Garden & Gun

INTO THE HEART OF THE GLADES

I CAST THE FLY toward the red mangroves, as close as I can get, as close as I dare. The stilt-legged shrubs form a curtain of chaotic, braided roots capped with dense green foliage, a towering, vernal wall between the Gulf of Mexico and the Florida peninsula. To the north, farther up the Florida mainland, the Everglades’ famed River of Grass unfurls to the horizon. But as the fresh water moves toward salt, the grass peters out and the mangroves close in. Labyrinths of narrow passages wind through their warrens. Mangroves that can soar sixty feet above the water ring wide bays. And wherever they grow, their intertwined root systems give purchase to sand and muck and harbor snook, tarpon, sharks, and manatees. Here on the far southern margin of Florida, the mangroves hold the world together.

Whoops. Too close. The fly hangs up in an arthritic kink of a mangrove branch, six feet above the water.

“Squirrel fishing,” I say, red-faced. “Not everybody knows how to do this.”

Captain Chris Wittman laughs and sets the push pole to turn the skiff toward

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