A Florida Mixed Bag by Rob Robinson
The morning started early, well before daylight my son Alex and a buddy Chris and myself where headed out on our annual cast and blast trip. A unique situation exists here in Florida, after the first of the year the Seminole Forest Wildlife Management Area has a small game season and also has Blackwater Creek dissecting it. This makes for a perfect combination of fishing for the many different freshwater species and adding a few squirrels to the mix as well.
We checked in at the ranger station as the sun was just cresting the horizon and made our way down the washboard road to the launch point. As with most creeks in Florida, current is subtle but visible. Water level was good this year, on the high side, which is good for exploring the flooded Oaks. We slipped the canoe into the water and began paddling up stream. I was in the front, Chris manned the back and Alex was on the “.22 cal turret” in the middle. One of the great things about hunting out of the canoe is the stealth. You can cover a large area very silently and with little effort. As we were rounding a bend I saw Alex raising his gun out of the corner of my eye, and shortly before the crack of his squirrel rifle broke the morning silence he whispered “there’s one” and the first bushy tail of the day hit the water.
I was casting a beatle spin into “fishy” looking spots with my ultra light rig as we meandered our way along. The first fish of the day was a big ole bream, you know the ones that are so big you’ve got to hold them against your chest to get the hook out, not a bad start! We paddled another mile or so upstream until we ventured off into some flooded timber in search of more bushy tails. As we maneuvered through the trees it was like being in outer space, making no noise and gliding along scanning the branches for the flick of a tail, our ears tuned to their familiar bark. We hunted in there for hours until our hunger got the best of us and we pulled into a picnic area for a lunch.
The sun was high in the sky by now and its warming rays were very relaxing as I enjoyed my PB&J and a nice cup of coffee. Well fed we began drifting down stream only occasionally paddling, letting the current work its magic to move us along. I caught a few crappie, some bass and one mean pickerel that was touch and go for a few minutes around all that submerged wood and on four pound test. The gunners were at least giving me a heads up before they began blasting and managed to harvest a few more squirrels on the way back. As we reached the launch it was obvious that my companions were not ready for the day to end so I suggested we head on downstream and see what else we could find.
As we passed under a bridge that crossed the stream I landed the biggest spec of the day, well over two pounds! While releasing the fish I pointed out a family of gators catching some January afternoon sun on the bank. It was a mother about six foot long and eight to ten babies in the eighteen to twenty-four inch range. To think they were once on the endangered species list and now seeing the recovery they have made is a credit to our awaking to conservation.
We moved on to another area of flooded timber where we came across a half a dozen whitetails picking acorns off the bases of the oak trees, standing in water up to their knees. This was the first time I had ever witnessed this and it was pretty amazing but needless to say they were spooky at best with the gators just around the corner and shortly they splashed off out of sight.
The sun was now losing altitude fast so we turned and started toward the truck. I can’t tell you the number of fish we caught but it was enough to call it a successful day. The final tally on squirrels was six, to be cleaned, marinated, and wrapped in bacon for the grill. What a wonderful way to spend a Saturday.