I pulled into the little store just outside of Copeland fl, once an old house I know it had gone through the storm of twenty eight. A cardboard beer flat was nailed to the fade white wash cypress planks. The sign read “boiled peanuts” painted in black paint. The humidity was thick and engulfing as the saccades singing their first daylight song. The screen door was bowed and awkward to open because the wood was sop full of what they call “liquid sunshine.”
Through the gaping holes of the dirty weathered screen I could see the crock pot sitting on the counter. The store was light by a couple of neon lights that glowed nicotine yellow, humming from the ceiling. The tongue and groove floors squeaked and creaked as I was drawn to the smell of this delicacy. Briny and spicy I had deviated of course a bit. The black water simmered in the crock pot. The water line was crusty with spices and crushed garlic bits. Warm boiled peanuts steeping in a concoction of secret spices. I jammed as many peanuts as I could into the quart size Styrofoam cup that also served as container for fresh nightcrawlers and crickets.
The clerk had the prettiest silver grey hair I’ve ever seen she had to be as old as the store. She wore no shoes and was all of four and half feet. She weighed no more than eighty pounds soaking wet. Her eyes were as blue as the Gulf waters in the springtime that were every bit of fifty miles from here. A Winchester model 12 pump shotgun laid on the counter, “Cottonmouth on a cypress stump”. As did her glass of sweet tea and a crossword puzzle that had smudges and eraser burns. She said “three dollars please.” Smiling I payed for the best damn boiled peanuts in the state of Florida. This most important stop was a ritual in pursuing the fish that swam along the Tamiami trail just east of Naples Florida. Like the black water that slushed in my peanut cup I was on a quest for roadside treasures.
Tarpon, Snook, Bass, and exotics – summertime fishing.
The road runs west and east it’s an adventure in itself. The canals that run parallel to the road hold some southwest Florida’s best fishing. Cypress hammocks “Kelly green” with foliage. Khaki colored Sawgrass as far as you can see swaying gently in the wake of eighteen wheelers and traffic. The bullfrogs competing with rush hours traffic when it comes to making the most noise. Dandelions and sand Spurs sprout up all along the guardrail post, that’s littered with a collage of vehicle paint and dents. The occasional snake and alligator can be found on the road but that’s usually at dark. The canals our fed from tributaries and tidal flow of brackish water. A mixture of salt and swamp.
This piece of Florida hasn’t changed much in the last hundred years. The mosquitos and insects like it that way. With giant cities at each end of this paradise it makes sense that lighting bugs fly at dusk and the momma alligator calls out for her babies in the dawn hours. Spinning rod or fly rod this is a great piece of old Florida fishing. The excitement of catching on “top water”, while keeping an eye out for wild Florida is a one of a kind adventure. Giant snook on a plug. Their backs the color of the “black top” that runs through this subtropical treasure. Their golden sides shimmering like old Copenhagen lids in the truck bed. The annoying buzz of necessity from the wire overhead. The electric shock of strip setting a twenty pound tarpon as he goes into the backing of your five weight!!! The great blue heron casting massive shadows spooking bass while gliding a few inches above the water’s surface looking for frogs and lizards to eat.
There’s not much convince in ways of easy fishing, but sometime in life you have to take the road less traveled to find what you’re looking for. Whether it’s an hour drive for a warm cup of boiled peanuts or the chance to battle a fish that’s never been caught before. The back roads, canals, ponds of southwest Florida offer plenty of adventure.
Story by Captain Leighton Ingram