Hunting in the Great West
By G.O. Shields

Chapter XXV
The Gulf Coast of Florida



THERE are, perhaps, a few sportsmen in the country who have not at some time felt a wish to visit Florida, and perhaps a majority have thought of a trip to the " land of flowers" as among the possibilities of the " dim distant future." Others have gone farther, and planned the trip into definite shape, even to fixing the time of starting.

In the minds of such the first questions arising are, What is the best route to Florida? What portions of the state are the most prolific in game and fish? In which localities can I find the best accommodations at the lowest prices? What class of guns, ammunition, and fishing tackle will I most need for the game and fish peculiar to the country?

What will be the necessary expense of a two or three months' trip to Florida and what season of the year is most suitable for such a trip? These and similar questions have been asked me repeatedly since my return from Florida, and it is my purpose in this chapter to answer them to the best. of my ability, and to give such other facts as in my judgment may be useful to persons going there. First, then, as to the route. Competing lines of railroad offer several different: routes, each possessing certain advantages, but perhaps the shortest and most direct, and that by which the trip may be made in the shortest space of time, is by way of Louisville, Nashville, and Montgomery, Ala. By this route, tickets to Cedar Key and return may be purchased over either of two or three roads running south from Chicago, good for six months, for about $65. This route takes the tourist to Baldwin, only twenty miles from Jacksonville. Here a stop-over check should be procured, good for fifteen days, in order to visit Jacksonville, St. Augustine, and to make a trip by steamer up the St. John's and Oclawaha rivers.

No trip to Florida could be complete if it did not include a view of the magnificent scenery of these two streams, and of the antique city of St. Augustine. The additional expense of this trip, to the sum above stated, would be about $27, including meals on the river steamers, making the round trip from Chicago to Cedar Key and return cost $93. The distance thus traveled will be about 2,800 miles by rail, and about 950 miles by water--475 on the St. John's and 450 on the Oclawaha.

If a party of three or more go together, excursion rates may be procured that will materially reduce the rates of fare as above stated.

As to the portions of the state where fish and game are most abundant, opinions of those who have spent much time in traveling over the state differ. Some claim that the Indian river country is the best; others that the Oclawaha and St. John's rivers flow. through the finest game country, but, all things considered, I am of the opinion that for both fishing and shooting the lower portion of the Gulf coast is unsurpassed by any other part of the state. Besides, it is more easily accessible than other favorable resorts, and the accommodations that sportsmen may find there are better than those usually found, on the Indian river especially. Steamships run twice a week from Cedar Key to Manatee, and after reaching that point the sportsman cannot fail to find fish and game abundant at every turn.

Then, as he proceeds south along Sarasota Bay, Charlotte Harbor, Oyster Bay, San Carlos Harbor, Cape Romano and Ten Thousand Isles, the field grows richer all the time. At Manatee a small schooner can be chartered to take a single person or party of five or ten to Mr. Webb's, a distance of forty-five miles, for $10. Or, if notified by mail a few days in advance, Captain Will Webb will meet the steamer at Manatee with his new schooner, the "Vision," and take passengers to his father's house free of charge. Here first-class accommodations can be secured at five dollars a week, including use of small boats for fishing, jack-lights and spears for fire-fishing, etc. Will charters his schooner to parties at five dollars a day, including his services and those of two other men, and two small boats for running up small streams into the interior of the country. No better or pleasanter outfit than this for a coasting expedition could be imagined.

The schooner is new, is thirty-six feet long, thirteen feet beam, has a capacity of nine tons, and draws but two and a-half feet of water. It has sleeping accommodations for ten persons, is strongly built and substantially, so as to be thoroughly sea-worthy in any weather, and yet is of such light draft as to be able to ascend the larger streams and run into small bays and inlets where many vessels of less capacity could not go. By taking along a small supply of provisions, a party of five can live comfortably on this vessel for four to five dollars a week each.

Captain Will and his brother Jack, who always accompanies him on these expeditions, are both competent guides and know every foot of the ground, so, that no additional expense need be incurred in this direction. In a cruise of three to four weeks the entire coast can be thoroughly explored, hunted and fished, from Webb's to the Florida reefs, at the extreme south end of the peninsula, including short trips up the Myakka, Caloosahatchie, Fahkahnatehee and other rivers. At Cape Romano, Fort Myers, Punta Rassa, Fort Poinsett and many other points along the coast, deer are abundant, and bears, panthers, wild cats and wolves are frequently met with. The fishing is superb all along the coast, and the naturalist may collect many rare and interesting icthyological, ornithological and conchological specimens not to be found elsewhere in the United States.

A shot-gun and rifle will both be needed, though a cylinder-bore shot-gun, and supply of buck-shot cartridges in addition to the supply of small-shot may answer all purposes. The greater need of the rifle is for the larger game which frequently offers long range shots where a shot-gun is entirely useless, and if the sportsman be a clever rifle shot, be should always provide himself with both.

A large supply of ammunition should be provided for each, for there is such a great variety and such countless numbers of birds and animals constantly presenting themselves, that although many of them be not game, still the temptation to shoot them is so strong that few resist it. For instance, there are cranes, pelicans, cormorants, water turkeys, alligators, etc., offering shots at all ranges, and affording such fine opportunities for practice that any one is justifiable in improving these opportunities when not in localities where game is to be found. I estimate, from experience and observation, that an enthusiastic sportsman will shoot away 300 shells in each week that he may spend in Florida, and if he be provided with rifle and shot-gun both, perhaps an equal division of this number between the two not be far from the proper figure.

