XO-LP // Laura Palmer


Love Letters to a New Year.

Field guidance for the curious adventurer.

Dear 31,

During our seven days in Florida I caught at least 26 fish. This is the truth. (Brandon and Doug were great fishing guides and Kevin is a fish whisperer, so I had some help.) I caught a little barracuda, a few grunts, the coveted hogfish and, terrifyingly, a loon. (Yes, the bird.)

While we were in the Keys, Kevin picked up a field guide from Hooked on Books to help us identify the fish we were catching on our vacation rod. I flipped through the book every time his line went tight, waiting to see what we'd pull up out of the gulf waters. I agonized over the grunt, flipping back and forth from the blue striped to the spottail. Identifying the fish was my primary job. We'd snap a picture and I'd consult the book. (Since the trip I've become a little obsessed with knowing the names of everything we caught while on the Sunnymoon. Extensive googling. So much of it.)

In addition to many fishes, we toured state parks and cruised through the Everglades hoping to spot a panther. We saw three different kinds of land crabs, alligators sun bathing and the elusive key deer.

When we swam in the waters of Treasure Island we ended up in a flock of stingrays. (Seriously. That happened.) By flock I mean 5 small ones who semi-swarmed us. Kevin calmly had us shuffle our feet in the sand. I didn't get in the water again, for the rest of the trip. Then there was the tarpon feeding.  One of the main goals of the sunnymoon: catch a tarpon. While most of our fishing excursions were canceled due to wind and rain, that didn't stop us from seeing a whole bunch of semi-tame tarpon feeding all over the place.

Islamorada has a pier famous for the tarpon. Robbie's wouldn't be high on my list of places to snag tacos (I felt ill for a few hours after having the fish tacos), but we did partake in a Robbie's ritual. For just under $5.75, we were handed a bucket of sardines and headed out onto the bird infested dock to drop slimy fish into the hungry swarms of tarpon. And really, I mean swarms this time. Uncle Jellyfish, mentioned previously, shared his Robbie's story with us later that night. He had the scratches on his arm to prove he'd let the tarpon take the sardine from his hand, and suck down his forearm in the process. As you can see from the video above, I was not so brave. (You can also hear me questioning Kevin about the birds in a voice that quivers.)

The fishing was totally fun. We used shrimp bait. (Live shrimp are weird looking. I'll draw that one for the next installment of wild.life.) It seemed like each time we threw out the line something nibbled the bait. Needlefish were a popular catch behind the drop anchor resort. Slimy and full of teeth, these little guys were fighters. I caught one once that was promptly ripped from my line by a larger barracuda. (FYI- piscivorous means these toothy dudes feed on other fish. I had to look it up too, but it makes sense when I think about it. Cannibals. Judging from the barracuda incident, that fish is piscivorous too.)

Kevin has the best outdoor eyes. He can spot deer galloping through soybean fields half a mile away. He spots the trout swimming through a spring creek and tries to point them out to me every time. I never see them. Even with the "magic" polarized sunglasses.

So when we simultaneously spotted this itty bitty deer in the front lawn of a rain soaked home on "No Name Key" I was pretty pumped. (And certain that I'd finally turned on my outdoor eyes, finally.) Key Deer are endangered and apparently can swim between islands, this is nuts. There were signs all over telling me how many key deer had been killed in 2014 and warning me not to feed them. We drove carefully and shared none of our trail mix. 

The crowning jewel of outdoorsy-ness on the trip was the catch of the hogfish. Doug, the fishing guide mate, told me he's been trying to snag a hogfish for five years. The restaurant that prepared the hogfish (yep. ate this absolutely delicious fish) asked with disbelief "who's the girl who caught the hogfish?" repeatedly. Apparently people only catch this tasty fish with a spear. (Imagining myself spear fishing… whoa.)

To improve my outdoor eyes and because I can't resist the urge to start another project that involves markers and intense google searching, I'm starting my own field guide full of facts and personal commentary. Wild.Life: field guidance for the occasionally reluctant, but ever-curious adventurer. 

More entries in the hand made field guide will follow. I'm still celebrating the fact that googling "fish with red fins, yellow stripes and red eye and dark spot" helped me label the Lane Snapper.