An Old North Florida Hunting Camp | Photo Journal

In the grander scheme of things, our camp really isn’t that old. I know of families whose camps date back to the pioneer days when their ancestors hunted for survival and they didn’t call it “camp,” it was just called “home.”

Our hunting camp is a 5-ish-hour drive to North Florida, nestled in the backwoods of a place called Perry. I first laid eyes on these woods when I was 13 or 14. There was nothing here then but a couple thousand acres of planted pines and a small clearing in the center which would become our fabled Big Racks Hunt Club; aptly named by my then-12-year-old brother with his appropriately adolescent humor.

Today, this place has campers, elaborate sitting porches, string lights, running water fed from a natural spring and, of course, power. You see, this camp was founded and built by former linemen, mostly. One look around, you’ll see retired power poles used to construct the cook shack, feeders, and gate posts. There’s an old transformer by the equipment barn, insulators for feeder pole braces, and culverts made of spun concrete poles, the kind they use in transmission line construction.

But still, we have no cell service here. We gladly become unreachable a few miles out, pretending we’ve reverted back to our primitive roots. While some have modern-day camper amenities, Mike and I prefer to cook meals over the campfire, bathe with wet wipes, and bask in the sounds of the wilderness.

The founding members have invested blood, sweat, and tears, into keeping this a place we enjoy escaping to. We kill cottonmouths and harvest food for our freezers. We honor traditions and camp rules. We gather over whisky and Apalachicola oysters. We debate Florida versus Florida State, with that inevitable Georgia outlier. We recap our hunts with child-like vigor and deny ever falling asleep during the day’s first sit.

On our most recent work trip, I found myself in awe of this place, as usual. At the time of this writing, it’s been 17 years since I harvested my first whitetail at this very camp. The pines were hardly 4-feet tall then, today they tower over the tree stand at 60-feet or more.

I’m a sucker for tradition, sentiment, and Old Florida values. I felt so inspired, I snapped some photos of our hunting camp as it stands today. I pray that I never take these wild places for granted, always seek adventure over comfort, and respect the fruits of hard work and good old-fashioned sportsmen ingenuity. Enjoy!

tide and tale Florida hunting camp 1.jpg
tide and tale old Florida camp.jpg
tide and tale Florida camping.jpg
tide and tale florida camping firewood.jpg
tide and tale florida hunting camp 2.jpg
tide and tale florida hunting camp 3.jpg
tide and tale florida hunting camp 4.jpg
tide and tale florida hunting camp 5.jpg
tide and tale florida hunting camp 6.jpg
tide and tale florida hunting camp 7.jpg
tide and tale florida hunting camp 8.jpg
tide and tale florida hunting camp 10.jpg
tide and tale florida hunting camp 11.jpg
tide and tale florida hunting camp 17.jpg
tide and tale florida hunting camp 12.jpg
tide and tale florida hunting camp 13.jpg
tide and tale florida hunting camp 14.jpg
tide and tale florida hunting camp 14.jpg
tide and tale florida hunting camp 16.jpg

Tales From Charlotte Harbor: Don't Mess With Big Ugly

Christmas Eve 2018. It was the first time I’d cried over a fish (in a long time, anyway). Not a pitiful sobbing, but just a few glistening tears. The same way you’d cry quietly when you got picked last as a kid.

Mike and I were fishing the bridges on Charlotte Harbor, a popular place to target big black drum lurking on the bottom. They’d been on my wish list ever since that episode of Flats Class where Capt. C.A. Richardson and Capt. Al Keller get worked in the Louisiana bayou by monster black drum, more akin to livestock than fish.

We anchored upcurrent and soaked a few lines with cut crab. The extent of my bridge fishing experience includes very little patience before we reel in and head to the next spot. I’m more of an active pursuit type of angler who gets antsy with static fishing like soaking and trolling. So, naturally, I grabbed the only unoccupied rod on the boat and went to work.

It was a medium Falcon Coastal XG rod with a 3000 Florida Fishing Products reel, pre-rigged with one of those fancy 4.5-inch Live Target sardine swimbaits. I’d never tried Live Targets, but I didn’t expect much. I’m more of a “stick to what you know” kinda guy.

I cast the lure square on the left corner of the piling, dropping it flush against the concrete, then feathered out a few yards of line so the current would carry it beneath the structure. After a few steady-paced retrieves, I switched to a slower twitch-and-stop, still slinging every cast in the same methodic process.

My mind had wandered from fishing by the third attempt when I was suddenly snapped back to reality by a slight movement at the end of the line. I did that thing where I went to set the hook, but a solid halt indicates you’ve actually hooked bottom. Mike looked back, and I tried to play it off casually, “Just hooked bottom… I swear, it felt like something moved, though.”

I jerked the rod back a few more times. Then, there was movement again: a slow wiggle. For sure this time. I jerked back harder. “Holy s***, it is a fish!” I shouted to Mike.

