Here is a collection of selected snippets from the first four months of our journey. Many other incredible USA landmarks and hidden gems had to be cut for time - see the NYCNomads Facebook page for photos!
We’ve just spent a week camping completely off the grid in the Colorado desert, which was a first for us. We camped for free in a tract of the desert belonging to the Bureau of Land Management just south of the Joshua Tree National Park, which had no water and no electricity; nothing, actually, apart from miles of sand, but thanks to a full tank of water and our new solar panels, we pulled it off.
Before we left New York, we had researched the various solar panel options for trailers, so we could stay in the many amazing camping spots that don’t have electrical power. Portable solar panels are becoming cheaper and more efficient all the time and this certainly seemed a better option to a noisy, gas- guzzling generator.
However, when we bought our trailer, the dealership salesman suggested that our twin, 12-volt, deep cycle trailer batteries could last for three to four days without being charged, so we decided to see how we fared living off battery power alone before purchasing a solar kit.
It turns out the salesman was extremely optimistic. When we camped off the grid on Padre Island National Seashore in Texas, our batteries provided us with enough juice to run the water pump and a few lights for three days, but not enough to retract our trailer’s mechanical slide out section when we were getting ready to leave. We ended up having to borrow a kind fellow camper’s spare battery pack to get the job done.
We weren’t going to deal with that again, so we ordered solar panels to be delivered to us in Tuscon, the next private campground where we were staying long enough to receive packages.
Our folding, Eco-Worthy 120-watt solar panels couldn’t be easier to use. We stuck them outside when we arrived in the desert and attached them to our battery terminals and that was it. We had direct sunshine the whole time, which clearly helped, but after a few hours of sun, our batteries were fully charged again.
No amount of DC power from the batteries will run AC appliances, obviously, so we also bought a cheap inverter to attach to our batteries, which gave us enough AC power to charge our phones, camera, video camera and laptops. A lot of campers install powerful inverters inside their trailers so they can run more AC appliances, but we don’t need to watch the TV or use the toaster when we’re camping off the grid for a few days and our makeshift solution can be unplugged from the trailer and plugged into The Beast when we’re on the go, so we have AC power in there as well.
Anyway, we were pretty happy that the sun successfully kept us going for a week and allowed us to camp in a beautiful desert location free of charge. After The Chiricahua National Monument Incident, getting a flat tire in Phoenix and losing both our wifi hotspot and one of Shane’s crowns, which required an emergency dentist visit, we began to wonder whether we would emerge unscathed, particularly when we discovered we were camping right on the San Andreas fault. But aside from helping some campers who got their rental motorhome stuck in the sand, we enjoyed a no-drama week and some peace and quiet. We took Sonny exploring (watching out for scorpions), admired the desert flowers just starting to bloom, saw a golden eagle, enjoyed the beautiful sunsets over the mountains and watched the stars.
This was also a great location to explore Joshua Tree National Park, The Salton Sea and Palm Springs (see the gallery at the end for more photos). The vegetation of Joshua Tree National Park changes dramatically as you travel north and west from the Colorado desert into the Mojave desert and climb to higher elevations. All the Joshua Trees are in the Mojave part of the park, but after recent heavy rains, the Ocotillo and Cholla cacti in the hotter and drier Colorado desert were also green and covered in new shoots. The view from Keys View, at 5,185 feet, over the whole Coachella Valley was also spectacular.
Meanwhile, The Salton Sea, which was formed by accident when the Colorado River flooded in 1905 and has been getting saltier ever since, was the strangest place we’ve visited. On its north eastern shore, there are lush vineyards and attractive beaches, despite the heaps of dead fish, but traveling south from there was like driving into a scene from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, with decrepit power plants belching smoke, ground fires burning and brown wastelands as far as the eye could see. I thought I might have to stay there forever as there was a border control checkpoint as we headed back north and I didn’t have my green card with me that day, but after a sniffer dog decided that The Beast only smelt of cats, not drugs, we were waved through.
Having honed our survival skills in the desert, hopefully we’re prepared for Los Angeles. We’re heading there next!
