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A History of the 449th 
Bomb Group in World War II

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The Planes of The
449th Bomb Group
In World War II

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   Copyright 2007 by Norfield Publishing.

 

 

449th Bomb Group Related 

The 449th Bomb Group
in World War II


"Big Noise From Kentucky"
The Saga of a B-24 Liberator in WWII

Civil War Related

The 16th Mississippi Infantry
in the Civil War

The 2nd Florida Infantry
in the Civil War

Fishing Related

From Little River to Islamorada
A Fisherman's Journey

Fishing the Shallows
For Redfish
A short guide to flats fishing for redfish
with light spinning and medium fly tackle

Things Remembered

Cook's Dairy Delight
A site dedicated to times past

Norfield, Mississippi
and The Denkmann Lumber Company
A brief sketch of the sawmill town
of Norfield as it was in the late 1920's

Genealogy Related

Zebulon Butler Gatlin and Martha Hoover
The genealogy of Zebulon Butler Gatlin
and Martha Hoover

 Self-Publishing Related 

 A Short Guide To Self-Publishing
The fundamental elements of the
self-publishing, book-production process

 

 

"BIG NOISE FROM KENTUCKY"
A B-24 Liberator in World War II

Table of Contents

INTRODUCTION

THE CREW AND THEIR PLANE

SOME HIGHLIGHTS IN THE COMBAT CAREER OF BIG NOISE FROM KENTUCKY

SUMMARY OF MISSIONS FLOWN BY BIG NOISE

          

Links to
Other Norfield Publishing Sites

The 16th Mississippi Infantry in the Civil War

The 449th Bomb Group in World War II

The 2nd Florida Infantry
in the Civil War
 


  "Stop, Look, Listen -- Listen to the Big Noise" -- Bob Crosby


INTRODUCTION

During World War II, more B-24 Liberator heavy bombers were produced by American industry than any other single type of combat aircraft. More than 18,000 B-24s were produced between 1940 and 1945. The B-24, in various models, saw duty in every theater of the war.

On this web site, you can find the highlights of the wartime saga of one of those B-24s -- 
the one they called "Big Noise From Kentucky."

In late 1943, the Fifteenth Air Force was formed for the purpose of placing a strategic bombing force in southern Italy that could reach targets in central and eastern Europe beyond the range of the 8th Air Force operating from England. In January 1944, the 449th Bombardment Group (Heavy) was assigned to the Fifteenth Air Force. The 449th Bomb Group operated from a field at Grottaglie, Italy. The 449th brought 61 new B-24H Liberators to Grottaglie in December 1943 and January 1944. Upon arrival, the 449th Bomb Group immediately went into action. Between January 1944 and April 1945, the 449th Bomb Group flew 254 combat missions against Axis targets.

THE CREW AND THEIR PLANE

One of the B-24H Liberators (Serial #42-52149) of the 449th Bomb Group was delivered on 5 November 1943 and assigned to the crew of 2nd Lt. Fletcher S. Porter of the 718th Squadron.

Porter's crew consisted of ten men:

Pilot: 2nd Lt. Fletcher S. Porter
Co-Pilot: 2nd Lt. Thomas N. Turner
Navigator: 2nd Lt. Richard S. Howe
Bombardier: 2nd Lt. James C. Cady
Nose Gunner: Sgt. Roy F. McClean
Top-Turret Gunner: Sgt. Edgar Van Keuren
Ball-Turret Gunner: Sgt. George A. Bocock
Waist Gunner: Sgt. Charles J. Schroer
Waist Gunner: Sgt. Robert R. Rosefield
Tail Gunner: Sgt. Charles A. Shepherd
      


2nd Lt. Fletcher Porter


Sgt Charles Shepherd


At the time they received their new B-24, Porter's crew, together with the rest of the 449th, was in the final phase of training at an airfield near Bruning, Nebraska. Lt. Porter -- in honor of his hometown of Georgetown, Kentucky -- coined a name for the new ship: Big Noise From Kentucky. The name was derived from a popular big-band tune of the day, "Big Noise From Winetka." The large, flat nose of the B-24 was ideally suited for artwork. The nose-art of Big Noise was unique. 

Upon completion of their training at Bruning in December 1943, Porter's crew joined the rest of the 449th in the movement overseas. The 61 B-24s of the 449th were flown overseas to southern Italy by their crews via the southern route. This route took the 449th from Bruning, Nebraska, to West Palm Beach, Florida, and thence to Puerto Rico and Brazil. The Atlantic crossing was made from Brazil to Dakar, Africa. From Dakar, the pilots flew north to Morroco, thence east to Tunsia, and finally northeast to Grottaglie, Italy. Porter's crew arrived in Grottaglie aboard Big Noise From Kentucky on 8 January 1944.

Big Noise flew its first of 26 combat missions on 13 January 1944. Each 449th aircraft was assigned a two-digit combat number which was used to identify individual aircraft for purposes of general record keeping. The two-digit combat number was painted on the tail of the aircraft. The combat number was used for designating aircraft position within the planned combat formation on any given day. Big Noise was assigned the combat number 26. When an aircraft was lost the replacement aircraft was assigned the combat number of the plane which it replaced. 


SOME HIGHLIGHTS IN THE COMBAT CAREER OF BIG NOISE FROM KENTUCKY.

8 January 1944
Big Noise arrived at Grottagle on 8 January 1944. Sgt. Charles Shepherd, tail gunner on Big Noise, noted in his diary the poor conditions at Grottaglie Field. "This place has been bombed to pieces. There are four of us sleeping in the plane tonight because there are no more beds." Conditions at Grottaglie were indeed grim. "There are no lights, no latrines, poor food, no beds, bombed out buildings, no heat, no nothing. So this is War!"[449th BG War Diary] 

13 January 1944
The first mission flown by Big Noise was against the German airdrome at Perugia, Italy. Big Noise landed back at Grottaglie at 1355 hours after having dropped its twenty bombs on the target area at 1208 hours from an altitude of  20,100 feet. The crew reported "grayish smoke from fairly large fires on [the] target." For the first time the ground crew stenciled the profile of a single bomb on the nose of the big bomber.  In the months ahead, the string of bombs painted on the nose of Big Noise would lengthen as the mission count accumulated. (
Photo: Big Noise on the field at Grottaglie.)

20 January 1944
"Went on a mission up in northern Italy today. Missed our target. Ran into heavy flak. Two engines were shot out. Made a forced landing just after we got back over the battleline. " [Charles Shepherd, Tail Gunner, Big Noise]. As the formation "broke away to the left and passed north of Guidonia," Big Noise fell victim to the "heavy, intense and very accurate flak." The resulting damage consisted of "numerous flak holes. Fuel drain line shot away in bomb bay. Turbo cables shot away on [number-3 engine.] Possible oil line damage. Oil line shot away on [number-2 engine.] Intercooler, cowling, braces, etc. [were] shot up. Hole in nose turret." Captain Nosker (pilot) and Lt. Turner (copilot) put the big aircraft into a shallow descent as they dropped out of formation with the number-2 and number-3 engines feathered. The number-1 and number-4 engines strained as the pilots demanded more power. Big Noise was on the very verge of going down.  It was questionable whether the pilots could keep the ship airborne long enough to reach friendly territory. Captain Nosker and Lt. Turner -- knowing they would never make it back to Grottaglie -- made the decision to head east for Foggia field. As Big Noise dropped out of the formation, a second B-24 -- ship #19 manned by Petz's crew -- also dropped out of formation and "followed Captain Nosker's ship as it turned off course to go to Foggia." This action on the part of Petz most probably saved Big Noise in the ensuing events. The two aircraft, flying at reduced altitude and speed, were soon left behind by the departing 449th formation. As the two B-24s crossed over the battleline, this bad situation suddenly got worse. "Approximately 5 miles west of Foggia" four German FW-190s were sighted on a reciprocal course. The FW-190s "turned on course" with the two B-24s and proceeded to attack Big Noise "from the rear abreast at 5 o'clock breaking out at 6 o'clock." As the FW-190s closed on Big Noise, the waist gunner "fired three bursts -- 15 to 25 per burst" and the tail gunner "fired a couple of bursts." The fighters did not press their attack, and did not return for a follow-on attack. A few minutes later, at 1402 hours, Captain Nosker and Lt. Turner landed Big Noise at Foggia with the number-2 and number-3 engines feathered. It was a great piece of flying to get the big bomber to Foggia, and to bring it in safely on only two engines. On the daily operational log, the notation beside ship #26 read simply: "Down at Foggia. All crew safe. Plane being sent for crew." This had been a close brush with disaster. Without the superb job of flying by Nosker and Turner, the crew would almost certainly have been force to abandon ship over enemy territory. It was one of those instances where flying skill and courage prevailed. Petz's decision to accompany Big Noise when it dropped out of formation was also instrumental in the ensuing events. Without the presence of ship #19, the four FW-190s would almost certainly have pressed their attack against Big Noise. Captain Nosker and his crew returned to Grottaglie later in the day aboard another of the Group's aircraft. Big Noise remained at Foggia field awaiting repairs. It would be a week before her two damaged engines could be changed -out and the other damage repaired. By the 27th, Big Noise was back on the field at Grottaglie ready for more missions. 
[Photo: The Cockpit of Big Noise]

30 January 1944
The target for the 449th was the German airdrome at Udine, Italy. For the first time, the 449th meets a serious fighter threat. On this day Big Noise is being flown for the first time by Harper's crew. Lt. Fletcher Porter is assigned to fly copilot for Lt. Ben Kendall aboard ship #18. Four 718th Squadron aircraft make up the low box in the first section of the 449th formation. Ship #30 (Wheeler's crew) leads this box. Big Noise occupies the number-2 position with ship #18 (Kendall's crew) in the number-3 position. Chandler's crew in ship #23 occupies the number-4 position. Of these four, only one, Big Noise From Kentucky, would be fortunate enough to return to Grottaglie at the end of the day. Immediately after bombs were away, some 20 to 50 enemy fighters furiously attacked the 449th formation. The attacks were concentrated on the low flight of the first section -- the unit led by Wheeler (ship #30) -- which was "apparently left uncovered from above when the second section in making the turn for the IP swung wide over the first section while there was straggling in the low flight itself." Within minutes after the beginning of the attack, three ships in Wheeler's unit (ships #18, #23, and #30) were mortally damaged by the German fighters. Ship #30 was "seen to explode and go into a spin" when "it was rammed by an ME-109, one of the B-24s engines being afire at the time of the collision." Ship #23 was seen to "spiral to earth and crash." Ship #18 was "reported to go down just south of the target." Aboard ship #18, both pilots (Kendall and Porter) died in the ensuing crash. In the wild melee, 449th gunners destroyed at least six ME-109s. Four of the ME-109s were credited to Harper's crew aboard Big Noise From Kentucky -- the sole surviving ship of the low squadron of the first section. The 718th Squadron historian lamented the losses:"And thus disappeared from our midst Lt. Kendall and his crew plus Lt. Porter, pilot of a crew not flying that day, Lt. Wheeler and his crew, and Lt. Chandler and his crew."

2 April 1944
"For several weeks now the aircraft components factory at Steyr, Austria, has been much in our minds. It has been briefed and canceled; briefed and canceled. ... Today we took a resounding crack at this target." Between 0705 and 0754 hours, thirty-nine 449th B-24s roared off the runway at Grottaglie, formed-up, and headed for rendezvous with the other elements of the Wing. The 449th took the lead as the 47th Wing formation headed up the Adriatic. At high noon -- as the lead units of the 449th approached the IP -- sixty to seventy enemy fighters attacked the 449th formation. "These attacks commenced about 20 minutes before the target, continued to and over the target, and about 20 minutes after leaving the target." The enemy fighters continued to aggressively press home the attack with rockets, cannons, and aerial bombs. Aboard Big Noise From Kentucky gunners poured .50-caliber shells toward two very aggressive ME-109s attacking from the six o'clock position, and closing to less than 200 yards in pressing home the attack. An explosive 20-mm shell penetrated the tail turret and exploded just above the left gun, blowing the plexiglass off the top and sides of the turret and severely wounding S/Sgt. Harold Tombre in the right forearm and head. Despite the wounds, S/Sgt. Tombre continued to use his remaining gun to fend off the attacking ME-109s, and succeeded in scoring direct hits on one of the enemy fighters which was seen to "peel off and down" with "flames throughout the engine and cockpit." From the top turret position, T/Sgt. Van Keuren -- one of the original members of Porter's crew -- also scored direct hits on this same ME-109 as it broke away to the right. Parts of the "fin and wings flew off," and the ME-109 was seen to "fall off in a spin with flames and smoke coming from the cockpit and wings." The accompanying ME-109 broke off to the right side where it came under the gun of the right-waist gunner, S/Sgt. Robert Williams. The second ME-109 was seen to "burst into flames" and to burn with "brilliant red and dark smoke coming from the engine." Twenty minutes after the target, the enemy fighters broke off the attack on the 449th and began concentrating their efforts on the trailing formations still in the target area. By 1500 hours, the thirty-four returning aircraft were on the ground at Grottaglie. It had been a costly mission. Three 449th aircraft had been lost over the target. However, twelve enemy fighters had been downed by 449th gunners. When the days tally for enemy aircraft destroyed was finalized, two were credited to the gunners of Big Noise From Kentucky. The damage to the tail section of Big Noise would put the aircraft out of action for the next two weeks as repairs were made. When Big Noise returned to action, a total of six swastikas would adorn the nose -- the highest count of a single aircraft in the 449th at that time. 
(Photo: Big Noise undergoing repair to tail damage.)

5 May 1944
"The plane I came over in went down over Yugoslavia today. The name -- Big Noise From Kentucky." [C. A. Shepherd, tail-gunner, Porter's crew.] "Today we went on a big one. The boys knew it was a 'double credit' from the moment they walked into the briefing room for there was that long string leading straight to Ploesti." [449th BG War Diary]  In total, the 15th Air Force would send 485 heavy bombers to Ploesti on this day -- 19 would not return. Five of the losses would be from the 449th. Shortly after 1000 hours, Lt. Paul Harper coaxed Big Noise From Kentucky into the air for what would prove to be the last time. Big Noise moved into the number-4 position of the lead unit of the 449th formation. Approaching the Ploesti area, Group bombardiers found targeting difficult due to a dense smoke screen which effectively obscured the target. At 1400 hours, amidst "intense, accurate, heavy flak" the 449th aircraft released 76 tons of 500-pound bombs which disappeared into the dense smoke over the target. As the big bombers emerged from the flak over the target, some 25 to 30 enemy fighters attacked the 449th formation. The aggressive, frontal attacks wreaked havoc on the B-24s as the German fighters flashed through the formation. Four 449th aircraft -- ships #41, #52, #13, and #43 -- fell victim to the enemy fighters. In the short period of 12 minutes, the German fighters had knocked four B-24s out of the 449th formation. When the fighters broke off the attacks, the remaining 449th aircraft closed up the ragged formation, and, with a feeling that the worst was behind them, began the long flight home. An hour later -- as the formation passed directly over Bor, Yugoslavia, at an altitude of only 9,000 feet -- flak once again appeared in the sky around the lead section. Time had finally run out for Big Noise From Kentucky. What the flak over Guidonia and the fighters over Steyr had failed to accomplish, this single flak barrage achieved with startling efficiency. Both the number-3 and number-4 engines were knocked out. Although still controllable and flyable, it was only a matter of minutes until the big plane would come to earth. From the tail-gun position aboard ship #54, S/Sgt. John Hatch of Widness' crew, watched as Big Noise dropped behind the formation with the number-4 engine smoking badly. Lt. Paul Harper-- realizing that his plane was mortally damaged -- gave the order to bail out. At 1508 hours, only minutes after Big Noise was hit, two chutes were observed by Widness' crew from their vantage point aboard ship #54. A few moments later, six more chutes were seen. S/Sgt. Hatch counted the chutes as Big Noise "went into a spiral glide downward and crashed with a blinding flash." The position was noted as 4350N - 2113E. Although only eight chutes were observed, all ten members of Harper's crew managed to bail out of the stricken aircraft. Lt. Harper and eight of his crew would subsequently make contact with the Yugoslavian underground known as Chetniks, and then begin a trek across Yugoslavia which would last for the next three months. In August, Lt. Harper and these eight crew members would finally arrive back at Grottaglie. The tenth crew member -- Lt. Sermeraheim, the copilot -- broke his ankle on landing, and was subsequently captured. He would finish the war as a POW. 
Thus ended the combat career of  Big Noise From Kentucky.

