How To Find Your Perfect Snowbird Fishing Hideaway | Hatch magazine

I guess it started a few years ago when I was no longer excited about winter. I remember the younger version of me, the guy who used to watch the winter radar and cheer on the storms moving east across the Snake River Plain to deliver snow by the feet in my little corner of the world.

He was the guy who happily donned layers of fleece, neoprene waders, thick jackets and gloves and hit the river, even when one of those storms was forecast. If I wanted to fish, it was routine. And, I knew, we paid for our glorious eastern Idaho summers with winters that often compare, at least on the thermometer, to more famously frigid places, like Anchorage or Dead Horse.

But I have aged. My back hurt after taking a fall trying to jump in a small trout stream in my 30’s. And then, as the years passed, it hurt all the time. And then, three years ago, it all came to a head and I went under the knife. The daily pain is thankfully gone, but it turns out the desire to bundle up and laugh in the face of a blizzard and fish is anyway. Today I feel a storm coming to my fused and screwed back. And, when the snow flies, I hibernate — I tie flies. I could drink more than I should. I’m just waiting and inappropriately treating a sometimes acute case of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

When I can, however, I go to places where the snow doesn’t fly so often. Places where I don’t need coats or gloves. Or socks.

I leave my beloved trout at home knowing they will be there when I return. For the past 20 years or so I have hunted everything from rockfish to bonefish. I encountered tarpon and jungle perch, mutton, spanish mackerel and permit. A few years ago, I put a small skiff on the skinny, black waters of Okefenokee National Nature Preserve and got tangled up with the unrecognized bow fin, a native prehistoric ambush predator that rodders in the south and along the east coast have largely been ignored.

Turns out the bow fin was my motivation for looking elsewhere to overwinter. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this particular fish – a swamp creature that’s probably so underrated by anglers because people haven’t found an acceptable use for it – is my fishing muse at the line. This is an exaggeration. Rather, it was waking up one morning in late March as I drove quietly among cypresses, moss and alligators.

There I was, in a really wild place, throwing showy bright yellow streamers at big fish that had just swatted my flies. At home, it was snowing. And it would snow again, intermittently, for the next six weeks or so. I savored the slight sunburn I got in the swamp that week in southern Georgia and northern Florida. I showed my flip flop tan lines to my friends when I got home.

And I wanted more. Not just a week here or a week there. I wanted to find a place where I wouldn’t have to sprinkle ice melter on the sidewalk just to get to the truck. I wanted to be somewhere, even semi-permanent, where being outside in winter didn’t mean freezing your nostrils.

And, from now on, I’m a North Florida Land Baron. I own four acres of wooded, high, dry rural land with wide public access to three black water rivers and over two dozen natural springs that feed the rivers of the Suwannee Basin. In time I will have a home and room to roam when the snow falls in Idaho. I will be able to fish without socks in the months when there are Rs. I will be able to go out. And while it wasn’t easy, it was doable.

If you’re like me and ready to become the snowbird you’ve always ridiculed, here’s an introduction.

Choose your location

Yes, the Okefenokee’s big arc fin gave me motivation, but I really had no idea where I was going when the icy grip of winter tightened on my fragile psyche. The low country of North Central Florida offered some of the things I was looking for – a mild winter, lots of water and great fishing (and not just for bow fin, mind you – the land I own now comes delivered with a partial stake in a modest bass lake). But plenty of places sport these perks. It’s up to you to find out what makes your fishing heart beat.

For me, this was the sweet spot, in the middle of the Venn diagram where fishing, climate, access and affordability all converged. And the first three were easy – there are plenty of warm winter (or rather warm) places in the South with good fishing and plentiful public access to rivers and lakes. Find the right price? It was tricky, and it took me almost two years to find the right place.

Do your research

If you’re a trout angler (or any other angler dreading the next arctic blast after Halloween) and want to find a fishy place to spend the shitty months, spend some time getting to know the Zillow platform and look around. Believe it or not, there are affordable properties (and I realize “affordable” is a relative term these days) on the market right now, but you need to balance price with other factors that carry risk.