I could hardly budge the thing so I knew it must be big. The drag screamed as line ripped out. I let him run at first, then started pumping firmly to ease him away from the pilings and into open water. Slow, heavy runs, not a lot of shakes... when it felt like he was almost to the surface, he dug down and hauled ass again.


My heart was racing. I’d been here before; adrenaline pumping, hands sweating, trying to sidestep my own eagerness to land the fish and allow instinct to run the show.

Minutes passed. Fifteen? Thirty? Finally, I had worked him within inches of the surface. A massive silvery blob refused to fully reveal itself, still weighing down the line like a stack of bricks. “It’s huge!” I yelled in disbelief, considering… I hadn’t expected a single bite. '

Before I had the satisfaction of seeing his face, he lurched down once more, this time taking a straight shot toward the piling.

Slow-braking, easy pressure, inset panic. There it is. The panic. That’s when it all starts to crumble. All the progress begins to melt away, as you scramble to do anything you can to take control again. But sometimes… you just brought a knife to a gun fight.


And just like that, the line went slack.

My insides twisted. I threw my hands in the air like a child throwing a tantrum, shouting explicits that are only fitting during heated exchanges and sporting events. I’m not sure at what point in your angling career one should be able to handle moments like this gracefully, but apparently, I’m still far from it.

Snapseed 22.jpg

I felt as if I’d just lost the war of my life.

I stormed to the bow, grabbed a beer from the cooler, and stared out toward the pilings. When your wound is open is when those salty feelings seep in. “Was it fate? Was it something I did wrong? Was it a jewfish? Or was it really a black drum? It had to be a drum. Did I put too much pressure? I’m a terrible angler. Someone better would have landed that. I’m done.”

That’s when those little crocodile tears rolled down. Mike was silent. “What could I have done differently?” I asked him, “I need a lesson from this or it was all for nothing.”

We talked through tactics and pressure and ultimately using the right tool for the job. To be honest, I never dreamed I’d hook up to a monster when I cast that plastic chunk into the depths.

As anglers, how is it that something like a fish can stir so much emotion within?

I will never know for sure what happened that day or what that fish looked like. He took a piece of my soul with him when made a break for it. He instilled a new faith in me, a reminder not to get complacent. To be prepared always. To approach every cast as if a monster awaits. And never to take a good fight for granted.

Here’s to the Big Ugly ones: may every encounter make us better anglers for it.

Happy New Year | A Look Back at the Best of 2018

cfc4b11e-0b5c-4c65-ba87-e467ce39bf28 2.jpg

Where to begin?? 2018 was a pivotal year in my life and my favorite one yet. We were engaged, planning a wedding, and juggling businesses, while trying to make time for rest and relaxation (aka fishing). We worked hard, we traveled, we shared many firsts, and celebrated proud achievements. Here is a look back at my favorite memories from 2018!

We Got Married!

In the Keys, beneath swaying palm trees, in the most perfect rain shower, surrounded by family and friends, Mike and I became husband and wife. It was the best day of our lives. Bless it!

Honeymoon & Fishing in Costa Rica

Our first time ever in beautiful Costa Rica! We spent 3 days in Manuel Antonio, fishing the Pacific and lying on the beach. Next, we cozied up in the rainforest near the Arenal Volcano at the most luxurious resort I’ve ever experienced, Nayara Springs. Highly recommend Costa Rican Vacations, they planned and arranged our trip so all we had to do was show up! (Not an ad!)

My First Published Article

I was honored to be asked to write the story behind Captains for Clean Water, a non-profit on a mission to the save our estuaries and the Everglades. The article was my first-ever published work and was featured in Tail Fly Fishing Magazine.

My First Osceola Turkey

With my brother as our guide, we ended up in a standoff with two Osceola turkeys that almost left us empty-handed and become one of my favorite hunting stories. Somehow, we pulled it off and I walked away with my first spring gobbler. Read about it here.

Phosphate Mining Rezone Denied by DeSoto Board of County Commissioners

The Mosaic Company, the world's largest producer of phosphates, has long been expanding it’s operations south from central Florida. When they proposed a re-zone of their 18,287 acres in DeSoto County from Agricultural (A-10) to Phosphate Mining-Industrial (PM-I), hundreds of enraged citizens showed up to combat them. After eleven hours of public testimony, the DeSoto Board of County Commissioners denied the re-zone 4-1, shocking both sides. Read more in my post here.

Joining the Team at Captains for Clean Water

As a longtime Captains for Clean Water supporter, it was easy to accept the role as communications lead for the organization. After experiencing a devastating water crisis in 2018, Floridians intimately understand the need for Everglades restoration and how it will help spare our battered estuaries from future damage. Captains for Clean Water is at the frontlines of the fight for clean water and we’ll be making our voices heard loudly in 2019.

I Learned to Fly Fish

My friend Debbie Hanson of SheFishes2 invited us down for a day of fly fishing in Big Cypress National Park. I’m happy to say she guided me through catching my first fish on fly - an Oscar! And many to follow. We didn’t do much fly fishing throughout the year, but we plan to target some saltwater species in 2019.