17 May 1944

Ship #17 -- Veni, Vidi, Vici with Silver's crew aboard -- goes down over Orbetello, Italy, after being hit by flak. Seven crew members including both pilots die in the ensuing crash. The copilot is Lt. Thomas N. Turner of Clarksdale, Mississippi. Lt. Turner was the original copilot of Porter's crew and Big Noise From Kentucky



(Above)

"Veni Vidi Vici" going down over Orbetllo, Italy. The 
ship suffered a direct hit by flak on the number-2 engine
that knocked the engine from the wing. Moments after 
this picture was taken the left wing collapsed.

Silver�s Crew, 718th Squadron, Grottaglie, Italy -- 1944 
Back Row (L to R): Henry (Hank) Silvers, Pilot; William D. (Bill) Johnson, Navigator; Thomas (Stu) Turner, CoPilot; Charles A (Charlie) Foskett, Bombardier. 
Middle Row (L to R): Gene (NMI) Stedman, AR; George W. Fry, Gunner; Lewis J. Warner, AE 
Front Row(L to R): Stephen H. (Steve) Morrison, Gunner; Mayo E. 
Eavenson, Engineer; Herbert J. McBay, Radio Operator. 
This picture was taken in the Spring of 1944 -- sometime between April 1 and May 16.

After bailing out of Veni, Vidi, Vici, Bill Johnson, Steve Morrison, Herb McBay and Charlie Foskett were machine-gunned on the ground by Afrika Corps troops. Charlie Foskett was the only survivor. Later that day he was joined by Gene Stedman and George Fry and transported to Stalag Luft 3.

All crew members had completed over 40 missions each.

Photo and information from: Charlie Foskett

25 May 1944
Racy Tomato! the replacement aircraft for Big Noise makes its first mission with Isaac's crew aboard.

(Right) M/Sgt Francis Weaver is shown with Racy Tomato! M/Sgt Weaver was the original ground crew chief for Big Noise From Kentucky.


 

SUMMARY OF MISSIONS FLOWN BY BIG NOISE

The following table summarizes the combat missions flown by Big Noise From Kentucky.

     Date     

449th BG
Mission
Number

Pilot

 Target

13 January 1944

4

Porter

Perugia, Italy
Airdrome

14 January 1944

5

Nosker

Mostar, Yugoslavia

15 January 1944

6

Nosker

Prato, Italy,
Marshalling Yard

18 January 1944

9

Nosker

Pisa, Italy,
Marshalling Yard

19 January 1944

10

Nosker

Perugia, Italy
Airdrome

20 January 1944

11

Nosker

Guidonia, Italy
Airdrome

28 January 1944

16

Porter

Ferrara, Italy
Marshalling Yard

29 January 1944

17

Porter

Arezzo, Italy
Marshalling Yard

30 January 1944

18

Harper

Udine, Italy
Airdrome

14 February 1944

24

Silvers

Prato, Italy
Marshalling Yard

17 February 1944

27

Harper

Lake Di Nemi, Italy
Bivouac Area

2 March 1944

32

Larson

Cisterna Di Littoria, Italy
Troop Assembly area

19 March 1944

33

Harper

Knin, Yugoslavia
Marshalling Yard

24 March 1944

34

Harper

Steyr, Austria
Ball Bearing Factory

28 March 1944

35

Harper

Mestre, Italy
Marshalling Yard

29 March 1944

36

Harper

Bolanzo, Italy
Marshalling Yard

30 March 1944

37

Harper

Sofia, Bulgaria
Industrial Area

2 April 1944

38

Harper

Steyr, Austria
Ball Bearing Factory

15 April 1944

45

Harper

Bucharest, Rumania
Marshalling Yard

16 April 1944

46

Harper

Brasov, Rumania
Marshalling Yard

17 April 1944

47

Kirkland

Sofia, Bulgaria
Marshalling Yard

20 April 1944

48

Harper

Treviso, Italy
Marshalling Yard

23 April 1944

49

Harper

Schwechat, Austria
Aircraft Factory

28 April 1944

51

Harper

Orbetello, Itally
Harbor Facilities

30 April 1944

53

Harper

Alessandria, Italy
Marshalling Yard

5 May 1944

54

Harper

Ploesti, Rumania
Marshalling Yard

Postscript

Of the six different pilots who flew Big Noise on combat missions, only two survived the war: Harper and Larson. Porter was KIA on 30 January 1944 while flying copilot with Kendall's crew. Nosker, who transferred to the 98th Bomb Group, was killed on 15 August 1944 when the B-24 he was flying crashed on take-off at Leece, Italy. Harper successfully evaded capture after bailing out of Big Noise on 5 May 1944. Silvers was killed on 17 May 1944 when Veni Vidi Vici was downed by flak over Orbetello, Italy. Larson transferred to the 8th Air Force in March 1944, and became a POW when his ship was downed by enemy action on 9 May 1944. Kirkland was killed when Wood's Chopper crashed four miles short of Grottaglie Field due to combat damage on 2 July 1944.

© 1998-2010 by D. William Shepherd.

 

 

The 16th Mississippi Infantry
( Army of Northern Virginia, 1861-1865)
This site is dedicated to the memory of the men of the 16th Mississippi Infantry.
Overview of the 16th Mississippi

Rosters of the 16th Mississippi

Company A Summit Rifles Pike County
Company B Westville Guards Simpson County

Company C

Crystal Springs Southern Rights Copiah County
Company D

Adams Light Guards

Adams County
Company E

Quitman Guards

Pike County
Company F

Jasper Grays

Jasper County
Company G

Fairview Rifles

Claiborne County
Company H

Smith Defenders

Smith County
Company I

Adams Light Guard

Adams County
Company K

Wilkinson Rifles

Wilkinson County
The 16th Mississippi Regiment, Excerpt from Roland Dunbar's "Military History of Mississippi"

From the Archives One Soldier's Story: Capt. E. H. Gatlin (Company A, 16th Miss.)

16th Mississippi Soldiers At Appomattox

Where to Find 16th Mississippi
Historical Records

The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System. The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System is a webbased database published by the National Park Service. The database features information and data on Civil War Soldiers, Sailors, Regiments, Cemeteries, Battles, Prisoners, Medals of Honor, and National Parks. The CWSS synopsis on the 16th Mississippi reads as follows:

16th Regiment, Mississippi Infantry
16th Infantry Regiment was organized at Corinth, Mississippi, in June, 1861, and about 950 officers and men were mustered into Confederate service. They were recruited in the counties of Pike, Wilkinson, Holmes, Copiah, Adams, and Jasper. Sent to Virginia the regiment was brigaded under Generals Trimble, Featherston, Posey, and Harris. After fighting in Jackson's Valley Campaign, it participated in the campaigns of the Army of Northern Virginia from the Seven Days' Battles to Cold Harbor, then shared in the Petersburg siege south of the James River and the Appomattox operations. The 16th lost 6 killed and 28 wounded at Cross Keys, had 15 killed, 51 wounded, and 19 missing at Gaines' Mill and Malvern Hill, and sixty-three percent of the 228 engaged at Sharpsburg were disabled. It reported 23 wounded at Fredericksburg, sustained 76 casualties at Chancellorsville, and took 385 effectives to Gettysburg. On April 9, 1865, it surrendered 4 officers and 68 men. The field officers were Colonels Samuel E. Baker, Edward C. Councill, and Carnot Posey; Lieutenant Colonels Seneca M. Bain, Robert Clarke, Abram M. Feltus, and James J. Shannon; and Majors Jeff. Bankston and Thomas R. Stockdale.

 

SECOND FLORIDA INFANTRY


The 2nd Florida Regiment, as it was first organized, was composed of ten companies as follows:

Alachua Guards, Alachua county (Co. B), Capt. Lew Williams;
Columbia Rifles, Columbia county (Co. C), Capt. Walter R. Moore;
Leon Rifles, Leon county (Co. D), Capt. T. V. Brevard, Jr.; 
Hammock Guards; Marion county (Co. E), Capt. John D. Hopkins; 
Gulf State Guards, Jackson county (Co. F), Capt. Jones F. McClellan; 
St. Johns Greys, St. Johns county (Co. G), Capt. J. J. Daniels; 
St. Augustine Rifles, Putnam county (Co. H), Capt. John \V. Starke; 
Hamilton Blues, Hamilton county (Co. I), Capt. Henry J. Stewart; 
Davis Guards, Nassau county (Co. K), Capt. George W. Call;
Madison Rangers, Madison county (Co. L), Capt. \V. P. Pillans.

In the early days of July [1861] these ten companies were ordered to rendezvous near the Brick Church, just west of Jacksonville, now [1903] known as LaVilla, and on July 13 the Regiment [Companies B through L] was mustered into the Confederate service by Maj. W. T. Stockton. The Regiment was organized by the election of George T. Ward, of Leon county, Colonel; S. St. George Rogers, of Marion county, Lieutenant-Colonel; and Louis G. Pyles, of Alachua county, Major. The following Staff appointments were then made: Dr. Thomas Palmer, Surgeon; Dr. Thomas W. Hendry, Assistant Surgeon; Capt. Edward M. L'Engle, Assistant Quartermaster; Capt. W. A. Daniel, Assistant Commissary; Lieut. R. B. Thomas, Adjutant; Edward Houston, Sergeant Major; T. W. Givens, Quartermaster Sergeant.

On Monday, July 15th, the Regiment left by rail for Virginia, arriving in Richmond Sunday afternoon, July 21st [1861]. The Regiment was in Camp of Instruction, in the neighborhood of Richmond, nearly two months. On September 17, 1861, the Regiment left Richmond for Yorktown, where they were joined by the Rifle Rangers of Escambia county (Co. A), Capt. E. A. Perry. [Company M was most probably added to the Regiment in the same time frame.]

During the fall of 1861, and the winter following, the Regiment was encamped near Yorktown, forming a part of Major General J. B. Magruder's Command. Early in October Lieutenant Thomas was ordered to report to Richmond and Lieut. Seaton Fleming was assigned to duty as Adjutant. It was at the siege of Yorktown that the Regiment received its "baptism of fire." On May 5th [1862], at Williamsburg, the Regiment again distinguished itself by its gallant resistance to McClellan's advance. In this battle Col. George T. Ward was killed, and Companies E, D and L each lost one man, making four killed; and every company in the Regiment had one or more wounded, making thirty wounded. Among the seriously wounded was Lieut. C.S. Fleming. The 2nd Florida, being twelve months' men, were by Act of Congress required to remain in the service two years longer; this act was known as the Conscript Laws and gave them a right to reorganize by a re-election of officers, which should have taken place on May 3rd; but owing to the battle of Williamsburg reorganization did not take place until the following week or May l0th. At the reorganization Capt. E. A. Perry was elected Colonel; Maj. L. G. Pyles, Lieutenant-Colonel; and Capt. George W. Call, Major. All the companies in the Regiment changed their captains except B and C. On May 31st [1862] the Regiment was engaged in the battle of Seven Pines, where it lost 6 officers., 4 non-commissioned and 24 privates killed. Wounded, 17 officers, 21 non-commissioned officers and 106 privates; total casualties, 178. In the battle of Seven Pines Maj. George W. Call was killed, and Lieut-Col. L. G. Pyles was wounded and disabled. Of the eleven captains who went into the battle, four, J. H. Pooser, C. S. Flagg, A. C. Butler and T. A. Perry were killed, and six, W. D. Ballantin (Co. A), Lew Williams (Co. B), W. R. Moore (Co. C), M. G. C. Musgrove (Co. D), W. E. Caslin (Co. E) and M. J. Duncan (Co. I) were wounded. Shortly after the battle of Seven Pines Co. M was assigned to this Regiment, making twelve companies in all. After the battle of Seven Pines followed in quick succession the battles of Cold Harbor, Gaines' Mill, Savage Station, Frazier's Farm and Malvern Hill. In the battles of Ellison's Mill and Frazier's Farm, June 26 and 27 [1862], the Regiment lost 8 killed and 52 wounded; among the killed was G. W. Parkhill, Captain of Co. M. At the battle of Frazier's Farm, June 30 [1862], the Regiment lost: Killed, 2 officers, 1 non-commissioned officer and 11 privates; wounded, 3 officers, 2 non-commissioned officers and 62 privates. Among the wounded was Col. E. A. Perry.

Following the battle of Frazier's Farm came the Maryland campaign. On December 13[1862] the battle of Fredericksburg was fought. The Regiment lost: killed, 1 non-commissioned officer and 3 privates; wounded, 4 officers, 5 non-commissioned officers and 25 privates (casualties in Co. K not reported). A partial report of the casualties at Chancellorsville [May 1863] show 3 officers and 17 privates wounded, and 3 privates killed. In the battle of Gettysburg [July 1863]: Killed, 6 officers, 4 non-commissioned officers and 5 privates; wounded, 6 officers, 6 non-commissioned officers and 54 privates; total casualties, 81. There is no report accessible of the casualties during the year 1864 and 1865, and it was during these years that some of the most desperate and bloody battles were fought; and in all of them the 2nd Florida did its full measure of duty. It was but a skeleton of a splendid regiment that surrendered at Appomatox Court House -- but 7 officers and 59 men."

[Source: "Soldiers of Florida in the Seminole Indian-Civil and Spanish-American Wars." Prepared and published under the supervision of the Board of State Institutions, As authorized by Chapter 2203 Laws of Florida, approved May 14, 1903. Printed by Democrat Book and Job Print, Live Oak, Florida.]