While having a crown replaced by a great dentist in Tucson, I asked the dental assistant for restaurant recommendations. She informed me that anyone passing through the Tucson area should try a Sonoran hot dog. She said that they were bacon-wrapped dogs with guacamole, and I was sold. After some research, we chose Yamis HotDogs, which was highly lauded online as authentic and conveniently located near a wine and craft beer establishment.
We followed our iPhone directions to an unfamiliar neighborhood, north west of downtown Tucson, and found an empty, perhaps long-empty, gravel lot. A broader phone search found a different address only a few miles away, so we headed there. We drove right past the 'pin' on the iPhone screen, confused again, and pulled over. "It’s possible," I said, "that I saw a hot dog cart back there, maybe it is a cart.” Yelp had indicated that there were tables, but maybe the gravel lot was the former brick-and-mortar incarnation. We went back and found out that Yamis (this seems to be the business name, although it is treated more grammatically as “Yami’s” in some of the literature) is actually an elevated hot dog cart, on an unused portion of a car wash parking lot, connected to a tent that provides seating, lighting and coolers full of drinks.
Our Spanish is poor, but fortunately there is only one item on the menu and we settled on hot dogs with “everything". The dogs at Yamis don't come out of dirty water, they are heated on the cart griddle. Then each dog is wrapped in grilled bacon, and quickly fried, sealing on the bacon wrapper. Next a spoon of cooked onion stuff is added, and a spoon of standard chili-dog-consistency chile con carne. Then some fresh onion and tomato and the sauces. After watching a few get made, I asked the proprietor about the three sauces that went on each dog. Full disclosure, other customers helped with the translation. Each dog gets mayo, mustard, and guacamole sauce. A final key difference from a standard cart hotdog is the long, sturdy, bakery-quality bun, freshly buttered and fried to perfection on the fatty griddle, just in time for filling.
Each order also comes with a medium hot pepper of some sort, also wrapped and fried in bacon, and stuffed with some yummy unidentified meat and dairy matter for no additional charge.
Yamis gets 5 out of 5 stars for food. The dog itself compares favorably to Crif Dogs' bacon-wrapped offerings in New York and any hot dog anywhere. The bun is a particular treat.
Service: 5 out of 5, universal language of meat spoken.
Price: Dirt cheap, insane value.
Atmosphere: In some places, a car wash parking lot tent might not meet restaurant zoning requirements, but you know what? Just shut up and eat your dog.
We have had great luck with regard to campgrounds and equipment, despite learn-as-you-go approaches to both bookings and RV maintenance. Recently, however, the odds have started catching up with us. We thought that Big Bend had prepared us for heavy winds, but then we had our trailer door sucked open by the notorious gale-force winds at Guadalupe National Park. Since this occurred while we were away from the campground, we have a thoughtful neighbor to thank for slamming the door, and likely for Sonny’s presence on our return. One popular theory contends that Sonny spent the day exploring and befriending ring tails and mountain lions before returning to the trailer, after which the neighbor noticed and shut the door. No evidence exists to refute this claim and Sonny has invoked his right regarding self-incrimination, offering only his usual “do I look like a filthy rat” look.
This wind also blew our safety chains around and frayed off the 'breakaway cable', which connects the truck to an emergency switch on the trailer that applies its brakes if it breaks away from the truck. At some point during our bumpy, blustery tow across north Texas we lost the hinged plastic propane cover cap as well, so both of these items were priority repairs to tackle at our next stop, White Sands National Monument in New Mexico.
We were stopped at the first of several US Border Control roadblocks on this leg of the trip. At some of these, every car is eyeballed and waived through, and at others they are asked one screening question - “US Citizens?” Kathryn had to stow Sonny and find her green card and we have now learned to have it at the ready in both New Mexico and Arizona. I am not sure what security purpose this serves, as I have never been asked to prove my stated citizenship, but it feels weird being asked for our papers just for being on the road.
Our campground outside of Alamogordo near White Sands was affordable and very friendly (we added an extra day) with the best sunsets so far, no small feat. Our next-door neighbor was a semi-permanent resident originally from Maine, who informed us that he preferred New Mexico, but that unlike White Sands, much of New Mexico was truly “open country.” That must mean completely uninhabited. We'd had doubts, but the White Sands National Monument itself was worth the stop. It is a truly unique and desolate place. The drive into the park alone was worth the trip, invoking instincts that I was driving on and around snow instead of gypsum.
