07 Dec Fly Fishing the Homosassa River
A short story by Edward Johnston
There are many beautiful rivers in Florida, but none give me the joy of the Homosassa River. Cool spring water provides a seemingly endless supply of fresh water from the Crystal, Chassahowitzka, Homosassa River and their tributaries. As those rivers snake their way toward to Gulf of Mexico, the water begins to turn brackish. Within a few miles, the subtropical landscape gives way to meadows of saw grass. The saw grass gradually transforms to black needle grass and then to mangrove islands tight with brush. Beyond is the shallow beginning of the Gulf of Mexico. Here, limestone bedrock reaches for the surfaces in the form of invisible obstacles. All that talk about the treacherous waters here is no joke. For the unwary, the gulf waters take no prisoners.
The coastal marsh that surround Homosassa are nature’s high production factories in terms of fertility. These nutrients deliver by the abundant fresh water rivers and the tide which disperses the nutrients over the broad shallow flats. Where there is food, there are fish.
The Adventure Begins on the Homosassa River
After a brief run out to the fishing grounds, the engine quiets. The 12 weight fly rod coupled with a tarpon reel is slowly removed from under the gunnel. The fly line lays coiled upon the deck ready for action. The search begins. Arms are flexed and the push pole bends, silently propelling the skiff in search of the elusive tarpon.
Three brown pelicans sweep low along side our skiff. They beat three long strokes upwards in unison. Once. Twice. Now gone. Left behind is the low sound of the gentle clear warm water quietly lapping against the hull. Eyes strain in the first light for something which to focus upon. A tarpon breaks the surface and disappears into concentric rings. Another fish rolls further out. You can see the passing pod’s silhouette through the translucent water.
The fly begins its graceful journey as the line unrolls in tight loops along a perfect plane, then shoots briskly through the guides. The fly sinks deep. A short hard tug on the fly line and the rods bend. The feeling is unmistakable. A moment later the water erupts in an explosion. The air is full of fish.The rod bends deeply with a great heaviness on the end. The line shears through the water and sounds like a ripping bed sheet. The fly reel spins wildly. A tarpon is on.
After three majestic jumps, the fish sounds with surging energy and charges off like a locomotive. Fly line is surrendered and retaken. The tarpon breaks the surface for a gulp of air and then submerges with liquid fury. Swiftly, the rod bends and recovers. The tarpon twists and turns as she tries to get away from the mysterious power holding her.
Twenty minutes later, the battle is over. The magnificent fish eases to the side of the boat to be admired. The silver sides of the tarpon seem to drain back into the Gulf. Her fins seem almost transparent. That huge eye stares in wonderment. Just like that, she is gone. Only her memory remains.
After all, this is the best time of the year to be on the Homosassa River.
The brightness of noon burns a hole in the sky. The water is as clear and flat as a windowpane and shimmers in the sun. You can see right to the bottom and watch the turtle grass sway in the current. Seagulls lift in the easy breeze and call to one another. Inland, the cumulus clouds are piling up. Sounds of distant thunder bolts echo in the background. Finally, we ride back home, thankful for fishing such a beautiful day on the Homosassa River.