 

 

From Little River to Islamorada:
A Fisherman's Journey
By
D. William Shepherd & Russell L. Shepherd


Table of Contents

-- In The Promised Land

-- Pop's Big Bass With the
Backlash

-- At The Mouth of Little River
With Ras and Joda

-- Uncle Malcolm's Fly Rod

-- Paradise

-- Bad Luck and Poor Judgement

-- Super Skiff

-- Islamorada Dreaming

  Fishing has always been a part of my life. Some of my earliest memories are of fishing in the small pond in the pasture at my grandparent's farm near Norfield, Mississippi. On at least one occasion, I recall my grandmother fashioning for me a fish hook out of a safety pin. My Dad began to take me fishing with him when I was but a young lad. It was very unsophisticated fishing -- wading the small stream of Little River, and fishing for largemouth bass with cane poles. We eventually graduated to bait casting, and, under Uncle Malcolm's tutelage, I even took up fly fishing. When I had sons of my own, I introduced them to fishing at an early age. Living on the Gulf Coast, it was only natural that we concentrated on salt-water fishing. Over the years they all became skillful salt-water fishermen. It was not until after my sons were young men that I began to experiment with salt-water fly fishing. And it was even later that I was introduced to flats fishing in the waters surrounding Islamorada in Florida Keys. When I look back, I find that it has been an interesting and rewarding journey.
-- D. William Shepherd , May 2004

 In The Promised Land
I am one of the chosen few. The words ‘chosen few’ carry an almost religious tone conjuring up images of that small number of folks who one day will cross over the Jordan and inhabit, at least in their minds, the promised land. Me, I grew up in a modern day promised land -- South Mississippi.

The south Mississippi of the 1950’s flowed not only with milk and honey like that fabled promised land of Biblical tales, but also with numerous clean, clear, gravel-bottomed streams that contained an abundance of fish. The names of these streams and rivers are indelibly written on my memory -- Little River, Holiday Creek, Pearl River, and Green’s Creek. All were visited by my father and I, sometimes accompanied by my older brother, on those hot, summer Wednesday afternoons when the small town of Columbia rolled up the sidewalks and took a mid-week break.

It was on Wednesday afternoons that Dad and I did our fishing. Dad worked Monday through Saturday, and Mom would not allow fishing on Sunday. So, on Wednesday afternoons Dad would take the fishing poles down from their storage place on the rafters in the garage, stick them in the window of the car, and off we would go to one of the small creeks, or perhaps to a lake or pond he had heard about.


1958 - Me, Dad and Bud. Ready to depart on a
Wednesday afternoon outing.

To an outsider, Columbia was not much of a town. Just another in the seemingly endless series of small southern towns with a short, main street lined with businesses and dominated at one end or the other by a courthouse or train depot or post office. In Columbia, it is the court house that stands at the south end of Main Street on a small square all to itself. The cornerstone for the courthouse had been laid in 1905. That same year my mother was born in the sawmill town of Ora, not too many miles distant.

The main street of Columbia runs due north and south. It is only three blocks from the courthouse square to the post office on the hill at the north end of Main Street. Although Main Street continues to run north well beyond the post office, the three blocks between the post office hill and the courthouse were the downtown business district in the 1950’s.

Today, Columbia, like most towns, has spread out with shopping centers and businesses on the outskirts of town replacing the shallow sloughs where in the 1950’s a boy and his dad could catch in a few minutes enough crayfish to last an afternoon of fishing.

Since Mom had declared a prohibition to fishing on Sunday, this left only Wednesday afternoon for Dad and I to indulge in this pastime. Dad’s version of fishing was not sophisticated. The only items purchased were mono-filament line, usually 20-pound test, hooks, lead sinkers, and corks. All of our fishing was done with cane poles until one of Dad’s brothers gave us a bait-casting rod in the early ‘50’s. The cane poles were cut green from the cane groves scattered around the countryside. They were then trimmed and allowed to dry.

Dad was primarily a bass fisherman. I never saw him fish for pan fish, although he would occasionally fish for what we called ‘white perch,’ and sometimes, usually in the deeper Pearl River, for catfish. His main quarry, however, were the largemouth bass that populated the streams and ponds of Marion county. In the warm summer months, small minnows -- seined from a creek and kept alive in one of my mother’s small laundry buckets -- were used for bait. In the spring, crayfish could be captured from the roadside ditches and the shallow mud ponds by the use of a long-handled dip net. Minnow seines and dip nets were all handmade from onion sacks that came from the Nickel Store. Onions came in fifty-pound mesh sacks. Dad would collect the sacks. The sacks would be unsewed down one side and the bottom, and then laid out flat. Several such sacks laid side by side and sewed together made a serviceable minnow seine several feet in length. Large lead sinkers were attached at intervals to the bottom edge and several wooden floats to the top edge. Attach a sturdy wooden pole to each end, and, presto, you had a minnow seine. A single onion sack, with the open end sewed to a steel hoop attached to the end of a stiff wooden pole made a serviceable dip net.

Thus equipped, Dad and I would catch bait, and fish the creeks and rivers.

Our most common destination was a small, clear, swift-running stream some five miles south of town known as Little River. It was a popular spot for picnicking and swimming. It never struck me odd at the time that there were two different swimming holes. The shallower one above the bridge being frequented by the black people of the community and the larger, deeper one below the bridge being the swimming hole for the white folks. As a young boy growing up in a segregated society, it never seemed strange to me, and it was never discussed. It was just the way things were. Growing up in such a society, I was lucky enough to have parents who instilled no deep or abiding prejudice in me for people of a different skin color. At the same time, intermingling with the black portion of the town’s population was actively discouraged. I would suppose that the black folks took a certain satisfaction from the fact that the swimming hole to which they were relegated at Little River was upstream from the white’s swimming hole. I am sure that under a different set of circumstances it would have been a humorous situation in my mind.

Fishing Little River was simple. First, we would take the minnow seine and catch a dozen or so minnows from one of the shallower, more-accessible areas. The preferred minnows being the ‘spot tails’ which derived their name from the well-defined, black spot at the base of the fork of their tails. Once the minnows were in the small laundry tub we had borrowed from Mom, we would proceed to fish the deeper holes of the creek wading from one dark, quite pool to the next. The minnows were generally hooked through the tail or upper back. A small lead sinker attached to the line a few inches above the hook served to keep the live minnow down at the desired depth. A cork, one to two inches in diameter, and rigged to slide up and down the fishing line, controlled the depth of the bait. In this way it was not unusual to catch over the course of a single afternoon a half-dozen small bass weighing from one to three pounds each.

As we waded up and down the creek we carried our minnow seine, fishing poles and minnow bucket with us. When we reached a likely looking spot, the minnow seine, bucket and extra poles were deposited on a sand or gravel bar, and we would wade out into the creek to drop minnows next to submerged logs or in the darker, deeper water preferred by the bass.

At the time, I thought everyone fished this way. It was not until years later I realized Dad and I never encountered other fishermen wading the rivers with cane poles. It was not uncommon to see a person sitting on the bank fishing in a quite pool, but never did we encounter anyone else wading and fishing. It was Dad’s unique technique borne out of a desire to fish, and a necessity to do it cheaply. I realize now that it was a truly effective and innovative approach that allowed us to cover a lot of water in a relatively short time.

Many of my most pleasant memories of youth are centered around those Wednesday afternoon outings. I was fortunate to have a father who not only liked to fish, and was innovative enough to devise a unique way of doing it, but who was patient enough to take the time to teach his young son. I started fishing with my father and older brother in this fashion when I was very young, say five or six years old, and I have often heard my father tell of putting me on his shoulders to cross the deeper holes as we waded Little River. Taken as a whole those Wednesday afternoon wanderings were one part of a lesson on how to raise children -- particularly boys. As it turned out, these lessons were not to be lost to me.

It was a great time and place in which to be privileged to grow up.

I have no recollection as to when was the last time that Dad and I fished Little River together; but it must have been sometime in the summer of ’58 or ’59.

In the early 1990’s, after it became necessary for Mom and Dad to move to Baton Rouge, while at Columbia during one of my periodic visits, I wandered into the garage for some reason or other, and there, on the open rafters across the top lay Dad’s cane fishing poles, all still rigged and ready as if he would be using them any day. Of course, he never used them again. I was struck by the fact that, one day in the past, Dad had returned from fishing and put the poles up to await there next use; but that use never came. Whenever the day was that he put the poles up on the rafters in the garage for the last time it was a milestone of sorts -- it marked the end of Dad’s fishing days. He, however, probably did not realize it at the time. The cane poles served to remind me that many of life’s milestones go unrecognized at the time they occur. The last time you rocked your child to sleep, the last time you walked down a familiar street, through a familiar house, or across a familiar landscape; the last time you saw a friend’s smile before they suddenly departed this life. All are small milestones, some that signal significant changes, that go unrecognized at the time. Such is life.


Pop's Big Bass With the Backlash

"Billy, Billy, time to get up." It was my father’s voice.

"O. K.," I replied.

Outside it was dark. Through my bedroom door I could see the soft glow filtering in from the light in the dining room. I pulled on my shirt and blue jeans, picked up my tennis shoes, and moved into the living room, sitting down on one of the footstools.

As I pulled on my high-top, black Keds tennis shoes, I heard the old clock in the dining room began to strike. It was a deep metallic sound that echoed through the quite house. Five a.m. The old, mechanical clock had belonged to Dad’s father. Dad would wind the clock every third day. In later years, when my own family would visit Mom and Dad, I would wake up at night, and hear the old clock chiming, and know that I was home.

Mom had left the coffee pot ready to be plugged in. Dad had been up for a few minutes. As I walked into the kitchen, he was sitting at his customary place at the green breakfast table, finishing a cup of coffee. I poured a glass of milk, gulped it down, and headed outside. When you are fourteen, it only takes a few minutes to get out the door when you are going fishing.

Dad and I had planned this fishing trip at the supper table the evening before. We would only have a few short hours. He would have to be at work by 8:00, and even then he would be an hour late. Tuesday, however, was the slowest day of the week. The other market help could manage for an hour or so. Our fishing gear had been loaded into the two-door, green, 1939 Mercury the night before.

A few minutes later, after Dad put two home-made boat paddles in the car, we were headed down the driveway. In the east, gray light was beginning to show behind the hilltops. Another June day was dawning across south Mississippi. At the end of the drive, Pop turned left onto the gravel road. "I thought we would try Lake Tom Watts," was Dad’s only explanation as to our destination.

Lake Tom Watts was a recreational fishing lake located in the Hugh L. White Game Preservation area some ten miles southeast of Columbia. We lived east of town, and the Game Preserve was four miles due south of our house.

We crossed Highway 98, picked up another gravel road, and headed south toward the Game Preserve.

By 1955, Dad had managed to acquire a couple of bait casting rods and a number of lures. The rods were used ones that Dad’s brothers had given him. It had not taken us long to become fairly proficient at casting these in open water. The bait casting reels were relatively uncomplicated affairs without drag adjustments. The 20-pound test, black, nylon line was wound around a narrow center spool. A level-wind mechanism that tracked back and forth across the front of the spool as the reel handle was turned kept the line evenly distributed. A short mono-filament leader, perhaps 24-inches in length, was tied to the end of the black, nylon line. At the end of the leader, a brass swivel-snap was generally attached so that it was not necessary to retie the leader each time you changed lures.

Most of our lures -- with names such as Lucky 13, River Runt, Hula Dancer, Paw-Paw, Crippled Shad, and DyJack -- were made of wood. Others, mostly spinners, such as the Hawaiian Wiggler and Shannon Spinner, were made of metal with rubber skirts.

It took practice to perfect the art of casting these baits. The rod was gripped behind the reel with the thumb of your right hand resting on the spool of line. The pressure of your thumb prevented the spool from turning while you lifted the rod tip to the two-o’clock position behind your right shoulder. As your arm came forward during the cast, you released the thumb pressure at just the right instant, and the inertia of the bait pulled the line from the reel. Still, you were not through with the cast. When the lure landed on the water, you again applied pressure to the spool with your thumb to stop the spool from spinning. This last step was critical. Failure to reapply the thumb pressure when the lure landed on the water would allow the spool to continue spinning with the result that the line would continue to peel off the spool. Without the inertia of the lure, the line continuing to peel off the spool would remain behind the level wind, and would become a tangled mess know as a "backlash." The backlash would have to be manually untangled before you could begin the retrieve. Clearing a backlash -- depending on the just how tangled the line and how nimble your fingers -- could take a couple of minutes. While you were untangling the backlash, your lure, depending on the type, either floated quietly on the surface or sank to the bottom.

Shortly before 5:30 we reached Lake Tom Watts. It was one of those mornings that make you glad that you are up early. The sun was just breaking the eastern horizon. Birds were beginning to chirp. There was no wind. The mirror-like surface of the lake was unbroken except for the occasional splash of a fish looking for an early meal. Furthermore, we had the lake to ourselves. Both of us were eager to start fishing.

Three, 10-foot, green, wooden boats lay upside down near the edge of the lake. The Mississippi Game and Fish Commission maintained this area. The boats were there to be used on a first-come, first-served basis at the rate of $1.00 per day. Dad removed a one dollar bill from his billfold, handed it to me, and I slipped it through a slit in the top of a small, green, pad-locked, wooden box mounted on a near-by tree. A sign above the box informed visitors that this was an honor system, and that you were expected to pay before using the boat.

We picked up our fishing gear and the boat paddles and headed toward the nearest boat. Dad didn’t bother to lock the car, there was no reason to do so.

In addition to the casting rod and the boat paddles, my fishing gear consisted of a small, aluminum tackle box some four-by-six inches in size and about one inch deep with a hinged top. Inside, the box was divided into two compartments, each of which held several lures. Dad’s "tackle box" consisted of a water-proof, gray, rubber-coated, canvas bag that closed by means of a series of snaps. The shoulder strap was made of heavy-duty, adjustable, green canvas of the type extensively used for military backpack straps and belts in the Second World War. Obviously, the bag had originally been intended from some rugged use. In fading letters on the outside of the bag were the words, US Army - Gas Mask - One Each. One of Dad’s brothers had purchased a number of these at an army surplus store, and had given several to Dad. Inside the bag, Dad carried another small aluminum box, rolls of assorted lines, snaps, hook boxes, sinkers, corks, a small pair of pliers, and assorted other small items that experience had proven were useful to have handy when fishing.

Lake Tom Watts encompasses some thirty acres. It was not a lake that we fished very often. On this particular morning we had proceeded up the west side of the lake. After perhaps forty-five minutes of fishing we had nothing to show for our efforts, and had worked our way to the upper reaches of the lake.

Dad’s favorite lure was the Heddon Dyjack -- a large, blue-backed lure about six inches in length with a small propeller-type spinner at each end. This lure, which Dad referred to as a "crackled-back" because of the nature of the paint pattern on the top of the lure, had no less than five treble hooks, two on each side, and one on the rear -- fifteen hooks in total. It was a heavy bait that Dad could cast well. His favorite technique was to cast this lure as far as possible over open water, and then retrieve it as fast as possible. The lure ran straight and level about five inches beneath the surface of the water -- and the big bass loved it.

Dad had been fishing his favorite lure without producing a single strike. Being impatient, I had worked my way through my small collection of lures with no better result. Surprisingly to me, Dad decided to change lures. Off came the Dyjack and out of his tackle bag he produced a brand new Millstream Wig Wag. Now this was a very small, light-weight, wooden lure, similar to a River Runt, with a spoon on the front and two sets of treble hooks. The color pattern of this particular lure was bull-frog green with black spots outlined in gold.