Despite a high density of trailer parks, and a curious number of ranches featuring trailers parked on the property, there was almost nowhere to buy RV gear. We managed to get a breakaway switch, but ordered a propane cap from Amazon and got back on the road. A tip – the breakaway cables and the plug they attach with are not proprietary – they are standard and sold as one piece. Just pull the old plug out of the box under the trailer’s hitch (this takes a lot of force) and the new one snaps in easily.
We’d booked two nights in the campground at the Chiricahua National Monument. The web guidance was that the maximum site size was 29 feet, only two feet longer than our 'gross RV length', but we’d squeezed into shorter spots. We followed Google directions to Chiricahua, which brought us back onto Route 10, the trucking artery that runs from Santa Monica to Jacksonville. That section of the interstate is lined with a barrage of giant signboards attempting to convince the driver that a true oasis, a rest area promising apache blankets and crafts, pecan delicacies, ice cream, and other temptations, lay in store for travelers with the fortitude to hang on for just 20, 50, or 120 miles beyond the rest stops promising similar on competing billboards. Advertising signs for a mystery attraction billed as 'The Thing' begin at least 150 miles away from the exit.
We didn’t make it to The Thing, which is apparently a mystery mummified object that you can visit for $1, before we took our own exit, leaving the highway for a shortcut, the Apache Pass Road. This was the first time Google Maps has really led us dangerously astray. After we drove through cows in the road, poorly maintained curves, and the invisible boundary beyond which Sonny will no longer countenance backtracking, we reached the Apache Pass itself. There we were presented with a drive-at-own-risk sign announcing a steep, rough, dirt road. This normally would evince only a derisive chortle from The Beast, our four wheel drive, Ford F250 tank, except that it was pulling the trailer. In a testament to the strength of our marriage and vigilance regarding tires we survived the wincing 8-mile grind through the pass with gritted teeth.
Nerves flayed, we enjoyed a descent into striking country and onward to the bottom of the gorge at Chiricahua. We raced against the darkness to find the campground entrance and our reserved space. Then we saw signs informing us that no vehicles over 29 foot long were allowed past the visitor center, and realized that the maximum site listings were not due to campsite dimensions. It turns out there are turns that cannot be navigated by large vehicles, as well as dips for long RVs to get stuck in. The Beast itself is well over 20 foot long even without the hitch, and the camper, as mentioned, is 27 foot.
I could write a long story about the next few hours, but in summary, we made it through the dips without damage. We executed the turns, even as it became dark, and other campers stood outside their rigs with flashlights, convinced that it was not possible for us to proceed without hitting their vehicles, dogs, or trees hanging over the road. We reached our site, and found it was designed for a motorhome to pull into, not to back a trailer into, due to the arrangement of rocks and trees. We proceeded back to the tightest intersection and the flashlights emerged again to watch us back the trailer 90 degrees around it, turning the entire rig around to proceed the wrong way around the one-way loop back to the site, before we backed the trailer in easily.
Having accomplished all of this in the darkness, we high-fived and congratulated ourselves on being professionals. We mocked the other campers for ever having doubted us. For the first time ever, we forgot to put the chocks under the camper tires. When we jacked it off of the truck, all 6000 lbs of our Keystone Bullet lurched forward, then rested awkwardly across the ball hitch, centimeters away from irreparable damage to the truck, hitch, and trailer. Just 15 minutes after escaping that disaster, Kathryn nearly broke her neck stepping out of the trailer in the dark after we forgot to put the stairs down.
The trip out of the campground two days later was, if anything, worse. Because we had no choice but to proceed the wrong way again around the one-way loop, other traffic had to wait for us to make many slow attempts at the most difficult curves, backing up their trucks while Kathryn advised me on how many inches of clearance remained on either side before we hit a tree trunk, large rock or slid into a dry creek bed. The New York license plates on the ridiculously oversized vehicle going the wrong way surely reinforced deep ancestral biases in the pre-cambrian cortexes of our victims.
Chiricahua, however, was worth it. Truly spectacular and completely uncrowded. There were probably less than 50 other people in the whole park, and few other cars at the peak of the scenic driving path, which overlooks a mountain view to rival Big Bend in one direction, and a vast canyon field of stone spires reminiscent of the iconic Bryce Canyon hoodoos in the other.