I Turned 30, TIDE + TALE Turned 2

I wrote a very odd post when I turned 30. It was a letter to my younger self. Sometimes I laugh when I go back and read it, but there is nothing I would change about my life because it led me to become the person I am today. I’m also proud of keeping TIDE + TALE alive for two years. I love this little place we share and I look forward to filling it with many years of adventure and encouragement.


Spending time with my three baby nieces has been one of the greatest blessings in my life. They are growing so fast and becoming their own little personalities. Still waiting on their moms and dads to let them come spend a day on the boat with Uncle Mike and Auntie Leesh (aka Seesa)!

Thank you for your love and support over the past two years (or more!). My wish for you this year is to do more of what you love and less of what you don’t. Here’s to you. Happy New Year, friend!



Taking Kids Fishing on Charlotte Harbor | Our 2nd Annual CAST for Kids Event [Recap]

In the fall of 2016, after a late night heart to heart [full story], Mike and I went in a search of a non-profit that could help us take kids fishing. We stumbled across the CAST for Kids Foundation and, after an enthusiastic conversation with Jeff Barnes, the Eastern Regional Director, we were hooked.

We learned that anyone could host an event and take on all the planning and fundraising independently. The organization would help us along the way and provide everything needed to take the event to the next level - custom t-shirts, plaques, tackle boxes and rods for the kids.

We held our first ever CAST for Kids event on November 17, 2017 at Laishley Park in Punta Gorda, Florida. Instead of fishing from shore, volunteer captains each took a child out on the harbor to fish by boat. We learned that many of the children had never fished before or even ridden on a boat. After witnessing the impact that was made, not just on the children, but everyone involved - Mike and I knew we would host this event every year.

Year Two Recap

Our 2nd CAST for Kids event took place on Saturday, September 8, 2018. As the sun came up over Laishley Park and the volunteers began arriving, there was a different energy than before. More excitement, less uncertainty. It seemed as if we were more confident because, together, we had done this before and we knew it was going to be just as incredible.

The captains were eager to get out on the water and help the kids catch fish. They gathered for the boater safety meeting, each receiving their custom “captain’s bucket” by Barracuda Tackle, stuffed with Boca Coast chum, Mustad hooks, hats, buffs and more goods from our sponsors.

Twenty children showed up that day, many who had fished with us at our very first event! They even requested to go with their same captain as before. At check-in, I overheard Rylee telling his mom, “Captain Matt better not be late!”

The same kids who were nervous or standoffish the first year, ran to the dock with excitement because they already knew what awaited them. Doreen told us that her grandson Gibson rarely talks, but on this day, he couldn’t stop talking about fishing!

Just as before, everyone was all smiles as the kids were paired up with their captains and they ventured out on the harbor to cast some lines.

Throughout the morning, we received text updates from the captains showing us the catches of the day. Some kids even got to drive the boat!

This year, we had 50 shore volunteers who helped make this event happen. I don’t always get to speak to everyone, but if I could, I would tell them this:

Thank you for showing up. Thank you for believing in these children enough to give them your time and compassion. Thank you for helping us do the heavy-lifting (sometimes, literally). Thank you for smiling even when we run out of things to do. Thank you for creating good in the world and in our own little community in Southwest Florida. This day wouldn’t be possible without you!

For me, I have two favorite parts of the day. The first is watching the kids board the boats and how excited they get as they depart the marina. The second is the award ceremony.

It’s not a tournament or a competition. There is no first or last place. Every child receives a plaque with a photo of them and their captain. When they come up to the front, the crowd cheers and claps. Their faces light up with pride and joy; this level of acceptance and celebration doesn’t come along for them every day.

They get to tell the crowd how many fish they caught and what their favorite part of the day was. The captains are always overcome with pride, admiration and pure happiness. It’s a special moment that will melt your heart.

Lessons Learned

  1. There were many familiar faces as more than half the participants had returned for the second year! They loved fishing and wanted to do it again. That tells us there is a need for more events like this and so we’ll keep at it.

  2. We need more help reaching families with children who could benefit from a day of fun and fishing. We didn’t have many connections in the education or health system and it’s not exactly easy to find the right person to talk to.

  3. Keep calm, it’s all about the kiddos. Sometimes, we get flustered over minor details. In a few years, these kids won’t remember that we ran out of coleslaw and sodas; they’ll remember the way they felt that day.

Bring More CAST for Kids Events to Florida

In 2018, nearly 100 CAST for Kids events are being hosted across the United States, many of them going at least a decade strong! But guess what… we’re the only one in Florida, the Fishing Capital of the World. Seems crazy right??

We can fish year-round, we have hundreds of miles of coastline and access to the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean, and countless freshwater lakes. We have the largest saltwater angler population at 2.4 million anglers with more world record fish catches than any other state or country (FWC). And I believe that there are children in every community who could benefit from a fun day of fishing, if just given the opportunity.

The good news is… anyone can host a CAST for Kids event! The organization does so much to help out along the way and sends a representative to every event. It takes a lot of planning, coordinating and hard work, but the reward is indescribable.

