Last Sunday I went fishing. Down in the Florida Keys. I can’t remember the names of some of the keys, for there are so many. The most popular ones don’t escape me though, like Key Largo, Marathon, Big Pine Key and, of course, Key West. Key West is perhaps the most well-known as there are so many stories about its famous residents, past and present, including Ernest Hemingway and the descendants of his polydactyl cats. And one I will never forget is in the lower Keys. Ironic that I will forever remember it as that one has no name. No Name Key. Yes, that is its real name. A name so unique it is unforgettable. There is where I went fishing. Well, not exactly there, but from the bridge you have to cross to get there from Big Pine Key.
No Name Key Bridge is one of the most popular places for saltwater shoreline fishing. On a good day you can fill your cooler in almost no time. You keep rigging your hook and dropping it by one of the pillars below, and the fish come visiting and end up staying, hooked. On the other hand, there are times when you end up feeding the fish instead of snagging them. You feel the tug, tug, tug on your line, which tells you they are pecking at the bait, snacking away happily. And then your line loses its tautness and you know the little teasers have turned the tides against you.
My bredrin Ricky introduced me to fishing. Bridge fishing. Living in South Florida, it is common to see folk sitting by the waterways, rod in hand with dangling line, trying to hook a catch. I often wondered why. There could never be a more boring pastime. Why would anyone in their right mind sit, or stand, waiting patiently for a stupid fish to take the bait? Literally? Sometimes under the burning sun, which made the whole situation more unfathomable for me.
The first time Ricky invited me to go fishing was over a year ago. And I have been back. And back again. Why would anyone in their right mind think fishing is boring? My first expedition made me do a right-bout turn in my sentiments. You see, fishing is not just fishing. It is an entire adventure. And so, when he told me about two or so weeks ago that he was planning to go fishing on Sunday gone I did not hesitate to let him know yes, I would be in town and yes, I would go too. As the days went by, we were almost giddy like kids, SMSing one another back and forth: “You still on?” and “All set for tomorrow?” and “Yes, Iyah, all set” and “Looking forward” and “Awesome! Same here!”
We headed out after 3 am, like always, to get to No Name Key just before the sun rose to start our waiting game. Heading down the turnpike, we interspersed replays of his periscoped
Loungelive music with chatter. Sometimes serious, about serious matters, and sometimes jocular, about funny stuff. This time around we chatted about a bit of this and some of that. Routinely, we would stop at a bait shop at one of the upper keys to get live shrimp. The groupers, jacks and snappers loved them. After the bait shop, and further down the keys, a pit stop was necessary at Dunkin Donuts for coffee and a breakfast sandwich. Breakfast would hold us until way past midday. Somehow, we never felt hungry until early afternoon when fishing. Perhaps it was because our stomachs were always so filled with the quiet anticipation of hooking a fish that there was no space left for hunger. This time around Dunkin Donuts was closed, and so we turned around and headed back up to a nearby McDonald’s.
On arrival at No Name Key bridge on Sunday, we unpacked the gear, a bit before the crack of dawn. The sandflies were there as usual to welcome us. I should have known better and worn long sleeves and long pants to help protect myself. But, sometimes, we do things contrary to what we know are the right things to do. I would have to do my usual dance without song until the sun came up. The sun would chase them away, but not before they made their presence felt.
By the time the sun fully came up I had already rebaited my hook a million times. No, make that a million and one. Well, it seemed that way, and I had almost no fish to show for it. The fish were biting, but not taking the hook at all. They were having a feast. Noon rolled around, and then 1 pm came, but the cooler was nowhere near what we had been hoping for. At that point I was tempted to call my wife and tell her, “Honey, don’t bother to light the stove this evening. We may have to eat out.” Reprieve came when we decided to head up back home, and not with an empty cooler, as we did manage to catch a few. The early departure, compared to earlier forays, was also precipitated by the need to get Ricky’s son, on the trip with us, back home as he was not feeling too well.
We stopped for a spot of lunch on the way back up the keys. At a nice place, with a large, elevated eating space under a high thatched roof, by the sea. Between the eating deck and the sea was a pool, with kids and adults alike frolicking in and out and around it. A local radio station seemed to be doing a broadcast, and the music was thumping. A shirtless black guy danced at one end of the pool deck the entire time we were there, doing all kinds of moves including back flips and fist pumps. Endurance like the Energizer bunny. Some of the kids mimicked his moves, save for the backflips, as if they were taking dancing lessons, clearly having fun. The whole place was humming with folk chilling in a very relaxed and relaxing atmosphere. It made me think such an atmosphere was a great equalizer. You couldn’t tell who was a millionaire, or who was living on the basics… Everyone was made equal through the shared joys of the simple pleasures of an almost carefree, lazy Sunday afternoon.
Fishing on No Name Key Bridge has its pleasures. Sure, there is the joy of getting a tug on your line, feeling the weight on it, reeling it in, and realizing it is decent sized one, hoping it will not fall off before you bring it over the parapet. But, even if the tugs are few in between, you can’t beat the feeling of being in a wide-open space, with oceans of sea ahead and behind you. You feel your soul empty itself of all the cares of the world, and you float in the most blissful, peaceful mood. That is, after the sandflies have disappeared. Folk drive by and wave. Folk jog by on the other side of the bridge, ease their pace enough to shout a good morning, or a how are the bites. Plus, you get to share time and space with a good friend.
By the time we got back to Miramar, where we both live, it was dark, and it was raining. After a sun-filled, but comfortably warm day at the keys. Can life get any better than that? If you were to ask me, yes, I am ready to head back down for another outing. Fishing? Not boring at all.