Camps of yesteryear |

I recently took my 11 year old son to Shell Island Fish Camp. Now regular readers will recognize the name, and I dare say many of you have probably been there.

I made my first trip there in 1981 or 1982. I don’t remember. For over 20 years my dad and I went several times a year, and at one point once a month for years. I love it there, but hunting for bigger and better trout has taken me to other places and I haven’t been back since 2006.

Recently a good family friend texted me and told me to go camping! My answer was OK, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought “I don’t want to suffer a weekend in the heat of the mountains to catch some small trout.” I prefer to try my luck in my bay boat in the gulf and at Shell Island.

Memories flooded in, and I got excited. Everyone loved the idea, and I made the arrangements.

In the almost 20 years since my last visit, the previous owners have sold and are now quietly retired. The new owners have taken over and changed — ALMOST NOTHING!

How great is it for your childhood memories?

The store was still a small wooden structure perched on the docks that showed the rising waters of the hurricanes of yesteryear. The wooden planks of the wharf that were rotten or missing had been updated. The old guide boats, which were once made of wood and now simply covered in fiberglass, still sat in their berths and waited for the next young man to experience the wonder of the apartments. The only improvement made to the cabins, motel rooms and other accommodations was simply the replacement of the towels. However, instead of a large 14-foot alligator prowling the depths below the cleaning table, the tarpon swam in and gobbled up any fish carcasses thrown at it.

Camps like this are hugely important in the lives of anglers around the world. These places are where civilization fades and the pursuit of fish takes priority. There’s no beach, no 5-star accommodations, and no high-end restaurants. There is a dive bar, a burger restaurant and this camp. It only exists because many of us still enjoy the simple pleasure of catching speckled trout and rockfish. When we arrived we found our cabin and quickly unpacked. Then I took Beau to the docks and there he discovered his first tarpon. Watching your son experience something like these majestic fish for the first time is an almost spiritual experience.

Three days there were spent watching the rain, smoking cigars, fishing, and discussing worldly problems and the impending engagement of a good friend. The televisions didn’t work in our cabin, and that was a wonderful thing. We spent all of our time on the porch when we were at the cabin. My son was able to listen to a young man work on issues of marriage, children, and faith. I was able to spend time with my son and a young man whom I admire and consider a member of my own family. Things like this rarely happen at a resort.

On the last day, I had the opportunity to speak with the new owner, Mr. Horne, and found a kindred spirit who enjoys the Florida that I love as much as I do. Shell Island will enter another era in good hands, and grandfathers, fathers and sons will continue to make memories on the plains and rivers around it for many years to come. For that, I can just offer a quiet little thank you.

—Outdoor columnist James Pressley can be reached at [email protected] .

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