The world is a dang mess. And I have gone fishing.
It’s been a long time since I’ve held a rod in my hands. Too long. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I sat on this overturned five-gallon bucket, perched upon the shore of this Choctawhatchee Bay, staring at this water.
Some people don’t understand fishing. Take my wife. She can’t figure out why any rational man would spend hours on a bucket not talking. She says it’s boring.
Boring? No. To go fishing is to embark upon a great intellectual competition, attempting to outsmart the cleverest creature on earth. You might not think fish are intelligent, but believe me, they are much smarter than humans.
A redfish, for instance, would never drain his kid’s college fund to purchase a 17-foot Tracker Pro Team 175 TXW boat package simply to go catch his limit of humans.
Today I came to this bay because earlier I was watching the news and it made me sick to my stomach. The headlines du jour were giving me literal palpitations. The irony is that I was having a pretty good day until I saw the state of our world.
You have to worry about us sometimes.
So I packed my tackle and left. And I’m glad I did because bay water can work wonders on a man’s soul.
Try to visualize this. I am looking at 129 square miles of brackish, blue water that spans two counties, and has a watershed that covers roughly 3,339,632 acres. Out here there are no radios, no screens, no phones. No traffic. No billboards. I only have a rod, a bucket, and the ghosts of my ancestors.
I come from a long line of fishermen. Most were mediocre anglers, but others were gifted like my uncle Ray Ray. Uncle Ray Ray could communicate with fish through extra sensory techniques. Sadly, the only message he could send was: “Don’t come near me.” His gift, I’m told, also worked on the ladies.
My grandfather was also an avid line-wetter. The rod I’m holding was his. It dates back to 1933.
The old man would have purchased this fishing pole at age 22 via a mail-order catalog for $6. These rods came with cheap reels, cork handles, and a guarantee to “last a lifetime.” This one has lasted 88 years, which is pretty close.
The major selling point was that this rod is all steel, and can be disassembled to be carried in a small canvas bag. Thus it could be used on lunch breaks, before hot dates, after church service, or during.
A young man like my grandfather would have assembled this rod and retreated to the water’s edge for some meditation. Which is all fishing is. It’s meditation with an occasional beer.
Although I’m not having any luck meditating today. It’s January. This bay is chilly from brisk northerly gusts that bounce off the still water and numb my nose like frozen hamburger.
Which brings up an important point. The common misconception about Florida is that it’s always warm and sunny here. This is because in 1970 some marketing geniuses nicknamed Florida the “Sunshine State.” But the truth is our state should be called the “Overcast State.”
Florida has more days per year in which the sun is blocked by 20 to 70 percent cloud coverage. That’s more than any state in the continental U.S. But you don’t print something like that on tourism brochures, or else tourists will start visiting Nevada to see Celine Dion.
Neither should you advertise that Florida that has more lightning strikes than any other state. Nor should you brag about having the most cases of fatal snakebites. And you definitely shouldn’t tell tourists that Florida leads the league in rainfall.
Oh, do we get rain. To give you an idea just how much: Seattle gets a whopping 38 inches of rain each year. Florida gets 54.
But today isn’t about weather, nor about fishing. Not really. It was that I had to leave the house.
I needed to breathe. To think. To be away from headline news. I came to the bay of my youth to forget that the world is angry right now.
This is the same tranquil water where Creek natives once fished for their livelihood. Where beautiful black-haired maidens once dove for blue crabs and oysters. Where young men caught mullet with handwoven nets.
This is also the same water where Spanish explorers like Ponce de León moored massive square-rigged ships in the 1500s, searching for a fabled Fountain of Youth that would make his eyes less droopy and his buns firmer.
Personally, I’ve often wondered if this bay isn’t the fountain Ponce was looking for. After all, this bay has outlasted everyone and everything.
