Editor’s Note: Past and future issues of CatfishNow have focused, in this column, on Why We Catfish. This month’s column reaches a little further because many catfish anglers like to fish for other species too, and most have that place they love the most. Something tells me that many of you will connect with what Tammy Wilson sees and feels as she writes about her beloved Indian River Lagoon.
To say that I have known waters would be to understate the entire reason for my very existence. I have trekked through swamps searching fish in places most avoid and perched on rocks jutting from cliff faces with a spey rod on the island’s most famed steelhead river in the dead of winter.
I have hiked through deserts and caught bejeweled trout in tiny rivers with dusty boots. I have ridden horseback into the Smokies with fly rod on my back chasing wild brook trout and fished the docks of the crappie capital of the world with minners and bobbers.
I have slipped on rocks and sunk in mud in waters from New Jersey down the east coast to Florida, over to Texas, over to Baja, up to San Francisco, Oregon, Vancouver Island and on to Alaska. I have hiked to the trout stream in the mountains of Costa Rica where parrots and quetzels fly over spooky giant rainbow trout, stocked many years ago from the infamous McLeod River and left to go wild. It’s a scene out of your wildest fantasy.
I have fished the McLeod, for that matter, having one of the most incredible days an angler could hope for, all on dry flies, out fishing my guide five fish to one all day long during a snowstorm. I have wet lines in 42 of these United States and five foreign countries. I know waters. I have seen and loved them all. I have wild crazy one night stands with some of them and managed long term relationships with others. Waters have come and gone from my life, it’s fair to say.
I’ve only ever had one soul mate though. It is the place I found on a map at a time in my life when I needed a refuge. It’s where I would eventually learn to drive, learn to fish, learn to fly fish, learn to love and learn to live.
Miles and miles of dirt roads, alongside miles and miles of lagoon just filled with the unknown and adventure and most all, a refuge. As soon as I absolutely could, I ran far and fast from it and spent the rest of my days longing for it.
It’s a place where many an adventure took place, many lessons were learned, many dues were paid. A place where some people back in the day said a woman had no place with a fly rod. A place where I would eventually find some of the most influential people that would come into my life and help to ultimately set me forth in search of my passion to fish.
I can’t say enough about those men – men I respect and love and cherish my friendship with to this day.
I have met my share of anglers along the way. I still talk to many of them. I have learned more from the world’s people than a person could ever hope to learn in a lifetime. I also learned about fishing from them.
I fished alongside some of the best the angling world has to offer. I have fumbled and I have prevailed. Hell, I even overcame the odds once in a while. I have humbled and have been humbled. But there is only one place on this earth that I have found, so far, that humbles me regularly and more deeply than the canyons of the ocean floor. It is a place where eagles soar, gators hunt, dolphins play and during the hottest months of the year, the very water that supports all of the life of all the world that I care to know glows. It glows.
Paddling through the bioluminescence is by far one of the most profound and thought provoking experiences a person can have without the use of hallucinogens. To see the water light up and glow as your paddle moves through it. Giant schools of mullet form underwater meteor showers and dolphins light up the water like fireworks on the Fourth of July.
One has to question everything after witnessing such a thing. I have lived through several presidents, seen wars come and go, seen men launched into outer space and seen photographs of other planets in my time on earth.
I have witnessed the northern lights and witnessed the sun go down at the edge of the world. But a simple algae, a life form so simple and so perfect and so impactful is what humbles me the most. My church is in my kayak, on the water, watching the sun come up on the lagoon, but nothing makes one find religion like the bright luminescent swirling waters caused by a single celled organism.
The Indian River Lagoon is dying. It’s the place on this earth where my soul feels like it’s home. Being on its waters is where I am comfortable, like a baby nestled under a soft blanket of fog on those fall mornings on the south Mosquito Lagoon.
There are days when I start feeling like the grass is growing under my feet and my initial instinct is to do as I would have done before coming home, and I’d run. My gypsy soul wants to go love other rivers, but the local girl part of me feels like I can’t really leave an old friend in its worst time of need.
I am more committed then ever to getting trash out of there. I will do it alone, I will do it with a partner or I will do it with a group. I’m not picky. Trash war has started.
And, I will still be involved with the Hook Kids on Fishing Programs in the north end of Brevard County sharing my passion for fishing and conservation with kids, because love is a two-way street. The lagoon loves me, and it shows it in so many ways. I must find ways to show my love back. One trash bag a week for me. It may not seem like much to others who speak louder or feel they do more, and that is ok. You love it in your way and I’ll love it mine. There are enough ways to love it to go around. And, we need all kinds of people loving it in many different ways. How will you give back to river that has given you so much?
Epilogue: Tammy and her fishing buddies Tom Van Horn and Ron Suttles are cofounders of the Annual Charity Toy Rod Catfish Tournament on the St. Johns River near Geneva, FL. She reports that she came up with the idea while crappie fishing with Tom and Ron. She challenges other communities to come up with their own version of the tournament as a way to give back in their part of the world.
This column is provided for reader submitted editorials on Why We Catfish. If you have a short story related to why you catfish, you may submit it for consideration and publication in a future issue of CatfishNow. Send submissions of 500 words or less and one or two photos to Ron Presley at firstname.lastname@example.org.