As I stepped out my front door into the predawn darkness the wall of heat hit me like the exhaust from a Greyhound.
I stood for a minute taking in the stillness before shoving my kayak atop the Explorer. At the end of my street, I slid the Green Peanut into the Halifax and began my paddle across the boat channel.
First light was just breaking behind me over the peninsula. It was breathlessly still and quiet. I knew that the Atlantic - just a bit over a quarter mile away - would be calm on this morning, but on the silent river, I could hear the sound of waves washing up onto the beach.
As I paddled the air was so hot and humid, I could feel the dampness in my lungs. Across the bay in the Tomoka State Park, campers had managed to keep their fire smoldering all night, probably to keep away the insects. The wispy smoke had traveled up the water's edge, stopping here and there to drape selected trees like the spun silk of catawba worms.
A dog sounded a warning that I was near.
Overhead a flight of cormorants flew south in a reverse "V" formation. I wondered how they found their way without a leader. At my fishing destination the tide had stopped at dead low and nothing was moving. I made a cast with my jig and watched to see how far the rings would travel from the splash. No bait swimming; nothing feeding. I beached the kayak and began to wade the shore.
The water was murky, but with my flip flop-shod feet, I could feel indentations on the bottom where flounder had spent the night. Off to the east the sun was now coming up behind cotton candy clouds of pink and blue. Nothing hit my first 25 offerings and I began to think that perhaps the flounder tracks were old ones. Noticeably absent were my main competitors for the delicious flatties. No dolphin anywhere. Porpoises are the ultimate flounder hunters. They know that the flounder will be hidden in the sand and mud, so they swim along two at a time, their snouts just grazing the bottom. When they spook a flounder into bolting, the chase is over in seconds.
A flounder can swim surprisingly fast, but is no match for a dolphin. When the dolphin is actively floundering, I pay close attention to their path. Their path can tell you how far off the bank the flounder have moved, and thus where to cast. No dolphin on this day. I was on my own.
As often happens, the flounder waited for full light to hit. Bam! Bam! Bam! Three quick hits and three quick misses. I knew that the fish had all hit the soft plastic without taking the hook.
Farther out in the river, a large school of baitfish was swimming by, and although I couldn't see anything, feeding I made a cast. Before my chartreuse jig could settle to the bottom, a good fish had it.
The fight was fun and since I was out in the river a ways, the trout shot by me and beat me to the beach.
A fat 17-inch spotted sea trout was my prize. I followed the bait pod down the river, but could muster no other hit. Now, the sun was full up, so I paddled over to the islands.
Right away, I began to get hits, but nothing was taking the jig until a 14-inch flounder came to the boat.
I was in about 4 feet of water when my jig shot into the air in the mouth of a 30-inch tarpon.
At the apex of its jump, the silver king shook its head and the jig was sent 20 feet in the opposite direction. I had no chance to do anything but watch. It then dawned on me that as low to the water as I was in the kayak I had been looking skyward to watch the flight of the tarpon. What power!
If God had not intended us to fish, there would be no such thing as a tarpon.
Dan Smith has fished the waters of Volusia County for more than 40 years. Email questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, "I Swear the Snook Drowned," is available for $10.95 at (386) 441-7793.