August 30, 2012
Note from an Editor to a Digital Audience: Not all the great fishing stories are printed in the pages of Florida Sportsman Magazine, nor are they posted in the many Forums at Florida Sportsman online. Around our state, you'll find outdoorsmen like Mark Shepard (photo at left) quietly chronicling their observations of fishing days with wit and wisdom. Sometimes those compilations make it to the press. Shepard recently published a book through Erewhon Press, with contributions by writer Phil Fragasso. I haven't had a chance to read the entire book yet, but was happy to relay the following excerpt, sent to Florida Sportsman this week by Mr. Fragasso. Shepard is a Lake Okeechobee fishing guide in Clewiston and longtime competitor on the B.A.S.S. and FLW tournament scenes.
--Jeff Weakley, Editor
From A Guiding Life: Living, Fishing and Hunting the American Dream
One hot summer day I was out with a young husband and wife from New York. We were catching some pretty good-sized fish, and the wife hooked onto one that looked to be about three pounds. Well the fish jumped up in the air and threw the bait. The wife hardly had time to be disappointed because as soon as the bait hit the water a six-and-a-half-pounder grabbed it, so she effectively doubled the size of her fish. I've been fishing my whole life so I had seen that happen before. But I'd never seen it happen twice in the same day. But that's exactly what happened. The husband got a three-pounder on the line. It jumped up, threw the bait, and when the bait landed back in the water it was hit by a six-pounder. Like I always say, every day on Okeechobee brings a unique adventure.
My most unique guiding experience happened a few years ago, but to really provide a sense of just how crazy it was I have to go back twenty years. I was fishing up on Blue Cypress Lake with my childhood buddy, Walt. Blue Cypress was absolutely beautiful. Like its name suggests, there were Cypress trees everywhere. The lake offered every conceivable type of fish habitat. There were stumps and grass beds, deep open water and shallow marshy areas. It had the look of a place where you'd get a bite on every cast, but looks can be awfully deceiving. We fished there all day and never got so much as a nibble. So the day was winding down and I was idling through some stumps, and Walt suggested we call it a day. “There's no fish in this pond,” he said. Well, on the souls of everyone I've ever known and loved, as soon as he said there weren't any fish in the pond, a five-pounder jumped out of the water and landed right between us. It was flipping and flopping all over the deck and Walt and I watched it in total shock. Then we started laughing so hard we could hardly breathe. We put the fish back in the water and headed home, realizing there was nothing else we could do to top that.
So fast-forward twenty years. I was fishing in the Everglades with one of my longtime clients, Allen. Allen was an ex-Marine, a true gentleman and a ball to fish with. He came down just about every year to fish five or six days at a time. This particular time we were fishing down in the Everglades and we were having a really good day catching nice-sized bass on top with poppers and the like. Allen turned to me and asked, “Mark, have you ever had one of these big old boys jump in the boat?” I started to laugh and was about to tell him the story about Walt and me when a fish about four pounds jumped right in the boat. We were up against a saw grass edge, and the fish must have been chasing something it wanted and jumped just a bit too high. Well Allen just about had a shit fit. He went nuts, laughing and carrying on, just not believing what had happened. And I was kind of in shock that such a strange thing had happened to me twice in my life. I guess it proves one of two things – either largemouth bass or God has a good sense of humor.