We avoided a repeat of the Apache Pass Road by proceeding west across Arizona to the infamous town of Tombstone. From the movies I always pictured it situated in the middle of flat desert, but to approach it from the west (through hundreds of miles of starkly rural ranch land) is to glide into a mountain valley, pierce a nimbus of dust, and set upon a town among the hills.
When you're in Big Bend National Park, which occupies 800,000 acres of desert, mountains and river canyons north of the Rio Grande along the Texas and Mexico border, it is easy to feel like you're the only person on earth. Standing at the top of the Lost Mine Trail in Big Bend's Chisos Mountains, formed from volcanic activity 35 million years ago, the incredible 360 degree views with absolutely no sign of human habitation are both breathtaking and humbling.
If we felt like we were in the middle of nowhere, that's because we were. Our guide book informed us that to get to north entrance of the park, you take US 385 from Marathon, which made Marathon sound like some sort of major hub. In fact, Marathon is a tiny place with 400 inhabitants and one gas station 59 miles from I-10, the nearest highway, and 250 miles from the nearest international airport in El Paso. Driving from Marathon to the park's northern entrance was a further 39 miles, and once we had entered the park, we drove another 46 miles to get to our campground on the banks of the Rio Grande. Luckily there are two gas stations within the park itself, otherwise no one would ever make it out of here.
Big Bend is an amazing place for hiking. Lost Mine Trail is well worth the five mile round trip, but we also did shorter hikes to Standing Rock, Hot Springs, where you can take a dip and see pretroglyphs dating from 1000 to 100BC carved into the rock face, and along the Boquillas Canyon Trail, which takes you along the Rio Grande, with gorgeous views over to Mexico (see our gallery of photos from Big Bend below). We also went on the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, which provides access to many more trail heads and overlooks with spectacular views over the mountains, mesas, Chihuahuan desert and the Santa Elena Canyon, carved 1,500 feet deep into the surrounding cliffs by the Rio Grande. The drive takes you to overlooks closer and closer to the dramatic canyon and ends with a hike right into it, which offered yet more panoramic views and echoed every word we uttered back 1000 times louder.
Although black bears live in the park, we STILL have yet to see ONE bear on this trip, despite being on the road for three months. When will our bear drought be over? Much to Sonny's disappointment, we didn't see any mountain lions in Big Bend either, although one of our fellow campers reported seeing one in the picnic area right by our campground. Nor did we see any rattlesnakes, scorpions or tarantulas, although we were pretty happy about that.
We did encounter a coyote and several roadrunners, which aren't hard to spot, because they are exactly as they appear in the cartoons. They sprinted across the road in front of us at tremendous speed – far too fast for us to get a photo – with their necks stretched way out in front of them, like a horse straining to cross the finish line in the Kentucky Derby. We also saw our first javelina feeding near our campground at dusk, which look a bit like extremely large hairy pigs, but are not related. Big Bend is also the site of some of the world's most important dinosaur bone discoveries, including the Bravoceratops, among the largest of the horned dinosaurs (about the size of a dump truck), which has only been found here. There's a new fossil bone exhibit in the park, which is definitely worth a visit.
There are two other memories that stand out from our stay in Big Bend. One was watching the sunset as we drove back towards our campground, which suddenly set the whole Sierra del Carmen mountain range ablaze with orange and then red light. The other was seeing the stars as we've never seen them before from our campground on a moonless night. Those above appeared incredibly close and the size and intensity of car headlamps, while those on the horizon twinkled constantly. As Shane commented, you only realize what a drastic aesthetic impact artificial light has made on our lives when you come to a completely dark place like this, where it becomes obvious why cultures throughout history have sought their gods, myths and futures in the stars.
Goodbye, Big Bend. You were special.
Time has been gliding by so smoothly and quickly that it’s been difficult to divide our journey into emotional or measurable sections. Today, a little more than three months into the adventure, the drive across central Texas felt like a milestone.
