Rest In Peace, old friend

A few weeks back an old, old fishing buddy called me totally out of the blue. We were coworkers and fished together most weekends back in the late 60’s but job changes resulted in relocations so that was that. He lives near Gainesville and also has a place over in St Augustine where he fishes the intracoastal and the Matanzas River so he suggested we meet on the coast for a day of fishing. Turns out it was a frosty morning and normally I would have just cancelled but I was really looking forward to swapping war stories and pressed ahead. We put the boat in and started fishing a few hundred yards from the ramp and had a fish on the first cast. It was a baby bluefish and was followed by a dozen or so in short order. We moved on to try to find trout, redfish or anything bigger than these voracious blues. Next spot, a mile or so away, immediately yielded a few small trout, under the legal limit, and another boat load of baby bluefish. We repeated the move several times, lingering 20-30 minutes at each spot, and picked up a couple of keeper size trout, a couple of flounders, and scads more blues. We quit about 4:00 so we’d have sufficient time to clean the fish in the daylight, not because the fish ever stopped biting. Between us we had to have caught 50+, reminiscent of days on Pelican Lake in Utah or Ruby Marsh in Nevada or the John Day in Oregon catching small bass and bluegill.

I kept about a dozen of the baby blues to replenish the stock of smoked fish for dip. Doing this batch differently (relative to the first batch) since they are really too small to fillet. I just gutted and cut off the heads, intending to smoke them whole and fork off the meat when done. We soaked them in brine overnight and had them on the smoker by noon for the 3 hour cook. The skin peeled off easily but it does take more care getting the meat off the bones so it definitely takes more time to deal with the whole fish than the fillets. We ended up getting 3 small plastic bags of fish chunks as compared to 4 bags with the first batch. Each bag is calibrated to yield a “batch” of dip. The bags go into the freezer and used on demand so, for example, if we go to Tom’s Jan 2 Gator party, we’ll bring a container of dip.

I can’t close without mentioning the passing of an old, trusted family member – the Scanoe. Uncle Vinny spotted the boat on sale in California in 1982 and gave us a call to see if we wanted it. Of course we did so we drove to California to retrieve it the next open weekend. I could go on with stories about adventures in the boat for hours, none more memorable that dumping it in Willard bay during a big storm; almost dumping it on Lake Washington on one of our spring break trips from Utah to Florida; Or being pulled around by an alligator gar way up the Sebastian River; Or paddling as hard as we could to get back to shore when Tom came down with a serious case of swimmer’s itch on Pelican Lake; or almost dumping it when I hooked myself with a lure fishing at Ruby Marsh and passing out. I notice these are all stories of survival so maybe it’s a good thing it’s moved on to canoe heaven. It did go peacefully in Tom’s backyard. I’m giving some thought to bringing it back home to the lake and converting it into a herb garden.

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