If you’re interested in learning what it takes to host your own CAST for Kids event, email Jeff Barnes, the Eastern Regional Director, at



Thank You!

This event would not exist if it wasn’t for Mike Downs, our generous captains, volunteers and sponsors. We’ve created momentum and we look forward to making each year better than the last and getting more kids out on the water!

Special thanks to:

My First-Ever Reader Survey | Please Tell Me More About YOU

How long have we been friends now?? We see each other on Instagram, you read my occasional rants, I stalk your profile then friend you on Facebook, and maybe we bump into each other at ICAST or just drop emojis in the DM's. 

It's time to take it to the next level. Please take the survey below so I can learn more about you. If the survey is not showing up, click here.

Phosphate Mining Threatens Our Homes, Families & Environment | Stop the Mosaic Mines & Save Southwest Florida


When I wrote my first draft of this, I was riddled with emotion and ranting through my keyboard. I had a pit in my stomach and tears in my eyes thinking of how my family would be personally affected by mining operations so close to our homes. I possibly used some profanities, but that may be related to the three cups of Cafe Bustelo espresso I'd consumed prior.

It's been a few days. I'm calmer. I've done research (a lot). I've read the outrage on Facebook. And I've revisited this post to inform you of what I've learned about the potential consequences of phosphate mining. For people and the environment. 

Supporters of mining consider this a "scare tactic." I've also heard accusations of being against agriculture or farmers. This couldn't be further from the truth. Wanting to prevent mining from potentially harming our families, our homes and our communities, is because we love our families, our homes and our communities. And we will do everything in our power to protect them. 

If you are a visual person, here's a 10-minute video that gives you a quick rundown on phosphate mining. Otherwise, read on.

What's Going On? Mosaic To Expand Phosphate Mining Into DeSoto County

The Mosaic Company, the world's largest producer of phosphates, has made plans to expand their mining operations into DeSoto County, covering 18,287 acres, larger than the city of Arcadia itself. The company is proposing that this 28-square mile tract be rezoned for phosphate mining.

Mosaic's website states their intentions as follows: 

To meet the continuing world demand for phosphate, we plan to extend existing mines and develop new mines in HardeeManatee and DeSoto counties. By extending existing mining operations onto adjoining properties, we can continue producing phosphate in the area without increasing our water consumption by connecting to existing stormwater and water circulation systems

Extended mines and new mining operations undergo exhaustive planning and approval processes to protect air, water, ecology, transportation, safety and other environmental, health and public welfare considerations. After mining, state-approved reclamation programs will result in productive land uses, including enhanced wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities.

Sounds good, in theory. But let's take a deeper look at facts of phosphate mining, past catastrophes and why Mosaic's version of "reclamation" is so far off the mark from what could be considered acceptable restoration. 

The Dangers of Phosphate Mining

By nature, Mosaic's operations destroy the environment, not protect it, and endanger the health, livelihood and interests of citizens and homes that span far broader than the mining grounds. 

According to Mosaic's DeSoto Project website, mining is limited to 1,000 feet from residences or 200 feet from the mine property line. Most people who live on ranches or pastureland moved there for peace and quiet, but could face a new reality of constant noise, "fugitive" dust, increased traffic and the unsightly view of machines and sky-high radioactive stacks outside their back doors. 


The most recent mining catastrophe happened in 2016 when a massive sinkhole opened beneath one of Mosaic's "gypsum stacks" sending contaminated wastewater into one of the state's main underground sources. Two years and 250 million gallons later, the hole is FINALLY closed. Here's a Tampa Bay Times article that covers the disaster.

It's important to understand what a "gypsum stack" is. Phosphogypsum is the waste left behind after the fertilizer production process. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), phosphogypsum emits radon, a radioactive gas, and contains uranium and radium, which are radioactive elements. The EPA requires the "gypsum" to be stored in massive, above-ground stacks (hundreds of acres wide and hundreds of feet high) because there's no other way to safely dispose of it and they hope this prevents the cancer-causing radon gas from escaping into the environment.

But in cases like the Mulberry sinkhole, these hopes and "safety precautions" aren't bulletproof; accidents happen. And when the worst case scenario is threatening the health of our families and our estuaries, how could anyone willingly welcome these risks??


The mining industry is known for environmental disasters, no matter how much their "exhaustive planning" guarantees safety. You are welcome to read their public 68-page permit that states every minute detail of their plan and "precautions," down to the brand of toilet paper they use. But these words are just dust in the wind. It's not a matter of IF something will go wrong, it's a matter of WHEN, and the phosphate mining industry has the track record to prove it.

Paul DeGaeta, lifetime resident on the Peace River and probably the greatest advocate for the health of the estuary, reminded us all of the 1971 phosphate spill, which he also lived through. A dike burst in Fort Meade spilling two billion gallons of phosphate waste into the Peace River and killing 90% of the fish, according to a biologist of the former Florida Game and Fresh Water Commission. That percentage amounted to 3 million dead fish. You think we have problems now with the lethal Red Tide in Charlotte Harbor and Boca Grande?? Let's throw some radioactive fuel on that fire.

