It's a treat to spend lunchtime with my family while they're on summer vacation and so, last Tuesday, I zoomed home during my break. I switched from my work attire to fishing clothes and loaded my kids and fishing tackle in our van. It was time for some saltwater fishing at John R. Bonner Park.
Over the years, we've spent hours at Bonner Park, which is an official piece of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission's Great Birding Trail. We've spotted roseate spoonbills and ospreys, swung on the playground swings and played hide-and-seek on the trails. But this was a first for us, angling on the Intracoastal Waterway at high tide.
We headed out on the boardwalk, stopping only to check out the creeping fiddler crabs. When we reached the shaded pavilion, we asked Wendell Brown of Clearwater what was biting.
"I caught a mullet,'' said Brown, 59, as he gathered up his net. "But, if you cast your rod far out, you're liable to catch anything. There's plenty of splashing out there."
My son, Louie, put a new bobber, hook and sinker on his rod. My daughter, Sofia, reported to us where she saw the fish splashing, as we took turns baiting the hook and casting.
Boy, those fish were hungry. Within the first 30 minutes, we fed them more than a dozen shrimp.
I wish I could tell you that I caught a big one on my first try at Bonner Park. I wish the story ended with my 6-year-old catching her first fish. But, the truth is, I didn't even see a fish on a hook until I lent our pole to Isaiah Benson, 7, of Largo. He joined us as the rest of his family watched raccoons on the shore below us.
"You need to reel it in right when you feel a tug,'' he reminded us.
"Thanks for the tip,'' I said as we threw his 6-inch pin fish back in the water.
A few minutes later, my son announced his plans to abandon me and take his sister over to the park's playground.
At 2 p.m., alone at the water's edge, it was a needlefish who made a meal of my last piece of shrimp. I reeled in the rod for the last time and tucked the empty bag inside the bait bucket.
I heard someone walk up behind me. As I turned around, I got a wiseguy look from a raccoon as he tried to run away with the empty bucket.
Piper Castillo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4163.