Archive for the ‘Pathways’ Category

Casting fore hits and hazards

By Paul Abercrombie

We crouch, tiptoeing with cartoonishly exaggerated slowness toward the water’s edge. Our extreme stealth is only partly about not spooking the fish. We’re mostly hiding from the guy in the golf cart cruising by barely two fly-rod lengths away this misty early morning.

You see, my pal Scott Borders and I are fishing on a golf course. Or rather, on water hazards. The things that golfers try to avoid.

Yet as the Tampa trial lawyer and I land and release a dozen hefty largemouth bass over the next hour, I can’t help wondering: Are we the only ones who know what great fly-fishing can be had on golf courses?

Well, yes and no.

Everyone knows that, as the tourist brochures claim, Florida is a golfer’s and fisherman’s paradise. Fewer seem savvy to what great fly-fishing there is on the Sunshine State’s umpteen golf-course ponds. These Lilliputian lakes, infrequently if ever plied by anglers, often hold lunker largemouths as well as more-exotic species. Judging from the number of fly fishermen I’ve spoken with who admit to haunting water traps, our ranks appear to be growing.

What’s more, ours may be the ultimate recession-time sport-fishing experience.

Consider that chasing bonefish in the Florida Keys can set you back a few grand. You’d be lucky to hunt redfish by boat for a third as much. But to fly-fish golf-course ponds, you need neither a boat nor a guide nor, for that matter, even a tee time.

What you often do need is a willingness to bend — okay, break — a few rules.

Fishing is forbidden on many of Florida’s private and public golf courses, though some will let you dip a line if you ask nicely. Of course, a ban on fishing all but screams: “Lots of big fish here!” Not that rules deter most anglers hooked on golf courses. Scott’s lawyerly advice for those caught rod-handed: “Run like hell.”

Which Scott and I are fully, if sophomorically, prepared to do this midweek morning as we work a pond on the fifth hole of the course at a private golfing community (whose identity I’m withholding to protect the guilty) located 15 minutes north of downtown Tampa.

We’ll start fishing here, Scott explains, not only because it’s a good spot (he once pulled a seven-pounder from this pond) but because it’ll take the day’s first golfers a while to reach us. Many players don’t mind sharing a course with fly fishers, but all it takes is one complainer to ruin the fun. A golfer himself, Scott packs a two-piece rod in his club bag. “It’s my 15th club,” he jokes.

After tying black bug poppers to our lines, we space ourselves about a quarter-turn of the pond apart and start casting, aiming for clumps of submerged grass and other likely cover for bass.

Manicured lawns and few trees may make for nearly snag-free backcasting, but fishing golf ponds has its challenges. Especially for a guy who grew up fishing for trout in bramble-lined Northeastern streams.

So I soon discover, after Scott’s bug disappears with a loud slurp. A brief fight and Scott has landed our first fish, a nice three-pound bass. He’ll catch several more, and bigger ones, before I get my first, a puny bluegill.

By the time we see another human — a groundskeeper driving a golf cart, who spies us and gives a friendly wave — I’m starting to get the hang of it. I’m doing as Scott says — bringing line in with short, constant tugs, to make the lure stutter across the water’s surface — when I realize it’s gone with a gulp. I somehow remember Scott’s advice to “strip strike” rather than “trout strike” the line by giving it a good yank first to set the hook before raising the rod tip. After a brief but satisfying tussle, I’ve landed and released my first links-bound largemouth. About two pounds and, tallying the number of casts, a par 37.

We move on to a pond on the sixth hole. Scott is hauling them in four or five to my one. As we fish, Scott shares more tips on how to catch golf-course fish and how to avoid being caught fishing. Among the lessons for the latter: In general, it’s best to start on the back nine in the morning, reversing the order if fishing at dusk, because many golfers will be finishing up on the last holes or will already have headed to the bar. Also, if a club lets in only those with reserved tee times, simply set a tee time, then cancel it by cellphone after you’ve cleared the guard shack.

Above all, watch out for the golf course rangers, officials who travel the course, tactfully encouraging poky players to speed things up and otherwise helping golfers. Common at courses without caddies, they can be the outdoor equivalent of mall cops itching to make a bust.

