In a sport known for lies, one of the biggest fibs is put forth by fishermen who have caught nothing.
"Oh, it's great just to be out in nature," they say. Of course there is some truth to that statement, but when we fish, all of us want to catch something. You can certainly put me in that latter category, but every now and then the beauty and wonder of the natural world will surpass my desire for fishing fun.
My kayak has really added to my enjoyment of the wild. When I bought that little hunk of plastic about two and a half years ago, I wasn't positive it would be up to the challenge of floating me into the new fishing grounds that I hoped for. The very first day I took the Green Peanut out I left my fishing rod at home and launched it into Below Creek near High Bridge. It really is against my nature to be on the water without fishing gear, but my confidence level in the kayak was sorely lacking.
That first launch did not go very well. It was winter and the water was cold. I found out I could not get into the Peanut without getting my feet wet. Once in the thing, I was pretty wobbly. As I began to paddle, I shook my head in the negative. This was not a good beginning. Working to find my center of gravity I was constantly close to tipping over. Before long I was about a quarter mile back into the swamp in a narrow canal. At that moment the jury was still out on whether I would be a kayaker or not.
Just then something happened. I heard a loud grunt come from up ahead. As a hunter, I knew right away that it was a wild hog. Looking back I am forever grateful to that pig for diverting my attention from my unsteadiness. Now, I was stalking an unsuspecting animal. Just up ahead a big boar was rooting along the edge of the canal. Notoriously nearsighted, I knew if I could approach quietly enough I would be able to pull right alongside. With great stealth, I was soon no more than 20 feet from the big boy. I could see the large teeth that jutted menacingly upward from its lower jaw and watch its tail wag when it discovered a buried treat. I forgot I was even in the Green Peanut. Finally it sniffed the wind and knew I was there. As it trotted away, I was left with a mental photograph that is still vivid to this day.
Now years later I was fishing in much the same area. The kayak is now my trusted friend and an almost constant companion. On this chilly winter morning, I noticed something diving up ahead. I assumed it to be cormorants and paid little attention, but as I drew closer I heard the telltale snort of river otters.
The Below Creek area maintains a healthy population of otters and it is not unusual to see them. As animals will do, they spotted me long before I was close enough to be a threat. I stopped paddling and drifted toward the three fury frolickers. As the mature otters dove and swam about, it was clear their curiosity was getting the better of them. Often they would stop what they were doing to cock their heads and stare at me. With all three submerged, I waited to see where they might surface. Plop! Plop! Plop! Three heads came up right alongside the Peanut. They were so close I could have touched them with my paddle. They all looked at me and then at each other. It was as if they were seeking reassurance I meant no harm. As they tilted their heads and stared, their bright eyes glowed as the water dripped from their big bushy mustaches. I was thrilled to see them. On a given signal they all submerged and reappeared on the opposite side of my boat. Trying to get a different perspective I suppose.
After this staring session lasted a good 30 seconds I whispered "looking for company fellows?" That didn't seem to frighten them, but soon one gave a loud snort and away they went. As they motored away, they would stop every few feet and look back at me. Still unsure if I was friend or foe..
I went on to have a good day fishing and landed and released five red fish but the memory I will keep from that day won't be about fishing.
Dan Smith has fished the waters of Volusia County for more than 40 years. Email questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, "I Swear the Snook Drowned," is available for $10.95 at (386) 441-7793.