-“It’s impossible for a saltwater flat to be more barren.”
-“This is a place where fishing dreams go to die.”
-“I would kill for a ladyfish right now.”
-“Dear Lord, please send a school of Jacks to this awful place.”
These are thoughts I’ve had while fishing with my son at our neighborhood kayak launch. There’s good fishing and solid flats just north of the park and good flats fishing just south, but the ‘death flat’ as we have affectionately named it, is likely the worst place to saltwater fish in the state of Florida, maybe even the world. And yet, I love it deeply.
Death flat has become a place where my son and I spend time together. It’s about a block from our home, making it the perfect place for a quick father and son fishing get away. We could never get time on my skiff together as frequently as we can share the waters of death flat. On school nights, we can easily eke out a half hour of casting before it gets too dark. We stand on a worn out platform of weathered wood which, at some point in its life, was a functional dock, and we cast, and cast, and cast. Together, we dissect the entire flat and work the entire water column with every lure and presentation in the book. In my opinion, no flat in the history of saltwater fishing, has ever been fished as hard or as well as this one. None of that matters because our beloved death flat is a transient flat and cannot hold fish consistently.
Fishing the death flat gives us time to do manly things together. It’s been a great place for a father and son to talk about a wide range of topics. Death flat gives him a place to ask questions like, “What’s the king of the forest; a mountain lion or a wolf?” And it gives me the time to ponder such a pure question before answering “probably a bear”. We’ve discussed pokemon, wading birds, minecraft, God, mullet, school, and family. We have some of our best discussions out there; it enhances our relationship. Experiencing the awfulness of the death flat together has nurtured a strong bond between us.
Our adventures at death flat have become our own personal Walker’s Cay Chronicles. Every trip we take together down to the flat, we write the newest episode of our angling adventures. And like Flip Pallot, the host of the original series said so eloquently, the greatest value lies in whom you are sharing the experience with. Catching fish at death flat, because it happens so infrequently, is a bonus. On the occasion when our lure is struck by a rogue ladyfish, our adventure is enriched. The first snook we caught there was a monumental event. Someday, a clumsy redfish will wander up on the death flat and take interest in our offering, completing our death flat slam. It’s a matter of time.
Time never stops and that fact gets more of my attention with each new day. If there is truth to what I was told at a Christmas party by a couple of fathers who both raised sons in recent years, then things really change in the father-son relationship at around the age of 12. The sweet spot, according to these two expert dads, is between the ages of 9 and 12. Between 9 and 12, your son still thinks you’re cool and becomes skilled enough to participate in many of the cool things you like to do. “I miss that” one of the dads said with the look of someone who’s best friend had died. “Enjoy every minute of it” the second dad chimed in. At age 12, fathers become far less cool and their son’s focus turns more to girls and hanging with friends. Shortly after that, it’s on to adulthood.
The clock is ticking. It hurts to know (what I already knew deep down, but wanted to ignore) that our death flat trips are numbered. The next two years will be wonderful; I will cherish the time we have together and enjoy our ever expanding adventures. When our regular adventures together come to an end, I will embrace the next phase in our relationship. And while he lives under my roof, we will always make time to fish together. After he fledges the nest and goes out on his own, there will be fewer and fewer opportunities for us to share water on a flat together. He will be his own man and I will be an old man. On those rare excellent days when we do have a chance to rekindle our fishing adventures together, we will carve new memories. And on all the other days when I miss his company, I’ll remember the days when we rode the ragged edge of the fabled death flat.