Big thrills the inexpensive way along the Keys
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MARATHON, Fla. — One doesn't have to possess a checking account loaded with scads of zeros to have a wonderful day on the water here.
I have been preaching that you can "go on the cheap" to South Florida and have the time of your life.
Even though I have chased tarpon inshore on the eastern coastlines of Costa Rica and Nicaragua, I still enjoy the special times I can spend ankle deep, throwing flies in warm, caressing saltwater 50 yards from where I plunked down my blanket on a Florida beach.
Every time my wife and I make the trip to the Florida Keys we purchase a Styrofoam cooler so we can have a picnic in one of the great state parks along the Overseas Highway in the Keys.
Having those chilled turkey sandwiches and some fresh Florida fruit is almost as good as having a big bowl of stone crabs and cold ale.
Of course, my main reason for being here is to sight-fish the ultra-shallow flats for bonefish, snook, permit, barracuda and tarpon. By the way, the term "flats" simply means there is hardly any variation in the bottom, and an absence of weed line structure.
And because I am addicted to going after these superstrong swimmers with a fly rod, once I hook a fish my heart starts a rapid beating action that echoes in my ears.
Just imagine yourself slowly navigating the sand bottom flats area, carefully scanning the surface for signs of a bonefish tail. Maybe you'll be lucky to catch the act of an ocean theater with a tarpon rolling on the surface, or see the tails of permit heads down, with their noses plowing up the sand for food. Crabs rarely stand a chance when these fish are on the prowl for a meal.
I would suspect this entire scenario would make Zoo Parade's Marlin Perkins (circa 1957) green with envy.
And because I have lived this dream for countless years, it is ingrained in to my soul as part of my happy-go-lucky life.
While here, I've introduced myself to hundreds of anglers from all across the United States who also know about the magic of the Keys. They also have learned that the solitude of roaming a flats area has no equal. Even after an afternoon of searching comes up dry — no fish, no hits, and certainly no lost strikes — one returns to land fully satiated by the sheer majesty of Florida's wildness.
The next day can be totally different.
I suddenly see a 5-foot long tarpon pouncing on baitfish. I strip off fly line and make a long cast, forcing the fly to land a foot in front of the beast.
The tarpon sees the fly, ignores it, continues to gobble small baitfish, and then changes its mind about my beautifully adorned meal on a hook. The fish inhales it — and what a rush as the battle is on.
Twenty minutes later I bring the monster to my knees. The energy has been drained from my body. Perspiration cascades off me like a waterfall. I work hard to revive the great silver king, and watch it twist and twitch as I hold on to its tail.
Then off it goes to deeper water.
I, on the other hand, slowly trudged my way back to the beach, barely able to stand, and collapse on the blanket.
Mission accomplished, all for the price of an entry fee to get into this wonderful state park.
•Contact Mike Jackson at email@example.com, and catch his radio show 6-7 a.m. Sundays on WSBC 1240-AM and live-streamed at www.mikejacksonoutdoors.com.
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