When the wayfaring writer in me gets the wanderlust and an itch to hit the road, I scratch it with a winter break in Florida. I'm not just itinerant, I'm an itinerant with an itinerary, intermittent as it may be.
There's a lot to be said for living at-large, if not living large. The best way to keep the sand outa your shoes is to change into flip flops, but try to avoid sandspurs between your toes. It's even more dangerous to "step on a pop-top and blow out your flip-flop" as Jimmy Buffett warns of life's perils in Margaritaville, a cautionary tale if you've ever sung along with one.
Nevertheless, it's pretty much the culture and a way of life around Tampa Bay, so I try to make the best of it and not let it get the best of me, a challenge at times when I'm living it to the hilt and fishing my brains out.
Living outa my van and a suitcase suits me just fine and dandy and appeals to my inner vagabond. I can't resist saying it suits my porpoises.
Holing up at the many PWF (Park-Wade-Fish) venues in the Tampa/St. Pete/Clearwater area is my main modus operandi, visit floridasbeach.com and see why. They have public parks with picnic and shoreline areas where you can wade, kayak, float-tube, fish and beachcomb to your heart's content in shorts and flip-flops, what I call Southern Comfort that goes good with iced tea or lemonade in the shade. Water and air temperatures are both in the 70s, flirting with 80, and the closest I've come to snow is a snowy egret.
"Jim always has been a cheap date," smiled WW&W saltwater fishing correspondent Amber Jack, "he's an authority on the subject and knows how to show a girl a good time, whether it's a fishin' picnic to a remote, sun-drenched beach on Honeymoon Island, or paddling over to Coffee Pot Bayou for a fancy dinner with his Keweenaw friends Karl & Candy Nousiainen."
"Kayaking is a cheap form of flats fishing, too," Amber added economically, "If you want a nice boat with a hot guide, I recommend Captain Jay Plastic, stealthadventures.com, 813-494-2048, for a fun-filled multi-species day on Tampa Bay."
I like wading these flats with fishin' buddy Bill AuCoin, who has put me onto nice fish and taught me a lot about twitchin' Mirrolures and hoppin' and poppin' a jig tipped with their soft plastic split-tail minnows. So has Eric Bachnik, who makes them and owns the company, mirrolure.com. Thanks to them and Amber, I can spot a tailing snook or red and I don't wonder what it is too long when I see a wake or a bulge on the surface.
"I keep my rod in the holder so I'm trolling the whole time I'm paddling," Amber tipped, "100 percent of the fish are caught when your line is in the water," she added profoundly, "and you never know when you're gonna get bit. Hook a good fish and he'll pull you and your kayak around trying to escape."
I'll be the first to admit it; I love the mangroves, magnolias and margaritas, I'm a visual person, and when it comes to shallow thinking, I stand guilty as charged and here's why; Both skills come in handy when you're wading and kayak fishing the warm shallows of Tampa Bay. There's lotsa uncrowded water, at least the places we go, where you can sneak up on sandy seagrass flats and oyster beds, and sight-cast to snook, specks (spotted sea trout) and redfish, with pompano, spanish mackeral and ladyfish on the side.
The place is crawling with creatures and critters to watch while the fish are ignoring you. Some are well-camouflaged and you have to keep your eyes peeled to spot them; a great blue heron working the shadowy shoreline of a mangrove island, iguanas peeking from the thicket, small water snakes, fiddler, hermit and horseshoe crabs, sea urchins, sand sharks, undulating stingrays and jellyfish. Mullet boil and glass minnows dart and dash around your ankles, seeking shelter from the predators you're fishing for nearby. Filthy cormorants and pelicans dive for the same fish, brazenly swimming just outa rod's length where you can't quite swat them.
"You never know what you're gonna see in these back bayous, including, horror of horrors, nude sunbathers," Amber added. "But they're pure bonus and part of the natural world, too; they come with the territory, another good reason to keep your binoculars handy."
In other outdoor news, Verna Equinox arrives at 7:21 pm EDT on Sunday with her ballyhooed and long-awaited first day of Spring. I know you'll all make her feel welcome and happy to be here.
Jim can be reached 24/7/365 no matter where he is at firstname.lastname@example.org.