As happens with all journeys, a few hours into the very beginning of our road trip, I realized what I had forgotten to bring. In this case, it was my fishing rod, which I had been talking with my father about for a week but never packed. Fortunately, he was able to mail it to our friends' house in Jacksonville, so that I could pick it up at Thanksgiving. Buying another rod en route was not an option, it would be like a Jedi who left his light saber behind just 'picking up another sword'. It was built custom by my father, for me, and bears an inscription to prove it. A Sesta fishing rod is not just gear, it is an artifact of deep personal attachment, and great ancestral power. Thanks to Dad for sending it and our friends for signing for an 8- foot PVC tube!
.My first chance to fish was the Florida Keys. Florida has separate fishing licenses for fresh and salt water, and they are not cheap for non-residents, so I intend to get some use out of it. After perusing YouTube videos by Keys pier fishermen, I stopped by a few tackle shops. The best place I found was Big Time Tackle. I went in, told them the rod, line, and amount of time that I had, and they recommended different rigs for several types of fish, with tips on where and when and how to fish for them.
That night I put together three rigs:
1) Snapper rig with bait - basically just a standard surf rig with sinker above the hook. To be fished on the bottom but pulled up and down to attract various snapper, amber jack, and reef fish.
2) "Gotcha" lure to jig from the pier for a wide variety of fish including mackerel in season and, with extreme luck, tarpon or permit.
3) Weighted lure with bucktail to jig on the flats for snook and bonefish.
For rigs 2 and 3, I used 25 lb florocarbon line as leader, as it had been suggested to me that some of what I was after "won't hit a wire leader". The bait rig came leadered with thin steel.
Many of the bridges between the Keys are equipped with piers running along the length of the bridge. From these, fishermen drop lines right in among the supports and fish deeper water usually only accessible by boat. I was anxious to try this out, so based on a tip from Big Time, I headed to Tom's Harbot Cut Fishing Pier.
I had been warned that unless the tides are very slack, the fishing can be difficult due to the very fast rush of water under the bridge. There are sites for tracking the relevant factors that I would recommend to anyone doing this seriously, but I tried out the Gotcha lure without any luck. One interesting moment was when I cursed myself for getting snagged beneath the bridge, but ended up dislodging my lure along with an octopus, who luckily shook free once out of the water. I didn't want to harm it by hauling it to the top of the bridge, but I was happy to see it.
Next, I moved an area below the pier, among some of the area's famous mangroves.
I switched to the bait rig, with frozen shrimp, and amost immediately caught the small but pretty Lane Snapper, pictured below. In all, I caught four various snapper, all too small to keep, and one or two unidentified fish of similar size.
I tried my luck on the pier, where the water was still flowing fairly quickly, but a few other fishermen had started to gather. I met a nice couple from Vermont who were fishing with enormous bait and rigs, and caught a small skinny fish that looked to be a Spanish mackerel. I brought it over to my camerawoman for the photo below, quickly snapped as I hurried to free it from the Gotcha's nasty treble hooks and return it to the water.
The fish below was sort of light brown on top, and my photographer wasn't able to get a side view photo before I helped it flip and flop back into the water. Anyone have any ideas?
Also, stay tuned for part two: fishing the Gulf Coast!
Kathryn Tully and Shane Sesta are a married couple, one American and one Brit, who are spending a year traveling across America and writing about their discoveries. Sonny is their rescue cat and fried chicken aficionado.