Florida. Anna Maria Island. Knee deep in the chilly water, I wade out to fling a line into the deep blue. I’m alone in the elements. There are no swimmers. Not in 55degree water. But for someone used to Lake Michigan, who when asked, “How’s the water?” answers either, “It hurts” or “It doesn’t hurt”…Tampa Bay didn’t hurt. So, I went in up to my thighs and slung my rig out thirty yards or so.

Back on shore, I stood watch, pole in hand waiting for a bonnet head shark or maybe a whiting or even a sting ray. Ten minutes later I reel in a clump of seaweed and an empty hook. Pin fish have been unobtrusively nibbling on my shrimp.

I turn toward my bait bucket. A white egret trails long white feathers, like a bride easing down the aisle, one restrained, self-conscious step at a time, and peeks in my bucket. My first impulse is to shout, “Git!” But then I notice a half-circle of fellow oldsters smiling and taking pictures of the bird. It’s improv show time on a boring afternoon.

“Folks,” I go, “this bird and I are partners. We charge $5.00 for a picture. I get $2.50 and she gets $2.50 and any leftover bait at the end of the day.” There are smiles all around as I reach in the pail for a lively shrimp.

By the time I’ve baited the hook, the audience has moved on and I yell, “git!” to the bird who, in her carefully calibrated, almost robotic way, backs off a few feet as if unwilling to admit that our gig is over. Cheeky bird.

At that point, a young woman strolling by, catches my eye. Her blouse top reaches to the top of bare, jiggling buttocks. Talk about cheeky bird, she is presumably wearing a thong…as if that would matter, or I could care, at my age. Shaking my head at what the world is coming to, I peek back for one more glimpse (some habits die hard) as I hold my line above the water just before casting. That’s when a seagull swoops down and snatches the shrimp from my hook. Cheeky bird.

When I get to bucket for more bait, there’s a $5.00 bill floating in it. I can’t decide if one of my impromptu audience really believed my schtick or threw money instead of applause.

Fun afternoon. Who said fishing is about catching fish?

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