Dateline: July 2, 2014 – Tampa, Florida
Shakespeare can make almost anything sound classy, but we’ll let you be the judge of that.
There was still plenty of fishing to do – and plenty of driving. Florida is a big state, and I had completely misjudged how wide it is east to west. This gave me plenty of time in the back seat of the Ford Escape to contemplate life and what I had learned from this road trip. When I got bored with thinking, I could always put ice down Martini’s back. That never got old.
We bought Martini a new hat. I am sure he treasures it.
Martini had a lot planned for Florida. In the panhandle, he had scoped out several creeks that held both micros and an interesting assortment of larger creatures – exotic bass and redhorse species. On June 30, after a hearty Taco Bell breakfast, we opened up at a small river, miles from any civilization. (How DOES he find these places?) By 9am, it was still and hot, reminding me of humid summer days at Lake Huron with my family back in the 1970s.
Typical river scenery in north Florida. Bring the bug repellent. And remember to start spraying it on OUTSIDE the car. Sorry about that, guys.
We cast around some fallen trees, and after a false start from a channel catfish, I got a hard bite and a solid new species – the blacktail redhorse. Martini also found some blackspotted topminnows, which I eventually caught, putting a second species on the board. After an hour or so, we headed for the car.
The blacktail redhorse. Even Kyle didn’t get one.
The savage blackspotted topminnow.
It was a couple of hours to the next spot, and I contemplated Martini and Kyle – the generation that would be running America sooner or later. Every generation likes to believe it is the last good generation, and that all subsequent generations are doomed to failure. I am guilty of this. (In my defense, read the 1000fish episode HERE.) But for a lot of the trip, unusually for me, I did a lot of listening. Here were two 21 year-olds, smart guys, from good families, either just graduated from or finishing good colleges.
I hearkened back to what I was worried about when I was 21, and I found that the basics were pretty much the same. The same no idea what’s really next in life, the same dynamics with friends, grad school, girls, either sorting out a relationship or trying to get into one.
The smart phone has changed things quite a bit. When I was in college, as long as we could take the camera and destroy the film, most of our bad decisions were lost in the hazes of time. Today, acts of stupidity are viral on the internet before the goat regains consciousness. It’s scary.
So this generation isn’t doomed, it just has a different set of rules than mine did – no better, no worse, same problems, maybe even more uncertainty. Just as what seems like ordinary technology to them sometimes seems space age to me, what seems ordinary for them will seem old-fashioned to their children. About the only things that have stayed the same are baseball and fishing, and that’s good enough for me.
We moved to a boat launch on another river, where Martini bagged a rarity – the grayfin redhorse. This species has yet to be formally described by scientists, but appears to be a unique redhorse that occupies a number of rivers in northern Florida.
Martini and his grayfin. I didn’t catch one, but neither did Kyle or Jaime.
Just as Martini was photographing this creature, Kyle somehow caught a nice bowfin. Ironic that the least experienced among us would catch the largest fish of the day.
We get it, Kyle. Enough already. I guess that week at the “Jaime Hamamoto Academy of Fishing to Irritate Steve” really paid off.
We closed the day out fishing from a campground on some unpronounceable river. Fishing here was not spectacular, except when Kyle got a nice catfish.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
I got mostly micro-stuff in the river margins, but I have learned through bitter experience to photograph EVERYTHING that looks even a bit like a new species, and weeks later, I discovered that I had gotten both a weed shiner and a dollar sunfish – two ounces of pure joy.
The dollar sunfish. I think it cost me more than that.
The weed shiner. If you were expecting any shame about this, you must be a new reader. Welcome!
There was barbecue for dinner that night. Martini is a connoisseur of barbecue, and apparently, the more sketchy the place looks, the better the food is. That certainly held true in this case, as I was convinced that we were going into a condemned building used only for freelance pharmaceutical deals, but the food turned out to be fantastic. Although we each ordered different combos, we all got beans, apparently for self-defense.
In the morning, we hit the road for Manatee Springs. I like Manatees. (More details HERE.) It hit me that in three weeks of driving, we had never once turned on the radio. We had put on specific songs from iPods, found a bunch of comedy that kept us going in dull moments, but mostly, we had just talked.
