Angling: A state of complete dismay

Fishing Lines
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The Independent Online
THE FLORIDA Tourist Board can expect to feel the full wrath of my lawyers any day now. In the Sunshine State, the past three weeks have been as wet as a duck's bottom. According to a Disney ad headed "Florida Sunshine" that will form the basis of my prosecution's case, "the weather in Florida varies little from season to season, in that it is sunny all year round. From March to November, it's cooler. Even then, you'll only need light clothing, and you should always wear a hat while outdoors".

Well, it was right on the last point. A hat has been essential to stop your brain washing away. If it hasn't been raining, it's been as windy as the north face of the Eiger. Most days, my outerwear has been a plastic poncho rather than the recommended T-shirts and shorts.

By English standards, it has been quite warm, with temperatures in the 50s and 60s. By Florida standards, it has been like Anchorage in winter. Even the fish don't like a 20-degree drop in temperature, as I discovered when I drove down to Robbie's on the Keys.

The attraction here is enormous tarpon that you can feed by hand off the jetty. A tarpon is like a six-foot herring, with scales the size of dinner plates. It is one of the great game fishes. Tarpon love shallow water. Stalking them in vodka-clear water is wildly exciting, hooking them even more so. They jump like dolphins and a 100lb fish flying out of the water feet from you is an awesome sight.

Fish that big are interesting even to non-fishers, so I dragged the family along to Robbie's. A video showing huge tarpon jumping out of the water to eat hand-held fish was showing as we walked in. But wouldn't you know it? It was the tarpon's day off.

"There are about 10 days in the year when they go into deeper water because it's too cold in the shallows," the owner said apologetically. Amber and Fleur were hugely disappointed as I'd promised to buy them a bucket of fish each to feed the tarpon. (Oh, I know how to spoil children.) "Do you want to feed the pelicans instead?" the owner said hopefully, sensing a sale. The girls were willing but I vetoed it. "What a waste of money, feeding birds," I said. "You must be a fisherman," Robbie ventured. However did he know?

Anyway, I take back all I said last week about my wife failing to understand my heavy hints. Her new year's surprise for me was a fishing session.

Unfortunately, all the ace guides (I took along their numbers just in case) were booked for days. Here's when I made a novice error. Like the rawest tourist, I chose a boat because it had big signs advertising it, and lots of photographs around the fishing hut. In my desperation to wet a line, I should have noticed that the pictures were yellowing at the edges, and the people were wearing clothing that even my dad would have condemned as unfashionable. Furthermore, most were the same group, rearranged to make it look like a fresh set of punters.

Well, I soon found out why Captain Russ didn't have a booking. His sole interest seemed to be driving his boat, a lightweight thing powered by a mighty 150hp engine, as fast as he could to as many different spots as possible in four hours. We would stop and cast two or three times, then whizz off to another spot. The children thought the aquaplaning boat pretty cool, but were mystified why they had to wind up their lines almost as soon as they had put them in the water.

In fact, when angling in the Keys, most of the boatmen are pretty impatient. Though old Florideans complain that fishing ain't what it used to be, it's still far better than Europeans will ever see. The American approach is: if the fish don't bite here, they're bound to do so somewhere else. But the weather, that old scene stealer, condemned us to just one fish, a crevalle jack with a face like Mike Tyson, estimated at about 14lb.

By Florida standards, that's such a rotten day's fishing that it's almost cause for action under the trade descriptions act, or whatever the local equivalent is. What a relief it will be to get back to English weather and English fishing. At least you're never disappointed.