“Hang on! Coming in hot!” I yelled over the loudness of the antiquated twenty-five horse Yamaha two-stroke. Heading into a break-neck bend in a narrow backwater creek, the steering cable snapped. Skipping and sliding, we careened into the rubbery confines of mangrove. Branches slapping and spider webs draping, we finally came to a stop, wedged in there good.
At the time, my skiff was a sixteen-foot flat-bottom aluminum hull controlled from the bow with a stick, not unlike an airboat. Custom welded casting deck, sixteen-gallon fuel tank, and bow-mounted trolling motor; it was a backcountry ghost. Which is appropriate considering we disappeared into the mangrove system.
“You aight!” I hollered through a series of rapid spits, “thpp, thpp, thpp,” attempting to clear the cobweb from my mouth.
“I’m good!” Will, my eleven-year-old son (at the time), yelled from the rear.
After pulling ourselves out with fistfuls of mangrove branches, I began trolling out of the creek to a marked river where we could be rescued.
My dad had his flats boat at Calusa Island Marina. There was still plenty of time left in the day for him to get from his house on Marco to the marina and reach our location before dark. I knew it was a big ask for anyone. But since I’d once heard Dad exclaim, “I don’t think I’ve ever NOT run aground,” I gave him an out. “No big deal if you don’t want to tackle it. I can call Sea Tow. I need to get a membership anyway.” I wasn’t surprised nor bent out of shape when he took me up on it.
I wasn’t off the phone with Sea Tow five-minutes before he called back and told me to cancel Sea Tow.
“Why?” I asked.
In a sharp tone, he said, “You’d come get me, wudn’t ya?”
“Indeed, I would.”
Anchored off a deep point adjacent to a massive oyster bar with steady outgoing water, Will was already hooked up. He slung the keeper-sized mangrove snapper into the boat, jaws steadily snapping, “bap, bap, bap.” As he popped the jig from its mouth, my son said something I’ll never forget. “It’s ok, Dad. It doesn’t matter as long as we’re together,” oblivious to the gravitas of his statement.
With a heavy heart, I replied, “Exactly, Bubba … exactly.”
One hour went by with no communication. Consummate professionals, Sea Tow called back to ask if he had made it. I told them that he had not, and I wasn’t able to reach him. But I couldn’t leave if he were roaming around looking for us, not yet. I told Sea Tow to stand by.
We caught more snapper as the sun sank over distant mangrove islands. Then the no-see-ums came out. Covering up in everything we could find – buffs, raincoats zipped all the way up – they still found a way in. That’s it – I called in the Cavalry.
Within forty-five minutes, Sea Tow was there, had us hooked up, and we were on our way back to Goodland. Still no word from Dad.
As we turned the corner at Tripod Key, the sky lit up with chopper canvasing and spotlight scanning boats from the Sheriff’s Department, Wildlife and Fisheries, and Fire Department. Coon Key Pass suddenly seemed small. Then, BOOM, the brightest light I’d ever seen trained on me. Over a bullhorn, I hear: “Jed Edwards?”
Having been no stranger to maritime violations, I threw my hands in the air and declared, “It wasn’t me. My son and I have been broken down all afternoon!” I lowered my hands and relaxed a little when the bullhorn blared, “Your dad called 911.”
Upon finally reaching him, Dad said, “Oh man, I ran the Honey Badger aground. My phone died, the tide came up a little… I made it to Coon Key Marina. Somebody was there and let me use the phone to call 911.” The Honey Badger was Dad’s twenty-six-foot center-console with twins that he kept docked at his house.
“What? I must say, the possibility that you would have attempted to bring the Honey Badger back there never occurred to me. Why didn’t you just call Sea Tow?”
“Hell, I don’t know! I’d just been on a Chinese fire drill … I figured ya’ll would be about dead from inhaling no-see-ums by then. Hey, it would have been more bizarre if I HADN’T run aground.” That earned a hearty laugh.
It’s not about the win or the loss, or the kill or the catch – it’s not about the trophy. That is all ancillary. It’s about screaming drags and high fives, the thrill of the hunt, respect for mother nature, love of the outdoors, and a passion for wildlife. Cliché as it may be, my son and I are best friends. I believe that is directly related to the bonds forged during times like these, quests for adventure. Many people fail to understand that or are too ignorant to comprehend. Myself, I try not to speak to things of which I have no understanding.
Jon Edward Edwards is a local author and avid sportsman.