Just as “Playboys of the Southwestern World” opens with “This is a song about best friends,” Kyle and Martini are best friends. These two know each other as well as you can, and the stories they had together, from high school and after, kept me laughing almost every night of the trip. (Don’t worry, I won’t rat you out for destroying the machine shop door with the air cannon. Of course, the one about the white swimsuit is coming out at your wedding, Kyle – if anyone is silly enough to give me the microphone.)
I got the sense that they knew these stories were important even now – these are the sorts of things we men write on our cave walls. But I also wondered if they knew how much more important these stories would become later in life, as a link to what most of us remember as the most carefree years of our lives. I thought about the links I have to my past, some firm, some tenuous, and how much they all mean.
Manatee Springs is one of those horrible places that is so beautiful that it distracts from the important stuff, like fishing. Additionally, the water was crystal clear, which meant that we could see the fish, but which also meant that the fish could see us. So even though the place was stuffed with spotted suckers, we could not get them to bite.
Manatee Springs. It’s clear.
I would have stuck this out indefinitely, because I am pointlessly stubborn, and Martini and Kyle pretty much had to drag me out. My only consolation prize – a coastal shiner, small, but a new species.
The coastal shiner. At least more attractive than the weed shiner, possibly because Martini took the photo.
Martini began feeling a bit off, and by evening, it was clear he had some sort of actual flu, a legitimate, non-self-inflicted illness, not to imply that the morning after New Orleans was anything but Bird Flu of course.
We hit the road again, found some sort of less-than-memorable hotel, struggled through another batch of pulled pork, and went to sleep.
June 2, the last day of the trip, broke sunny and breezy. We had one major target – the spottail pinfish, a resident of the Tampa area. We also took a shot at some exotics on the way in, in locations as diverse as drainage ditches and apartment decorative ponds, but nothing showed. Martini’s flu had blossomed into something miserable. He toughed it out as he always does, but it was also clear that he felt awful. He rested in the shade while Kyle and I fished off an embankment. After an assortment of wrasses, I finally got my pinfish.
The spottail pinfish – my 22nd and final species of the trip.
Kyle then got a nice gag grouper. Ironic that the least experienced of us would catch the only gamefish of the day.
Enough already. Seriously.
My final fish of the trip – an Atlantic sharpnose shark that will be positively monstrous when it gets bigger.
We then headed for Tampa airport, where I would stay overnight and catch an early flight home. I would be back in California in time for July 4th festivities. Marta showed me how much she missed me by sending sly, romantic texts like “Feel free to stay another week.”
It was a short but quiet run over the airport. I thought back to my college road trips, with Gurns, and Tim the goalie, and Mike, and Dane, and Cary Mock, who once got me up at 2am to go to Camp Far West in the hope of catching a large smallmouth. Instead, we got exactly one small largemouth.
That’s me and Cary, 1985 or so, trying to recover from the drive. Damn we were good-looking.
There were the insane weekend runs to San Francisco with Frank Lopez, returning just in time to attend class on Monday – with more than one term paper written on a manual typewriter in the passenger seat of his Datsun 210. I still know some of those guys, some have drifted into the pre-internet oblivion, but I remember them all.
That’s me and Frank, circa 1982, and I still think I look cool in that hat. The horrible thing is that this photo was NOT taken on a moving day – our room just looked like that.
I thought of how long ago that all was, and how lucky I was to get a chance to just be on the open road again with great friends, and accepted not as the old guy but just as another one of the guys. It’s what we live for, and I was grateful to have the chance one more time.
I got my gear out at the Marriott, the guys headed off for Miami, and like that, the great road trip of 2014 had come to a conclusion. It had been two weeks that went by like two days; 4400 miles of driving, ten states, four world records, silliness, seriousness, stupidity, and I had added 22 species. Some I had wanted for a long time, some I had never heard of, but mostly, I was happy to just be along for the ride.
Sitting upstairs in the hotel, I took some of the notes that ended up as the six episodes you have just suffered through, and even then, I knew I needed to close with some poetry that summed up the experience. Obviously, I wouldn’t write it myself, because I am a disastrous poet, but I thought of the many artists whose poetry had taken some part in our 14 days of adventure. Several came to mind but weren’t quite right – Simon and Garfunkel, Blake Shelton, even Taylor Swift … so we will give this one to Shakespeare.
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered –
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers