Three Days, Three Rivers

Iamonia Lake from above McDougal

If I didn’t know better, I’d say the Corps of Engineers is monitoring my trips to Blountstown. We’ve finally got water in the Apalachicola system, but now we seem to have unexpected rises and falls that coincide with my travel to Calhoun County.

The day started off with great promise, but the action died shortly after I caught this guy.

The day started off with great promise, but the action died shortly after I caught this guy.

 

It happened again recently when I was in town for my 30-year high school class reunion. When I planned my visit, the river was on eight feet and, according to the USGS, it was supposed to stay there through the weekend. Based on that forecast, I decided to bring my boat and do some fishing. However, the day before I arrived, it mysteriously jumped up a couple of feet. Then it fell out again on the day I left.

Now, I’m not saying that the Corps is intentionally screwing up my fishing, but I’m not ruling it out either. Luckily, this happened to be Memorial Day weekend, so I still had two more days of fishing ahead. They just wouldn’t be in Blountstown.

* * *

On day two, I ended up on Choctaw Bay with the little brother I never had – my wife’s cousin, Joe Donovan. Joe is a commercial crab fisherman (among other things) and he was doing a Saturday night crawfish boil followed by a Sunday trip on the water.

Pictured: Grossly under-priced crustaceans.

Pictured: Grossly under-priced crustaceans.

I heard the crawfish boil turned into a great party that lasted until the wee hours of Sunday morning. All I know is that it kept going well past my 10 o’clock bedtime.

Just after daylight, Joe and I waded through the carnage of the night before and went out to run his crab traps. We pulled about 100 or so, re-baiting with yellow grouper heads and backbones as we went. (I’m still not convinced the meat we were getting out was as good as what we were putting in, but I didn’t argue.)

Although we only got a few dozen crabs, I did come away with two very important lessons: 1) Don’t ever jam a fish head in a crab trap with the heel of your hand and 2) Don’t ever complain about the cost of crabs. Seriously, they would be $20 apiece if I had to do that for a living.

* * *

Monday was Memorial Day, so I elected to spend it with another veteran, my brother Steve. He and Mary Jane, his bride of 40 years, had just gotten back from an anniversary trip to Alaska where, among other things, they caught some halibut and cod. After that adventure, I figured the last thing he wanted to do was go fishing again.

I figured wrong. That’s exactly what he wanted to do.

They're even prettier once they've been fried.

They’re even prettier once they’ve been fried.

So, we headed up the Escambia River and caught a mess of fish that included a super-sized sheephead that caused me to hunt for the landing net, which of course was about 10 miles out of reach back at Steve’s house. Fortunately, Steve was able to keep the fish away from the anchor line and wear him down until we could safely lift him into the boat.

All too soon, it was time to go. As the sun was setting over the sawgrass, it dawned on me that I had fished three major river systems in Northwest Florida over the course of one long weekend. And that reminded me of how lucky we are to have such productive lakes, rivers and estuaries all around us.

As I thought about it more, I wondered how long would it take for one person to explore all of the great fishing spots here in Florida’s Great Northwest. Can it even be done in one person’s lifetime?

I have no idea — but I intend to find out.  That is, if the Good Lord and the Corps of Engineers are willing.

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