The Florida issue

Anglers bend the rules to fish at Florida golf courses

By Paul Abercrombie
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, November 8, 2009

We crouch, tiptoeing with cartoonishly exaggerated slowness toward the water's edge. Our extreme stealth is only partly about not spooking the fish. We're mostly hiding from the guy in the golf cart cruising by barely two fly-rod lengths away this misty early morning.

You see, my pal Scott Borders and I are fishing on a golf course. Or rather, on water hazards. The things that golfers try to avoid.

Yet as the Tampa trial lawyer and I land and release a dozen hefty largemouth bass over the next hour, I can't help wondering: Are we the only ones who know what great fly-fishing can be had on golf courses?

Well, yes and no.

Everyone knows that, as the tourist brochures claim, Florida is a golfer's and fisherman's paradise. Fewer seem savvy to what great fly-fishing there is on the Sunshine State's umpteen golf-course ponds. These Lilliputian lakes, infrequently if ever plied by anglers, often hold lunker largemouths as well as more-exotic species. Judging from the number of fly fishermen I've spoken with who admit to haunting water traps, our ranks appear to be growing.

What's more, ours may be the ultimate recession-time sport-fishing experience.

Consider that chasing bonefish in the Florida Keys can set you back a few grand. You'd be lucky to hunt redfish by boat for a third as much. But to fly-fish golf-course ponds, you need neither a boat nor a guide nor, for that matter, even a tee time.

What you often do need is a willingness to bend -- okay, break -- a few rules.

Fishing is forbidden on many of Florida's private and public golf courses, though some will let you dip a line if you ask nicely. Of course, a ban on fishing all but screams: "Lots of big fish here!" Not that rules deter most anglers hooked on golf courses. Scott's lawyerly advice for those caught rod-handed: "Run like hell."

Which Scott and I are fully, if sophomorically, prepared to do this midweek morning as we work a pond on the fifth hole of the course at a private golfing community (whose identity I'm withholding to protect the guilty) located 15 minutes north of downtown Tampa.

We'll start fishing here, Scott explains, not only because it's a good spot (he once pulled a seven-pounder from this pond) but because it'll take the day's first golfers a while to reach us. Many players don't mind sharing a course with fly fishers, but all it takes is one complainer to ruin the fun. A golfer himself, Scott packs a two-piece rod in his club bag. "It's my 15th club," he jokes.

After tying black bug poppers to our lines, we space ourselves about a quarter-turn of the pond apart and start casting, aiming for clumps of submerged grass and other likely cover for bass.

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