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by Chris O'Byrne
I knew I needed to go fly fishing. The feeling of a cluttered mind and caged body was familiar, and the solution was welcome. As I pondered my plight, this time, I decided that I needed saltwater, and I did not want to waste fishing time driving. From my Central Florida home, these requirements leave a smorgasbord of options. After one look at my field notebook, Fort Desoto Park in St. Petersburg, Florida was my first choice. What I did not realize was that the fishing would not be the star of this show.
Fort Desoto offers two front country camp sites. The RV area has full hook ups and lots of shade. A separate area accommodates tents, vans and pop-ups. Full restroom facilities and water at each site make this a rather luxurious adventure. Before too long, the drive is completed and the camp is arranged, leaving plenty of time to grab the 7 weight fly rod and head to the water.
Among its amenities, Fort Desoto has a fine, concrete, boat ramp. Located on Madeline Key, the ramp is adjacent to the park entrance and offers quick access to inshore areas, Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Sailboats are very popular in these waters. If your craft is hand powered, your options are many. There is a rental facility with boat launch and a marked canoe trail through the Soldier’s Hole. Most of the keys in the park have multiple spots where a kayak can be launched. The campgrounds on St. Christopher Key are constructed with sandy beaches that allow a boaters to launch and beach their crafts near their campgrounds.
There are also miles of wade-able shore line with several unique ecosystems. On this trip, I opted to get wet. I drove to Mullet Key and explored the action from my car. South of the East Tip Turnaround, I saw it! “V” wakes and splashes were visible through an opening in the mangroves, I had my spot. A short time later I was knee deep in the warm water, leading wakes with a black Clouser Minnow. The knots in my brain were loosening like loose knots in a dry manila rope. The sub-surface fly with no weed guard was a bad choice. The sea grass was very thick and a top water fly was needed. Two or three flies later, I could not find the perfect morsel. I made a mental note to tie more flies with weed guards from here on out. I left the water without any fish portraits and a hungry stomach.
Dinner was a simple affair- clam chowder from a can prepared on a camp stove with crackers and cheese. After doing the dishes, I cleaned my fly line, rinsed my flies and tied a new leader, finishing these chores just before dark.
The barometer on my Casio Pathfinder watch had been dropping all day and sure enough, the stormy Cumulus clouds billowed to the firmament. I stood looking at the clouds until I realized that I had spent several minutes thinking about nothing but the artwork in the sky. I grabbed a soda, and took a seat in the grassy area to watch the show.
By dark, lightning had begun to add to the spectacle, and with each flash I studied the shapes and colors revealed to me. Occasionally the bolt of lightning was visible, reaching out to its invisible attractor. To my surprise, what I noticed most often was the black. I might not have enough time to find that beautiful place on the cloud where the light strikes in shades of white or yellow or blue, but the shadows created were beautiful in their own right.
To the Southwest of St. Christopher Key, where I was watching this show, is the Key Lighthouse. The beacon cut through the darkness, and on each loop, the light would shine on the palette of clouds. No comparison. The power and colors of the lightning stole the show. As I made this comparison, I had the same feeling of smallness that one gets starring at the ocean from a high bluff.
Sometime later, I came back to earth and decided it was time to turn in. While falling asleep, it occurred to me that tomorrow, when my mind would wander from the hunting and casting, I would be thinking about last night’s Dinner and a.
Fort Desoto Park provides plenty of paved and unpaved trails. When Dr. Beach declares the white sand beaches America’s #1, you can be assured of a great stroll.
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