On the road again...By Steve Huber - October 1, 2001
I looked over the different lodges, resorts and guides that Lake-Link has to offer. Believe me, if you haven't checked all the different places that are offered lately, there's a bunch. Well, they looked good, but still offered fishing opportunities similar to what I have here at home. I wanted my trip with Jim to be special so I kept on looking.
I checked into some Florida saltwater fishing but everyone was either booked, didn't return my inquiries or looked kinda scarey. I was really wishing that Lake-Link had a business review done on some southern outfitters and guides (hint, hint). Not wanting to take chances with a trip of this importance, I called one of my Internet buddies, Moe Conway. Moe is a retired firefighter turned fishing guide down in Okeechobee Florida. He's a tournament bass angler and runs a largemouth bass guide service. I've known him via e-mails and phone calls for years. I figured that if anyone was capable of putting up with Jim and me for a couple of days and show us a good time, it was Moe. If he was busy, I also figured that anyone that he turned me onto would be equally good.
A quick phone call revealed that August is a slow time for Moe's guiding and while this time of year wasn't the best for big largemouth bass, he figured that we'd be able to get enough to keep our interest up. Yup, his schedule was clear during the time that I wanted and we set things up for 3 days of fishing, fun and general bumming around.
We arrived in Orlando, threw our luggage and a 7 « foot rod case into a rented Mitsubishi econobox and headed south. I marveled at how speed limits on the Florida Turnpike seemed to only be a "suggestion" as I was left in the dust at 75 mph. Winding the rubber band up extra tight, I managed to get the rental up to 85! At this speed, we did not get passed by too many big white Cadillacs and Lincolns with apparently no one at the wheel. At least I don't think that there was anyone driving, I couldn't see anyone there, just a pair of liver spotted hands on the wheel!
But anyway, we finally pulled into Okeechobee without running over any alligators or sock footed, sandal wearing tourists. We checked into the Flamingo Motel, a bright pink structure that somehow fit the mood of the trip. A phone call to Moe soon had him and the "Mo-mobile" out front and us swapping stories like long lost brothers. Jim and I piled into the Mo-mobile and away we went, to get us some local cuisine. Moe recommended the fried gator, Jim and I looked at each other, shrugged and decided, when in Rome..... Let me tell you right now, words cannot describe gator meat, all I CAN tell you is that it doesn't taste like chicken but it sure is tasty.
Over the demolished remains of the gator dinner, we discussed plans and strategies for the morning. We decided to fish Stick Marsh, a flooded orange grove that has been managed by the Florida Fish and Game Department for trophy largemouth bass. For many years, it has been a catch and release fishery only. Moe said that our best chance of hanging that elusive Florida Ten Pounder would be at "The Marsh". It was a little bit of a drive so we called it an early evening and returned to our pink palace.
The alarm jolted us awake at the ungodly hour of 3:30 am. I remember when that used to be the ending time of a perfect evening, oh well, I guess I had to grow up a little. Soon, we were headed off to the Marsh, in the Mo-mobile. Dawn found us at the landing, putting in Moe's Astro bassboat. The heat already was incredible, inching past 80 and the sun still wasn't up fully. I wondered how hot it was going to get once the sun did rise. We motored to a palm tree covered point that jutted out into a deep hole.
We fished spinnerbaits, jerkbaits and soft plastics around the edges of the hydrilla weeds, getting bit occasionally but the fish just weren't really hitting hard. It was difficult fishing, watching all the different (yet somehow similar) wildlife, but two things started to get to me. One thing that I expected was the alligators. I knew that they were all over in Florida but I didn't think they were in the numbers that they were and one thing that really kinda stressed me was all of the vultures that were constantly nearby. Did they know something that I didn't? Did I look like an easy meal? Nah, it must have been Moe, he's a lot older than I am. (Are you reading this Moe?)
