The Suwannee River

“Way down upon the Suwannee River, far, far away” was written in 1851 by Stephen Foster, but it really wasn’t that far from Atlanta, in spite of our Country’s ridiculous 55 MPH speed limit that had been imposed on the driving public in 1974 and not repealed until 1995. At the time the river was a short 5, hour drive, actually closer than driving to Destin and the good thing, the speckled trout fishing, my first love, was outstanding!

Having grown up chasing specs on the Texas Gulf Coast, Suwannee was much like our bay fishing, except this was fishing directly in the Gulf of Mexico, with the bottom dropping off at a leisurely pace of a foot a mile. Plus, grass was abundant, just like the miles of grass flats in Texas’ bays and, best of all I never had a trip to Suawnnee blown out by wind.

My barber turned me on to Suwannee and gave me the name of the only fishing guide, so calling and arranging a trip, my ex and I left my boat in Atlanta and drove on down. At the time, 1975, there was only 1 guide, bait camp and motel, so directions weren’t a problem. After a pleasant night at the only motel, bright and early, we met him at the bait camp and previously had arranged to use our own tackle, 6-1/2 foot popping rods with 3 inch corks, 2 to 3 foot leaders with a number 8 treble hook attached. His boat, a 24, foot, semi vee, with a 150 HP, outboard was gassed, loaded with shrimp in the live well and ready to go.

As we walked out to the guide’s boat, the owner of the bait camp had to show us his pet bass, a 14, pound whopper! The camp owner thumped a paddle down 3 times and from it’s hiding place in the grass, the monster, bass slowly rose to the top, where it was pitched a few shrimp, that were immediately engulfed. Duly impressed, we wound our way down the river, seeing no manatees or sea cows and once we entered the Gulf, made a hard right up the coast.

Reaching the desired spot, the guide cut the engines, baited our lines and said “Cast out behind the boat and we’ll trail our baits, drifting along with the wind and current. It won’t be necessary to reel them in until a fish hits, and most times, they hook themselves.”

Including the guide, we looped short casts against the wind, sat back in his lawn chairs and waited, and waited, and waited and nothing happened. He remarked, “The bite won’t start for a while, so we’ll just wait for it.” Patience is not one of my strengths, so I told the guide, “I’m going to try it like we do on the Texas coast,” and moving to the bow, looped a long cast, with the wind, to the front of the boat, started working my popping cork back towards the boat. Never letting my line go slack; reel, reel, gently pop the cork; reel, reel, gently pop the cork and whamo!

The cork went under, setting the hook, the rod bowed, the fish stripped line off of the black, reel and took off for Cuba! Soon, the guide netted a very nice, 3, pound speckled trout, rebaited my hook (for the last time) and out flew another cast. Reel, reel, gently pop the cork and whamo, another solid hit and here came my ex to my side of the boat where she repeated my reel, reel and gently pop the cork and proceeded to tie into a nice trout!

The guide sat back in his lawn chair and said, “I want to watch this performance.” A performance it was and within an hour the 2 of us had boated 45 nice specs and then told the guide that we had enough fish to feed the neighborhood, so we headed back to the bait camp. As soon as we tied up the boat, the guide started bragging about how the Texas people, we were no longer a well to do couple from north, Atlanta, had shown him a thing or 2 about catching trout.

He and I filleted the fish, in no time they were iced down in the cooler and as we got into the car for the trip back, the guide told me, “When the conditions are right, I’ll call you. Bring your boat down and leave it here, you don’t need me to show you how to catch these fish!”