Peck: Border collie helps angler land drum
Special to The Gazette
Like most border collies, my dog Whipsaw Jack is happiest when he has a job. His favorite vocation is teaching speech. Whipsaw can bark in seven distinct languages. If you don’t respond, he will repeat—with considerably more volume and urgency.
Whippy’s favorite work is as a fishing consultant. When he is in the boat, he watches every second of every cast with considerable intensity. If the fish is released, triumph is realized when multiple snaps in the air find the fish and knock loose a couple of scales.
This black and white dynamo’s absolute favorite occupation is tightline fishing on the bottom. If the rod tip begins to dance with a strike, Whipsaw belts out a two-tone howl from the soul which sounds like a cross between an electronic siren and a bluetick hound in full voice.
Until recently, this Peck pup peccadillo was tolerated with regret. But an incident at a special place in the Florida panhandle known as Indian Pass will pay for his kibbles at least through 2017.
During periods of high and low tide, current running close to shore here changes from lazy to raging river at flood stage, as waters surge in through a narrow channel connecting sprawling Apalachicola Bay with the Gulf of Mexico about eight miles south of Port St. Joe.
When tide is surging, every ocean fish from shark to mullet shows up to feed on shrimp and other tidbits being pushed along the sandy bottom.
A fresh shrimp or artificial shrimp-flavored strips called “Fishbites” fished on a size 1-5/0 salt water hook held close to the bottom with a two-ounce pyramid sinker is an effective way to hook up.
Most folks who fish here use 10- to 12-foot surf rods and large-capacity spinning reels spooled with 10-pound test monofilament. The rods are placed in sharpened five-foot sections of two-inch PVC pipe driven into the sand.
I purchased two St. Croix rods and Pfleuger Supreme reels for this trip at a total cost closing in on $400.
The tide was rising quickly. I baited one of the hooks with a shrimp and made a country-mile cast out into the Gulf, then turned around to bait up the other line.
Whipsaw Jack loosed a howl which could have been heard 100 miles away in Tallahassee. I grabbed the rod just before it left the PVC pipe for Apalachicola Bay.
A 45-pound black drum was on the other end, with no intention of surrender. We tussled for a good 20 minutes before this dreadnaught grudgingly agreed to be pulled up on the beach for a quick photo prior to release.
Catching this fish worked up an appetite for visiting the Indian Pass Raw Bar about a half-mile down the oyster shell road between towering royal palms. This oyster bar and the surrounding landscape is the throwback to “old” Florida of the 1920s.
The restaurant has been converted from an ancient gas station. A picnic table has replaced the pumps. Mounds of oyster shells from thousands of dinners are piled out back, towering over the building.
Seating is family style, at a dozen long tables. You grab a pencil and check the entrée choice from perhaps 10 spectacular options on a simple menu and drop it off on the counter on your way back to a wall where a dozen beers are on tap—self-serve on the honor system.
My wife and I have eaten there several times, trying different entrees each time. We agree that this is the finest seafood restaurant in all of Florida.
After a hearty platter of crab- and shrimp-stuffed fried oysters, we saunter out to the front of the old gas station where Whipsaw waits patiently in the shade by a fresh bowl of water.
The sun is almost uncomfortably warm. But temperatures are only in the mid-70s. Windows are down as we ease along the Gulf on the oyster shell road on the way back to our old, but cozy, VRBO cottage.
Whipsaw is sniffing the salty air, waiting for the next assignment.
Dogs have the right idea. They live in the moment.
Wisconsin weather and the thousand-mile drive to get there are the last things on Whippy’s mind.
Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.