Sunday, April 16, 2017

Bokeelia: When You're Friends With The Locals

A long running story about Bokeelia is that you have to carry a 6-pack of beer in your trunk for emergencies. Not for yourself, but in case you find yourself in a situation where you need local help...a 6-pack is usually enough to do the trick, and I have had to use that beer before!

But, on this trip, I found myself more interested in the other kinds of locals: the wildlife. I have travelled quite a bit, and this part of the country seems to have more wildlife than anywhere else I've been. One morning, I rose early and took my trusty blow-up paddleboard for a morning ride out to jug creek. While just starting down the canal, more birds than I could count flew up in front of me. I started noticing that I saw the same birds in the same places every morning, which made sense, as I have seen that animals, like people seem to keep to daily rituals. One such ritual was the daily visit from our white heron. He chased off any other birds that tried to come over to our place while we were there. I figured this was his house and he was protecting his territory. Then I noticed a few times that when we anchored somewhere, a white heron would land nearby and hang out while we fished, at least until he figured out that we weren't catching anything worthwhile. It doesn't seem that difficult to imagine that a bird that can fly, tracking the boat that is docked at his house. One day, we waded jug creek and a white heron landed a few feet away from Pam and stayed near her for about 30 minutes, catching his own fish, making us look like loser fishermen. Was it our bird?  I think so, because he didn't bother to show up at our house that evening, already knowing that we had been skunked.
This led me to think of other incidents like it. For example, every time you ride in a boat anywhere near the Four Winds Marina, a small white tern will land on your boat and hitchhike for a while. In the past, I had thought that only this species of bird has the nerve to do something like this, but now, I'm thinking it is just this one bird that does it, since I've never seen more than one at a time. If that's true, this one bird is very old, because it's been happening for over 15 years that I know of. This trip, he landed on the bow of our boat while we drove into the marina and stayed on board until we tied up at the dock to eat at the Lazy Flamingo. I guess he figured out we didn't have anything good to eat.
Another example is the dolphin at Marker 73. A lot of people know about him, and we tried to find him this trip, but I think he only comes around when you're catching fish, and we had bad luck on the one day that was calm enough wind to run out that way. We all know that dolphins are much better at fishing than we are, but either from higher intelligence or higher laziness, at least one dolphin has found a better way. He comes around your boat, playing cute until you have finally somehow tossed him all of the bait that you paid dearly for, before spending $50 in gas to drive all the way there. feel happy about it. A true con artist.
After we went home, my son stayed on and was joined by two of his friends. They found the dolphin, who got all of their bait and some of the fish they caught.
Days later they found themselves with 5 dolphins lolling around their boat, laying on their backs looking cute, and stealing all of the fish. My son said it was fun for the first hour, until they realized the dolphins weren't leaving them anything. Ok dolphins, gotta dial it back a notch.
At least the dolphins left them the beer..... 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Bokeelia: On The Boat

The main factor on this trip was the wind. There were only a couple of days where the wind let up enough to easily navigate Charlotte Harbor. Most of the time, we were creeping up and down the mangrove waterways that were sheltered from the wind. That was a little tricky, since those spots are very shallow and we were in Dusty's big boat that can't handle the skinny water like the flats boats we were used to. We did find some great spots out of the wind, but one adventure that I will remember forever was creeping up on the oyster bar, finding it in the shadow of the main island and wading the bar with Dusty.

The water was cold and even the little bit of wind that we did get was enough to keep me shivering while we quietly stalked the redfish that were nowhere to be found. About halfway through our walk, the wind shifted and we were suddenly in thigh-deep cold water with a 30 mph wind blowing whitecaps on us. I recall getting into the boat, and laying on the bottom for about a half hour trying to get April in Florida!
We did find the fish that day. In fact, we spent the last part of the day pulling in one snook after another at the inlet to Jug Creek. We knew that things had changed when the trash talking began. I do not abide by such things, except to say that I won biggest fish, best fish, and most fish. My son, as befitting his generation, got a participation trophy. My wife is still contesting the results....

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Living On Island Time....sorta

Pine Island,'s a strange place. It seems that people always want it to be something that it is not quite. Is it a quaint little getaway with palm trees, drinks with little umbrellas, and sand beaches with lazy people? Is it a growing community of fancy beach houses where the rich can enjoy the view, or is it a haven for rough rednecks escaping the life of the city? For as long as I can remember, I have referred to Pine Island as the "redneck Sanibel Island". Once populated by hardcore commercial fishermen, and now by tourists, it is truly a strange mix of the old and new. There is quite possibly no where you can go on this island that is open to the public. Almost every single spot has some kind of price tag on it. In fact one long running scam used to be at the public boat ramp on the island. A woman used to stay there in a chair and collect a boat ramp fee from the folks that came to use the ramp. The only problem was the ramp belongs to the county and she was keeping the money for herself!
Like most islands, there are people that showed up with money, and then there is everybody else trying to scrape out a living from the tourists. This trip, we were staying in an old house that was built for a commercial fisherman back in the early 1960's and has been remodeled and fixed up for vacationing sport fishing folks. It's a tiny house with really nice things in the kitchen, fancy TV, wifi, giant boat lift and all of the nice things a boater could want on vacation. Our neighbor across the canal is a real crabtrap guy, getting up early every day and heading out with his traps and flock of friendly birds. He looks very rough, but is actually quite nice and my son made friends straight away.