Dad snapped on the new bait and proceeded to make his first cast. Up to this point he had been using the larger and heavier Dyjack. The smaller, light-weight lure required a different casting technique. Dad did not make the adjustment to the lighter bait. The result was a tremendous backlash. The lure landed no more than fifteen feet from the boat. I heard Dad utter what I recognized as his strongest expletive reserved for those occasions when things didn’t go well, "I declare!"

He looked down at the backlash. It was a dandy. With a look of frustration on his face, he began silently working to clear the tangled mess. Dad’s hands were large with thick fingers, and it was hard for him to reach the line inside the reel. We sat there silently as he worked. I was ready to move on to another spot on the lake, and sat impatiently in my end of the boat wondering, as I suppose any fourteen year old would, how anyone could make such a mess. Time was beginning to run out on the morning, and we had not caught a single fish. It did not look like our luck was likely to improve any time soon. Still, Dad continued to fumble with the backlash. After what seemed much longer, but could have been no more than two or three minutes, he had the line untangled, and began to turn the reel to take up the slack line that lay in his lap.

During these few minutes, except for Dad’s hands working on the tangle, we had sat quietly in the boat. Dad’s lure was floating motionless not more than ten feet from the boat. As the line tightened up, the slack in the line disappeared, the lure twitched on the surface at the first tug of the line, and the surface of the lake exploded with the strike of a large bass just feet away from the boat!

I am not sure which of us was the most surprised by this sudden turn of events. I watched excitedly as Dad struggled with the big bass. It took a few minutes for Dad to get the bass into the boat. It was a big fish by our standards, weighing at least five pounds.

After admiring the size of the fish, we resumed our fishing. After a few more casts, Dad had adjusted to the light-weight lure. However, he was not getting the distance to which he was accustomed with the heavier Dyjack. After perhaps another fifteen minutes, I noticed that Dad was removing the small bait and changing back to his favorite lure.

We had now worked our way across the upper midsection of the lake, and were entering a shallow area that formed the northeast arm of the lake. Dad cast out into the middle of the area ahead of us and began his customary fast retrieve. After a few turns of the reel, I heard a deep grunt, "Ughh," and looked up to see Dad’s rod bowed nearly double. Thirty feet in front of the boat the surface boiled violently -- then the line broke! Dad just sort of went limp, and sat there holding his rod and staring at the spot where he had fleeting glimpse of the huge bass. Neither of us had ever hooked up with a bass large enough to part the 20-lb test line. Dad reeled in his line, re-rigged and began fishing with another bait.

An hour later, having caught no other fish, we paddled up to the boat landing, beached the boat, loaded our gear and the big bass into the car, and retraced the route back home. On the way home we talked about the big one that Dad caught, and the huge one that got away. Dad dropped me off at the house, and headed down the drive on his way to work.

It was 8:30 in the morning, and the yard needed mowing.

That evening, when Dad came home from work, he had two, brand-new Dyjack lures.

In the summer of 1990, during a visit to my parents, I began searching for the old gas-mask bag that Dad had used for his fishing tackle. In particular, I was looking for one of the old Dyjack fishing lures. I looked through the outside storage house without success. Later in the day, I asked Dad about the bag. His answer astounded me. He had given the bag and his old fishing lures to the young son of one of my first cousins -- someone who it was obvious to me had no interest in the old lures and who would quickly lose them. I never discussed the subject with Dad again.

He had given the old clock that had belonged to his father to my older brother. I had wanted the old fishing lures. Too bad, now they were all gone.

All of this bothered me a great deal at the time, and I still think about it occasionally. In retrospect, being the kind-hearted person that he was, I guess Dad wanted to give something to my first-cousin’s son, and the old fishing gear was all he had that he thought could possibly interest the kid.

As for me, Dad had given me the one thing that my cousin’s son would never have ... a father’s time. I am quite sure that is enough.

Somehow, I did end up with the frog-colored Millstream Wig Wag lure. Most of the hardware -- hooks, eyelets, etc. -- are missing from the old lure. Although scuffed and worn from years of use, the original frog-spot paint job is still clearly discernible. Together with a few other old lures, it lays in my old aluminum tackle box that is perched on the top of a bookcase in my study. Whenever I look at it, I see in my mind’s eye a middle-aged man and a young boy fishing from a boat on a quite lake in the early light of a June morning -- and I think of the backlash, the big bass, and my Dad.


At The Mouth of Little River With Ras and Joda

It was a Wednesday afternoon in the summer -- sometime in the late 1950’s. Dad and I were on our usual Wednesday afternoon outing. This Wednesday afternoon, however, was a little different -- two of Dad’s brothers were with us. Uncle Ras and Uncle Joda had driven down from Jackson the night before. Uncle Ras was ten years younger than Dad, and Uncle Joda was a few years older. At this time Uncle Joda was in poor health that had deteriorated to the point that he was unable to drive himself. Since Dad’s family was one that stuck together through the thick and the thin, Uncle Ras had brought Uncle Joda to visit with Dad. Uncle Joda’s mobility was not good, and his legs were beginning to fail. We would have to go where Uncle Joda would not have too much exertion in getting to a fishing spot. I had no way of knowing at the time, but within a couple of years he would be gone.

This particular afternoon we set out for a place that we called the mouth of Little River. This was where Little River empties into a cutoff of the Pearl River. Dad and I often fished this particular area. To reach it we drove about two miles past the bridge at Lampton, then turned into a lane that ran back across the pastures and through the woods.

The lane ended in a heavily wooded area on a bluff overlooking Little River just above the point at which the river merged with the Pearl River cutoff.

As we pulled up to small clearing where we generally parked the car, there was a large tortoise digging furiously in the sandy soil as it worked to enlarge its burrow. Evidently the creature had been so engrossed in digging that it failed to notice the approach of the car. We stopped quite close -- some thirty or so feet from the tortoise. We all sat in the car, and watched the sand flying as the big turtle worked. It was an unusual sight enjoyed by all of us. It is funny what small memories stay with you over the years. There was nothing spectacular about the sight, but it was unusual.

Years later when we would be talking while sitting around the supper table, or riding together in the car, Pop would suddenly ask me if I remembered the day we came upon that tortoise.

We had come here to fish, however, and as soon as we opened the car door, the tortoise, alerted to our presence, disappeared into its newly enlarged home.

The plan was to seine minnows from Little River, and then to position Uncle Joda at a location above a promising pool where he could fish for bass. Meanwhile, Uncle Ras, Dad and I could wade the creek fishing in the near vicinity in case Uncle Joda needed some assistance. We moved our fishing poles and equipment down to the creek where Dad and I seined a few minnows. A site was located for Uncle Joda just below the bluff on which the car was parked.

A large oak tree had caved into the river and a pool of relatively quite water was located just downstream of where the large tree trunk entered the water. It was an ideal place to fish for bass with live bait. We got Uncle Joda situated above the quite pool and he began fishing.

A few yards upstream from where Uncle Joda was located, another tree had caved into the creek and had taken with it a part of the fence that was attached to it. The fence stretched down from the top of the bluff with one post dangling in mid air. From the dangling post, a single strand of wire stretched to the tree in the water. This single strand of wire was some four feet above the sloping side of the bluff. I would later have cause to remember this piece of fence wire as would Uncle Ras.

After getting Uncle Joda situated, we all started fishing. Dad remained in the immediate vicinity of Uncle Joda while Uncle Ras and I wandered downstream to the point at which Little River entered the Pearl River cutoff. The cutoff was actually an old river bed. The far side of the cutoff was lined with large willow trees that overhung the water.

Uncle Ras and I walked along a gravel bar on our side casting to the edge of the willow trees. I was fly fishing, and he was bait casting. Now Uncle Ras, like Dad, carried with him as a tackle bag an old, gas-mask bag that one of their brothers had purchased at an army surplus store. His bag was made of green canvass, unlike the rubberized gray bag that Dad used. When he needed tackle or other equipment, Uncle Ras would open the large flap and extract the needed equipment.

As we fished, we noticed a large water moccasin lying on the branches of one of the willow trees. Uncle Ras decided that the snake, some thirty feet away, was a tempting target. He remarked that he had something in his tackle bag that would take care of the snake. I stopped fishing and watched as Uncle Ras dug into his tackle bag, fully expecting that he would produce a pistol with which to dispatch the snake. What he pulled out of the tackle bag was a complete surprise ... a large sling shot. Uncle Ras immediately began searching the gravel bar for a few suitable rocks about the size of large marbles. All the time I watched this episode with increasing interest, wondering if Uncle Ras could indeed hit the snake with the rocks launched from the sling shot. It wasn’t long until I had my doubts verified. Uncle Ras let fly with his first rock. It was so far off its mark that the snake never knew it was being shot at. Ras let fly with a second rock. This time he hit the water below the snake making such a ruckus that the snake tensed up and prepared to drop into the water. A third shot winged its way through the willows some distance from the snake.

I was not impressed with Uncle Ras’ sling-shot expertise. I thought I had given Ras his chance, so I reached down and picked up a few rocks of good throwing size and weight. As Uncle Ras was reloading for a fourth shot, I took a deliberate windup and threw my rock at the snake, striking the very limb on which the creature was lying. Of course the snake immediately dropped into the murky water and disappeared. Uncle Ras looked at me and said, "Shucks, I was just beginning to get the range and you scared him off." I replied that I thought the snake had figured out that if he remained motionless, he was perfectly safe from the fellow with the sling shot. We both had a good laugh and resumed fishing.

After fishing the length of the cutoff without any luck, Uncle Ras and I soon returned to the vicinity of Dad and Uncle Joda. Joda sat on a log just above the quite pool fishing with a cane pole.

Uncle Ras decided to try his luck with another of the cane poles. Fishing being slow, I wandered back up to the top of the bluff to check on the tortoise.

Ras moved upstream of Joda a few yards to a point where the strand of wire that stretched from the top of the bluff to the tree in the edge of the water at the bottom of the bluff was between he and Joda. Here Ras, using a cane pole, also began to fish from the bank.

Not finding the tortoise to be back out, I walked to the edge of the bluff above Uncle Ras and Uncle Joda. Dad was wading in the creek on the opposite side also fishing with a cane pole.

Things were quite for a few moments, then Uncle Joda connected with a Little River bass that weighed a couple of pounds. After a brief pull, he had the bass out of the water, announcing loudly to everyone that he had a nice fish. But, Joda could not get his legs under him to stand up. There he was sitting on the log, trying to stand up, with the fishing pole held high, and the bass swinging in the wind.

Laying down his own fishing pole, Uncle Ras started to rush to Joda’s aid. He started hurrying along the sloping bank toward Joda. In his haste, Ras failed to see the single strand of fence wire, and as he hurried to get to Uncle Joda, he ran full tilt into the strand of wire. The wire caught him squarely on the top of his safari hat with such force that Ras went sprawling. Uncle Joda meanwhile was telling Ras to quit lying down and to come help him with his fish.

From my vantage point on the top of the bluff, I watched the whole episode unfold. Ras pulled himself up, retrieved his safari hat, and moved to Joda’s side where he took the pole and landed the bass. They sat there together laughing as Uncle Ras ran his fingers through his hair to see if the wire had done any damage. There was none other than to Ras’ pride. Dad meanwhile had waded back to a point across the creek and wanted to know what all the commotion was about. Joda held up the bass for Dad to see.

In later years, anytime we were all together, Dad, Uncle Ras and I would recount the events of that afternoon.

It was the only time that I went fishing with Uncle Joda.

There is no moral to this story or any particular lesson to be learned. It was simply one more memorable Wednesday afternoon along Little River with my Dad -- this time with two of his brothers. I always enjoyed going places with Dad’s brothers. As a youngster, I looked forward to their visits knowing that if there was to be some small outing, I would get to go with them. I did not think anything about it at the time, but I know now that Dad did not have to take me along on these outings with his brothers, but he always did. I am grateful now that he did. These outings were always enjoyable times, and were the things of which small memories are made. Dad’s brothers did not seem to mind that Pop always brought me along; in fact, I sensed that they rather enjoyed me being there. The fact that Pop did take me along built for me a special bond with his brothers.

Uncle Ras died in 1995. At the time I was engaged in putting the finishing touches on my first book. This was the book that was structured around Uncle Charles’s World War II diary. It was generally known in the family that I was in the process of writing the book. The day before Uncle Ras died, Uncle Charles visited him in the hospital in Jackson. As Uncle Charles prepared to leave, Uncle Ras asked, " Is my picture going to be in the book that Billy is writing?" Shortly after Uncle Ras’ funeral, Uncle Charles related this story to me.

I asked Uncle Charles to send me a picture of he and Uncle Ras from their wartime-service years. I could guarantee that the picture would be in the book -- that is one of the advantages of being your own publisher, you can put what you like into the book without anyone’s permission. A few days later, I received the picture from Uncle Charles. It appears in the second group of photographs in the book "Of Men And Wings."


Ras Shepherd (left) and Charles Shepherd (right). (1944)


Uncle Malcolm's Fly Rod

It was at Quinn Stringer’s pond east of Columbia that I saw a fly rod in action for the first time.

During the mid-50’s, my mother’s sister, Rita Gatlin Flowers and her family lived in Columbia. Aunt Rita’s husband, Uncle Malcolm, worked for the Southern Monument Company as a stone cutter. Uncle Malcolm was eighteen years younger than Dad. It was not uncommon for Uncle Malcom to accompany Dad and I on our jaunts around Marion County, particularly on holidays.

By the mid-1950’s Dad and I had become fairly proficient with bait casting rods. Quinn Stringers pond, a stock pond of some 15 acres, was a regular destination for Dad and I. Being only a few miles from our house, it was a place that in the summer months we could fish in the late afternoon after Dad got off from work.

On one of our visits to Stringer’s pond, Uncle Malcolm brought along a wooden case that contained, as I later discovered, a bamboo fly rod. Upon reaching the pond he proceeded to assemble his fly rod, and moved to the dam area where he could fish the deep water along the edge of the pond. I had never seen a fly rod, so I tagged along, and began fishing nearby with my bait casting rod, being careful to keep an eye on Uncle Malcolm and his fly rod endeavors.


Malcom V. Flowers

It was an intriguing way to fish. Over the course of the next hour or so, Uncle Malcolm caught a few bream, and maybe even a bass or two. I did not ask to try the fly rod. However, the next Saturday, a few days before the 4th of July, Uncle Malcolm accompanied me to the fishing section of Hall and Webb Hardware where I purchased my first fly fishing outfit for the grand price of $12.00. It was a black, fiber-glass rod with orange and red wrappings about the eyes -- probably a 5- or 6-weight, although I seem to remember later purchasing a 7-weight line.

The first opportunity I had to try out my new rod was the following week on the 4th of July. Dad, Uncle Malcolm and I put in a full day of fishing on this particular 4th of July, leaving before day break, and fishing a number of ponds in northern Marion County before finishing the day on Holiday Creek at Goss.

We began the day at Parkman’s pond north of Columbia. The Parkman’s had been neighbors when we lived on High School Avenue, and being friends, had told Dad that we could fish their pond whenever we so desired.

We arrived at Parkman’s pond at daybreak. I rigged my new fly rod, and following Uncle Malcolm’s instructions, tied on a small popping bug. Uncle Malcolm and I began wade-fishing the shallows on the west side of the pond. He was bait-casting, using a Lucky-13, top-water lure. I was several yards away working to learn how to cast my new fly rod. Uncle Malcolm would occasionally pause and offer suggestions on my casting technique, or lack thereof.