This ancient land withstood hurricanes that altered its shoreline. This place has endured colonization. It has somehow remained sturdy despite Revolutions, Civil Wars, yellow fever, Great Depressions, industrializations, World Wars, urban sprawls, and the cancer of tourism. And this water will outlast me, too. If that’s not eternal youth, what is?
Today, however, the water is a reminder to me. A reminder that when this world gets frightening; when people of earth begin to rip each other apart; when mankind becomes plagued by pandemics and violence; this is not the end.
Not as long as the beauty of this earth overwhelms the ugliness of it. Not as long as I have an antique rod and a few spoon lures.
And even though I probably won’t catch a dadgum thing today, there is peace upon this water. Which is more than I can say for the rest of the world right now.
And this is why a man goes fishing.
Julie - January 7, 2021 10:17 am
There are only two words…25th Amendment.
Melanie - January 7, 2021 10:45 am
Years ago there was a bumper sticker “Shoot your television” or something like that. Very little good comes out of that box these days. Even the cartoons aren’t fun (except for a few). Dogs are always happy because they don’t watch the news. The “Good News Network” every day has stories that make you smile and feel good about mankind. I bet Jamie makes a mean fried fish. More fishing, more old blues songs, more reaching out to help others, more hugs, more fun with dogs. This too shall pass. ❤️
Ronbo - January 7, 2021 11:01 am
Fish on forevermore. Ronbo
Debi - January 7, 2021 11:03 am
And also why a woman goes fishing. 😎
Lucretia - January 7, 2021 11:41 am
Thank you, Sean, for helping ( a good night’s sleep) to ground me this morning. I am staying away from the media, wishing I had a convenient place to fish this morning, will soon be lost in prayer and the scriptures followed by the music of Handel’s Messiah. I love you. Lucretia
Cathe - January 7, 2021 12:03 pm
Thanks for this!! Today I think I’m heading to the coast and forgetting the world .
Gary Woods - January 7, 2021 12:09 pm
Thanks for that. And because I’m still recovering from Covid and can’t wade a river for a while, I think I’ll go tie a few flies for when times get better.
Michael - January 7, 2021 12:20 pm
Thanks, Sean. I don’t fish but I certainly appreciate the need to get away from the headlines.
Arlene Stevens - January 7, 2021 1:00 pm
From the shores of Saint Joe Bay… I hear the lyrics of your soul.
Dana K.- Thomasville, GA - January 7, 2021 1:12 pm
And this is why “amen” goes fishing… & “awomen” 🎣
I built my home between two ponds. Every window has a view of dark water reflecting the land and sky around it. I’ve lived on this land my entire life. One of my favorite fishing memories was when I was 8. I must have found a sweet spot in the corner of the back pond. I was catching hand-sized brim with crickets…12 in a row!! One, right after another on a cane pole made by my Bigdaddy. Not sure if it was the pole, the crickets, or a school of not-so-clever- fish…. but I’ll never forget that day! I even built my house on that back pond. As I’m writing this, my view faces that same corner I fished as a little girl. It is truly an escape from things happening around us. And so is reading your stories. So “Thank You” for the escape today!
Patricia A Schmaltz - January 7, 2021 1:16 pm
The bay will be lined with fishermen for the next few months…
Bob Brenner - January 7, 2021 1:18 pm
Amen to fishing! Calms the soul quietly 🎣! Enjoy your earthly piece today.
Liz Watkins - January 7, 2021 1:21 pm
Amen! No news, no Facebook! Makes life easier-
Bob Rennick - January 7, 2021 1:30 pm
Most fatal snake bites? Thank you I’ll stay away from Florida.
Leigh Amiot - January 7, 2021 1:37 pm
Love the column, and the water color of the heron is beautiful.
A long hike in the woods is my equivalent to your fishing.
Susan Parker - January 7, 2021 1:40 pm
Thank you for this, Sean! I’m not much of a fisherwoman, so today I’m going to watch something other than the news, probably vampire shows, and spend time making greeting cards. There’s something about coloring, then blending and shading, that makes it all go away. It’s so much easier to put it in God’s hands if it’s further back. Take care!
