There’s a breeze blowing across Lake Monroe, riffling the sequined water beneath the morning sun. Cyclists in single file glide along the bike lane as Highway 17-92 curves toward Sanford. Birds are chirping. In the distance, sail boats.
Great day to be fishing.
George Brown, 63, is out there before it’s time to go home and help his wife with yard work. Mark Robinson, 48, is a newbie to Lake Monroe, but if he doesn’t catch anything in the morning, he might come back in the evening to give it another try. Luke Howell, 13, is out with his 52-year-old uncle, Mike Stiff, because nobody he knows his age likes fishing.
Adolphus Campbell, 65, has fished the same spot for 14 years at the Lake Monroe Park on the Volusia County side of Interstate 4. Nearby, 8-year-old Rhiannon Gifford reaches into a plastic bait bucket, pulls out a minnow and baits the hook of her pink rod and reel while fishing with her 42-year-old father, Jerry Gifford.
Nobody on this Sunday morning is catching fish. And nobody seems to mind.
“It’s not so much about catching the fish,” says James Mander, 52, a truck driver from Orange City. “It’s the environment and relaxation. It gives you a peace of mind.”
There is a lot of wishful thinking that goes on when the fish aren’t biting. If Robinson was to land a catfish, he would add it others in his freezer until the critical mass is large enough to hold a fish fry for his family and friends. If Gifford was to catch a bass or a speck, he’d grill it over a plank of wood.
But there is also just some plain old thinking, too, the kind that is only possible when a man sits on an overturned plastic bucket with a rod and reel in his hands, and lets his mind flow along with the water.
“It clears my mind,” says Campbell, a retired plumber. “This is my time and place to settle down and enjoy being outdoors.”
Neither of Jerry Gifford’s older boys care much for fishing, but with Rhiannon he has a girl who doesn’t shy away from the touch of a worm or the squirming of a minnow. Like the men who fish on Lake Monroe, she enjoys the thrill of the bobber dunking, the tug of the line, the suspense of landing, or losing, the fish. But also like them, she cares little if she catches a fish or not.
The best thing about fishing?
“Playing with the bait,” Rhiannon says.
As with Rhiannon and her father, there is something hereditary about the need to be outdoors on a sunny day that is common to many of the fishermen on Lake Monroe.
Adolphus Campbell’s father fished just about every day in his retirement, beginning at daylight and ending in darkness. Now Campbell does much of the same, coming to this same spot in Lake Monroe Park not so far away from him home in Deltona.
“It’s in my DNA to fish. It’s in the blood,” he says.
He is dressed in a plaid brown shirt beneath a blue plaid flannel shirt, blue jeans, and floppy sand-colored hat. He brings with him four rods and reels because when the fish are biting, you better be prepared. If you should lose a hook, or your reel jams, or the line gets tangled up, there’s no time to straighten things out. You need back up.
“You have to keep them intrigued, or they will go to another spot,” he said.
Truth told, it’s been a lousy season for fishing, Campbell said. Maybe it’s been too hot this winter, or too cold, or too windy, or it’s been raining too much, or not enough. None of it really matters, though, because sometimes the fish win, and sometimes the fishermen.
“Some days like today, you don’t get anything,” Campbell said. “But it doesn’t really matter much. I got a freezer full of fish back home.”
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