Standing in water nearly waist deep, my line was continually picking up water on the back cast. Uncle Malcolm made a cast. At the same time, he saw my back-casting troubles, and decided to offer some suggestions. Now, Uncle Malcolm was left-handed. He cast with his left hand, and reeled with his right. As he offered me suggestions, he shifted his rod over to his right hand, and using his left arm proceeded to demonstrate for me that I should keep my casting arm extended above my shoulder while casting to keep the back cast from picking up water. I began trying to change my back cast style, as he stood watching, loosely holding his rod in his right hand, with the Lucky-13 floating on the surface where it had landed on his last cast.

In the middle of my next back cast, all sorts of commotion broke out. A large bass struck hard at the Lucky-13 as it lay motionless on the still surface. Uncle Malcolm was caught completely off guard. The rod was almost knocked out of his hand. He held on, trying to shift the rod back to his left hand so he could get his right hand on the reel and get the line tight ... but, alas, by the time he recovered, the big bass was gone. For years to come, I would have to hear about the one that got away because Uncle Malcolm was involved with trying to help me correct my back cast. Uncle Malcolm did catch a nice bass later in the morning, but, as I was often reminded thereafter, it was not nearly as large as the one that got away.

We went on to fish other ponds that day, and by mid-afternoon arrived at Holiday Creek. Here Uncle Malcolm pulled out his bamboo fly rod, and we fly fished together as we waded the creek. Dad fished for bass with a cane pole using minnows for bait. I still remember the fly that I used as we fished the creek ... it was an aqua-colored water bug tied out of a sponge material with small transparent wings on the top of the body.

The largest fish that we caught in the creek was a beautiful, red-belly perch that Uncle Malcolm caught. He kept the fish to take home and show Aunt Rita. I had fished the entire day with my new fly rod, and was thoroughly hooked on fly fishing.

A few days after the 4th of July, I took my new fly rod and walked across the field behind our house to a small pond that belonged to Mr. Percy Riley. It was a pond where I had caught a number of large bass on bait casting equipment. The pond contained a large number of small yearling bass. It was not long before I caught my first bass on a fly rod. The yearling bass loved the small popping bug that I was using. I was impressed, this was great sport!

I moved from the shallow end of the pond to work my way along the south bank. I failed to notice the fence behind me, and on a back cast, my line became entangled in the barbed wire. As I started my forward cast, the strain was too much for the rod, and my new rod broke about eight inches below the tip. I couldn’t believe it. I had broken my new rod the second time that I used it!

I was crushed. I walked dejectedly back to the house. That afternoon, I took my broken rod back to Hall and Webb. They did not replace it, but they did send it off to be repaired. It was several weeks before it arrived back.

I fished with that fly rod until I finished college.

Immediately after college, Linda and I married, and moved to Panama City. My interest in fishing waned for a while as Linda and I learned about married life, and I adjusted to having a full-time job. I discovered that the old saying was true – "the only difference between college and work is that the eight o’clock class lasts all day."

It was not long, however, until I realized that an entirely new fishing world was available to me. I began to slowly learn about salt water fishing using spinning tackle and jigs.

The fly rod lay in its case unused for the next several years.

In the mid-1970’s I pulled the old fly rod out. The repair work had deteriorated to the point that the tip-half of the rod was no longer useable. In addition, the cork around the handle and the reel seat had rotted away. I discarded the rod in the trash.

Uncle Malcolm died of a heart attack in 1989. Aunt Rita had died eight years earlier, the victim, as far as I could tell, of a medical procedures error.

After Uncle Malcolm’s funeral, the family gathered at his house for a short visit. Roger, Uncle Malcolm’s son, and I walked out into the garage. Roger asked me if there was anything there I would like to have. I spied the wooden case of Malcolm’s bamboo fly rod lying on a shelf. I opened the case, and the fly rod was inside. I asked Roger if I could have the rod, and he said yes.

Malcolm’s bamboo fly rod now occupies a prominent place on the wall above the book case in my study. It is an unusual rod in that it has four different tips, each of a different stiffness.

I have never used the rod, preferring instead to have it as a reminder of the good times I had with Uncle Malcolm, and of the first time I saw anyone use a fly rod.

It is my intention to some day pass it on to one of Uncle Malcolm’s grandsons.

It was, then, Uncle Malcolm who introduced me to the higher magic of fly fishing. And as I have said, my interest in fly fishing waned when Linda and I married and moved to Panama City, and I began to explore the world of salt water fishing.

Our three sons were born during the ‘60s. The business of taking care of a young family, coupled with getting established in my career at the Navy Lab, left little opportunity for fishing. In the mid-70’s, the boys were old enough to begin fishing. We began fishing from the pier and jetties at St. Andrew State Park. It was here that the boys first learned to fish.

It was not until 1976, however, that my boys and I began to fish the near-shore waters of the Panama City area. That year my brother loaned me a 16-foot Evinrude boat that he had bought second hand. With this boat, the boys and I began to explore the Gulf waters. Our fishing in the Gulf consisted at first of trolling, and then of drift fishing with live bait -- a technique at which we would eventually become especially proficient.

It was also during the mid-70s that I got to know Dr. J. J. Hollomon. He had become our family physician when Linda and I first moved to Panama City, and he had delivered all three of our sons. He was, like us, a member of First Baptist Church. In the mid-70s, Dr. Hollomon and I worked together in a Sunday School department for young adults. It was then that I learned of his interest in fly fishing. Being a doctor, his time was especially limited. He carefully guarded Thursday afternoons as the time that he set aside for himself, and much of that time was spent fly fishing in the nearby creeks that emptied into St. Andrew Bay.

Being inspired by my conversations with Dr. Hollomon, I bought my second fly rod; a 5-weight Browning rod.

Although I never actually fished with Dr. Hollomon, he became in a sense my "guide" to the freshwater areas near Panama City. From his conversations I gleaned information about the surrounding areas of Deer Point, Sandy Creek, and about one small stream on the north side of West Bay of which he was especially fond -- Burnt Mill Creek. All of this I stored in my memory, waiting to be recalled when I had both the time and the equipment to explore these areas.

On occasion, I would carry my 5-weight fly rod along when the boys and I took the boat out in the Gulf. I soon discovered that dolphin in particular would hit a small popping bug. It was, however, difficult to fly fish from an open boat on the Gulf.

Upon returning from Norfolk in the summer of ’83, I purchased a new boat -- an 18-foot Cobia with a 90-horse power outboard engine. This boat served us well as both a bay boat and a gulf boat for many years. Most of our gulf fishing focused on using live bait on medium weight spinning rods. This was a very effective technique that produced a wide variety of fish.

In the late ‘80’s, I begin to become aware of fly fishing equipment specifically designed for salt water fishing. The more I read, the more interested I became. Finally, in 1992, during a visit with my oldest son Don in Tallahassee, I stopped by a fly fishing shop to take a look at salt water fly fishing equipment. I explained to the fellow that owned the shop that I was interested in a general purpose fly rod adequate for salt water use. He explained to me that I needed at least a 9-weight rod. Deciding that I was serious, he picked up his demonstration rod, and we walked out to an open area behind the shop for a couple of lessons on how to throw a 9-weight. Don followed along behind, doubting whether I would be able to handle the rod. After a couple of demonstration casts to show me the double-haul technique, the fellow handed me the demo rod. Don was shocked to see that I could make casts of the same distance as the shop owner.

We walked back to the shop, and I purchased a 9-weight St. Croix rod with a Martin Trophy reel. The owner of the shop loaded the reel with a couple of hundred yards of backing and a weight-forward floating line. He also showed me a couple of useful knots. For the price of $220.00, I was equipped to begin some serious salt water fly fishing.

Arriving home that evening, I proceeded to show my new fly rod to Linda. Standing in the foyer, I assembled the rod and described it with an enthusiastic voice. I sort of hurriedly passed over the cost, maybe even mumbling a little. Linda looked at the rod and said, "You paid $200.00 for that little stick."

I now had the right piece of equipment for salt water fly fishing. However, I had no idea as to what type of flies one used for such fishing. After purchasing a variety of flies supposedly designed for salt water fishing, I began hauling the 9-weight rod around and using it in the surf and occasionally on the boat. The boys watched with interest, but remained dedicated to fishing with spinning rods. I was the lone fly fisher in the family.

A year or so after Russ married Julie, I decided to give all of the boys a fly rod for Christmas. I ordered four 5-weight rods from Bass Pro Shop -- one for each of the boys and one for Julie. Over the next couple of years, the boys experimented with fly fishing. Then, in about 1994, Russ bought a second-hand bass boat from my brother-in-law. This bass boat opened the way for us to begin some serious fresh-water, and limited salt water fly fishing.

It was then that I remembered my conversations with Dr. Hollomon. It was not long until Burnt Mill Creek became a regular destination. Within a couple of summers, we learned how to fish Burnt Mill, and the surrounding flats of West Bay. This offered me the opportunity to begin using my 9-weight rod to catch speckled trout and an occasional jack, hard tail, or lady fish. It was not long before Russ purchased a 9-weight of his own.

The fly rods became a regular part of our fishing equipment. Russ became particularly proficient at casting, and began experimenting with different flies designed for salt water fishing -- large popping bugs, deceivers, and Clouser minnows became standard fair in our fly fishing tackle boxes.

Our fly rods became a regular staple of our salt-water tackle. In the spring of 2000, I purchased a new boat for Gulf fishing -- a Cobia 184 with a 115 horsepower outboard. The boat proved excellent for Gulf fishing, but offered little utility as a bay boat. We began to experiment with fly fishing in the Gulf. We did not, however, abandon our interest in drift fishing with live bait. The new boat proved to be an exceptional platform for drift fishing.

On occasion we would encounter conditions that caused us to break out the fly rods with lady fish and speckled trout as the usual targets. Then, in July of 2001, on an early morning trip into the Gulf, we encountered a school of bonita surface feeding along a tide line in the bay just inside the pass. Out came the fly rods with white Clousers. We eased the boat up to the edge of the feeding school, and Russ immediately connected with a bonita. Over the next 30 minutes, Russ and I caught several bonita on our 9-weight and 7-weight fly rods, while Mike caught his share on spinning tackle with a white jig. When taken on a fly, the bonita proved to be the equal of any fish in terms of raw power and endurance.

After that chance encounter with the school of surface-feeding bonita, we began to regularly search for such opportunities. However, getting a boat into a position to make a cast with a fly into a school of fish on open water is more difficult than one would think at first glance. The wind is always a complication, and in the open Gulf, the wave action can make balance a difficult problem. There had to be a better way, and in the late summer of 2001 I found it -- slow trolling with a fly rod equipped with a sinking tip. After a series of trial and error experiments, it became evident that a Clouser minnow trolled slowly at the end of a long leader and a sinking tip is particularly effective when fish are feeding on or near the surface.

In the late summer and early fall months, bonita appear in large schools in the near shore waters off Panama City. They are an excellent target for slow-trolled Clousers. As other types of fish move out, the schools of bonita offer a great opportunity that the boys and I have taken advantage of in the late summer. It is a fun way to fish with lots of action.

Over the years, I have added to my collection of fly rods, and have spent many pleasant hours honing my fly fishing skills.

It is fair to say that fly fishing is my preferred way to fish.

And it all started with Uncle Malcolm, and his bamboo fly rod.


 

Learn to solve the Rubik's Cube with the easiest method, memorizing only six algorithms.

Paradise
by Russell Shepherd

Bee-beep, bee-beep, bee-beep -- it was 0427 on Tuesday 17 July 2001, and my watch alarm was going off. Julie reached over to her nightstand, where I had laid my watch last night, turned the alarm off, and nudged me to wake up. A few minutes later I reluctantly rolled out of bed and headed to the closet through the master bathroom. There on the floor waiting for me was a green backpack loaded with work clothes, a washcloth and towel, deodorant, and a comb. Next to it were my fishing clothes, complete with a faded baseball cap on which you could clearly make out the word "Seminoles" across the front. It was a fine cap, one my head had spent nearly eleven years training.

I quietly got dressed while still trying to shake the cobwebs loose. A few minutes later I grabbed the green backpack, and silently walked down the hall and into the kitchen, gently closing the door behind me; hoping not to wake up Sarah Beth (nearly 3 years old) or Abigail (10 months). I flipped on the television in the kitchen to channel 67 to see the latest radar loop, and listen to the marine forecast while I fixed a piece of toast to go along with homemade fig preserves. "Hmmm," I thought as the computer-generated weatherman’s voice indicated that winds were from the East at 10-15, seas 1-2 foot near shore, 3-4 foot well off shore. The radar loop showed that there was some weather 20-40 miles offshore, all moving to the NW generally parallel with the beach at Panama City. Weather looks reasonably cooperative I thought, at least for the next few hours.

I flipped off the TV and headed out the side door leading to the garage. I pushed the button to open up the garage, threw the green backpack into the truck, and stepped outside where the morning sky was still dark. I love this time of day, just before dawn. I glanced up and to the East at the quarter moon that was uniquely accompanied by three bright stars nearby -- the brightest one Venus, I reckoned. Just then, I noticed a cool (for mid-July) breeze in my face. "Yep," I thought as I turned to open the 10-foot wide double gate behind which we kept the boat, "It may be a little bumpy out there this morning."

I walked back into the garage, backed my truck out, and began hooking up the boat. Dad had bought a new (2000 model) Cobia-184, center-console boat last year, and it was being well used. Overall the boat is nearly 19 feet in length, has a stable 8-foot beam, and is powered by a 115-hp Yamaha outboard. This boat is, in my opinion, absolutely perfect for the near-shore gulf fishing that we enjoy. Since I had the room, and could fit the big boat behind the privacy fence in my backyard, Dad had elected to store his boat at my house -- a decision that met no opposition from me. Soon, the boat was properly secured to the truck, and I pulled it up adjacent to the garage so I could easily uncover and load it.

Lets see, three 20-pound spinning rods pre-rigged with double-hook rigs (one was considered a spare and was neatly tucked away in the gunnel rod storage), two 10-pound spinning rods pre-rigged with gold hook rigs for catching bait, one 8-pound spinning rod, some drinks and snacks, plenty of ice; and a small tackle box that held six or eight pre-rigged double-hook rigs, four pre-rigged gold hook rigs, and a couple of spare jigs. Twenty-five years of experience fishing the near-shore gulf waters off Panama City had finally taught us that you don’t need much tackle to effectively fish the area.

I pulled out of the driveway and headed for the marina at the Navy Base just over the Hathaway Bridge. Dad and Mike were to meet me 0530, and I was right on schedule. I was pleased to see Dad and Mike were waiting. I backed the boat down the ramp.

Within 15 minutes we were passing just south of Audubon Island (a.k.a. Bird Island) on our way to the pass. Dad was at the helm, and we were doing about 25 knots into a slight chop. As we rounded Courtney Point and approached the northern end of the Panama City Pass, we could see fish feeding on the surface near channel marker buoy number 14. As we got a little closer, it became quite obvious that literally thousands of fish were in a surface feeding frenzy for an area approximately 0.5 miles wide by 0.25 miles long, loosely following a tidal current line that had set up in the bay. High tide at the Panama City pass was to occur at 0706 today, a little over an hour from now.