In 1997, 50 million gallons of contaminated water from a phosphate plant spilled into the Alafia River near Tampa Bay, killing millions of fish. In 2004, a hurricane flooded a stack of waste carrying 65 million gallons of contaminated phosphate waste into Tampa Bay killing marine life, mangroves and seagrass.

There is no such thing as phosphate mining that "protects air, water, ecology, transportation, safety and other environmental, health and public welfare considerations." Phosphate mining produces poision and when any singular thing goes wrong... the air, water, ecology, environment, health and public welfare will PAY THE PRICE. 


This Tampa Bay Times article cites that, "studies of waters downstream of phosphate mines have found an increase in heavy metals like lead, and studies of aquifers have found chemicals used to process the phosphate, like fuel oil." 

Aquifers feed the underground wells that provide drinking water to nearly every household outside the city limits and every home on agricultural land. If these studies prove true, those responsible are knowingly allowing the possibility of poisioning thousands of citizens. 

Horse Creek, the largest Peace River tributary, flows straight through the middle of the proposed DeSoto mining area. Whatever is spilled or leaked or accidentally discharged into Horse Creek flows downstream to the Peace River and the homes of Charlotte County.

Mosaic's "Reclamation" is Unacceptable

Mosaic promises to create "fully functioning post-mining landscapes." Here are a few examples of what mined land looks like prior to the reclamation process: 

In Florida, the process pictured above is known as strip-mining. Phosphate rock is extracted about 30-40 feet (or more) below the surface using machines called draglines. The mining company assaults the land for years and, when they are done, they're required to "return it to a usable state again." The problem is: that land can never be truly returned to it's original state.

In the public eye and on the perimeter of mined lands, it might appear as if trees are growing and there's an abundance of green colors, so it must be good and healthy! Wrong.

The land has been mutilated from the inception; ponds drained, native wildlife and plants removed, surface scraped and then the digging begins 40-100 feet into the ground. Years later, the holes are filled in and covered with sand. Clay ponds that store wastewater form a dry, solid crust, but the clay beneath remains forever. The face and heart of the land is scarred beyond repair and the ecosystem that once naturally thrived there has been destroyed, choked out by poisonous chemicals.

Nothing can naturally grow or thrive here; which means wildlife cannot return, natural processes cannot regenerate and the land remains a useless, barren desert for at least the rest of our lives. The intricate functions of an ecosystem are not visible to our naked eyes; just because you stick some plants in the ground and make it look all green, does not mean the land is restored to it's original state. 

What Can You Do About It?

Mosaic has been funneling money into DeSoto and Charlotte counties - the $9 million Mosaic Rodeo Arena, the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program, local Chamber sponsorships - lining pockets to buy local support and portray themselves as community-first good corporate citizens. 

We cannot stand idly by as our families, homes, waterways and livelihoods are threatened. PLEASE, make your voice heard!

Mosaic already owns the land, but not the rights to mine it. The DeSoto Board of County Commissioners is holding a public meeting to vote on rezoning the land from agricultural to phosphate mining. While we do not have a vote, we do have a voice. 


  • Start Date: Tuesday, July 24, 2018 6:30-10:30pm

  • To Continue (if necessary): Wednesday, July 25, 2018 2:00-7:00pm

  • Location: Board of County Commissioners Meeting Room in the DeSoto County Administration Building, 201 E. Oak Street, Arcadia, FL 34266

There will be a gathering on Monday, July 23 at 6:00pm at Leroy's Southern Kitchen in Downtown Punta Gorda that will allow everyone to gather, learn more and prepare for the BOCC meeting.


Final Thoughts

My parents' home is on Horse Creek. The place that I grew up digging for sharks teeth, camping every weekend and riding 4wheelers. I have memories of my Uncle Larry cooking froglegs and my dad telling ghost stories of Swampman Sam. I've sat by this creek many times when I've been sad and I've taken photos by it during the happiest time of my life: engaged to the man I will marry. This place is a part of me and with the proposal of these mining operations, I've never felt more threatened in my life.



Now, this place could become a contaminated sewage pipe, carrying hazardous waste down Peace River to the people in Charlotte County. My three nieces may never get to experience what it's like to play in Horse Creek and that thought alone brings me to tears.

Mike and I live on the Peace River in Punta Gorda. Our livelihood revolves around being on the water and the health of our estuaries. We deeply enjoy the beauty of this river that we call home and I've spent too much time being fearful about what will happen to it if this goes forward.

Here is what I will tell anyone who is directly affected by the outcome of the BOCC meetings: Hold on to what you believe in, whatever that may be for you. No matter what others speculate or how much money is on the table; for me, my belief is that the story is already written. It's in the good Lord's book and He is the ultimate decision-maker. If the fight must go on, then we'll “take up our weapons.” Until then, let's come together as a community and give 'em hell. 


