Every weekend I’m not on the boat, I make the trek to Canaveral National Seashore, at Playalinda Beach, and get back to my surf-fishing roots. I know I’m not going to be hauling in 100-pound tarpon or chasing down 40-pound reds, but more likely fooling around with a scrappy little whiting, some small bluefish or, if I’m lucky, a few dinner-plate-size pompano for the frying pan.
This past weekend, I set up my full picket line of surf sticks, kicked back in the camp chair with a hot coffee and saw the sun crack the morning horizon over NASA’s launchpad. Beautiful.
The day was typical — loads of small bluefish, a few mystery runoffs and some whiting. But around midday, the tide dropped out and the sandbars were exposed enough that you could walk out on them and make long-distance casts, and that’s just what I saw one person doing up the beach in the distance. I watched this person making clumsy casts and kind of looking like he was distracted by all the things going on around him; he was shuffling in the sand, grabbing shells at his feet and whatnot. Then I saw him get shellacked by a fish and promptly yell at his counterpart on the beach in jubilation, then finally best a pompano that had some serious shoulders. He ran through the surf sloshing and tripping to bring it to the man on the beach. Then he came back and repeated the same exact process, complete with another huge pomp.
I decided to see what he was doing, as his success with currently elusive pompano intrigued me. When I was side by side with him, he pulled down his bandanna, and I saw he was a 12-year-old kid. His name was Leo.
Leo and I talked for a bit — well, he talked. All about fishing. How even though his parents are divorced, he and his dad go fishing every chance they can get, how he cuts the tails off shrimp for pompano, why cobia follow manta rays and how a Bimini twist isn’t that hard to tie if you practice enough. Then, in midsentence, he reached down and grabbed a live sand dollar that had fluttered against his feet, put it in his pocket and told me how cool it was going to look on his shelf at home.
It’s kids like Leo who give me faith our sport isn’t being lost with the younger generation, and it’s kids like Leo who make me realize that I turn into that kid every time I pick up a rod and reel.