stopped at a Florida City bait shop for a supply of mullet. It wasn’t long before we were streaking along the Seven Mile Bridge. The sunrise never disappointed us.
The course through the mangroves was well marked. As always, the pelicans were plentiful. Occasionally one would perform its daredevil dive, resurfacing with a snapper tucked in its pouch, then the expected backward toss of its head, gulping down the flapping fish. At last the mangroves parted and we were in the Atlantic. It was smooth and calm, the reefs off-shore absorbing the waves, We paused here to ready our equipment and prepare the mullet. We skinned the fish and cut it into long strips. These we would hook to the end of a six inch spoon. Barracuda were suckers for anything shiny and they would follow the scent of the mullet strip from far off. We trolled along the edge of the mangroves where snapper would dash in and out among the roots. A favorite cruising ground for the barracuda.
The strike at the spoon was savage, and the water exploded. The barracuda made long, line squealing runs, then danced on its tail in the shallow water. We were lucky. Each of us caught at least one fish. It was a productive morning. And it was time for lunch. We stayed off shore a bit to avoid the mosquitoes that swarmed within the mangroves dense foliage.
Soon, we resumed our trolling. It was Don who first noticed the fisherman wading along the edge of the swamp. He was about two hundred yards north of us. This was a hardy soul. Not a boat in sight, he was no doubt dropped off with arrangements for a pick-up later in the day. He was a fly-fisherman and a damn good one. His line was poetry as it swirled above him. Don steered our boat out to sea and gave him a wide berth. returning to our troll a good distance beyond him.
That evening, when we returned to the ramp, the dock master handed us a piece of paper. It was a hand written note. It read, “In all my years as a fisherman, that was the most gentlemanly act I have ever experienced. Thank you”. It was signed, “Ted Williams”.