Several years ago I took my first real fly fishing"vacation". A few quick flights & one water taxi later I found myself on Ambergris Caye, Belize. With luxury accommodations at El Pescador, I spent my days on the front of a Panga with my guide Luiz Paz chasing tarpon & bones, and bellied up to the bar telling tales of the days adventures through the evening. For a week, in my mind, I was Ernest Hemingway.
That's why a few years later when asked by my buddy Jeff if I wanted to head South to Florida and do some fishing, I quickly answered "Hell yes"... I figured having been led by the hand to fish by a 3rd generation professional guide, and eating catered breakfasts every morning in Belize, I was a pro.
I should clarify that Jeff is an experienced salt water angler. He has more hours in small craft on big water than I had in any boat period, so I assumed I was in responsible, tenured hands for this trip. I learned a lot about Jeff in the Everglades but those are tales for another time.
20 hours non-stop driving through the night and we found ourselves at the ramp in Matlacha for some "warm-up" fishing before heading further South. We dropped my 13' gheenoe in, fired up the mid-1970s Johnson outboard, and we were off. 3 days were spent running mangrove creeks, chasing tailers in low tides, jumping sunrise baby poon, and pounding mangrove banks for snook... Never more than 2 miles away from the nearest water front bar or inhabited area. With spirits high, we packed up the gear, trailered the boat, and headed to the Everglades. We met some friends for beers at the Everglades International Hostel after arriving in Homestead and in the morning headed into the park towards Flamingo.
It's almost impossible to explain the feeling of the Everglades; the silence of Florida Bay or the sense of isolation back in the mangroves. As we wound our way into the back country, mile after twisting mile of mangrove creeks into Hells Bay, I realized that we were without cell phone coverage and had been for miles before we were even to the boat ramp. We had no detailed map as one doesn't exist. The everglades change after every storm, an ever evolving labyrinth of living mangrove highways.
We had ourselves, fly rods, a small hull to stand in, and a few gallons of fuel.
At first a sense of panic came over me. We were surely lost, no way of finding our way out. I'd never see my wife and kids again. Then I realized that although any number of things may be true in time, the one thing that certainly was true in the moment was that I was no longer in control of it all. The Everglades gave me something in that moment that I had never had in such a large dose before: Perspective.
So we fished.
It's clear that we did indeed find our way out of the back country. But, that lesson of living in that moment was one that has stuck with me long after we escaped the mangroves. Put down the cell phone, don't worry about the next bend in the river, worry less about what's coming tomorrow and focus on what's happening in front of you right now.
We fished several more days out of Flamingo both inside the maze of the park, and outside in expanses of Florida Bay. Each day was an adventure, sometimes because of incredible fishing, and others due to breathtaking views. Every day we were rewarded with something. No day in the Everglades is ever a wasted day.
On our final day in an effort to squeeze in every minute possible of fishing, we fished until twilight, loaded the boat, and drove straight home through the night directly from the ramp. I've been back to the Everglades every year since that first trip, and every year no matter the weather or fishing conditions, I always leave with a fresh batch of perspective to see me through the year.