The hollow thrum of tires racing against concrete echoed beneath the bridge that led to Port St. Joe. I was hastily peeling 01x off my spool in a feverish attempt to beat the ensuing darkness and create a makeshift euro-shrimping leader. On a previous cast, dead drifting a tan shrimp pattern finally got a take. In an act of complete desperation, I was (much to the chagrin of the elderly man across the inlet, who had caught fish after fish while lobbing actual shrimp) trying to yield a 9 foot 8 wt as if it were a tall, sensitive euro noodle. Needless to say, they are not the same. I looked more like someone swatting bugs or relieving a cramped elbow than the angler I hoped to be. The final nail in the coffin came when I felt the familiar vibration of an incoming text: It was from the shop I had originally been in touch with before my arrival here, who’s store subsequently closed for the three days I had planned to fish. The message they left surmised why I had now found myself under a bridge, blind casting in the fading light to no avail: The message said, “The island is the best, but this weather is a killer.”

I like to think that modern-day superstitions are wasted on me. I like to think that I don’t read into random occurrences too much, or try to connect them in some way that would signify the universe is trying to communicate with me. Hence, when my truck’s odometer displayed 666 for the better part of the drive to the airport, I shrugged it off. When the weather abruptly shifted, I told myself to embrace the challenge. Even when bright tines of lightning lit the sky fluorescent pink as I arrived at the parking lot on the first day’s attempted fishing– I told myself it was all good and decided to do some recon from the car.

Looking back on the trip, the needlefish, the dead eels, the barnacled net, the pelican man, atrocious weather, fish skeletons, and straight-to-voicemail calls to the fly shop began on my trip began to form into what I can only prescribe as omens: Bad omens.

The original plan was to spend three days wading and sight-fishing redfish, sheepshead, and whatever else might show itself along the bay-side flats of St. George State Park. As mentioned, day one was off to an ominous start. The radar showed a large swath of severe weather slowly working northwest, so I decided to check out Cape San Blas State Park, another area with promising-looking flats about an hour’s drive and potentially on the edge of the storm. The gate attendant at the park looked at me quizzically, as I must have been the only one they had seen that day, given the weather. I geared up in case the weather broke and drove around the island. By Mid-afternoon, the lightning ceased long enough to wade a flat close to the road, and while the visibility was poor, there were some disturbances on the surface – so I threw a few casts and felt a decent eat. I set the hook, and the line came tight. The fight wasn’t very strong, so I expected maybe a sea trout or some other smaller fish. What I didn’t expect was a three-foot-long, foul-hooked needlefish.    

Maybe it was the threat of lightning, the ‘Beware of Alligators’ sign leading to the flat, or the fact that this iridescent awl of a fish repeatedly attempted to bite me as I tried to remove the hook – which could only be described as an entertaining dance. Had someone seen this debacle from shore, they would have noted my many movements, attempting to dodge winging jaws, and several “NO NO NO’s” and “STOP IT’S (I often talk to fish as though they might understand me).

Somewhere in the melee, the built-in scissors on my forceps sniped the tippet, and the needlefish swam away bejeweled with a chartreuse and white clouser minnow. Needless to say, this was not how I had envisioned the trip starting. Shortly after the chaos, lurid cracks split the sky… a sign for me to head out. Tomorrow was going to be a new day.


The palms outside my Airstream trailer Airbnb swayed heavily in the chilly breeze the following morning. It was 41 degrees outside, and the wind was unfortunately blowing offshore, which meant it was going directly into where I was headed. What is fishing without a bit of adversity, I thought, and at least it was sunny. I headed over to the island and began a twelve-mile expedition in futility. I walked from the last parking lot out to the point and back, much of it spent practicing the stingray shuffle and looking for even the slightest shadow. All in all, I saw one small shark, which I did cast at (thankfully, it could have cared less), and a pod of dolphins, which was spectacular. There were some signs along the beach, findings that would only later be realized as (bad) omens. Firstly, there were several dead snake eels. So many, that by the time I was headed back, I could easily discern their shape from a reasonable distance to avoid nearly stepping on them, which was how I discovered the first one. Then, there was the net, covered in barnacles and filled with sea grass. At the time, I thought nothing of it.