Finally, the sun really was hitting us in full force. We drank water, soft drinks, sucked ice cubes and put damp towels on our heads. I knew that it was hot out, but I didn't know exactly how hot until Moe, in his infinite wisdom decided to dig out a thermometer. We had already fished our way back to the point with all of those lovely, shade giving palms and had tied up to a palm trunk when Moe gave us the words that made it seem even hotter. "Well boys" Moe grinned, "It's a measly 106 here in the shade!" OK, I now understood why I was feeling so hot, only somehow knowing the actual temperature, it seemed even worse.
But Jim and I didn't really care, we were having fun, bs'ing back and forth between us and with Moe, catching a bass here and a bass there. All was right with the world. None of the bass caught that day were large by Florida standards but to this northern boy, I was pleased. We probably caught 25 bass that day, the largest was close to 5 pounds. Of course, it was caught by the guide, but we didn't care. By that point, Moe was one of the family and we were as happy for him as we would have been catching it ourselves.
While we were fishing the Marsh, we did watch one angler, who loudly announced that he was "The worst fisherman in the world" catch a couple of really nice bass and lose one that might have gone 10 pounds. He made the classic mistake of over-pressuring the fish, causing it to jump and throw the hook at boatside. Maybe he was right.
Over dinner that night with Moe, we again planned for the next day. While Stick Marsh showed the best promise, it was a couple hour drive and Moe thought we could do just as well on either Lake Okeechobee or one of the many Rim Canals that surround the lake.
"Sleeping In" until 5:00 am, we were back on the Astro in the pre-dawn light, preparing for another day in brutal heat. Fortified with lots of water in the cooler, we hit the canal, fishing deep diving crankbaits and texas rigged plastic worms, again getting bit here and there, but nothing consistent and no pattern emerged. By 11:00 am, it was too hot to enjoy ourselves and we decided to break for lunch and to escape the mid-day heat. After lunch, Moe dropped us off at the hotel and we decided to check out the pool. Stepping into the pool was like getting into a very large bathtub, while it didn't cool us off too much, it sure felt good.
Back out that afternoon, Jim, Moe and I were on Lake Okeechobee itself. I was amazed at the water color. It was BLACK! Black, but clear water, very strange, you could throw a spinnerbait and watch the spinner flash for the complete cast. Again, stories flew around the boat, along with teasing, jokes and other silly things that are only important to a son and a dad. While the catching wasn't great, the fishing was fantastic! If you don't understand that statement, think about it a while, you'll get it. The highlight of the day was a gator encounter that left Jim with a souvenir tooth. Don't ask how he got it, let's just say that fast reaction times and a Gerber Multi-Tool were essential.
Sunday, our last day for fishing! Man, this had to be a special day, the last day of fishing, a long drive back to Orlando and a return flight the next day meant that our "Father/Son Bonding Expedition" was going to be done much too soon.
We hit the Kissimmee River at first light. Twitching a white Zoom Fluke got me several bites, while Jim worked a Zara Spook, Moe still using a texas rigged plastic worm. I watched with interest as Moe dropped his rod tip, signaling that a fish had grabbed the plastic bait. He did one of his patented "Conway Power Sets", with the medium heavy spinning rod get a pretty good bend. The fish stayed down for a little while and then came up. The look on Moe's face was priceless as he swung his catch over the side of the boat. His "bass" turned out to be a Plecostimus, one of those algae eating fish that people buy for their aquariums. After the laughter died down and I could catch my breath, I got out the digital camera for a shot. After all, it's not everyday that I see aquarium fish caught by "Plecosti-Mo", the bass guide and tournament pro.
The day was turning out to be special all right. We worked our way up the river, casting to a sharp dropping edge when a big (I mean BIG) gator surfaced just out of spinnerbait range. Jokingly, I made a cast as close to the large poodle eater and called "Here Kitty Kitty" as I slowly retrieved the spinnerbait. We continued working the area, when Jim cast the Spook a little too close to the gator. A couple twitches and there was a huge explosion as the gator slammed the lure. Instinctively, Jim set the hook as I told him, "You owe me a Zara Spook, kid." 50 lb PowerPro didn't last too terribly long, the gator shut his jaws and the line popped like sewing thread.