Soon, with the sun rising and golfers on the horizon, Scott and I head back to his SUV, parked in the driveway of relatives who live in this community. From Scott’s high-wattage smile, you’d think he’d just pulled plump rainbows from the Deschutes River below Oregon’s snow-capped Mount Hood (he has) or won a tug-of-war with a bonefish in the Bahamas flats (dozens of times).

“We just caught some really nice fish. And all before going to work,” he says. “It’s hard to have a bad day at the office after that.”

If you prefer your links fishing sanctioned, visit the Ritz-Carlton in Orlando, which runs a G. Loomis-sponsored fly-fishing school on its golf course. Here, master instructor Ben Stein will help work out casting kinks and give you a chance to put your lessons to the test on 44-acre Shingle Pond.

A recent visit left me with an improved single-haul cast and a greater appreciation for the quirks of my newest piscatorial passion.

Deftly piloting us in one of the school’s three Hyde drift boats, Stein reaches out and stays my casting arm. “No sense even trying,” he says of the small submarine of a fish I’m eyeing. A longnose gar, its toothsome jaws will make quick work of my 12-pound test leader.

An avid Florida golf course angler while growing up (he neither confirms nor denies more recent adventures), Stein says it’s not uncommon to find yourself pulling against saltwater species such as young tarpon, which find their way to the ponds via interconnected waterways. That’s not counting the more exotic non-native species, pets dumped by owners or escaped from fish farms.

And then there are other golf course hazards. The lake we’re fishing is home to water moccasins and a dozen or so man-size gators. “You can see why we require guests to fish with a guide,” Stein says with a laugh.


Paul Abercrombie, a publicist and writer based in Tampa, is author of Organic Shaken and Stirred(Harvard Common Press).


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Obama Girl and the Crashes of ’08

by Tim Ohr

At first I did not notice the woman’s body lying in the path ahead of me because of various distractions.
I could tell you the main distraction was the wildflowers. This wouldn’t be true, but it sounds better than the real distraction. 

Blazing star, a purple spear tip on a green shaft, has sprung up all over Flatwoods Park.  Goldenrod is bright yellow again and tickseed never left. 

There are new purple flowers of a species I cannot identify, and things blue. Purple and blue stand out when everything else is green. 
I was taking mental pictures to compare to flower books when I got home.
But it was not the flowers distracting me while I rode my mountain bike. It was the creating of songs for Obama Girl, so named for the campaign sticker on her gray truck. A frequent marathon jogger at Flatwoods, Obama Girl’s former “Indian” name was White Girl Jogging. Writers while exercising do not write WAR AND PEACE or have lofty thoughts. At least not this one; I compose odes to Obama Girl and take mental photos of plants. 

The first song was in tune to David Bowie’s “China Girl.” My verse went, “I’d like to meet you, Obama Girl.” 

The second tune ripped-off “Wild Thing.” It went: “Obama Girl, You move me, but I’d like to know for sure.” 

This is the puerile, childish mind of a 62-year-old author of five respected books and editor of more. What can I say that my wife won’t already have said and said better. “Grow up, will you, Tim.” I think my father said that too. 

But that’s the problem. I have grown up. I have grown so far up that I am no longer young. 
“How are we doing?” I asked a familiar rider at the crash scene. 
Standing above the injured woman, a retired paramedic named Jimmy. I caught the scent of Polo. 

Jimmy urged the woman on her back not to move until the ambulance arrived. Jimmy is a sort of Richard Simmons of the flatwoods, always encouraging those with flagging energy. He passes me at about twice my speed and says I better hurry up because I’m losing the lead. He tells me to keep those legs pumping. “Where’s your helmet, man?” he snarls at me when he whizzes by White Hair Riding. 

“She’s a cancer survivor,” Jimmy said of the woman on the pavement. “If she can beat cancer, she can handle this.” 

The bicyclist who ran into the woman squatted on the side of the road. “Broken collarbone,” Jimmy said of the squatting man, who was in obvious pain. It turned out to be a dislocated shoulder, but Jimmy had the right idea. 