So, what happened in the DeSoto Board of County Commissioners meeting on July 24, 2018? Hundreds of concerned citizens from several counties turned out to urge the BOCC to deny Mosaic’s request to re-zone. The commissioner’s chambers overflowed, every seat occupied, and countless people lining the walls.

First, Mosaic presented their proposal, filled with grandiose visions of increased jobs and beautifully restored land. The DeSoto County staff and planner, Earl Hahn, had advised the board members to approve the re-zone, stating that a simple re-zone didn’t need to adhere to the 15 criteria that the proposal was being judged by.

Next, the floor was opened for public comment. Mothers of children from nearby mining towns shared medical records of illness they claim to be caused by mining operations. Business owners. Scientists. Fishing guides. Certified experts. The BOCC heard 11 hours of testimony that spanned the course of two days.

This led the commissioners, particularly Commissioner Elton Langford, to begin asking Mosaic some important questions like how much water would be discharged into Horse Creek and Peace River (1-30 million gallons) and how often the discharge would be tested by a third party (once a year). Question by question, the phosphate mining facade was penetrated and Langford led the motion to deny the re-zone.

We watched Facebook live with bated breath as the BOCC proceeded with the vote. Against all odds, the DeSoto County Commissioners voted 4-1 to deny Mosaic’s proposal. The room erupted in applause, our jaws dropped, we cheered and cried. Even the most optimistic people didn’t actually believe that Mosaic would be denied. This went against the belief that many know to be true about small-town politics and big money.

While the fight isn’t over, this victory was necessary . Thank you to everyone who is fighting to help protect our health, communities, and environment from the dangers of phosphate mining. And to the commissioners who denied the re-zone: Elton Lanford, Judy Schaeffer, Buddy Mansfield, and Jim Selph. (Terry Hill was the only vote to approve.)

What’s next? A lengthy mediation process between Mosaic and DeSoto County BOCC. Stay tuned.

Sitting At a Bar With Younger Me | An Inner Dialogue + Tribute To 30


So this post was the hardest for me to write yet. Why? Because it's personal. I wrote it for myself, not for anyone else. Reading it made me squirm because it's silly and kind of weird, which is the way I like it, honestly. Some of the learnings sound cliche as I write them but why? Because they're not rocket science, people. They are repeated by influencers and "gurus" and motivational speakers. And I've consumed myself with those teachings for the past 3 years. Which uncoincidentally is the time period in which I've changed my entire life. So, yeah, I almost hit delete. I almost let that little voice called Fear have her way with my words. But once again, I'll persevere past all that doubt and let my words roam free. It's not groundbreaking, but they're my truths packaged in an odd-shaped little nutshell. I'm living my best story now, influenced first by my faith and second by a hell of a lot of learning, growing, and failing. So breathe, little monster post, and be proud. I'll love you no matter what they say.


An Inner Dialogue

20-year-old-me and 30-year-old-me walk into a bar together. Our birthday is coming up and we never miss a chance to celebrate pretty much anything. 20-year-old-me orders a Captain and Dr. Pepper as 30-year-old-me smirks and orders up a cold amber ale. "How predictable, Leesh."

We have a lot to catch up on, the two of us.

"I’m glad you picked this old bar, Younger Me. Our taste for grimy dives sure hasn't changed. Listen, I want to tell you some stuff about your future."

Younger Me is clearly annoyed. I tend to push too hard and I can already see how this is gonna go. I look at you and want to shake you sometimes. What are you doing with your life right now? Why are you wasting so much time?? I try to plant seeds of advice into our conversation, thinking maybe I can steer you better, earlier. Then maybe you won’t spend so much time trying to figure yourself out. I do perceive myself to be 'wiser' than you at this older age, but who do I think I am?

Ultimately, I can’t bring myself to change you; you are the foundation of who I am. I am no better than you, I am you. Just with a little more time, drive and experience. So silently, I'll listen as you ramble on about remedial college math and how dare so-and-so for taking you off their Myspace top 8. Then you order up a round of water moccasins and proclaim a birthday toast, giving me that wild eye. Yes, I know that look, crazy girl. You can't scare me off with whiskey shots. You forget I taught you that.


"People will try to change you in life, Younger Me. You won’t listen to what they tell you. You’ll do it your own way, you always have. You’ll make your own timing, you’ll follow a beaten path for a while, but you'll want more. Eventually, you’ll venture off into the great unknown where you'll make your own rules. And learn what it means to love yourself in order to find love. And how to create your own happiness."


As we toast to another year of life, I know I've said too much. "I must be going now, Younger Me. I know you have places to be. Probably a party in the woods or out on the lake. I just brought you here to tell you Happy Birthday and give you this [ hands Younger Me a sealed envelope ]. If you know any better, you won’t read it. It’s the wisdom you’ll need if you want to skip all the messy parts. If you want to avoid mistakes and heartache and become a depthless soul that never felt the sting of hurt or loss or defeat."


I couldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t try to help you, but then I couldn’t live with myself if I stole your opportunity to live on your terms. That letter was important to Me. It held so much of what I’ve learned over the past years. But you'll just add it to that stack of unopened letters you've been accumulating and maybe one day... you'll write a book. And you can take all the credit, Younger Me, the letters will be our little secret.