As we nosed into the boiling water, I grabbed an 8-pound spinning outfit armed with a half-ounce jig expecting to catch a hardtail or a Spanish mackerel. As I started a fast erratic retrieve a false albacore (commonly called bonito) nailed the jig and took off, breaking my line above the Bimini twist. As we realized these fish were all bonito, and saw many jumping clear out of the water chasing bait, Dad and I immediately knew what the unspoken goal for the morning was -- to catch a few false albacore on fly. That was something we had wanted to do for some time now, but had not had a good opportunity. Well, the opportunity had just presented itself.

Dad quickly began to put his pre-rigged 2-piece, 9-weight fly rod together, and I followed suit. My 9-weight outfit consisted of a 9-foot graphite rod paired with a Cortland direct-drive reel. The big fly reel held 250 yards of 20-pound backing along with a weight-forward, 9-weight, sinking tip line. On the end of the fly line was a hand-tied, 9-foot, tapered, mono-filament leader that terminated in a 12-pound class tippet with a short 40-pound mono-filament shock tippet. To this shock tippet was tied a 2/0 Clouser minnow fly pattern that I had tied last winter specifically with bonito in mind. Meanwhile, we also rigged a 20-pound spinning rod with a half-ounce, white jig as the bonito would not take a dead cigar minnow, the bait was apparently too large.

I made a short cast from the bow of the boat, and the fly landed at the nearest edge of the feeding fish. I began stripping line fast, and almost immediately a bonito took the fly, and I began to clear my fly line as the fish took off. It cleared easily, as I had intentionally opted to strip my line into the water instead of into the boat and managed to get the 8-pound bonito on the reel. The fish was soon into my backing as he continued a good first run. The little bonito put up a good fight, and several minutes later I was proud to boat my first false albacore on fly. Meanwhile, Mike had just boated a nearly identical eight-pounder on spinning tackle. As we unhooked those first two fish, we understood the reason for the commotion. Each bonito deposited several juvenile shiners (each approximately two inches long) on the deck. The bonito were so gorged, that they could no longer swallow the minnows, but continued to feed voraciously out of pure instinct.

Now it was Dad’s turn. I took the helm and again nosed us into the frenzied fish. We were only a few feet away from some unbelievable surface action. Dad put his fly right in the middle of the churning water and was immediately hooked up. The bonito had fallen for a #2 white Clouser minnow, and Dad managed to clear his line and get the fish on the reel. Several minutes later, Dad had boated his first bonito on fly, a nice one also in the 8-pound class.

By 0645 we had boated a total of four bonito (8-12 pounds) on fly, and three or four more on 10- and 20-pound spinning tackle. Interestingly enough, several bottle-nosed dolphin were shadowing the boat. They would allow us to boat the bonito, then would devour the disoriented fish after we unhooked and released them. After the first couple of fish, we would boat a bonito and the dolphin, now knowing that we would soon release the fish, would stick their heads up beside the boat. At first I thought they were begging for a fresh, live bonito, but later realized they were cleverly watching us so that they could gain an unfair advantage on the unsuspecting bonito. By tracking our movements inside the boat, the dolphin could easily anticipate the entry point of the released fish, thus significantly increasing their odds of catching the stunned fish before it had a chance to get re-oriented. It was rather humbling to realize that our very presence here had been involuntarily reduced to simply an awkward link in an unconventional food chain.

Dad and I both admitted that we were excited to have had the chance to justify (at least in our minds) spending approximately $350.00 each on our 9-weight outfits; and laughed about the absurdity.

As the morning began to lighten up a bit, the thick cloud cover and the overcast conditions reminded us of some of our more productive days fishing off the end of the jetties at St. Andrew State Park back in the 1980s. These weather conditions have always given me the peculiar sensation that we were somehow hidden from view and isolated underneath the low clouds and oddly reflected sunlight. It seemed that these days, shrouded by the threatening skies, offered some of our best, and most memorable fishing. Today was no exception. However, the feeding frenzy had slowed in the last few minutes, and the fish became more wary as the morning wore on. The school was breaking up.

We saw a small pod feeding about a hundred yards away and went over to investigate. As we neared, we noticed that the surface strikes were slightly different, and the fish quickly submerged. We put our lures in the water anyway, and soon hooked and boated two small Spanish mackerel; one on fly, and one on a jig. Sure enough, the bonito had moved on.

It was now nearly 0700 and we decided to run out to the bell buoy (three miles offshore), and try our luck in the 65-foot water depth targeting king mackerel. After all, we knew we had less than two hours of fishing time remaining if we were to make our mid-morning meetings at work.

Within 15 minutes we were approaching the bell buoy. The seas were a steady 2-3 foot heading to the west pushed along by the easterly breeze. Not surprisingly, Dad’s boat handled the seas with ease; however, it was obvious that between the wind, the current, and the waves driving the boat would require the attention of one person, full time. There were no other boats at the buoy when we arrived, and we could see that there was a good bit of bait on the up-current side of the buoy, as usual. As we caught several live minnows with gold hook rigs, a 15-pound king mackerel sky-rocketed through the bait fish near the boat, leaving the water, tail still pounding from side to side. Mike and I looked at each other, as if to say, "Did you see that, or was it my imagination?" It was a good sign to say the least. We soon began drift-fishing live shiners (each approximately six inches in length) on our 20-pound spinning tackle. It was only a few minutes before we were rewarded with our first fish, a 10-pound king.

By 0825, we had boated and released four nice-sized king mackerel and three bonito while fishing around the bell buoy, and we were considering the inevitable -- heading to work. I checked the live well to see if we had any bait left. A lone hardtail (approximately 10 inches in length) swam in slow circles against the artificial current produced in the aerated live well. He had not been chosen previously as we typically preferred the smaller, more conventional bait fish. I dipped him up in the bait net, hooked him through the mouth on the top hook of my double hook rig, tossed him over toward the buoy, and let him drift downstream. About two minutes later, a sudden strike was felt as I free-spooled the hardtail behind the boat. The line whipped off the free-spooling reel so fast that I could no longer stop it with my fingers. I pointed the rod at the fish (as has become my preferred technique through the years), and cocked the bail without raising the rod tip. The drag immediately began singing as the fish ripped off nearly 100-yards of line on his initial run. Thinking that it may be a nice fish, we allowed the boat to drift away from the buoy. Not long into the fight I could tell from the way the fish was acting that it was either a big king or a foul-hooked fish. Turns out it was both. Several minutes later, as the 15-20 pound king became visible, we could see that it was foul hooked through the skin on the left side, approximately half way down its body. We boated the fish by hand, unhooked him, and gently returned him to the water. He quickly revived and swam away from the boat, a little tired, but well oriented.

Unfortunately, it was now time to head for the dock. It had been another excellent morning in the bay and near-shore waters surrounding Panama City.

By 0900 we were nearing the CSS marina, and a light rain had begun to fall. We took the boat out in the drizzle and drove around to the wash up facility conveniently located at the marina. We washed the boat and fishing equipment down in approximately 20 minutes. After pulling the boat around and parking, I grabbed the green backpack out of the truck and headed for the un-air conditioned restroom facilities. After a quick, cold shower, I dressed and headed for the office.

At 0950 I stepped into my cubicle in Building 91, turned on my computer, and sat down at my desk. It would be a busy day at the office, but one thing was certain -- the day could not have gotten off to a better start.

Living in Panama City and having the will and opportunity to squeeze in four hours of saltwater fishing before work is definitely a blessing. This is due, in part, to the basic geographic and environmental conditions natural to this area. I was born and raised in Panama City, and I hope to live out my life here. Why wouldn’t I? After all, it’s paradise. "Paradise," I thought (my head nodding up and down slowly in an unconscious gesture of agreement with my own mind) as I picked up the phone to check my voice mail, "absolute paradise."


Bad Luck and Poor Judgement
By Russell Shepherd

January 1999. It’s cold outside, at least by my native Floridian standards, and I’ve already got spring fever.

My dad and my brothers had been kicking around the idea of going south and trying our hand at bonefishing in the Cayman Islands, or Bahamas, or Florida Keys; but had never bit the bullet and planned a trip. Well, there’s nothing like spring fever to push me over the edge. Soon I was surfing the internet looking for a fishing guide. I had decided in recent months that I would like to try fishing in the Florida Keys before venturing abroad. After all, I love this country, why venture outside its borders unnecessarily. Oh, by the way, did I mention that the average-sized bonefish in the Keys is larger than anywhere else in the world? Maybe that also subconsciously played a minor role in my decision. The average Keys’ bonefish is a 7-pounder, and a double-digit bone is by no means uncommon.

"Keys Flats Guide." Those were the key words I typed into the Yahoo search engine. A few seconds later up popped a lengthy list of hits. The second one from the top immediately caught my eye. "Keysflatsguide.com." Sounds like what I’m looking for, I thought as I clicked on it. The home page opened up, and under the title was printed the name "Capt. Duane Baker," and a short introductory paragraph that read, "I specialize in sight fishing on the Florida Keys flats with fly tackle and light spinning tackle. The flats waters in the Upper Keys are rich with bonefish, permit, tarpon, redfish, and snook." Sounds like we have a winner.

After talking it over with Dad, we decided that we would plan a trip, and I would call Captain Baker at the number listed in his website. I called him later that same week and set up a weekend to go fishing with him -- two full days on 16 and 17 July 1999. He seemed like a nice enough guy, and said that fishing would be good that time of year both backcountry and oceanside. Not being very familiar with fishing the Keys, I simply agreed, and he said he’d put us on his schedule. He asked if we were bringing our own tackle, or if we would use his. I answered that we hoped to use his, since he was familiar with it all. He agreed answering, "Good, the boat won’t get all cluttered up." The voice of experience I presumed. We talked a couple minutes more, for he was a man of few words, and I agreed that we would send a $100-per-day, non-refundable deposit that would be subtracted from the total fee of $375 per 8-hour day. That was easy, I thought, maybe too easy. I don’t know about this guy, but hey, you gotta start somewhere. Hopefully, he will show when we arrive in the Keys in July.

Over the next several weeks I made arrangements with a local travel agent to secure plane tickets on a direct flight from Tallahassee to Miami. Tallahassee was only a two hour drive from Panama City, and I reserved a rental car at the Miami airport. I also made room reservations at the Marina Del Mar in Key Largo for a 3-night stay (check in on the 15th, out on the 18th). We were all set. Now, it was just a matter of time, and I thought to myself, "It’s gonna be a long winter".

I picked Dad up at his house on the morning of July 15, 1999 around 6 a.m., and we headed toward Tallahassee. We had a late morning ComAir flight to Miami. While we waited in the terminal at the Tallahassee airport we discussed some of the tackle we had brought along. We were each packing a fly rod and a spinning rod, and a few choice baits, flies, and leaders. Although we planned to use Duane’s tackle while sight fishing, we were hoping to do a little wade-fishing on our own if time permitted. We had elected not to check any baggage as we each had only a small duffle bag and shared a rod case. Besides, nobody really expected us to part with our fishing tackle, did they?

The flight to Miami on the small commuter plane proved to be the best kind -- quick and uneventful. We landed in Miami on time, grabbed our bags from under the left wing as we exited the plane, and followed the signs that read "Transporte de Tierra" -- that’s "Ground Transportation" in the rest of the country. Once there, the young Latino behind the Avis service desk was very friendly and helpful, quickly getting us keys to a 1999 Kia Sportage, and offering directions to US 1 South.

By mid afternoon we had arrived and checked in to our hotel room at the Marina Del Mar, Oceanside. After unpacking, settling in a bit, and changing clothes, we headed off to find a place to eat. A few miles south of our hotel in Islamorada we found an Outback Steakhouse, and pulled in for a bite. After our early dinner we continued south looking for a likely spot to pull over and do a little wading. We saw a nice looking flat behind a small hotel, and pulled into the small parking lot. It was a mom and pop type operation. I walked in to the reception desk to ask permission to wade the local flats. When I asked the man behind the desk if he minded if we wade-fished on "his" flats, he answered rather combatively with, "I sure do." Not wanting to cause any waves, I simply said, "Okay, we’ll move on, sorry to have bothered you." To this the man lightened up a bit and said, as if continuing his previous sentence, "…but, I will tell you where there is a public flat you can wade." The man then recommended that we continue south a few miles to Anne’s beach, near mile-marker 80. Taking his advice, I thanked him for the help and returned to the car.

Sure enough, near mile-marker 80 we saw signs for Anne’s Beach. We picked a parking spot, dawned our wading booties, and grabbed our rods. I opted for my 7-weight fly rod, while Dad grabbed a 10-pound spinning rod with a Heddon Baby Torpedo attached. As we waded across the pretty flat, I stayed in the shallower water hoping to luck up on a bonefish. Not knowing much about fishing in the Keys at the time, I ended up chasing a small puffer fish (boxfish) around the flat for some time, although I didn’t realize that was what I was chasing until the next day. Meanwhile, Dad had worked his way to the edge of the grass flat where the bottom fell away into an apparently man-made channel approximately 10-15 feet deep that was adjacent to the flat, and marked with pilings.

While I fruitlessly chased the boxfish around, I heard Dad holler behind me. Turning, I saw his rod bent double, and I started to work my way his direction. Then, I saw a 2 to 3-foot long fish jump next to him, and thought, maybe he had hooked up with a small tarpon. By the time I got to him, he had the fish at bay, lying in the water beside him -- it was a 10-pound barracuda, complete with the trademark set of dentures. I grabbed the fish behind the head and held him up while we unhooked the fish with needle-nosed pliers.

After releasing the barracuda, I immediately removed my hat, where I kept spare tippets and flies, and chose a 12-pound class tippet with a short, braided-wire shock tippet. I quickly unlooped the 12-pound mono tippet I had been using from the rest of my custom-built, homemade, tapered leader, and looped on the tippet with the wire shock. Then, I chose a #2 red & white popping bug from my hat, and quickly tied it onto the wire shock tippet with a figure 8 knot.

Now rigged, I made a cast as far as I could into the channel and began stripping. The small popping bug made quite a surface commotion as it inched its way toward the rod tip. On the second or third cast, there was a strike on my popping bug, and I set the hook with a strip strike. The line quickly tightened up, and I almost got the fish on the reel, but then the line went limp. At the same time, the still-hooked barracuda suddenly jumped toward us, missing us by only a few feet -- he was traveling the complete opposite direction than my rod and line were pointing. I quickly tightened back up on the fish. Dad laughed about how the fish had turned me around. I did manage to land the fish as he was securely hooked in the tough part of the corner of his mouth. A little later, Dad caught a third barracuda as the sun set, and we were off to a good start in the Keys. We had been in touch with Duane, and at 6:00 tomorrow morning we were scheduled to meet him at his house near mile-marker 90 in Tavernier, and would spend the day sight fishing the flats.