Defeated and exhausted, the adrenaline of seeing dolphins so close having long worn off, I packed up and found my way to a Mexican restaurant and drowned my sorrows with birria tacos and flan. Researching the weather between courses, I saw that the following day looked even worse for wind and visibility. Having called the fly shop and texted my contact several times with no reply, I was left with no alternative. In an effort to salvage what would be, I looked for potential spots to, dare I even say it, blind-cast.

As someone whose preferred target is carp, blind-casting, especially in something as big and humbling as the Gulf Of Mexico, is akin to throwing darts at a moving target after spinning around a Wiffle ball bat multiple times. That night, I poured over Google Maps, finding a few select places to go the following day. I told myself that while a redfish and sheepshead might be out of the picture, a sea trout (honestly, any fish) would offer salvation, and I went to sleep with a new sense of hope.

I wish I could tell you that the next day went splendidly. I wish I could tell you that it went so well that I began to reframe my ideas of blind-casting. What occurred was a bit different. It started with a small jetty where, for the first time on this trip, I ran into other anglers. I hadn’t really thought of this until that day, how the lack of other anglers was somewhat foreboding. As I scoped out the jetty, I saw a series of figures, each with a bucket near their feet, winging assorted bait casters and spin rods. I thought what the hell, and went to grab my rod, as I turned to walk back to the car, an angler hooked up with something that put a good bend in his rod. My pace quickened, and I thought to myself, here we go! I began casting and retrieving and repeating this for some time to no avail. I watched as the angler, whom I would later call the Pelican Man, would catch and throw fish after fish to a swarm of hungry pelicans. Frustrated, I changed flies, watched his technique, and slowed my retrieve. I even inched closer as if somehow his spot was fishier than my own. The fact that no one else was catching anything could have provided some solace had the two previous days not been so abysmal. Eventually, tail tucked between my legs, I headed out to another spot that looked like it might hold some hope.

I did this several times, my arm growing increasingly tired, my brain slipping into that same feeling you get swinging flies for salmon – questioning not only which pattern to use, but life choices in general. With the sun well on its evening trajectory, I headed to my proverbial last chance ranch: a spot below a hulking bridge where the tides would be filling the river with bait and, hopefully, a few fish to target. Walking down to the apron of riprap that would serve as my precarious footing, I stumbled across several fish carcasses, fileted and well-withered from several days ashore. This looks promising, I mocked. Somewhere in the many fruitless casts that day, self-deprecation had replaced hope, as it often does when an angler finds themselves in a biblical drought. The seeds of a theory had been sewn.

After reeling in my unpatented and, moreover, ineffective euro-shrimping leader, I clambered up the loose rock to the car and asked myself if this was a new low point. We all want to capture and tell stories of the great ones. The 20-plus-inch trout, the carp that tipped the scales, a 6-pound smallie that fought like hell. Yet, the foundation upon which these tales can be told is filled with lackluster moments, hours, days, and in this case -  trips where we have nothing but a sunburn to show for our efforts.

On the way to the airport the following day, there was a pair of shorts in a local gas station covered with Warholian bananas, and I thought– maybe I should have worn those the whole time. After checking in and waiting for my flight, I thought of the shorts and the old superstition regarding bananas and fishing. As I looked back on my trip, I began to formulate connections and link seemingly meaningless occurrences. The signs had all been there. I just hadn’t seen them. I was doomed from the start – the omens never lie. The eels, the odometer, the net, the Pelican Man, and the fish skeletons all made sense. Even though I knew it was just bad fishing, I accepted my latest tale as fact, and was happy to have an alibi. 

Several days after getting home, a friend and I decided to take advantage of a milder day and meet at a local trout river. On the way to the river, I drove past a graveyard. Needless to say, I held my breath.

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