Published May 14, 2023

Sunshine and Smiles 

Written by
Kim Fundingsland
| The Dakotan

A Slice of Life  

By Kim Fundingsland 

Everyone needs a little down time now and then. Maybe sit back and relax, whatever form that may be, and get away from daily routines and responsibilities.  

One way I’ve found to do exactly that usually involves a fishing rod, good company, and an appreciation for one’s surroundings. Shimmering water, gentle waves, and passing cloud formations all have a marvelously splendid appearance – soothing, pleasing, wonderful. Scenes that man has been gifted for thousands of years, yet each moment is somehow new and invigorating. 

I feel that way, or at least remind myself to do so, every time I venture into the outdoors. Be it hiking or fishing, it’s as though an accomplished and skilled artist has perfectly painted every scene and presented me with a 1 of 1 masterpiece. It can be an eagle soaring against a blue sky, a unique rock formation, trees in sunlight or in shadow, a rainbow, a wild flower, or a fish breaking the surface – maybe to enjoy the same. I wonder. 

A recent day on the water on the saltwater flats of the Florida Keys was like no other. But it’s the certainty of the unknown that makes saltwater fishing so intriguing, so inviting to a fisherman. Without exception, every day on the water provides a new experience. It’s inevitable. 

It might be a small flock of flamingoes skimming over the water in the first rays of sunlight. Perhaps a big bull shark tracking an unsuspecting paddleboarder, or a stingray flying out of the water to avoid a predator. Perhaps a long crocodile silently surfacing next to the boat. 

All can and do happen when fishing in the Keys. Unannounced, of course. On this day though, even in the presence of playful dolphins and the thrashing of a small blacktip shark, it was the rotund puffer fish that provided the inevitable surprise. 

A puffer fish in full defensive mode. (Photo: Kim Fundingsland/The Dakotan)

We’d seen puffers many times, scooting across the bottom of the shallow flats, but not on the end of a lure. Mort Bank of Bismarck, an avid and experienced saltwater angler, changed that. When action on larger fish, such as barracuda and snook, slowed, we decided to downsize our lures and target smaller fish. 

In short order Bank hooked into a saltwater catfish. Then came a puffer. Then another. The second one ballooned up as soon as it was brought to the boat. It’s what puffers do. They “puff” themselves up to appear too big for the liking of many predator fish. I guess that includes fishermen too. Quite the sight. 

Kelli Fundingsland, Minot, and Mort Bank, Bismarck , with a double on speckled sea trout. (Photo: Kim Fundingsland/The Dakotan)

In the same area as the puffer were caught was a school of speckled sea trout. They are fun fish on light tackle and one of the most sought-after fish in the Keys. 

We had many other memorable moments during five days of fishing, phenomenal strikes from powerful and big fish included but, for at least part of one day, it was the tiny puffer and tasty trout, mixed with sunshine and smiles, that served up a slice of life from the shallows of the Florida Flats. 

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