It is the longest gap between markers on our map – the biggest single 'hop' in distance so far. Most of the distance covered was east to west, almost directly and as the crow flies. About the same distance (>300 miles) as New York to Pittsburgh, further than San Diego to Phoenix. More than that, the land transformed and we left behind thinning signs of the old South for the humbling landscapes of the Southwest.
As we traveled west from Austin, we passed through more Austin-esque country of hills, rivers and springs, and were surprised by young vineyards along both sides of the highway. These continued into the lovely, mind-boggling town of Fredericksburg: population 10,000 souls, every one the owner of a German biergarten or bakery.
A bit west of Fredericksburg, the wineries became peach orchards, with huge painted signs hawking preserves and bushels. Then a change in landscape, low creeks and small trees, which reminded us of South Africa, accompanied by the arrival of Texas ranches. Each plot, of every imaginable size, obliged to include fences and at least a few cattle. Sometimes it was hard to say which ranch the herd belonged to, because the distance between big ranch name-gates was many miles. Then cattle ranches gave way to some sheep and to a wide range of goats, all huggable, as the creeks became drier and drier, the trees smaller and smaller.
Then, it seemed quite suddenly, all sign of man or beast vanished hundreds of miles before our final destination of Fort Stockton, and we were on a dry scrubby desert of ridges and mesas. This was the exact landscape that the spaghetti westerns were trying to reproduce in Italy. Hours passed when all we saw were tiny industrial sites like mars habitats, probably natural gas wells and plants. Despite refilling The Beast’s diesel tank early and often, we came too close for comfort to running out of fuel. At one point the truck’s indicator estimated 82 miles of fuel remaining, while our Gas Guru app advised that the next fill available at any price was 75 miles ahead, providing a nervy if beautiful sunset drive toward an unmanned and shuttered but operating Shell station a few miles east of empty.
My advice would be to leave early if you are attempting this drive. Refill your fuel tanks whenever possible and be aware that Google Maps bases its estimated trip duration on the 80 MPH speed limit that you may or may not achieve based on the rating of your trailer tires and the severity of the head and crosswinds. If you leave enough time, however, the 'Central Texas Burn' is an iconic American drive. You can hit a wine tasting, scarf a schnitzel, pick peaches, ride a bull, hug a goat, and re-live genre favorites while on the run from the posse. At least I imagine you can if you don’t bring a cat.
We stayed in New Orleans over the New Year and were pretty amazed to find that there was an RV park right in the French Quarter. Then we found out that it cost $250 a night. So instead, we opted for Bayou Segnette State Park in the suburb of Westwego, a short, 20-minute drive from the city center on the other side of the Mississippi, all for just $20 a night.
Here, we were in a right next to a cypress grove and swamp, where air boats were taking tourists out on alligator-spotting tours, but we didn't even need to venture that far to appreciate the local wildlife, because our campground was full of armadillos. One of them resided right where we were set up, and each time that we returned to the campground after dark, we found him (or her) noisily digging for grubs around our trailer. Shane was so excited about this that he would have been outside taking photos all night every night if it hadn't been raining.
Another big bonus of camping in Westwego, which is a large fishing area, was that we were right next to several seafood stalls, where you can buy fresh shrimp starting at $3.50 a pound, crawfish, crabs, scallops, red snapper, bass and trout, as well as alligator meat, frogs legs and a huge range of sausages; basically everything you need to cook your own Creole feast.
The downside of camping next to a swamp was that when we had torrential rains for a couple of days, the campground became pretty swampy itself, with the roads in and out covered in over a foot of water in some places. This did not present a problem when driving in The Beast, which has massive tires, along with everything else, but we wouldn't have wanted to try it in a normal car.
What can we say about New Orleans itself that hasn't already been said about its 400-year French, Spanish and American history, its amazing jazz heritage and its incredible music scene today, its 18th century architecture or its food?
Many visitors find New Orleans intoxicating and we were no exception, but after many weeks camping in remote, rural areas, and having just visited Biloxi and Gulfport in Mississippi, which were pretty tiny by comparison, we were even more excited to experience such an amazing confluence of cultures and to be back in a big, vibrant city, pulsing with life. Needless to say, we fell for NOLA immediately.
