Tilapia fishing

WaterLine file photo by Patti Allen

Capt. Ralph with a fat Babcock tilapia — definitely something to be grateful for, especially after it’s been breaded and dropped in hot oil.

I think most folks would agree that things have been crazy for the last year or two. There has been so much hardship and contention and discord that it’s been easy for some of us to lose sight of the good stuff in our lives.

But it’s therapeutic to reflect on those good things, so on this Thanksgiving Day I am going enlist the readers as my sounding board as I share a few of the things for which I am thankful.

I am thankful that I am part of a wonderful family. I have a remarkably patient and understanding wife who puts up with most of my nonsense with amazing grace, only occasionally calling me out for some of my more dramatic screw-ups. I have two outstanding daughters who are exceedingly smart, capable kids. Except that they are no longer kids, they are mature young women.

My parents are doing well mentally and physically, although they have reached an age where that’s no longer guaranteed. I have a batch of sisters, nephews, nieces and grand-nephews and grand-nieces, all of whom live close enough that we can get together easily. I am also thankful for my mother-in-law, sister-in-law and niece-in-law who live up in Canada (even though they talk funny, eh).

I am thankful that I have been able to make my living in a family business which allows me to be on or around the water almost every day. I am very thankful and constantly surprised that our business has survived for more than 40 years in spite of hurricanes, recessions, housing bubbles, a pandemic and assorted other crises.

I am very, very thankful that I live in Southwest Florida. I’ve been fortunate to have been able to travel around the country quite a bit over the years. I’ve seen some cool places but have not yet found anywhere that I would rather call home. Here are a few of the reasons:

Our weather is incredible, especially for those of us who don’t do cold temperatures very well. Yes, there are weather problems here (who really likes hurricane season?), but I expect to be wearing shorts next month when many of our countrymen will be layering their winter-wear and scraping ice off windshields.

The fishing in Southwest Florida is simply amazing. There are so many places to fish, so many species of fish to target and so many different habitats to explore in both fresh and salt water that anglers can spend years trying to experience it all.

Saltwater fishing in the estuary can target panfish such and trout and mangrove snapper, mid-sized gamefish such as snook and redfish, or trophy-sized sportfish such as tarpon and big sharks. Fishing out in the Gulf adds an entirely new dimension and scads more target fish. There are so many species of fish on the offshore reefs that it’s common to land a dozen or more from a single spot.

And if all this doesn’t offer enough variety to keep us interested, the freshwater fishing here is excellent too. We forget that Florida is so renowned for big bass that our fish have been exported to other states which hope to add our “big fish” genetics to their stocks.

Residents and visitors can find many other things to do in the outdoors besides fishing. Boating is a year-round thing here for those who prefer to cruise or sail. There are several wildlife management areas within an hour’s drive of almost everyone who reads this column, including the huge Babcock/Webb area just south of Punta Gorda, an 80,000-acre public property which is home to one of the most popular public gun ranges in Florida.

Birdwatching, cycling, kayaking, hiking and outdoor photography are all popular pastimes here, and they can all be experienced year round. During the fall and winter months, there are lots of local hunting opportunities, including seasons for doves, snipe (yes, that’s a real thing), quail, ducks, turkeys, deer and others.

But mostly, I like the people here. Even though our community has grown rapidly in the last half-century and continues to do so, it still does not have a “big city” feel.

Sometimes people lament the fact that there are so many transplants living here and so few natives, but I think there is an upside to that. Most of the people you’ll encounter are here because they chose to move here because they fell in love with the area. In most cases they’re here because they were attracted to the area by the same things that attract me.

Sure, there are some poo-poo heads among us, but compared to most other places that I have been they are relatively few in number. Overall, this is a wonderful community, and I am thankful that I can be a part of it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Capt. Ralph Allen runs the King Fisher Fleet of sightseeing and fishing charter boats located at Fishermen’s Village in Punta Gorda. He is an award-winning outdoor writer and photographer, and is a past president of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association. Contact him at 941-639-2628 or Captain@KingFisherFleet.com.

Capt. Ralph Allen runs the King Fisher Fleet of sightseeing and fishing charter boats located at Fishermen’s Village in Punta Gorda. He is an award-winning outdoor writer and photographer, and is a past president of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association. Contact him at 941-639-2628 or Captain@KingFisherFleet.com.

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