I look forward to my reunion with an old friend each winter.
I met Dick May years ago when he was in restaurant management in the Kansas City area. He liked to fish for bass, and he was good at it.
I did a few stories on him — including one when he caught two 8-pound bass in a tournament on Pomme de Terre Lake — then we lost touch. I occasionally wondered what had happened to him.
I got my answer when I received an email in 2010 after writing a story on a Florida fishing guide while my wife and I were vacationing at our favorite spot, Fort Myers Beach.
It was from Dick, who informed me that he had moved from Kansas City to fulfill a retirement dream — to live on a Florida island and spend his days fishing.
He became so good at it that he eventually became a guide. That was the purpose of his email — to invite me out when I returned to Fort Myers Beach.
I’ll never forget our first trip. As Dick chomped on an unlit cigar, he guided his boat across a seemingly endless stretch of water. We passed Cabbage Key, an island accessible only by water and the home of the restaurant that locals say was the inspiration for Jimmy Buffet’ s song, “Cheeseburger in Paradise.”
We stopped in a stretch of water that Dick called “Naked Lady Cove,” (named for an old woman who lives on the island and occasionally can be seen walking around nude), and started casting live shrimp to the edge of the bright green mangroves that extended into the backwaters.
A good cast into the shadows of the mangroves often resulted in a fish, either a scrappy redfish or a line-stripping snook.
All the while, Dick chomped on a cigar and talked about the good old days in Kansas City … and the even better days in Florida.
He explained that he started writing a recipe column for a small newspaper in Florida under one condition: that he could include a pitch for his Easy Rider Guide Service. That tagline generated all kinds of business and May became a much sought-after guide.
Now 79, Dick is still guiding and still enjoying life in southwest Florida. Ever since that day in 2011, I have returned to Fort Myers Beach and I have fished with an old friend.
Maybe that’s why I looked forward to my return trip to Pine Island in January so much. As I drove through Matlacha — a quaint, old Florida fishing village — I could envision Dick’s house on a canal, with his fishing boat parked out back.
Not long after getting there and exchanging man hugs, we were in his boat, speeding across the backwaters of the Gulf. The water looked deep — but oh, how misleading that was.
Perhaps May related it best when he told a story about two of his guide clients.
“I had two little old ladies out with me and they asked where the life jackets were, and why we weren’t wearing them,” he said. “I explained that they were within reach, but we really didn’t need them.
“One of the ladies said, ‘Well, what if we fall out?’ And I said, “You stand up.’
“It didn’t look like it, but we were in only 3 feet of water.”
Heading for the shimmering water off Seven-Mile Island between Captiva Pass and Boca Grande Pass, I couldn’t envision one stretch of water being any better than the next. But May knew there was a difference.
We were fishing for speckled sea trout that day, and that meant we were looking for grass beds.
After years of experience on the water, Dick knew that the speckled sea trout are attracted to those isolated grass beds, where they feed on shrimp and small crabs. Moments later, we were making long casts with popping corks and Gulp shrimp dangling beneath them. We would pop the rattling corks several times, then stop to let the bait settle.
That’s when the trout would rush up to snap at the bait. We caught numerous fish — mostly trout but a few mangrove snappers and Jack Crevalles — and I thought to myself, “Just another day in paradise.”
We boated back to Dick’s dock and were greeted by Tweety, a stilted great white egret that was waiting for the old guide to clean fish and throw the carcasses into the water.
I basked in the warm sun and thought about how cold it was back in Kansas City. After talking with Dick for a while, it was time for goodbyes.
“Until next year, my friend,” he said.
And I answered, “I’ll be back.”
To contact Dick May, call 239-283-3247.