"Anyhow, Happy Birthday, Younger Me. 40-year-old-us just called, so I gotta run. She wants to meet up in Tahiti for our birthday, says she has something to tell me. Something about a letter? She's such a know-it-all, sometimes. I love you, Younger Me. And thank you."


The Letter To Younger Me

Dear Younger Me, 

For what it's worth, here's a thing or two I learned in the last three decades.

  1. Put it all in God's hands. Everything. Worries, fears, doubts, victories, decisions. There are no difficult decisions when you pray first. That peace you feel inside? Therein lies your answer. Just wait til you see the great things He will do in your life if you just let Him lead.

  2. Do the things that scare you. This is where the magic happens, outside your comfort zone. Lead a webinar, ask for a raise, start a business, learn to dive, fall in love. The greatest rewards lie on the other side of "I Can't" in the land of "I'll Try."

  3. Don't give weight to the opinions of others. This paralyzes you and gives others the power to direct your ways. Take action anyway. Put yourself out there repeatedly without regard for validation.

  4. Use your time wisely. It's the most valuable commodity you have and you can't get it back. Cancel your cable TV, show up to your life and create something meaningful. Do not exist as merely a spectator.

  5. Forward momentum always. It's those little, unglamorous things you do behind the scenes that will add up to PROGRESS, CHANGE and SUCCESS. Late nights, weekends, typing, second-guessing, over-caffeinating, researching, learning, crying, conquering. Take the tiny steps every day.

  6. Social media is a necessary evil. Use it with intention, but don't let it use you. It's power and purpose will grow, but it's also a bottomless pit that will consume you and breed a fuzzy fog of nothingness in your mind. Tread carefully.

  7. Embrace stillness. We start losing ourselves in the need for constant amusement and sensory distractions. We forget how to be still, sit quietly, listen to our thoughts, watch a sunset without photographing it. Do this more. It creates substance and a space for discovery.

  8. Get to know yourself. Start journaling. Ask yourself questions and let the answers flow freely from your fingertips. Some call it self discovery, but I call it 'getting out of your own way.' When you know what you want out of life, only then can you make it happen.

  9. Communication is key. In personal and professional relationships. People aren't mindreaders and they can't give you what you need if you aren't straightforward.

  10. Set goals. Daily, weekly, monthly. Five year goals. Anything. Write it down. Just don't choose to float through life aimlessly like a dead fish in a raging river.

  11. Have real conversations. Like a two way street where you ask each other questions and actually listen to the other person's answers. Face to face preferably, texting is so overrated.

  12. Make time for those who matter. Period.

  13. Fake it til you make it. A controversial saying, maybe, but to me it's a combination of saying YES to opportunities even if you don't know what you're doing and TRYING your damndest at it, without letting them see you sweat.

  14. Screw the roadmap, but follow the bread crumbs. We feel like we need to have the 'HOW' all figured out. We over-research, over-think and plan every step to avoid mistakes and the possibility of looking "stupid" or "inexperienced." Then what happens? Nothing. Because it's an overwhelming, confusing rabbit hole mess. Success leaves clues, follow what you can and figure out the rest as you go.

  15. Put the phone down. Especially at the dinner table and while having a conversation with another person. Don't reach for it first thing in the morning. Allow yourself to step into the day clear-headed and focused.

  16. Pray more. It's easier to be fueled by emotions which are typically impulsive and can throw your world into shambles. You'll learn that the trying times are when you witness God's work most clearly. When you're praying for help and it appears. Or praying for your relationship and they walk up and hug you. "It's a God thing" and those are the absolute best glimpses of faith in action. Acknowledge His work in your life, it's not a coincidence and it damn sure ain't the "universe."

  17. Don't be ashamed by your naivety. Or sensitivity. But don’t allow people to take advantage of those traits. People will lie to you and disappoint you. Learn to be cautious instead of impulsive. But don't use them as a crutch to play the victim.

  18. Open your eyes, your passions are right in front of you. Stop searching because you think you’re supposed to be different. It's all the things you've always loved doing, why are you running from them? Seize them. Own them and never stop learning about them.

  19. Partying is not a sustainable lifestyle. It won’t fulfill you. It’s expensive. It doesn't add value to your life. And hangovers last for, like, 2 days now. Take it easy.

  20. Think twice about those tattoos.

  21. Invest in yourself. Constant learning will change your life. Conferences. Books. Podcasts. Consume information like the air you breathe. Take notes. Revisit. Repeat.

  22. Be your authentic self. A little country, a little rough around the edges, not quite the ra-ra-sisterhood-type, a desire to help others and create experiences, a creative mind fueled by wild words and bright colors. Own your mix of weirdness and know that it is special.

  23. If someone leaves, let them walk. It was God who showed them the door.

  24. Make a happy, healthy home. Having a place to come home to and to build with the one you love is the greatest of all. It's there that you will love, fight, forgive and grow. It will be your safe haven, your escape from the world. Don't underestimate the greatness of this.