The woman on the ground thought blood was running down her forehead. “No blood,” Jimmy said. Later we learned the blood was running down the inside of her skull, but no concussion. She would be all right. 

I offered my cell phone, but a call to 911 had already been placed. I intended to go to the ranger station, but someone had been sent earlier. I decided to go to the head of the circle to direct the ambulance to the left fork. But at the head of the circle, there was Obama Girl. She was on duty, waiting to direct the ambulance, and I was useless. 

“How badly is she hurt?” Obama Girl asked. 

Blond, half my age, and twice as fit, Obama Girl would not have noticed me even when I was thirty, but it was encouraging to see such youth on a sunny morning in fall. 

“Probably a concussion,” I surmised. 

“Was she wearing a helmet?” she asked. 

“No,” I said, noting that I was not wearing one either. I received from Obama Girl a look of disapproval. “I know,” I said. “But I just can’t stand a hat.” 

Then the ambulance came, and I rode away from Obama Girl, accompanied by her well-mannered red hound. 
It has unfortunately become a common sight – an ambulance pulling into my favorite recreation area. Within the past three months, I have seen the paramedics arrive three times. 

This does not count the friend of the woman who cleans my teeth who fell and broke his neck in two places and died at the nearby off-road bicycle trails. That was long ago. It does not count my own finger-bending spill. 

Both Obama Girl and White Hair Riding had assumed the woman on the pavement was a slower bicyclist who had pulled into the path of the racer. However, it was not so. The woman was walking, and the racer, bent over “in the pit,” had not seen her and had run into her back at 22 mph. 

Jimmy was right behind him. He had shown me the bent thousand-dollar wheel. 

“Know what his wife’s first question was a the hospital?” Jimmy asked, and when I replied I did not, he said, “How’s the bike?” 
“Stupid,” Obama Girl said on Monday when I explained what had happened. 

I liked saying “in the pit,” a phrase I picked up from a park ranger. It made me sound like I knew what I was talking about – a real biker – in the pit. 

“Well,” I said, repeating what a machinist I once employed always said, “I never heard of a smart accident.” Perhaps I have no original thoughts. 

Since then Obama Girl waves to White Hair Riding, which makes his day. 

“I’m going to add mirrors to my bike,” I told her, and have. It is frightening to think someone could ride into you from behind. 
Not two days later, I followed an ambulance to an off-road trail. A young woman had fallen in the sand. I suspect she was riding a bike with narrow tires not meant for sand. Down she went. Broken arm. 
Where she fell was not a particularly difficult course, if taken slow. 
The worse spill, however, occurred earlier. I felt the spill would happen before it did. Three out of four bikes went down hard. 

Line racers, ironically all paramedics. Four in line – only the young woman in the third position was riding far out of line. In fact, I wasn’t sure if she was in the second or third position and had to move to the right when she passed coming toward me. I thought that if she moved into line, she might hook two of the other bikes. 

Maybe that’s what happened. Maybe not. 

Twenty minutes later, all four bikes lay on the asphalt. The woman and another rider sprawled on the path. The man clearly had a broken or dislocated shoulder. 

The young woman lay on her back saying that she was a single mother and this couldn’t be happening to her. It was a constant refrain. She worried she was paralyzed. She thought she could not move her fingers or toes or feel them. 

“You’re moving your toes and fingers,” the man standing above her said. 

My friend Peter, a neurologist, rode upon the scene and asked if a doctor was needed. He told the woman she had a concussion and would be fine. This, however, did not calm her, and she repeated over and over that she was a single mom and that this could not happen to her. 

Perhaps because they were a group of paramedics, at least two ambulances, two fire trucks, a police car, and a helicopter arrived. I was told later that she was fine, that Peter was right; she merely had a concussion. No paralysis, no broken bones. I hope this is so. 
It was quite a display of rescue power. 
I have pondered what this increase in the frequency of accidents means. I have some theories. One is that it just might be random, but that doesn’t feel right. 

Recent surveys indicate that about 90% of men exercising are thinking about sex. (Does composing sonnets to Obama Girl count?) Women – something less than 80% are thinking about sex. 
As women are fond of saying, at least to me, sex always confuses things. 