W.C.Johnson - January 7, 2021 1:47 pm
I am presently deer hunting in southern Georgia for the same reason. I passed on shooting several deer. Didn’t have it in me today. I am emotionally wrung-out with the chaos and anarchy. Peace to all.
Connie - January 7, 2021 2:01 pm
I didn’t grow up fishing. We may have gone to the creek a few times and played at fishing. I didn’t fall in love with it until my first husband took me to the river on a boat. There is nothing quite as beautiful as the Mobile Delta when the early morning fog is hanging over the water and your driver better be really good to avoid the cypress stumps and the alligators. Fishing is the best peace you can find on earth. I don’t care if I catch anything or not, but I usually do. Chances are, though, it’s going back to swimming. Point is, I love to fish. Now if I only knew someone with a boat to take me. Old ladies like me get crazy looks when they go fishing alone. I wish you many more days to wetting a line.
Lana - January 7, 2021 2:06 pm
I over here on the coast of Alabama and I think we share the same weather! Definitely a good day to get out and fish!
Phil (Brown Marlin) - January 7, 2021 2:25 pm
Right again, Sean. Fishing is fine therapy for the heart, mind, and soul. I grew up on the Tennessee River – Smallmouth country. I believe the Tennessee system is as far south as the Smallmouth Bass lives due to the water temperatures. Then, after moving farther south, the salt got in my veins.
My dad had two of those old steel rods. I kept them for a long time after his death, but don’t know what happened to them. Woo, could that man catch bass! Twice I witnessed him catch a largemouth and a smallmouth at the same time on a topwater plug with a jig trailer.
Yes, this old world is struggling right now. So much sickness, so much hatred and unrest. You and I can do little about it, and that adds to the frustration. You are at least doing your best through the written word, and I truly think that makes a difference to as many as read your work. Beyond that, we can just hope, pray, and fish. Cast over there under that willow tree. I think there is a big red there who needs to attend your next fish fry.
nebraskannie - January 7, 2021 2:35 pm
My grandad used to take us fishing, probably for the same reason, and because we NEEDED the fish. I’m in a wheelchair now, and can’t fish, but I live on a farm and can turn off the TV, and watch the birds out my front window. My grandmas survived wars, pandemics, losses of children, and husbands, poverty, and still they thrived. I’m sure they thought the world was crazy, too, and it is. First rule I was taught in an emergency is get to a safe place, so off goes the TV, and on goes the knowledge that this, too, shall pass. I’m glad to read some sanity here…
CW - January 7, 2021 3:05 pm
I live in the north Georgia mountains. Spending a lot of time in the woods today. Lately, events continue to reinforce my belief that the media thrives to turn humans into the least civilized creatures on the planet. And too many continue to swallow, hook, line and sinker.
Helen De Prima - January 7, 2021 3:19 pm
So true! Being near water of any kind, even a fountain, is good for the soul. Salt water works best, but a creek running over rocks or a still marsh also hold benefits.
Tommy - January 7, 2021 4:41 pm
The one they plan to use on Sloppy Joe?
Heidi - January 7, 2021 4:59 pm
We are headed to our cabin for a few days. No tv just peace & quiet.
Florida and your bay sounds great. Nobody ever says anything about the horrible air quality (inversion) that rivals Shanghai, China here in Utah either.
Linda Moon - January 7, 2021 5:31 pm
You’re right, Sean. The world IS a mess…and not the good kind. I think fish or other creatures would not have messed up the world like humans have. Mountains and sometimes bay water are good for this woman’s soul (me). Leaving the house is good too, for mindfulness. My outdoor-loving neighbor and I experienced this together recently. “I just had to get out of the house”, she told me. My response was simply, “Me, too”. And so we did. When I read Sean of the South posts, my mind is full of peace and sometimes laughter or misty eyes, but mostly mindful awe that clears my worries. And, this is why I’m about to go listen to my own “S.O.S.” Gingerhead play the piano!
