Sweating and Shivering on the Wekiva
Things started out well enough. I
had just shoved off from the canoe landing on Wekiva Park Drive and
despite the wind I was already sweating. When the sun poked through
the clouds and the river turned to protect me from the wind, it was
downright hot. Not many people in the continental US can work up a
sweat during a January river trip, but this was central Florida, and
the only meteorological certainty in this part of the state in
January is that something is about to change.
And the fish were biting. It
seemed the bluegills and the stumpknockers were at war on virtually
every cast to see which species would get to eat my small Beetlespin.
While the lower Wekiva is slightly tannic-colored compared to the
gin-clear spring water upstream, I could still make out the feisty
panfish trying to outrun one another to grab the small lure as it
wobbled over the sandy bottom. It really didn't matter where I put
my lure: docks, grass, downed trees; they were everywhere and they
were hungry. I even caught one from under a moored boat at the boat
rental place about half a mile downstream.
Plenty of these little guys are to be had on the
Just downstream of the start of the
Wekiva Preserve, a group of six wild turkeys flew across the river
one by one about five seconds apart. In the preserve area, things
were starting to look like the Wekiva I expected to see: wild! While
I did get a slight involuntary chill when I spotted the occasional
gator sunning on a bank, I began to notice that the temperature
outside was getting noticeably colder. It was starting to get dark
too, which is always a bad sign at 1 o'clock in the afternoon.
I decided to try my luck bass fishing,
and my third cast with a floating minnow plug yielded a small bass.
"This is too darn easy", I remember thinking to myself as I slid the
pretty little fish back into the water.
I told you it was little
Two hours later I was cursing my
arrogance as I had yet to get another fish into my kayak. I had my
chances, though. After littering the bottom of my boat with a
variety of baits the bass weren't interested in, I tied on a
weighted Zoom Super Fluke. These plastic jerkbaits are meant to be
jerked erratically near the surface, but I put mine on a weighted
hook and twitched it slowly near the bottom. These things look
absolutely deadly fluttering toward the bottom. I immediately lost
about a three pound bass right at the boat and had another nice fish
wrap my line around a brushpile. Feeling a bit more confident, I
paddled down to the next spot with deep water and put the bait right
next to a fallen tree.
The wake the fish made right after the
lure hit the water was downright scary. I set the hook and line
peeled off my spinning reel. The fish took off toward midstream and
I thanked her for swimming away from the bankside cover. Then it
started thrashing on the surface. Experienced Florida river anglers
already know how this fish tale is gonna end, but since the rest of
you may not, I had hooked a bowfin. These toothy prehistoric
monsters inhabit most southern rivers and I'd rather bring an
alligator into the boat than a bowfin. They thrash all over the
place and if their teeth don't get you, your own hooks probably
will. They are a hoot to catch however, and I reached for my pliers
as the large fish started getting closer to the boat.
One small problem: the pliers were back
in my truck. In an instant, I went from desperately trying to land a
large fish to rooting for the fish to somehow escape. Luckily for
me, the mudfish made one last surge and succeeded in snapping my
line. I've never been happier to lose a fish.
By this time, it was downright cold and
starting to drizzle. The bass fishing had been tough (but sprinkled
with excitement) and I was not looking forward to the two-mile
paddle back upstream against the current, the wind, and the
strengthening rain. As I was pondering my impending workout, I heard
a sound from downstream that I had not heard all day: a motor. Two
guys in a square-stern canoe with a small outboard on back came
heading upstream and we had the opportunity to chat for a bit. They
had been all the way down to the point where the Wekiva runs into
the St. John's (about 10-12 miles). Though not fishing on this day,
they reported seeing a good many alligators but no other fishermen.
Noticing my empty water bottle, one of the men opened his cooler and
tossed me an ice cold Milwaukee's Best. I'm generally a Budweiser
man, but I have to admit that cheap beer tastes as good as any other
after a long day on the river!
The guys offered to tow me and my kayak
back to the canoe launch, but the rain had stopped on about my third
swallow and I decided to paddle and fish my way back. I wish I could
say that the fishing improved after the beer, but I only had one
strike: something big that straightened my hook after I reared back
and set the hook with a little too much exuberance. I'd love to say
it was a bass, but it was probably another big bowfin. That's OK,
though. I know where he lives, and next time I won't forget the