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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Backcountry Fishing in Islamorada with Capt. Ken Knudsen

Dressed in his de rigueur khaki fishing gear, Capt. Ken Knudsen navigated the 18’ Action Craft flats boat through waters where bright lobster-trap buoys dot the Florida Bay like pushpins. We were in the shallow flats of National Everglades Park, and I could see the green sea grass swaying just underneath the surface.

Farther along we spotted tarpon holes in the tangles of mangrove roots on the edge of Lower Arsnicker Key. On neighboring Upper Arsnicker Key, a lone double-crested cormorant stood perfectly still as we listened to birdsong coming from inside the island, a hint that more feathered beauties were nesting within.

Like a fortune-teller reading tea leaves, Knudsen interpreted each swirl, ripple and splash in the water, instantly knowing what was lurking beneath. We saw a school of permit and a barnacle-covered, 200-pound loggerhead turtle. We crossed paths with a lemon shark, its fin and tail cutting the surface. A spotted eagle ray, churned up the sand, as it flapped its wings and disappeared.

With the patience of Job, Knudsen taught me everything from the proper casting technique to tricks for landing the fish in the boat. Just as he was telling me how his boat, Hubba Hubba, got its name (fishermen are a superstitious lot, and "hubba hubba" is his magic fish call), I felt a sharp tug on my line. Nothing beats the heart-pounding excitement as the rod bends and the fight begins. “It’s a grouper,” he announced. After a rush of adrenaline, a lot of sweat and a few choice words, I felt the thrill of the catch.

On the way back to Bud N' Mary's Marina, a pod of three dolphins formed a “V” in front of the boat, guiding us for a short distance. Water slid off their sleek skin as they playfully dived and leaped before departing. Any good captain knows luck abounds when dolphins swim with the ship.

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