We loved the St Charles Streetcar, the oldest continuously operated streetcar in the world; the elegant avenues and mansions of the Garden District; the beautiful City Park, containing New Orleans Museum of Art and its amazing sculpture garden; exploring Tremé and Louis Armstrong Park; walking around The French Quarter and The Marigny at dusk as all the gas lamps came on; browsing in independent bookstores; enjoying the hip vibe of Uptown; eating chargrilled oysters. We particularly loved the fact that you could walk up Frenchmen Street and hear world-class music emanating from most of the venues along it.
A big thanks to all our family and friends for their excellent tips, especially to Kathryn’s brother-in-law Martin, a jazz musician in the UK, who suggested we found out where his friend and reed player James Evans was playing and headed there. We did so and saw him play a great set with Aurora Nealand and The Royal Roses at The Maison on Frenchmen Street; one of several local bands that we loved.
When it comes to jazz venues, by the way, we could have spent every night propping up the bar at The Spotted Cat on Frenchmen Street hearing incredible music (such as Sarah McCoy, pictured in the main photo above), but if we’d done that, Sonny would have had to learn to drive. Just ask CNN’s Don Lemon.
A massive thank you also goes to our friend Elana, who having lived in NOLA, gave us a huge list of things to do and places to visit, including where in Uptown we could dance on a pool table and eat cheese fries until sunrise, which we didn’t quite manage, and where we could order a chilli cheese omelette as big as our heads, which we definitely did!
We left Florida and arrived in Mobile, Alabama, just before the holidays, so we took in the Christmas Night of Lights in Mobile on Christmas Eve. It's the first drive-through Christmas light display we've ever been to, let alone one choreographed to a Christmas soundtrack on a local radio channel. Check out the video below. There were around 75 to 100 other car loads of visitors during the 45 minutes we were there, it's been open every evening, rain or shine, since November 11 and it will keep going until January 1. That's a lot of Christmas light enthusiasts. Happy holidays everyone!
I made use of my Florida fishing license for the last time in beautiful Saint Joseph Peninsula State Park. I fished in two places there and it is one of the nicest beaches that I have ever fished.
Also, the north end of the peninsula sports the largest coastal sand dunes I’ve seen outside of North Carolina – a great place to fish. I only found a few fishermen along several miles of beach, but the consensus was that whiting were in the surf in good numbers. I asked about catching them with frozen squid, fishing the bottom, and I was told that I surely could. The fish that Yankees refer to as a whiting is not something that would live in the Gulf, and I was further perplexed to be told that they were "good eating,” but I figured I would give this a shot. After all sorts of hi-jinks, including accidentally throwing my filet knife out in the campground dumpster the night before trash pick-up and having to replace it, and twice leaving the tackle shop without bait, I got down to a spot on the beach that I had scouted, and chosen for a sand bar just distant enough (~40 yards away.) There was another fisherman nearby, and I set up with enough space to avoid tangled lines, but just enough.
For my rig this time I used a double hook with a 2 oz. sinker, which was more than sufficient to hold bottom. In the Gulf there was not an intense amount of drift – in the rough surf of the Atlantic, I’m accustomed to using 'Sputnik' sinkers, which have wire feet to keep them from bouncing along the surf.
On the first cast, I caught a fish. It was about 10 inches long and was a fun enough fight on my tackle. I brought it over to the other fisherman and asked if it was a whiting. He said yes and confirmed that there was no size or catch limit. It had enough meat on it to be worthwhile, so I threw it into the cooler I had filled with water. As it turns out, what they call whiting are the fish known back home as kingfish, and called a sea mullet in Hatteras. A few casts later, I caught another, and after a short time I had four. Kathryn was coming to join me on the beach and I texted her to bring a bucket. At the end of a short day, I had caught six whiting but nothing else, so we decided to keep the biggest three (I’d been throwing back the smaller ones) and make a meal.
A few days later, still in St Joseph's Peninsula State Park, I fished from breakwater rocks near a beach named Stump Hole. The only thing that I caught there were two more small whitefish, but a man from Michigan was there fishing with his dog. Almost as soon as he told us that he’d had no success all day, he lost a nice looking amber jack that spit the hook while he was hoisting it over the rocks. Within minutes, we saw him catch a fat keeper black drum – a fine fish. He told the dog he’d caught their dinner, and packed up.
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.