  25. Be good, kind, humble and honest. And always remember the Golden Rule :)

  26. Hold your loved ones close. Embrace the dysfunctionality. Spend time together. Say "I love you" everyday. The more people you lose in life, the more you realize how precious these moments are.


Don't you worry, Younger Me, life is good here in the future. Remember to hug your dog tight, she won't be around forever. Also, I don't want to spoil the good parts, but you'll have a boatload of nieces waiting for you ahead. And the man you're going to marry is pretty awesome and you'll learn a lot from each other. I can't wait for you to meet him.


Leesh xo

Alycia _ Mike Florida Woods Engagement Photos-prints-136.jpg

Ernest Hemingway

He said, "Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell. And when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough."

I Got Caught in a Standoff With Two Osceola Turkeys

I Got Caught in a Standoff With Two Osceola Turkeys

The day started like most serious hunting or fishing excursions do. With silence. Filled only by still darkness, a few early morning grumblings, and the tension of hopefulness.

Would today be the day? Would we be successful in our pursuit of the sought-after Florida game species, the Osceola turkey?

Read More

Just a Friendly Reminder: The Florida Keys are Open For Business

Just a Friendly Reminder: The Florida Keys are Open For Business

Mike and I drove to the Keys this week to tour wedding venues.

It’s the first time I’d visited since Irma demolished her way through the middle in September of 2017. With the excitement of venue shopping, I didn’t give much thought as to how they were holding up nearly five months later.

Read More

Celebrating a Fun Day of Fishing for Children with Special Needs [Event Recap]

Celebrating a Fun Day of Fishing for Children with Special Needs [Event Recap]

I checked my watch. 6:19 am. Mike hammered away at a rusty hitch pin lock on my truck, surely giving the whole neighborhood a Saturday wake-up call they weren't expecting. 

Mike and hammer versus the hitch. This wasn't going to end well. We had a trailer full of tables and chairs and a whole venue to set up for the C.A.S.T. for Kids event we were hosting that day. We were already behind schedule by almost half an hour and the day hadn't even begun.

Read More

6 Female Outdoorsmen Who Are More Badass Than Your Boyfriend

6 Female Outdoorsmen Who Are More Badass Than Your Boyfriend

There are some people who are just doing life right. They’re out in the world living their passions, doing what they love, and by virtue, are total badasses.

ˈbadˌas/ adjective

1. tough, uncompromising, or intimidating.

I put together a short list of women that epitomize the word, based solely on the fact that I follow them on Instagram and I say so.

Read More

Your Comfort Zone is Holding You Hostage: Here's How to Break Free

Your Comfort Zone is Holding You Hostage: Here's How to Break Free

When I was 14, I got certified to scuba dive, but I never went.

At 28, I took a refresher course, bought the gear and decided it was time to try again. Never happened.

Eventually at 29, four days in the Florida Keys presented me the chance to finally take the plunge. I should've been excited, but I only felt unsettled. What if I'm attacked by a shark? What if I panic underwater and drown? What if I forget what to do?

Read More

How First-Timers Do St. Augustine, FL: The Oldest City in the Nation

How First-Timers Do St. Augustine, FL: The Oldest City in the Nation

Are you really even American until you visit the first and oldest city in the United States? 

Sorry, New Englanders. Long before Jamestown and Plymouth Rock, there was a small, coastal settlement founded by Spanish admiral, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, in 1565.

The city is St. Augustine. The location is the northeast corner of Florida, just south of Jacksonville.

Like most stories of colonial conquistadors, this one entails a long history of bloody battles between European settlers, the Spanish and Native Americans.

Read More



Somehow I breezed by in high school without giving my full academic effort. Yes, I admit good grades just came naturally (except for math). Many Florida high school students remember being assigned to read A Land Remembered - a historical novel by Patrick D. Smith set in the pioneer days of Florida. Of course, I never read it.

Read More



Driving into West Ashley on Highway 17, it finally began to look like the “Charleston” I’ve seen photographed in my Instagram feed. The kind of backdrop where a plaid-shirted angler drips a redfish over the side of a custom Gheenoe. Or poles a creek from atop a platform, scouting for morning prospects.

Read More



What started as one fishing guide protesting on the Caloosahatchee River bridge has grown to be a nationally-recognized non-profit that has become a powerful voice in the fight against a decades-old water crisis.

Daniel Andrews, a full-time fishing guide in Southwest Florida, was protesting the Lake Okeechobee discharges that have long been polluting our Florida estuaries and were now threatening the lifeblood of his business. He held a handmade sign painted with four words

Read More



It’s been 6 months since we first washed up on the shores of Fort Jefferson, right alongside a deserted Cuban refugee raft emblazoned with the words “Vamos Con Dios.”

Translation: We Go With God.

A haunting welcome to a place that couldn’t be more paradoxical. Sinister remnants of a 19th-century military fortress, splattered across a backdrop of paradise - blue skies, turquoise waters and silver flashes of rolling tarpon.

Read More