A YANKEE'S FIRST TASTE OF SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY AND BASS FISHING
by Michael L. Delaney
Having been recently transplanted to Southern Florida I didn't quite know what to expect, not only from the fishing but of the people. I soon learned why Florida is considered the bass capital and the true meaning of southern hospitality. What I've experienced is hard to describe and can only be considered by myself as extraordinary. The people, the hospitality, not to mention some of the best bass fishing I've seen in years. They keep telling me that this is the slowest time of year due to the heat of summer. Having bass fished in Delaware for the last five years let me tell you, the slow days here beat the best days up there.
My first taste of Florida bass fishing came shortly after arriving here, on Lake Ida in Delray Beach. My partner for the day was a neighbor who invited me to go with him in his boat. In the first hours of light we started catching bass, fishing a weedy flats not far from the boat ramp. With anticipation I started out using a northern favorite technique of slowly twitching a 7" pearl color sluggo. In the first hour I had caught four or five fish and missed a couple using this technique. My partner started catching bass using an 8" red shad Charlie's worm. At one point we together caught or missed about seven fish on seven consecutive casts. In fact I ran out of a whole bag of sluggo's as the fish were tearing them up on me. As the sun came up higher and it got hotter the action slowed but we were able to keep fishing and still picked up fish here and there. We approached a man made fish structure where my partner picked a nice 5# plus bass off of. We fished boat docks, bulkheads and a canal through noon time, sharing fish stories and tournament stories. We headed in around noon. Altogether we figure we caught between 25-30 fish that morning, the largest topping 5#'s with some nice 3-4#'ers thrown in. And they tell me the fishing is slow??!!
During the next week I had the good fortune to become friends with Pola Griffin of Pola's Outboards here in Pompano Beach. Pola took me under his wing and introduced me to his bass club, The Gladesmasters. The members were not only friendly but accepted me right away, resulting in invites to fish, and alot of good information and tips. It was very refreshing to meet a group of people that were open and honest and shared fishing spots, techniques, and information freely. Shortly thereafter I received a phone call from Pola to accompany him on a fishing trip to Okeechobee where he has a fishing camp. Due to tight schedules we decide to drive up there on a Wednesday fish the afternoon and next morning, then drive back Thursday afternoon. We arrived in Clewiston around noon only to be greeted with an afternoon of thunderstorms which made us cancel the afternoon of fishing. Under normal circumstances this would have been a real downer for me as I was very excited to try my hand on the infamous Lake Okeechobee. But as I was soon to learn there is alot more to Clewiston than great bass fishing. I should explain at this point that no matter where we went everyone know Pola, and extended a red carpet welcome to me because I was with him. Not to be daunted by the weather Pola gave me the grand tour of Clewiston and the people there. Our first stop was at the Charlie's Worms Co., I expected a large building with a bunch of people. As we arrived at a small building I was pleasantly surprised. Pola introduced me to Nancy, her and her husband Charlie own and run the company. She was extremely friendly and introduced me around the place and showed me how they make the worms and plastic baits. I was impressed with the operation and the friendliness of all the people there. Nancy inquired of me which types of baits I liked to fish with and then proceeded to load me up with worms and plastic baits to try, despite the good nature ribbing I took for having a Berkley Powerbaits patch on my shirt from some of her employees. I thanked her and even got a few fishing tips as we were leaving. Nancy's generosity and friendliness really embodied the term, "Southern Hospitality". We then proceeded to Roland Martin's Marina and Fish Camp, where once again everyone knew Pola and welcomed me graciously. We made a few more stops and experienced the same welcome everywhere. We returned to Pola's camp to have a few drinks and swap fishing stories. Pola had told me that I was in for a real treat at dinner that evening, but I wasn't prepared for what he had in store. Pola grabbed a bag out of the fridge and we headed to Donnelly's Restaurant for dinner. Pola had brought fillets of fresh dolphin and lobster tails with him and quickly handed them over to the cook at the restaurant. We were joined by the once owner of Donnelly's, Paul Donnelly, who accepted me as a friend right away. We spent the evening telling fishing and hunting stories, with Paul and Pola trading quips and old stories of the Clewiston area. We soon had a feast of lobster tails, fillets (fried and broiled), and Pola's favorite of fried green tomatoes. Not to mention all of the fixin's that they prepared to go along with our food. Soon we found out that not only did we have too much food to put on one table but way to much for the three of us to eat. Pola knew everyone there so we started sending food to the surrounding tables, everyone had a good taste and a great time. We returned to camp with our stomachs stuffed and a full taste of southern hospitality.
After a quick breakfast of sausage gravy and biscuits at Roland's Marina the next morning we finally got to head out on the big "O". I was awed by the size and beauty of the lake immediately. As we motored down the rim canal I felt a boyish sense of anticipation, it had been a long time since I had the chance to catch a real sizable bass. I noted all the bassy looking spots and was ready to give the lake a shot. We started at a spot they call the "football field", but didn't have any luck. We headed over towards the "east wall" and fished a variety of grasses and weed beds. I picked up a bass on a sluggo, then one on a rattlin' rap. We managed to pick up one here and there on worms, until it got too hot out on the lake to fish any longer. We fished our way in and I was pleasantly rewarded with a nice 4# bass from the pads right across from the boat ramps. I caught it on a black/blue shad worm that the girls at Charlie's Worms had suggested.
While my first taste of fishing the Big "O" was short I considered it highly successful. Not only did I get to catch a few bass but I met alot of new friends and enjoyed what can only be described as some of the best fishing and hospitality the south has to offer.