Stepping back in time on the Loxahatchee River
As the son of a golf professional, I spent the first 15 winters of my life in southeast Florida. During those years I spent my afternoons fishing for largemouth bass in the tea-colored canal behind our apartment and hanging out at the beach where I’d bodysurf until my fingers shriveled up like prunes.
Once a year my parents would take me to my favorite local haunt – the Loxahatchee River in Jonathan Dickinson State Park. There, we’d rent a canoe and head into the riverine wilderness looking for manatees, turtles and alligators. I remember feeling like I was exploring the remotest reaches of the upper Amazon, not knowing what fascinating creatures might lie around the next bend.
A lot has changed since then.
When I was a young kid, the population of Palm Beach County was about 350,000 people. Today, it’s close to 1.4 million. The slash pine forests I used to explore have been overrun with golf courses and shopping malls, and the wild beaches I used to frequent are now lined with 40-story luxury condominiums.
Fortunately, the one place I cared about most as a kid – the Loxahatchee River – still looks and feels like it did forty years ago. That’s because local conservationists fought to get it designated as Florida’s first federally designated Wild and Scenic river in 1985.
Last week, while on vacation to visit my octogenarian dad, my wife and I made our regular pilgrimage to the Loxahatchee. My goal was to catch a tarpon on a fly, something I had never done before. We rented a small motorboat and puttered upriver through the forest of mangroves, palms and moss-draped cypress trees to a spot where I had seen tarpon rolling last year. Some of those cypress trees took root when Ponce De Leon first set foot on Florida’s shore in 1513.
We came across three manatees grazing underwater, spooked several large schools of mullet, and saw dozens of osprey and wading birds of all types.
I ended up catching my first tarpon on a fly that day, but realized immediately upon releasing it that was not why I had come.
I returned to the Loxahatchee to step back in time, to the days of my youth, when the deepest wilderness and the most amazing creatures were just a short paddle away.