OK, I’m joking, sort of, let’s start again. 

It is October 2008. My stocks are sinking faster than the Titanic. My wife has been offered early retirement and accepted it: end of job. Such reduction in force has swept many industries. We are glad this happened to her. But… 

Unemployment is climbing. 
Florida tourism is falling. 
Credit has dried up. 
Houses aren’t selling. 
General Motors can’t sell cars, neither can Ford. 
My bank, Wachovia, has become Wells Fargo. Or Citibank. Or Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang Bank or something. 

My broker, Morgan-Stanley, has become a bank and sold an interest to China. 

Busch Gardens got sold to a European company. 

Lehman Brothers is out of business. Crap, I own Lehman Brothers’ CDs. 

Why does every mutual fund I own have Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG, and Washington Mutual in it? 

What does my broker say? Mostly that he doesn’t know. 

If it is not sex distracting us, it is the economy, stupid. 

John McCain blames Obama and the Democrats. Obama blames the Republicans and Bush and the Republicans. Who will be the next president? Obama Girl has her opinion – I’ll keep mine to myself. 
Come to think of it, what has happened to Missy and Leslie and Margot and Buck and all the people I haven’t heard from for a month or longer.
Have they all disappeared? Don’t they like me any more? 
How about the colonoscopy I chickened out of and now have rescheduled? Will I have the courage this time? 

While I ponder whether to cash in mutual funds, I am writing what Paul McCartney penned “silly love songs” to a woman with a dog – I don’t even know the dog or the dog’s name. Don’t know the woman’s name either. 

Accidents occur due to distraction. We are “in the pit” and don’t look up. And these are distracting times. So be careful. Keep looking up. 
In the morning after spewing these thoughts, I wonder why we ride when, after all, it is a dangerous sport. With pardons to Bob Dylan, everyone will someday fall, some more than once. 

My neighbor, adventurer David Jones, has taken a number of falls. Last time, I think it was over a cottonmouth. His thoughts on the way down were, “Please don’t let it bite my face.” He has broken ribs and bruised shoulders.

I have pains in my left arm from the last spill that are random. Some are like being stabbed with a knife on my wrist. Others are like a heart attack coming on with shooting pain in my left arm. I can’t fit my wedding band over my ring finger – my wife suspects this is on purpose. It’s not. When I get the gold band over the knuckle, I then have difficulty getting it off. 

Is it really worth it, the risks of falling and busting your tail or worse? 
No hesitation: Yes. 

My favorite days are when there is a wind blowing across the flatwoods. If you stop on a dirt path and listen, you can hear the sighing of trees. Each type of tree has a different song as it bends and creaks. 
You can hear the wind coming, rushing through the saw palmetto. I like that. It gives me peace. I like the oncoming of a light rain when I am riding for the same reason, and because it brings out the wildlife. 

When it is not so wet, I enjoy walking into the shade of a cypress dome and watching the raccoons and red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks. 
The wildlife pleases me. The quail remind me of my childhood home, the one my father built, where long coveys marched.

In the flatwoods there is still for me what science-fiction writer Damon Knight used to call “a sense of wonder.” Maybe it is a feeling of innocence and the fresh newness of childhood discovery. We almost all have this feeling in childhood, but we lose it somewhere growing up and in our daily struggles to look up from the pit. Perhaps psalms to Obama Girl are merely a means of escape to a time when life was less complicated and not so frightening, a time before the spoiling of our youth. 

I continue to risk myself. Why? I know what I see and feel when I ride in the flatwoods. 


About the Author:

A lifelong writer, Tim has published fiction, poetry, and non-fiction. Tim has edited five books for World Publications. A frequent contributor to regional magazines, he is the author of four books in the Florida’s Fabulous series: Natural Places, Trail Guide, Canoe and Kayak Trail Guide, and Lighthouses.

Tim’s newest novel, Under the Gun was recently published. His books can be purchased thru Amazon.com or Barnes&Noble.com. He is currently working on a second novel entitled, Cheap Tricks.

Tim Ohr can be reached at timohr@mindspring.com.

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