New Year's Trip To Ft. Myers--January 1, 2004
Richard Loller
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I left Nashville Thursday morning around 8:30am and had a good flight with clear skies almost all the way.  I could see the details of everything on the ground.  I watched out the window almost the whole time, wondering what lakes and rivers we passed over.  It was New Year's day, so the pilots weren't too gabby.  The plane had only 45 customers.  Over Tampa Bay the boats looked like tiny white scratches on the mottled green/blue of the water.

At Tampa I shed my heavy long sleeve shirt for a T-shirt and getting out of the commuter train I saw this giant writing in the sky.  Yes, I was still in the USA!  What a comfort!

When I got to "Mann Farm" I had barely time to change clothes and say hello to Mary Lee before Frank and I left for the airport to turn in the rental car and head directly to the camp from there.  We entered the lease through a new gate and visited the spot where the group had gathered to burn a huge lighter pine stump the night before.  Plays-With-Fire had enjoyed himself  for sure.  The stump was still burning when we left on Saturday afternoon.

View From Tampa airport.

Where we entered the lease and watched the dark come down.

Giant lighter pine stump after almost 2 days of burning.
We got to camp around 5 and enjoyed a meal of chili and assorted non health food treats.  (I gained my traditional pound per day on the trip).  There were women and children everywhere since Linn, Ian, and Teddy all brought wives and two or three kids each.  However, half an 18 pack proved to be enough to smooth out the hub bub and Frank and I  hit the sack in the trailer around 10pm.  We got moving around 6am and prowled around the cook shack where coffee was ready and areas to hunt were discussed and chosen.  Frank and I went in Pat's 1948 jeep and he let me out near the old camp.  Around 10 he picked me up.  All I had seen were some squirrels and an armadillo.  He had seen several turkeys, but in thick palmetto so he got no shot. 


Cook House

Teddy and TJ early Friday morning.

Waiting, waiting, waiting...

Mr. Armadillo sounded so much like a pig he is lucky to
be alive today.

Pat's 1948 jeep will take a licking and keep on bouncing.

Frank pointed out the strange bark of the Guava tree.  We
had guava jelly with out biscuits.

TJ helps Teddy skin out a coyote he shot.
After lunch I took a hike around the big pond near camp and found some very nice flowers and insects.
Butterfly seen on the edge of the pond.

A water plant in shallow water.  Mary Lee 
told me the name, but, naturally, I forgot it.

Another water plant plays host to obscene "love bugs."
They were a major pest in some places on the lease.
The misquitos were pretty well represented too.
That afternoon I went out with Ian in his truck.  What luxury and
so much smoother than the jeep.  He put me out at The Sanctuary which is an area set aside for the old guys who lease the land with our group and have a separate camp nearby.  I had it to myself and made a blind of palmetto fronds and waited....and waited.  Finally, I moved to the side of the clearing I was in and after about 30 minutes I saw a turkey cautiously moving toward my old blind.  I got my gun up when it went behind a tree and was ready to shoot.  The turkey looked all around the blind and was in no hurry to leave, but it was a small one and I didn't want to shoot a female.  However, the thrill of calling one up was a first for me, so the day was a success.

This little green spider entertained me for hours while I 
waited for my calls to work their magic on the hapless turkeys.
Betty and Wiley had joined the fracus when Ian and I got back to camp.  The cooks were making chicken taste real good and everyone was having a fine old time.  Teddy, TJ, and I slept in the bunk house near the fire and around midnight I woke up choking on smoke--the wind had shifted.  Well, at least my bed was free of fleas which Teddy discovered in his. 

Frank and I hunted together Saturday morning in a blind near where he saw the turkeys the day before.  We heard one cluck, but mostly our calls went unanswered.  Around 10 we went back to camp and added the standard pound to our waists.

After lunch Frank took Mary, Wiley, Betty, and me (and the doggies), on a swamp buggy ride.  It was fun.

We decided to go on in to Alva early to clean up and chill out.
Jerry came in around 4 and we took a ride in the cocktail boat.
It was a fine evening with a glorious sunset..

Betty, Mr. P, Buddy, and Wiley join the fun.

The luxury bunk house, far from the smokey fire.

Old faithful and friend.

Frank listens intently for an answer to his call.  We got
one cluck from somewhere way off.  That was it.

The hand pump at the old camp still furnishes a drink
for the thirsty hunter.

I hold a cow skull near the bronze plaque at the site of the
old camp.  It says:
In Memory Of
Jimmy Roberts
Carl Roberts
George Mann
Girard Kinzie
Who Loved This Land

Mary Lee pointed out this crab spider on the swamp
buggy frame on a stop along our ride.
Sunday morning Jerry, Frank, and I got up early and made our way to Lake Trafford, near Immokale, where Mary Lee had told us the crappie were hot.  She read it in the newspaper.  As it turned out, they were, so we were glad we didn't go to Okeechobee--especially after Taliban told us he went there and got blown off the lake and skunked.

We got home around 3 to clean the fish and ourselves before the
big 91st birthday party that evening for the Queen Bea, Frank's
mother--Barbara B. Mann herself.

A big mud fish.

Jerry, me, and Frank with 40 of the 120 or so crappie
we caught at Lake Trafford. We let the wind blow us 
across the lake and trolled minnows.  Well, they did. 
I flipped a beatle spin and caught fewer, but probably had 
more fun?  Was my shoulder sore!  We had a big fish fry
Sunday night.
Monday morning we conquered our hangovers (not Jerry, who drinks only coffee and such) by downing massive doses of McDonald's breakfast fodder.  We then put the boat in at the mouth of the Caloosahatchie river and fished the flats.  Frank was the star this day, but we all caught trout and lady fish and had a fine time on a day that was as good as I ever expect to see.
Frank holds up a poor man's tarpon, a fighting lady fish.

The prize of the day, a 24" snook caught on a red head
1/4 oz. jig dressed with a chartruse rubber fish behind.

These beautiful birds are called oyster catchers.

The weather was perfect and dry during the entire trip--up to 80 in the daytime and low 60s at night.
Thank the good Lord for a great trip and for the fine friends who generously shared their time and
hospitality with me.  I hope these words and photos help us all remember it as time goes by.

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