For me, New Year’s Eve is usually just a normal day, with part of it relegated to preparation for a New Year’s Eve bash, innocuous bowl games, then the following morning’s “resolution work out” and Rose Parade viewing. I had a guide trip cancel, so I was just going to hang out at home, do chores and watch some of the Taxslayer Bowl or the all-important Redbox Bowl on TV.
Thank goodness I got a call from Caren Haiken. Caren wanted me to take her two teenage boys out fishing if I was available. I told her that would be no problem, and that I’d pick them up at 8:30 in the morning.
As I prepped the boat the night before the trip, I started to wonder what the two brothers would be like to deal with on the boat. All I knew is that their names were Alex and Adam. Alex is 19 and fly fishes and Adam is 16 and spin fishes. Would they be like so many young people today (including my grandkids) and have to have their cellphones surgically removed from their hand in order to make a cast? Would they be wild and unruly? Maybe they would be shy and painfully non-communicative. Could they fish at all? No matter: It always works out.
I got to the ramp, dropped the boat in, tied off at the dock and was tying up a couple of leaders when the boys walked down to the boat. Both were dressed like a magazine picture of a modern day fisherman with the vented shirts, buffs and sunglasses. They were each carrying a bag of snacks in one hand and in the other hand … a cellphone.
Introductions were made and they climbed on board. The two of them were talking together up on the bow as I was stowing snacks in the stern. The next thing that happened almost made me fall out of the boat. They each handed me their cellphones and Alex said, “Can you put these somewhere dry; we only want to see these if we need to take a picture.”
Needless to say I was overjoyed and put the phones along with mine in dry storage. I thought to myself, ‘I’ve just witnessed a miracle … teenagers willingly giving up their cellphones!’ That’s when I knew this was going to be a good day.
Now to find out if they could cast and fish. I ran them up into the backcountry and found a good spot out of the wind. I handed Alex a fly rod and Adam a spinning rod and explained the rules of a spin / fly trip to each of them, then told them to go to work.
As I watched from up on the poling platform, I was impressed by their skills with the different rods. Alex was casting a nice loop with the fly rod and Adam handled the spinning rod like a pro. The first shoreline didn’t produce for us, so we made a move.
On the way to our next spot, they were asking me about the red tide and the Okeechobee green algae problem that we have been plagued with this past year. They seemed to know a lot about our problems down here for northern visitors. Turns out they are from Fort Myers, and many of their fishing spots back in canals and shallow water had been left lifeless like some of ours.
As we fished, they both asked questions about the damage to the fisheries that we have sustained and made comments about hoping that our government will finally step in and make a difference in handling our many issues that we have regarding our water situation.
Holy cow! Am I lost in the twilight zone? These two teenagers willingly gave me their cellphones, they can cast, love to fish and they are concerned about some of the major problems with our water that we are dealing with day to day here in Southwest Florida. Maybe the youth of today isn’t going to hell in the proverbial handbasket after all!
As the morning progressed, the fishing and catching got better. I gave Alex a couple of casting tips about not rotating his rod tip out of plane to help make him more consistent on his presentations. He took a few minutes working on it. I think it sunk in that he needed to keep the rod tip tracking in the same plane to throw a straight accurate cast, because his cast became more consistent.
Then it happened: A bucket list fish. No, it wasn’t a giant snook, a tarpon or a nice redfish. It was a sheepshead. Let me backtrack. Literally two minutes prior to the bite, Alex was telling me that he had never caught a sheepshead on a fly. He told me he had been trying a long time, just to have them ignore his fly or blow out from being spooked.
It just so happens I found a little school of nice sheepies, he made an accurate presentation with a shrimp pattern I had tied on — and voila, a sheepshead on fly! Alex had a great big smile on his face and Adam was excited for him.
It was great watching brothers interact with each other like this. Don’t get me wrong; they made fun of each other with jokes, stories and cuts like most siblings do, but all was in good fun.
They took it upon themselves to take turns on the bow for the best spot for casting. Adam kept throwing soft plastics on a jig alternating with a topwater plug (next time, Adam will learn to throw the fly) and was quietly catching trout, ladyfish, snook and redfish.
I think the boys caught eight or nine different species of fish that morning. We took shots at some big snook and a large red, and caught some nice trout, snook, reds and jacks — but for them, a sheepie stole the show. For me, the boys were the show!
The cellphones came out only for a few pics and to let Mom and Dad know that we were going to stay out a little longer than we had planned. As for me, I missed The Famous Cheez-It Bowl or whatever, but I felt like I’d been part of something much more significant.
Capt. Rex Gudgel is a fly fishing guide in the Boca Grande area and an International Federation of Fly Fishers Master Certified casting instructor. If you’d like to get casting lessons, book a trip or just need more fly fishing info, contact him at 706-254-3504 or visit BocaGrandeSlamFlyFishing.com or CastWithRex.com.