When we arrived at Duane’s house a small flats boat was on a trailer hooked up behind a maroon GMC pickup truck. The boat was a sleek-looking 15-ft Pathfinder tunnel hull flats boat with a clean flat deck and a rear poling platform installed over a 55-hp Yamaha Outboard. We hopped out of the rental car, and loitered around for a few minutes. Then, a man who looked to be in his early 30’s came down the stairs from the house and introduced himself as Duane Baker. We exchanged names and shook hands. He then informed us that today, we would go up in the backcountry and catch some redfish; and tomorrow we’d go oceanside in search of bonefish. We loaded a couple of small bags that contained cameras, sunscreen, and foul weather gear into a hatch-covered compartment in the boat, and then got into the GMC. Duane drove around the corner to a small neighborhood boat ramp, quickly backed the trailer in, unloaded the boat, and parked the truck -- neither requesting our help nor appearing to need it. As we puttered away from the dock, I took in the quietness of the morning. The sun was silently rising over the mangroves to our right, reflecting brightly off the calm water. It promised to be a good day. These peaceful thoughts were interrupted when I heard Duane say, "Hold on to your hats" as he began to throttle up.

It was then that we realized that Capt. Duane Baker knew only two speeds -- idle and faster than a human being should go in a boat. It was also in those few seconds that I came to appreciate just how smooth and sleek the little flats boat really was -- there was nothing to hold on to -- no handles, no ropes, no rod holders, no cleats, no seat cushions, no moldings, no seams, no bolt heads, no cracks, no frayed fiberglass threads, no nothing. Finally, after a few frantic seconds, my fingernails on the two middle fingers of my left hand managed to find a small irregularity in the fiberglass where the boat’s port side mated with the deck that we were now using as seats. I wondered if this crevice had been worn into the fiberglass by other frightened clients, or if it was simply a manufacturing oversight. Either way, I was glad it was there, and held on as best I could. I glanced over at Dad, knowing that words would be wasted in the high ambient noise caused from the tropical air rushing past our eardrums. The collar on his button-up fishing shirt was beating against his neck at a frequency I estimated to be around 10 Hz causing the skin to redden just below his left ear. He didn’t look at me, but I think similar thoughts were going through his mind, although from where I was sitting I considered him lucky as he was seated in between Duane and myself and must have felt relatively secure in the confined space near the centerline of the vessel.

It was at this point that I became fully aware that Capt. Duane Baker was indeed insane. He was not sitting next to Dad as I had assumed, but was standing in a classic ski-jumper’s stance leaning into the wind, his knees lightly resting on the steering wheel. Occasionally he would calmly reach down with one hand and make minor adjustments to the stainless steel steering wheel, or fiddle with the trim tab controls. Although I was not familiar with the area, one thing was certain, we were going somewhere, and fast. I began wondering if I had misread the numbers on the back of the outboard, did it say "55" or "85"? Nonetheless, I noticed that the tachometer on the starboard side-mounted console read 56 (x100) rotations per minute, and I estimated that it was roughly a one to one conversion to miles per hour. We blasted our way across the backcountry, skimming over blurred grass flats so shallow that the tops of the grass blades were lying horizontally across the top of the water. Apparently, there was a common law amongst fishing guides in the Florida Keys stating that anytime a piling, channel marker, buoy, or any other navigational hazard is sighted, you are to buzz it at full throttle, never missing it by more than a boat width. I thought as we weaved through another privately marked channel, "One way or the other, this trip can’t last long."

Nearly 20 minutes later I heard the pitch of the outboard change for the better, it was a lower frequency. I opened my eyes, which I had squinted to the point of closing after I realized that high velocity air, even humid, tropical air, can quickly dry contacts out to the point that they become painful. As we slowed, I blinked rapidly trying to create some artificial tears careful to keep my contacts from popping out. Immediately, after dropping off plane, Duane killed the engine, tilted the motor, grabbed an 8-weight fly rod from its horizontal rack, stepped up on forward casting platform, and began stripping fly line. Meanwhile, my sight was clearing up, and I noticed my fingertips had released their grip on the crevice. It was then that Dad spoke, commenting loudly that the boat ride in itself was worth the price of admission.

Duane immediately commenced into a brief but informative explanation of how we were to spend the next two days fishing. Sight fishing was as much like hunting as fishing in that the fish would be seen before a cast would be made. The location of the fish relative to the boat would be called out by Duane who would be perched atop the poling platform. By giving us a bearing and range to the sighted fish, he would direct our eyes and our casts, if necessary, to the fish. Bearing would be identified by using the clock system, twelve o’clock being directly in front of the boat off the bow; ranges would be given in feet. Sounds simple enough, I thought.

Dad nodded to me to take the primary angler position on the front casting platform. From this position, the fisherman could strip his fly line into the bottom of the boat, where there were no snags to hang up on, yet the gunnels would keep the line corralled in the boat. The other angler would stand either in the bottom of the boat or on the rear casting deck just in front of the poling platform and man a 10-pound spinning rod rigged with a small gold spoon with a hot-pink, twist-tail, grub trailer. Typically, if Duane called out a bearing and range to a fish, it was intended for the primary angler to make the cast. On occasion, however, he would purposely direct the rear angler to cast as conditions dictated.

Dad and I had previously agreed that we would have only three good opportunities as primary angler before we would trade place.


First day of backcountry fishing with Capt. Duane Baker

Over the next hour and a half, we fished the Crocodile Dragover area. Dad boated two redfish and a small jack crevalle on fly. I, on the other hand, was not having much luck as small errors added up to result in not hooking a single fish, although I had my opportunities.

At one point, during a long spell without sighting a fish, Dad asked Duane how he had gotten into this business. His initial response was that he has a friend in the business that always answers that question, "Bad Luck and Poor Judgment." After a short pause, he added that he had started fishing the Keys as a teenager, and knew then that this was what he wanted to do. I judged though that there was some truth in the initial response, as it looked to be a difficult profession -- standing on your feet all day in the tropical heat. Duane said he had guided about 300 days in the last year, and hadn’t had a day off in several weeks. When you consider the 8-hour days, plus the necessary rigging and preparations to keep equipment and tackle in working order, it can easily add up to a seemingly unending string of 10-hour workdays. However, I am sure that Duane would agree that the view from his front office beats that of most other professions hands down.

Shortly thereafter, Duane said, "Go ahead and wind it up Russ, we’re gonna move on." We each took our seats and braced ourselves as Duane started up the outboard. Although his driving style and speeds hadn’t changed, I knew what to expect, and was much more comfortable this time around. We ran to the northwest for about 10 minutes and soon pulled into a small cove lined with mangroves. We were smack dab in the middle of nowhere; however, Duane seemed familiar enough with the area and identified it as Rankin Bight. It was an area which we would fondly remember.

Duane quickly took his place on the poling platform and Dad took the primary fishing spot. One good thing about Capt. Duane Baker is that no time is wasted during the day. You are running (fast), fishing (hard), or eating lunch -- there is no dead time, and you certainly feel that he earns his fee for the day. It was beginning to become apparent that we had blindly stumbled on one of the better fishing guides in the Florida Keys. It wasn’t long before Duane directed Dad to make a short cast, calling out bearing and range. Although the shallow water was quite muddy in this bight, Duane had spotted a boil indicating a fish. Dad put the fly at the directed location and a fish quickly sucked it in. Just then the fish left the water in an attempt to throw the hook. It was a 7-pound snook and Dad and I were excited, as we had never caught a snook before.

There were obvious signs of a lot of fish in Rankin Bight. Unfortunately, a small but healthy rain shower was bearing down on us. Duane opted to run away from the storm saying we would return to Rankin Bight later in the day. Dad and I both hoped that we would, as it was a unique place, and seemed to be full of fish. We quickly assumed our seats and after a couple of attempts to get up on a plane out of the extremely shallow water, the tunnel hull did its job well, and we were headed to yet another spot. In response to the question of how much the little boat drafted Duane had answered "about 4-inches on a plane."


Dad with the Snook in Rankin Bight

After a short run we arrived at Roscoe Key. The water was very clear here, crystal in fact, and was again quite shallow. The flat on the east side of the key was very broad, and the water was approximately 8 inches above the top of the turtle grass. We poled along for a good while in silence. Suddenly a redfish popped up from out of nowhere at 12 o’clock, 10 feet. The fish was heading straight for the boat and, amazingly, had not yet seen us. Duane hadn’t seen the fish either, until I started my cast, a short flip of the leader toward the fish. The fly landed right on top of the fish, approximately above his dorsal fin. Instead of spooking, the fish sensed the fly’s motion and turned slightly to his left as I stripped the fly trying to get it into his field of vision. As I did so, the redfish saw the fly and turned back sharply to his right nailing the fly just under the water’s surface, approximately six feet from the boat. The fish put up a good fight, and Duane soon boated the 5-pound redfish, my first on fly, and my first fish of the trip.

Shortly after boating the redfish, some cloud cover shaded us, and Duane suggested that we go ahead and eat lunch. He staked out the boat and opened up a small cooler. Then he commented, "Well guys, looks like I forgot our lunch". Sure enough, he had, and all that was in the cooler was a few drinks and several Butterfinger candy bars. We each had a snack and got back to fishing.


My first Florida Bay redfish

The afternoon promised to be tough fishing conditions as the wind began to strengthen. We hit Crocodile Dragover again as we searched for some fish, and managed to land one small redfish there. A little later we found ourselves on the lee side of Black Betsey Key, and had reverted to spinning tackle as the wind had now increased significantly, and the sky had become dark and overcast. It was nearly 2:00 when Duane had had enough. I think part of it was that he had forgotten our lunch, but he said with this wind and lighting conditions, we were not likely to catch anything else today. We started for the dock as he indicated that he would only charge us for a half-day today. All in all it had been a good day in the backcountry as we had totaled four redfish, one snook, and one juvenile jack crevalle on fly.

When our alarm went off around 5:30 the next morning, we were already awake. The hard rain, rolling thunder, and flashes of lightning outside had awakened us about 15 minutes earlier. As we lay there watching the radar on the weather channel, we wondered if we would be fishing at all today. We got dressed and headed for the day’s rendezvous point, a small bank parking lot approximately two blocks from the hotel. Shortly after we arrived, Duane pulled up in his pickup, towing a slightly larger boat (a 16 ft Dolphin Super Skiff) sporting a larger (90 hp) Yamaha. "Great" I thought, "This one should be nearly twice as fast!" As we got into the GMC, Duane assured us that he had not forgotten lunch today. We drove north a good ways, and it was the right direction, away from the weather. When we put in at a small ramp off Card Sound Road, the air was warm and heavy, the sun was peaking over the tree tops, and the various biting bug species were ready for breakfast.

We made a long run to the north through Card Sound to the southern portion of Biscayne Bay until we were just south of Arsnecker Key. Here, we looped around Mangrove Point into a small, protected area, lined with mangroves. I took the primary fishing position, and today Duane had rigged the 8-weight fly rod with a 12-pound tippet and a hand-tied #2 Merkin.

After several minutes, Duane announced that he had spotted some nervous water up ahead, and suspected a fairly large school of bonefish. As we neared the nervous water, Duane directed me to make a short cast of 40 foot from the boat. There was a pod of about a dozen bonefish, several tailing in the shallow water, that had suddenly made their presence known. I made a good cast to the fish we had spotted, but my fly line landed directly on top of a small pod of three or four fish that had not been seen. The fish spooked, and the entire school scattered like baitfish. We continued to silently pole around in the area waiting for the school to settle down and begin feeding again. Duane followed the school at a safe distance and soon they were back to tailing in the shallow water. This time, the school had broken up into several smaller pods, each consisting of only a few fish.

Duane targeted a small pod of three or four fish nearby, and silently approached them from up wind. As we neared, he instructed me to lead the fish by 6-10 ft, and informed me that he didn’t believe there were any hidden fish this time. When we got in range, I made a 50-foot cast toward the three v-shaped tails that were waving at us, glistening in the morning sunshine. The fly landed as directed, approximately 8 ft in front of the fish, who were working their way slowly toward it. As soon as the fly hit the water Duane said, "Leave it sit!" I did. As the fish got closer Duane said, "Strip it". I made two or three short strips, and immediately one of the fish ate the fly. I set the hook and the 7-pound Bonefish took off, fly line slicing through the water at such speed that a foot high rooster tail of water was shedding off the line into the air. The fish put up an excellent fight on the fly tackle, and I was excited to boat my first bonefish. Upon learning that it was my first, Duane mentioned that he too had caught his first bonefish in this very spot some 15 years ago. Though we did not know it at the time, this would be the only fish boated throughout the day, although we had plenty of missed opportunities. Bonefish have certainly earned the nickname "gray ghost of the flats".

At the end of the day we paid Duane for his services and asked him to put us on his schedule for next year. Sight fishing was a new and interesting way to fish, and we knew we were hooked. It was quite obvious that this was simply the first of a series of trips we would make to sight fish the flats of the Florida Keys targeting bonefish, permit, tarpon, snook, and redfish.


Super Skiff
by Russ Shepherd

There I was, sitting on a dead-end street in Princeton Florida, a suburb of South Miami, just off US Highway 1. I had been waiting for nearly two weeks now, decked out and ready to meet the demands of those on the way to meet me -- from somewhere way up North I hear. If they do adopt me, I sure hope it isn’t too cold up there. I am a brand new 16-foot, Dolphin Super Skiff Pro, custom-built flats boat, and this is my story.

I’ve overheard that it all started several years ago before I was even constructed. Russ Shepherd had booked a guided fly fishing trip in the Florida Keys for he and his father with a flats fishing guide chosen at random from a Yahoo Internet Search that located the newly-founded website of Captain Duane Baker of Tavernier, FL. Although I have only heard bits and pieces of the story, apparently Captain Baker got involved in the fishing guide business through some misfortune involving a run of bad luck and poor judgment. Anyway, on 16 and 17 July 1999 Captain Baker guided Russ and his Dad in the backcountry the first day targeting redfish in very shallow water; and oceanside the second day chasing bonefish using one of my siblings (a Dolphin Super Skiff of my design) owned by Captain Baker for some 10 years now.

At the time, neither Mr. Shepherd nor his son even considered the possibility of adopting me a few years later. But, as it turns out, there are certain events that occur during a person’s journey through life that can gently redirect the course of his future, and this event was one of those, although neither of them realized it at the time.

Well, Mr. Shepherd and his sons returned to the Florida Keys to fish with Captain Baker several times over the next few years, discovering a new addiction in the process -- shallow water sight fishing.

This entire sequence of events eventually resulted in this, the biggest day of my short time here on earth, 18 October 2002. I overheard some of the guys in the shop mention that the Shepherd’s would be here sometime after lunch to pick me up, and I must say, I was anxiously awaiting their arrival. I had gotten cleaned up, was fully functional, and hoped to impress. My shallow draft hull, powered by a 60 Hp 4-stroke Mercury outboard was ready to perform, and my bow mounted trolling motor, rear poling platform, hydraulic trim tabs, livewell, 27-gallon gas tank, dual batteries, and 21-foot Stiffy Hybrid push pole were ready to go. Yes, I was certainly ready to impress.

Sure enough, they showed up in mid-afternoon, and huddled around me, eyeing my striking lines and patented hull design, opening and closing compartments, and checking me out while Mr. Shepherd sealed the deal inside. I owed them a test drive, however, before the sale could be concluded. The owner of Dolphin Boats, Mr. Mike Courtney, hooked me up behind his GMC and off we went, headed for the northeastern corner of Biscayne Bay for an at-sea shake-down. The test drive was flawless, and the Shepherd’s were sold, as I had hoped. I must admit that I really wasn’t surprised, after all, my ancestors have been impressing savvy professional fishing guides and weekend warriors alike for nearly a quarter century now with my very unique hull design; and I knew I was ready to take up the slack and well represent my lineage.