Where the wheels come off this "island-time" thing is that I think there are now a lot of people that live on the island and work on the mainland. I can find no other explanation of why you would come all the way out to the middle of nowhere, 10 miles from the nearest gas station, and then drive 50 miles an hour down neighborhood streets. I see this quite a bit, almost bits of road rage as the locals seem frustrated by slow driving old tourists. I keep thinking "you're here...where are you going?"

Monday, April 10, 2017

Why You Don't Need Pet Birds In Bokeelia

Renting a place in Bokeelia is an adventure all by itself. This trip, my son found an old house on a canal that had been renovated. It was really perfect for our needs. The owners had taken an old 60's two bedroom house that had probably been built for a net fisherman and modernized the place with a great deck and boat setup. In fact, the boat lift and accessories were everything you could want for keeping your boat there.

For me, and added bonus was the daily visit from a local white heron. I was quite startled the first time I saw him peeking in our back door, but Pam and I both soon realized that this was more his house than it was ours. Something I've noticed about my birds and this guy, was that birds can have a preference for people at first meeting. This guy preferred my wife and she was beaming about that, since she has never been able to get Bogey, our parrot at home, to be nice to her. This heron, whenever he saw Pam, he went running over to her...and I'm the guy with the food! The strangest thing was, I had the distinct impression that bird would have walked right into the house behind Pam if we left the door open.

You may think that this was some kind of odd relationship, but even more interesting, was our neighbor across the canal. Canal living is a very different thing. You sit out on the back porch, and your entertainment is what your neighbor is up to. Our neighbor was the real deal. A junky old house, junky old yard, junky old boats, crab traps everywhere. His old beat up pick truck had a hand lettered sign on the back, in the fashion of those signs that proclaim that Jesus is Coming! His sign said, If you must drive 10 miles under the speed limit, pull over, park and walk. So much for laid back island living!
The thing about this guy, was that he looked kind of like me, after being marooned on a desert island for 7 years and spending most of my time with my BFF coconut.
One day, I sat sipping  a cup of coffee, watching while he cleaned up his catch of the day and he was surrounded by great birds. There must have been 10 of them hanging all about and to top that off, he had a cat wandering around the yard. Nobody seemed to mind each other, they just got along.

I'd love to have some photos of this....perhaps that is a job best left to the wife....

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Getting Back To Bokeelia

It's been way too long. The whole southwest Florida area seemed to have troubles with Red Tide, but we finally got to the point where we had to find out firsthand if that would still be a problem for Pam with her allergy issues. And we were glad we did. We happened to arrive on a low wind day and got our kayak in the water as soon as possible.

First thing to note about this gas mileage ever! We got 29.5 miles a gallon in the turbo Veloster, pulling a Yakima kayak trailer. The car was filled to the brim with our stuff. I was driving using the Eco-minder program, but I believe the main difference was that I removed the roof racks and brought an inflatable paddleboard instead. The practical difference was that back in the old days when I drove a truck pulling a boat, was that I'd have to stop 3/4 of the way and fill up the 20 gallon tank where on this trip, I still had half a tank of gas in a 13 gallon car when we pulled up at our destination. It is amazing how much better it makes you feel to save that much.

The water was a light green and about as clear as it gets. Lots of boats out and when you are in a kayak, you worry about the driving skills of the people behind the wheels of those boats. We decided that on our first trip, we'd head to the oyster bar and see if fishing boats were all over it. It turned out that only one boat pulled up, engine roaring, right where we stealthily paddled up to seek the elusive redfish.

Pam saw that the fishing guide had a boat full of eager clients, and he immediately started chumming. She decided that we should get right up next to their boat to take advantage of the chummed water, something I would never suggest, but in this case, it worked. Fortunately, I had brought along our best heavy duty rods, because my line started singing and for the next 10 minutes I had a great fight from the redfish in the photo above. It is a miracle that we even have a photograph, as Pam struggled to find the phone and figure out how to work the camera while I worried about the fish slipping out of my grasp. We had a fantastic audience mere feet away....watching the pro guy with a tuna tower boat, and his paying customers watching a couple of old folks in a kayak catch the fish they were after. I caught two more fish before I heard the roar of the tuna tower boat, heading off to find somewhere else...Pam requested that I remind everyone that I was merely the pole that caught the fish...SHE put us on the fish, SHE took the photograph.

The best news is that we are still happily married after that a tandem kayak. I was on such a high from the redfish catch. My son had just texted me hours before, saying I'd better start producing some proof that I still knew how to fish...and I made very sure that photo was on it's way to him before we got back to the house.

I was in such a good mood going back, that I barely noticed that the tide had started running strongly in the opposite direction. The one hour trip to the oyster bar turned into a two hour trip back home...and the whole way was punctuated by my wife's insistence that I was "pussy-paddling". She requested a rear-view mirror so she can keep an eye on how hard I'm working behind her.

Sitting behind her, sometimes, it's kind of hard to make out what she is saying. That seems to work well for us....