2/15/23 – Checking in at the Rod & Gun Lodge in Everglades City, Florida is a trip. The lobby’s filled with ancient stuffed tarpon, snook and redfish, Florida black bears, panthers, Indian head sculptures and wild turkey mount the coffee table across from a reception desk featuring a set of alligator jaws large enough to accommodate a wandering child. We arrived late in the day as the suns last rays filtered through screens on a large porch just off the dining area.

After a few minutes a waitress called out from the kitchen door “Y’all checking in? Someone will be along to see you in about 5 minutes”. Eventually the attendant arrived with a warm smile and a can-do attitude. I’d booked the wrong night, she fixed my error and provided answers to all our questions with the confidence and skill of an expert concierge.

The Rod & Gun Lodge dates back a hundred years, it’s a special place with Olde Florida charm. Their bar stocks a limited selection, but the beer is cold and served quickly. On their detail sheet/menu basic fact of the house are spelled out clearly “The Rod & Gun Lodge does not intend to meet the needs of all vacationers” but they have hosted dignitaries such as John Wayne, President Eisenhower and Ernest Hemingway. I doubt the place has changed much since those fellas walked through the same front door. It’s an old school experience, preserved just as it should be for guys like me, it’s also cash only so be advised.

Once checked in, my fishing companion Ben Gliklich and I wandered the property and settled in on screened in porch just in time for sunset. Rod & Gun sits on a canal, local couples cruise the waterway enjoying cocktails on their skiffs and we enjoyed a few cold beverages in golden light. Then we walked about a quarter mile to the Camellia Street Grill.

The Camellia Street Grill is situated on the same waterway, its porch was full of dinner guests when we arrived at 7:30. There was a table near the door for us which we thought was perfect until the no-see-um’s started attacking our ankles and wrists. No problem, after placing an order for Frogs Legs, Blackened Grouper and Gator Tacos we slipped into the larger interior porch and enjoyed our meal, including the peanut butter pie for dessert. Having asked our guide Capt. Ron Welter where to eat, he said “there really aren’t any better options in Everglades City”. The Camellia Street Grill was the perfect choice for our arrival dinner.

Up early and out the door at 6:30am the next day, we made our way south on the thin country road that connects Everglades City with Chocoloskee. The sunrise shared pink & gold hues hanging over endless miles of mangrove tidal land to the east.

We met our guide Capt. Ron Welter of “Semper Fly Everglades Fishing Charters” on the roadside dock and headed into the channels and canals of the Everglades on his Hell’s Bay Whipray skiff. After a long run into the mangrove lined wilderness we drifted on calm flat water. A perfect, windless day began with a “lightbulb fly” sparking in the morning sun. I started on the deck casting with an Orvis “Helios 3D” 9weight fly-rod.

In this scenario Capt. Ron set up a slow drift. He stood on the poling platform over the skiffs’ engine as I stood on the casting platform attached to the deck allowing a better view into the shadows about 24 inches above the bow. This was my first experience standing on a removable, nonskid, elevated tower. It was odd at first, requiring another level of balance and control. However, the added visibility and separation from fly line resting on the deck below outweighed my anxiety from falling in. After about 30 minutes of wobbling uncomfortably I got the hang of it and realized how much better I could see fish moving in and out and how they were less likely to see me. I also realized that my feet were free of line under my toes and heels. At about the time when I found a comfort level, I saw a flash dart from mangrove roots at 10 o’clock and quickly tied into my first shallow water Jack Crevalle, the hook up didn’t require a strip set as the fish hit and turned so quickly I was fighting it before I had time to think.

As the day progressed and sun rose over head we moved in and out of mangrove channels, birds squawked from trees all around us and the fishing was relatively slow. My friend Ben received casting instructions from Ron and I had several chances, casting to muddling redfish with no results. I ended up landing about 6 juvenile snook over the course of the next 5 hours.

We explored some of the last true wilderness in Florida, got to know each other better and heard real life war stories from Ron, a Marine veteran from his wartime days in Iraq. That’s when we learned the name of his guide service, Semperfly and it all started to come together.

Cruising out, returning to the dock in Chokoloskee, Ron slowed down through several “no-wake” channels and we observed alligators, matinees, sea turtles, white Ibis and roseate spoonbills (a beautiful pink bird that once filled the skies over southern Florida). A perfect day far from the pace of work and family that Ben and I are accustomed to. I hope he’s caught the flyfishing bug and gives it time to learn so he can return from his home in Miami and fish with Capt. Ron again.