Amazingly, on Moe's next cast, he felt something and set the hook. When the rod just "stopped", he handed the rod to Jim to do battle. With a huge bend in the heavy rod, line peeling off the reel, we speculated, "Large Gar?, Big Catfish?, it would have to be one heck of a bass!" After a couple minutes, the line began angling up and we would soon see what had the worm. The texas rigged worm had snagged into the back of the Spook stealing gator, the one that we thought had left the area. Equally amazing was how long Jim played that alligator, keeping it on for almost 20 minutes before the hook pulled free.
We knew that we were done "Gator Fishing" for the day, besides, I was throwing a Secret Weapon Spinnerbait, one of the most snagfree lures in existence, that couldn't possibly hook a gator, could it? Well, guess what? Spinnerbaits can get hooked into gators as well as texas rigged worms. We couldn't believe it. We had traveled a fair distance from the last encounter, not wanting to repeat the performance, besides, I was interested more in fish than gators, finding most fish species easier to lip than a 12 foot alligator!
Well, the battle was on and I wasn't about to give him my last Bleeding Shad Secret Weapon, I'd caught too many fish on it, besides, I'm stubborn at times (most times if you believe my wife). Let me tell you right now, a Shimano Curado 200, spooled with 50 pound PowerPro line, a Secret Weapon spinner bait tied with a good knot, on a "Steve Huber Signature Series" medium action bass rod, is still no match for a prehistoric aquatic lizard that weighed probably more than 700 pounds. We did hold our own fairly well though, giving a good showing as the gator towed a 19 foot bass boat, with 3 adults on board UPSTREAM! Finally, the hook pulled free again. Moe has accidently hooked gators in the past, but never has he had this kind of action. All he'd say was that "I think that he wanted to play." But the inventor of Secret Weapon lures and I can both say that our products are tested "Gator Tough."
After this fiasco, we decided to crank up the outboard and leave "Gator Gulch" for more fertile waters. We pulled into an area below a lock/dam and began working a drop off into deeper water. I noticed some surface feeding activity and fired a cast in the direction of the swirls. I had a hit on the spinnerbait but missed the fish. Jim cast a crankbait and got a hit as well, only he had better luck. His rod was bent in half as he fought the fish to the boat. It turned out to be a Florida Gar, probably around 6-7 pounds.
I'm a firm believer in the philosophy of "When life hands you lemons, make lemonade." Well, if the gars were hitting, then garfishing it was. For the next several hours, we had a ball catching and releasing gars and dogfish, or as the locals call them, mudfish. Heck, we didn't care, they were biting and fighting well. Moe just stood at the bow, chuckling and shaking his head in disbelief at the crazy northern boys catching rough fish, laughing and not complaining once about the lack of bass. The day was over all too soon and we had to get back to the landing, done.
Jim and I talked, laughed and grinned all of the way back home as we re-hashed the events of the last couple days. Was it a successful bass fishing trip? From the standpoint of numbers boated or size caught, I probably could have guided Jim to equal numbers and sizes. But, I couldn't have guided Jim to a half ton gator, he wouldn't have his very own gator tooth pendant and we wouldn't have nearly the memories that we do now. Besides, we wouldn't have had "Plecosti-Mo", the bass guide extrordinare. A good bass trip? No, a great time with a good kid? Oh yeah, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.
As I'm writing this, I occasionally look at the fireplace mantle, where my very own souvenir stuffed alligator head resides. It adds a touch of class (my wife says a touch of crass) to the room and makes me smile each time I look at it.
Until next time, see ya,
If you do find yourself heading down to Florida and want a good guide, contact me, I'll turn you onto Moe Conway of Moe's Guide Service. He really did a good job for us under very trying conditions.