A liberal supply and good -assortment of fishing tackle should be taken, and this of the best quality. The native Floridian uses only a heavy hand-line and large, strong hook for his fishing, his motive being fish not sport; and he will laugh at the sportsman who goes there from the North supplied with fine tackle. He will tell you that you will lose your fine line, and perhaps your rod and reel, before you fish an hour; that a twenty-pound red-fish, drum or grouper, or a hundred pound jew-fish or shark will probably walk away with them before you have fairly commenced fishing. But he is welcome to his opinion and his heavy hand-line. I prefer my good, strong bamboo bass rod, my Meek & Milam reel, my fine-braided linen or sea-grass line, patent sinker and Limerick hook. There is a pleasure in fishing with fine tackle, even if you don't get a bite, and if you do get one there is so much more sport in handling your fish with your fine tackle than with your "main strength " tackle, that any true disciple of Izaak had rather catch one fish with the former than half a dozen with the latter.

I grant that you will frequently lose a hook when a shark, jew-fish, taupon, or other sea-monster takes hold of it, as they frequently do, but on the contrary you will take many a fine, sensitive, gamy fish that would be frightened away by your neighbor's clothesline and awkward-looking slug of lead.

Shark tackle is all well enough when you go fishing for sharks, but when fishing for game fish use fine tackle. Take with you then a good, strong but light and flexible bass or salmon rod, a supply of Bradford & Anthony's hard braid water-proof linen lines, a number 5 or 6 Milam reel, a supply of Limerick hooks, assorted sizes, from number 3-0 to number-, 9-0, a lot of artificial minnows and spoons for trolling, ,a landing net, a gaff-hook, and you will be properly equipped in that line.

A supply of first-class shark tackle should by all means be taken along, for much exciting sport may be had hooking these and other monsters of the deep. About fifty feet of strong, half-inch rope, two feet of chain, such as is used for halter chain for horses, to go next the hook for a leader, if you please, and half a dozen large-sized shark hooks complete the list.

These latter may not be found in Chicago but can be ordered from the East. It is not advisable to depend upon getting anything needed for the trip after reaching Jacksonville or Cedar Key, for neither the goods nor the assortments kept there will be found at all satisfactory. A couple of spears, one large and heavy, suitable for shark, etc., and one smaller for other fish will also be found a good investment. Most residents and guides have these, but not in sufficient numbers to supply parties where several wish to use them at the same time.

Each person or each party of two should take a small, light tent, capable of accommodating two for camping expeditions, and this should be provided with light muslin ends, thin enough to admit the air freely, but thick enough to exclude sand-flies and mosquitos. The ordinary mosquito bar is useless in Florida, for the sand-flies, which arc far more troublesome than the mosquitoes, pass through it readily. Each person should take a good heavy blanket, and will find use for it almost any time in the year if camping. The clothing should be strong, but light, so as not to be oppressive during the hot days that the visitor will experience, even in midwinter. A light rubber coat will be found an indispensable necessity as a protection against the frequent rains and heavy dews when out at night. A rubber pillow will also add greatly to the comfort of the trip. Rubber boots are not needed. You can wade in the salt water all day and all night if need be, and experience no bad effects from it; besides, the weather is so hot as to render rubber boots decidedly uncomfortable. The only foot gear needed is a pair, of cheap, heavy cow-hide shot. They should be cheap, for the salt water will rot them out in a few weeks. Every one who goes to Florida has wet feet every day, and still, colds, sore throats, and the like are unknown there. The" Crackers," who live on and near the coast, are in the water almost every day of their lives gathering oysters, fishing lifting their boats over the shoals, etc., and yet they are uniformly healthy. Indeed, it is said that it is no uncommon thing to see barnicles growing on their legs, so much of their time is spent in the water.

It would be well to take along a few simple medicines, such as quinine, calomel, etc., to be used as occasion may require. The radical change in climate usually affects the health more or less. Any physician will tell you what would be most suitable in this line.

Aside from the items mentioned above, but little baggage will be needed, and but little should be taken. Good clothes are not needed and will look out of place after you reach the thinly-settled districts. No books need be taken, for you will have neither time nor taste for reading, and they will only add to the bulk and weight of your luggage, unnecessarily. There are so many wonders and objects of interest in this marvelous region that you could not spare time to read an hour each week if you had a whole library at your disposal.

As to the necessary expense of the trip, one hundred dollars will pay the railroad and steamboat fare for the round trip, including the run up the St. John's and Oclawaha rivers and to St. Augustine. This includes steamboat fare from Cedar Key to Manatee and return. Ten dollars per week will cover all necessary expenses while on the lower coast, and a much less sum-perhaps five dollars a week-will cover them if a party of three or more go together, so that for a trip of two months, including the time of going and coming, the necessary expense for one person alone can be limited to about one hundred and seventy-five dollars, and considerably less where several go together.

The original copy of this book, published about 1880, is housed at the Gulf Coast Heritage Association at Spanish Point, Osprey, Florida. We are most grateful for their allowing us to display this chapter of an old, fragile book so many students of Florida history can read a primary source.

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