Roxanne - January 7, 2021 6:05 pm
It is always good to remember that we are vapor, but the earth endures–and beyond that, the love of God who holds it all in his hands. This was perfection.
billllly - January 7, 2021 7:04 pm
Hear! Hear! Sean! Fishing is a wonderful relief. Sometimes I enjoy being on the water so much that I almost hope the danged ole fish don’t bite and disturb me. When I was a kid spending weeks or months at a time with my grandparents in South Alabama, it was little horny-heads on Indian Creek, critturs that probably really qualify as minnows. Occasionally bluegills and bass on Danley’s Ponds. In my home town of DeFuniak Springs, I fished Lake DeFuniak in the middle of town. The best spot – only my friend David and I fished it – was in to swim out to the limbs of a willow tree that grew out in the lake. There probably hasn’t been a tree there now for close to a half century, but it used to be. And blessed be, occasionally at the “long bridge” where the highway crosses over Choctawhatchee Bay, saltwater fish, most commonly hard head cats and “ronkers” aka “croakers”. Nowadays I live on a natural lake way up North almost to the Alabama line, a lake so remote that the UPS man once asked if everyone on “this lake” was part of the Witness Protection Program. I like it that way! Thanks for a nice piece on a day when we need it.
MAM - January 7, 2021 8:49 pm
I definitely need to get away from screens. I used to do it walking the dog, but she’s gone now, so I walk all by myself and think. It IS a time for meditation! I like staying informed, but some days one needs to escape from too much information!
Cynthia Russell - January 7, 2021 9:36 pm
Sorry Sean, you need to type in How many Inches of rain does Mobile, Ala. get in a year.. usually 66 inches on an average.. I didn’t even know that until it was on Jeopardy one day.. Which US city & state gets the Rain.. it was Mobile, Ala .. This may be the only Jeopardy question I will ever get right.. I was raised in Mobile & was taught to drive in the rain.. you really need to be able to do this because it rains too frequently.. I am always the designator driver in the rain.. & if it is so bad you cant see & the wipers can’t keep up with the rain.. You Must Get behind an18 wheeler because they can see – just follow them to get thru.. With our blue eyes we need to drive in the rain with sun shades on to distinguish the colors & shapes of gray that is surrounding us when we drive in the rain…. makes it so much easier to drive thru.. Keep Writing… You’re Doing GREAT!!
Kelly - January 7, 2021 9:47 pm
Patricia Gibson - January 7, 2021 10:15 pm
I totally get it❤️
Lena - January 9, 2021 3:56 pm
I love the water color bird. Where is it from?
Chasity Davis Ritter - January 9, 2021 4:58 pm
Last year (we can say that now). During quarantine my daughter and husband really needed to get out of the house. He used to always ask her to go fishing and she never would but she finally did and they spent a few beautiful evenings wetting a line at the lake. I didn’t get a license so I just watched and took pictures I captured some really lovely pictures of them fishing in the sunset and with an approaching storm. Sometimes there were others out there but it usually felt like just us alone in the moment. There is a song by Trace Atkins That’s called “She thinks we’re just Fishing” and it made me think of those moments watching the two of them alone out there. It’s probably one of my favorite memories from 2020 and I hope we can capture it again in 2021 Lord knows we’re still going to need moments like that.
dfscitizen - January 9, 2021 9:45 pm
Such a timely read as the world turns. A wonderful expression that folks can use to slow down, stop and reflect, and take refuge in the message. Our old bay has a soul itself and you brought out it’s healing powers. We all needed this right now in our time.
elizabethroosje - January 10, 2021 2:55 am
Good choice Sean! And your writing and your being at peace/restored to peace then helps us too. Thank you. For me I find solace in beauty esp dishes and baking and making my home beautiful (to me) and as much as peaceful haven as I can. However years ago I lived nearer to water and know that it can give a peace that’s so very strong but gentle. God bless you – and Jamie too!