After finishing the final paperwork, they hooked me up behind a silver Toyota 4-Runner, and we were soon off to US-1 South, heading toward the Florida Keys. As we left the mainland and arrived in Key Largo I was surprised when the Toyota took a left into Pennekamp State Park. I thought to myself that surely these northerners don’t expect to go sight-fishing this late in the day. However, I secretly hoped that they would, as I was ready to get to know them. Sure enough, we proceeded straight for the boat ramp, and before long I slid off the Teflon coated skids of my trailer into the warm salt water. The four of them loaded on board and we took off through the ‘creek’ headed for Largo Sound, a protected bay where bonefish sometimes feed along the southeastern shoreline.

Upon reaching the flat, it seemed to me that we were adrift, although one of them was standing on the poling platform holding the push pole, and grunting occasionally. After more than an hour zigzagging across the flats, I heard one of them say, "It’s a Bone" as the buzz of drag ripping from a 10-pound spinning reel filled the air. While I considered the fact that they hooked a bonefish on the very day they adopted me to be about 95% luck, I was, never-the-less, pleased that they had done so. After all, how many of my kind can say that they were adopted by a


My First launch -- Penekamp State Park.
(L to R) Mike, Mr. Shepherd,and Russ

new family and helped them to catch a bonefish on the same day? Very few I would guess. Upon photographing the landed fish, I heard them joking about the 25-thousand dollar bonefish, and concluded that they must have shelled out quite a few Pieces-of-Eight to claim me as their own.

The next morning we again went fishing, and after a long, hard, fishless morning, I found myself apparently staked out, although strangely facing into the wind, next to a small clump of mangrove trees that lined the oceanside coast of Lower Sound Point, El Soon I realized that I was not staked out at all, but that my new family members were not very adept at poling into the sea breeze, to put it kindly. After approximately 20 minutes of making absolutely no headway, as luck would have it, a bonefish tail popped up within casting distance of the fly fisherman standing on my bow casting deck. He surprised me when he made a near perfect cast, and the bonefish promptly inhaled his well-presented Gotcha fly. The fight was on, and soon the second bonefish of the trip had been landed, and I was glad to be with a family with such good luck, uh, I mean skill.


Russ, with the bonefish caught blindfishing
in Largo Sound

While following close behind the silver Toyota on the long road trip up North, I wondered if the newness of our relationship would soon wear off and I would be left alone day after day, or if I would become a useful part of my new family. Several hours later, I was pleasantly surprised when, upon arriving at my new home, I was tucked neatly into an apparently pre-determined garage that seemed to be awaiting my arrival. If this was any indication, it promised to be a good home -- although the cat who shares the garage with me often makes me nervous. I could be wrong, but sometimes I wonder if she is mentally unstable -- one minute rubbing lovingly against my trailer wheels, and the next hissing as if I had shocked her with 12 volts.

After only a few eays, alone with the cat, I was taken out of the garage and made the short trip to a primitive landing at the mouth of Burnt Mill Creek. I must admit that the water was a good bit cooler than I expected -- upper 60's I would guess, burr! We immediately headed south out onto a shallow saltwater flat between Walsonham and Graze Points. The bottom was covered with a thick brown sea grass, and nearly as soon as we began poling I heard Mr. Shepherd report he saw some nervous water up ahead. Not long afterwards, the first St. Andrew Bay redfish had been boated and I was excited when I heard Mr. Shepherd say aloud, "This is a lucky boat, every time we go out, we catch the kind of fish we are after!" A short time later, a nice sized speckled trout also fell for a slowly retrieved gold spoon blind casted onto the flat.


Russ, with the bonefish caught at Lower Sound Point

Before calling it a day, we motored up the creek at a high rate of speed. Although it was my first time in this area, I was quite sure by the way they guided me through the narrow winding creek bed bordered by shallow sand bars that my family was quite familiar with this area. Upon slowing down and using my bow-mounted trolling motor to stealthily work our way back down stream, one of them caught a small largemouth bass on a popping bug. Not long afterwards, they called it a day and headed for the boat ramp. Indeed, it had been a very successful first time out in the Panama City area, and I was convinced that my new family had taken a liking to me, and I knew the feeling was mutual.

Well, I was used sporadically for the remainder of 2002 and the first half of 2003, and was well cared for even when not in use. I had my own half of Mr. Shepherd’s garage to call home, warm and out of the weather. Even though I was used only two or three times a month on average during this time period, Mr. Shepherd visited me often in the garage and kept bringing me gifts -- rod holders, radios, depth finders, a GPS, rods, reels, an anchor, and even a bow-mounted pedestal seat. Soon I was completely rigged out, and fully stocked with all sorts of fishing gear and accessories.

Then, around June 2003, Mr. Shepherd suddenly began to spend significant amounts of time with me; hitting the water two or three days a week on average. During most of our jaunts we frequented various shorelines along St. Andrew’s West Bay. The many flats of St. Andrew Bay quickly became frequent haunts. We have gotten to know each other quite well, and have caught many a redfish together. I must admit that he has come a long way, and now accurately propels me silently over the shallow flats with skill and grace from atop the platform. Together we have boated over a hundred redfish in the last six months, and I look forward to many, many more.

 All in all, I sure do like my new family, and can tell that this is going to be a long and meaningful relationship. Surely a boat from the streets of South Miami could do worse. By the way, I have adjusted to the cooler climate up here in the ‘Great White North’, and have even come to tolerate my schizophrenic roommate!

Some of the St. Andrew Bay redfish that we boated during 2003.
Clockwise from upper left: Russ, Don, Mr. Shepherd, Mike


Islamorada Dreaming  
The Florida Keys stretch from the tip of the Florida peninsula to Key West -- 100 miles of coral islands connected by the concrete ribbon of US Highway 1. The keys are surrounded by hundreds of square miles of shallow-water flats. The sheer beauty of the place is nothing short of breathtaking, and the most beautiful place of all is Islamorada. But, best of all, the crystal clear waters of the shallow, grass-covered flats are home to a vast array of tropical species of fish, making the area one of the best sports fisheries in the country. I made my first trip to the keys in the late 1960's. Linda and I, accompanied by Don and Mike, made several trips to Key West during 1968 and 1969 in conjunction with my Navy work. Unbelievably, once the Navy work was complete, it was 30 years before I returned to the Keys, and the occasion was to fish with my youngest son.

As I have said, my sons and I began to experiment with salt-water fly fishing during the 1990’s. After a few years of honing our fly-casting skills, Russ suggested that we engage the services of a professional guide, and try our hand at flats fishing in the Florida Keys. When he first broached the idea to me, he explained that he had originally thought it would be something nice to try sometime in the future. But, by then, he explained, his "favorite fishing partner" may not be able to make the trip.

I thought the trip sounded like a fine idea! As it turned out, the trip was one of those things that, on the surface, appeared to be a one-shot event. Like many other things, it did not turn out that way. As a matter of fact, the trip would result in our approach to fishing taking a whole new direction.

Through the Internet, Russ located a guide by the name of Captain Duane Baker who worked out of the Key Largo area of the upper keys. A trip was scheduled for early July 1999. Russ and I flew down to Miami, rented a car and drove to Key Largo. We spent two days fly-fishing with Capt. Baker, an Orvis endorsed guide who trailed his boat so that he could work a wide area of the upper keys.

The first day, Duane launched at a private ramp in Tavernier, and took us into the back country of Florida Bay. It was the first time I had ever been on a flats boat. Immediately after pulling out of the small marina, Duane headed across Florida Bay at full throttle, skimming across the shallow water and weaving through the channels between the mangrove-covered keys scattered across this vast extent of water. At the first stop, Duane gave us some basic tips pertaining to line management, introduced us to the "clock system" used to communicate fish locations relative to the boat, hopped up on the poling platform, and began slowly pushing the boat across the grass-covered flat.

We spent the morning fishing such spots as Crocodile Dragover, Black Betsy Key, Roscoe Key and Rankin Bight. We caught a few redfish and one snook. The back country was a beautiful area of shallow flats and mangrove covered islands. Shortly after lunch, thunderstorms caused us to cut the day short. Regardless, it had been a most interesting introduction to flats fishing.

The second day, Duane put in at a primitive ramp on Card Sound Road, just north of Key Largo. It was a beautiful morning, the water displaying that mirror-like surface that can be seen on windless days. We began at Arsenecker Key in lower Biscayne Bay. It was not long before Duane reported seeing some "nervous water," a term I had never before heard. This was followed a few minutes later by the words "tailing bonefish." Russ was in the bow of the flats boat holding a 9-weight rod. As Duane eased the boat into position, Russ made an excellent cast that placed the fly a few feet ahead of the school of bonefish. He immediately connected with the first bonefish that either of us had ever seen. The result was spectacular!

The bonefish began a long run taking yards and yards of backing off the reel. The sight of the line shedding water as the fish cut across the bow of the boat, and the line sliced across the still surface, formed an unforgettable picture. We had never seen anything like it on a fly rod. A few minutes later, Russ had landed his first bonefish. Unfortunately, in the dim, early morning light, I failed to get the single photograph that I took of Russ and the fish in focus.

Neither of us realized the rarity of the event … catching a bonefish on the first attempt of the day. Indeed, even more rare was the fact that Russ caught a bonefish on his first attempt. Even though we saw an additional number of bonefish, we fished the rest of the day without boating another fish! We were, however, thoroughly hooked on flats fishing.

The following year, Don and I made two trips to Islamorada to fish with Duane. In April, we flew to Miami, rented a car and spent two days fishing the flats for bonefish and permit. On the first day, on a flat along the edge of El Radabob Key, I caught my first bonefish on a fly. I knew it was a good fish when Duane pulled out the Boga Grip to weigh the fish -- 11-pounds.

Early the following morning, at Dove Key, Don caught his first bonefish.

Later in the day, we moved to the northern end of El Radabob Key to an area known as Whitmore Bight. As we moved into the area, Duane remarked, "If they are in here today, there will be a school of about a hundred." Sure enough, in a few minutes Duane spotted a large "mud" caused by a school of bonefish working its way across the flat. Earlier, due to the stiff breeze that had come up, we had switched to fishing with spinning tackle and live shrimp. Don was standing on the forward casting platform, and I was standing in the rear immediately in front of the poling platform. As we eased in behind the school, Duane told me to move to the front of the boat with Don so that we could "try for a double header." A few moments later, we both made casts into the muddy area that marked the location of the school of bonefish. Immediately, we each hooked up to a bonefish, and we had our "double header."


My first bonefish on a fly


Don's first Bonefish


"Double header"

In July, Don and I again made the trip to Islamorada. This time, however, we decided to drive -- eleven and one-half hours from Panama City to Key Largo. We spent two days fishing the back country with Duane. The first day was spent in Santini Bight, a small bay adjacent to Rankin Bight where Russ and I had fished on our first trip with Duane. The second day was spent wandering around the keys of Florida Bay fishing for redfish.

Duane Baker proved to be an excellent guide, with whom we have fished at least once a year ever since. Over the years, under his tutelage, we have fished many of the areas around Key Largo and Islamorada and, in the process, caught many bonefish, permit and redfish.

The Islamorada area is exceptional for its beauty, and for the variety of fish that inhabit the nearby waters.

Shallow water flats fishing is addictive; and, in the summer of 2002, I decided to purchase a flats boat of my own. I ordered a custom-made flats boat from the Dolphin Boat Company of South Miami. In October, the boys and I made a trip to Miami to pick up the new boat. We arrived at the Dolphin Boat Company about one o’clock in the afternoon. After taking the boat for a test spin on Biscayne Bay, we hooked it behind Mike’s SUV, and headed for Key Largo. As we passed Pennekamp Park about three o’clock in the afternoon, Russ suggested that we put the boat in the water and give it a fishing baptism.

We stopped at the "Yellow Bait Shop," purchased a dozen or so shrimp, and then proceeded to launch the boat at Pennekamp. We headed for Largo Sound, a protected bay located just northeast of the boat ramp. It was an area that we had fished in the past with Duane. Reaching the area, I climbed up on the poling platform, and began experimenting with the dynamics of poling a flats boat.

With the sun getting low, sight fishing was difficult. Russ began blind casting with a live shrimp as bait. Within minutes he caught a bonefish. As we photographed the fish, I told the boys that it was a "25,000 dollar fish."

We spent the night at the Key Lantern Motel in Islamorada, and the next morning we again launched at Pennekamp, and spent the day fishing the area from Garden Cove down the outside of El Radabob Key to Lower Sound Point. We saw a number of bonefish, but with my poling skills, or lack thereof, were not successful in getting the boat into a position to make a good cast. Late in the day, as I poled the boat, attempting to control it in the breeze, a bonefish came cruising down the edge of the mangroves. Russ, who was on the front of the boat holding a 9-weight fly rod, spotted the fish at almost the same instant as I did. Making a long cast, Russ laid the fly a few feet in front of the fish. The fish charged the fly, and Russ was hooked up. He was especially pleased with his catch as he had taken the fish on a fly that he had tied. A short time later, we headed for the boat ramp. Our first venture with the new flats boat had turned out successful.

The next day we towed the boat home to Panama City.

In the spring of 2003, I began working to develop my skills at handling a flats boat. I also began a concentrated campaign to learn about flats fishing in the bays in the Panama City area. St. Andrew Bay consists of some 70,000 acres, the majority of which is composed of shallow water flats. As I was to discover over the next few months, these flats are home to one of the best shallow-water redfish fisheries to be found along the northwest Florida coast.

I was now semi-retired, working only two days a week. This provided me with ample opportunity to fish the flats of St. Andrew Bay. By the end of the summer of ’03, I was pleased with my progress.

After making numerous fishing sorties into the Bay over the period from June through October, I had located a number of areas that consistently held redfish, and had outfitted my Dolphin flats boat with a number of tailored accessories that allowed me to fish alone with good effectiveness. I had honed my poling skills to the point that I could easily handle the flats boat under most conditions. In the process, the boys and I had boated a substantial number of redfish.

Without a doubt, I am an accomplished flats fisherman possessing a better than average knowledge of fishing for redfish on the flats of the bays of the Florida panhandle. On any given day, I can usually boat a few redfish. Without a doubt, the flats of the Florida panhandle are beautiful areas where I have spent many enjoyable hours. And, without a doubt, the redfish are exciting to catch on light tackle. The northwest Florida flats, however, do not compare in sheer beauty with the flats of Islamorada, and the redfish do not possess the strength and endurance of a bonefish. I often find myself day-dreaming about the waters of Islamorada. In my minds eye, I can see the green, torpedo-shape of a bonefish gliding through crystal clear water, and as a fly lands gently on the water, I see the fish turn and pick up the fly, followed by the sight of the fly line shedding water as it cuts through the mirror-like surface of the water accompanied by the sound of yards and yards of backing being stripped from the reel as the fish makes its long blazing run ...
... And that is Islamorada Dreaming.



-- Copyright 2003,2004,2005,2006 By D. W. Shepherd & R. L. Shepherd

 

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