Red Sky at Night with JB Cornwell | Travels with my first born
I have four children. They are all middle aged now, but when they were growing up I would find time for one-on-one quality time with each of them in addition to our regular family vacations. That quality time involved a variety of activities, but a winter fishing/camping trip was one of my favorites.
I had spent a week alone out on Alligator Alley in 1970 and had a grand time, so I planned to take daughter #1, Dania, then 14, to the same place in the winter of 1971 for a few days of sun, warmth and fishing.
There was no problem getting her assigned to write a report on her wilderness fishing/camping trip with Dad and excused time to take that trip. I was a member of the School Board at the time; a thankless job that did have a few perks.
Alligator Alley, also known as The Everglades Parkway, is a highway that crosses The Everglades and Big Cypress swamp from Fort Lauderdale to Naples, Florida. In 1971 it was only a few years old and still pretty wild. It was also a toll road in those days. In recent years it has been rehabilitated as part of Interstate 75.
The highway is raised above the surrounding swampy terrain by digging two parallel canals and piling the spoil between them. Then the top was paved. The canals were inhabited by a great variety of fish; tarpon and other salt/brackish water species in the western portions; bass, bluegill, bowfin and a variety of their relatives in the central and eastern reaches. Our destination was where the Miami canal crossed Alligator Alley, about 40 miles west of the eastern toll gate at Andytown.
The trip is roughly 1500 miles from Warrenville, IL, where we lived at the time, so we planned to take 2 days to get there and 2 days to return, which left us three days of camping and fishing.
We departed Warrenville early on a Saturday morning. It was -20F with a wind chill of around -35F and a foot or so of snow on the ground.
After overnighting in Chattanooga we arrived at the east tollgate late Sunday afternoon and drove west to the bridge over the Miami Canal, where we set up camp under the bridge.
During the night there were throaty bellows from the swamp. Dear daughter thought they must be gators, but they sounded like cattle to me. Never did resolve what they really were. Didnít see any cattle and the gators we saw were pretty small.
Dawn found me filleting a couple of bass I had harvested with a flyrod and popper and enjoying the sights and sounds of many exotic birds. Breakfast was freshly caught bass fried in Pam, Tang and coffee. To this day, many years later, my treasured first born would rather eat fish than any other critter.
The day was glorious. What we called a bluebird day when I was a wee tad; a cloudless sky, light breeze, temperatures in the 70s. We wandered up and down the canals casting small spinners to the monster bluegills that were spawning on the shallow sandy bars and marveling at each new bird or critter we saw. We hadnít brought a boat and I didnít miss it at all, though I had a great time with the wonderful SportYak II the year before. We collected a stringer of bluegills to ensure good meals for a few days and hung it in the canal under the bridge. Then we just walked along the paths by the canals, enjoying the wildlife.
Each period of the day had its own wonders. As the sun sank in the west the light changed and flocks of egrets ghosted over . . . destination unknown . . . painted pink by the setting sun.
We had fish for breakfast; fish and canned beans for lunch; fish, rice and canned peas for dinner. The menu didnít change much and we didnít care. Not much can beat fish fried within minutes of being filleted.
Each day differed from the others only in the small adventures of discovering some new critter, catching a new species of fish or catching a bigger fish. We did get browner and stickier (no shower) in the sun.
After our three days we packed up the car and headed west to Naples, where we checked in to the first motel we saw. Both of us were rather desperate for a shower and some ice cold beverages.
The trip home was consumed by the sharing of memories and impressions.
There were to be the usual family Summer vacations but among my favorite memories are those adventures shared with my children one at a time.
(JB Cornwell writes from ďThe HideoutĒ in Whitt, TX, and is also an expert moderator, instructor, and fountain-of-knowledge in the iboats.com Boating Forums, where he may occasionally share a yarn of his own.)