Wait. Risk?

Well when I was looking for the perfect winter hideaway I realized that unless I was renting a property for half the year (which is not what I wanted to do – part of the appeal, at least for me, was the general investment reliability that real estate offers), I needed to understand what I was going to be dealing with all year round, not just the four or five months when I would be there. I had to take into account things like the frequency of hurricanes, floods, frosts and other acts of God. There are also other factors that need to be considered, such as the community your chosen snowbird getaway is located in, local politics, crime rate, cost of living, access to amenities like good restaurants, a good size town, health care, etc.

I wish it was as simple as finding a good peach. This is simply not the case.

Know what you want (and be prepared to change your mind)

When I started looking for a place to go to escape the frequent freezing January and February days (and that dreaded “look-alike” part of the forecast – your weather app is nice enough to point out that it’s less – 12 outside, but, with the humidity and wind (I’m also kind enough to tell you that it “feels like” minus-24), I was actually considering a two-bedroom apartment on the south coast of Texas. The prices were reasonable. I knew fishing and was convinced that I could be successful once I did.

But, not being one to settle for one or two parts of the Venn diagram coming together nicely, I kept looking. At one point, I was “so close” to bidding on a park model mobile home on a canal in Laguna Madre. And then a hurricane blew through and I realized that even living in a well-built waterfront modular home was not a choice I wanted to make. Insurance rates in Idaho are cheap. In a stormy area? Not really.

So I kept looking. And then the real estate market went crazy in Cameron County – that model park with the cute little dock for my kayak went from $85,000 to $145,000. Now, in that same little stretch of mobile home paradise, a 2,000 square foot bare lot with no water access costs well over $100,000. The condos I started looking at? Well out of reach for a “second home,” and the homeowners association has banned the use of condos for short-term rentals (again… to research!).

So I bet on Texas. Its good. I can’t stand Ted Cruz anyway.

pull the trigger

Eventually, after fits and starts and hours of scrolling and pinching through the Gulf Coast on my phone, I found what I was looking for — and what I could afford. Bare land with the potential for a modular home (or two – I ended up buying two adjoining lots) that can serve as both a winter retreat and, when not working from home and chasing bass and fin rainbow in rural North Florida, an active potential in the short-term rental market. The idea of ​​the place helping to self-fund was – and still is – huge.

But I had to take time and change not only my mind, but also my location. And not just once. I’ve traveled from the Texas coast to the shores of Lake Seminole to rural Mississippi on the outskirts of Savannah. There have been a few close calls. But in January, after noticing another not-so-subtle rise in real estate prices, I bought two acres of high, dry land in far north Florida. And a few months later, I bought the neighboring two-acre lot when it came up for sale. Now, with a down payment on a modular home officially removed from my savings account, I’m much closer to winters spent outdoors, relaxing under live oak trees draped in Spanish moss instead of wintering bundled up. inside, desperately clutching a bottle of Irish whiskey and watching the calendar slowly slip away.

And yes, the modular choice was difficult. But … to research. Modulars today are built to exacting standards, and in Florida they must be built to withstand the winds that accompany named storms that push ashore in the summer and fall. I also didn’t deliberately choose a location near the coast – being about 100 miles from the beach puts a little buffer space between my house and the next Category 3 storm. Also, the house can be ready in two times less time than a “built-in-stick” home – by the time Florida and Florida State play next November, the home, which is conveniently located midway between Gainesville and Tallahassee, will be an oasis for football fans (shameless take — if you need a place to stay before and after the game, this place will be perfect!).

Final Lesson: It’s one thing to dream of escaping the cold and finding somewhere warm, inviting and full of fish. But doing it is something completely different. It can be scary to take on additional financial obligations, even though your investment may offset those obligations (or, hopefully, make some money!). You just need to decide. Are you a dreamer? Or a doer.

If you’re going to do it, do it. I did a lot of research on the regional real estate market. I read the forecasts and dove into the market history. Finally, I had to block out all the noise. I made the offer, sent the money and invested. And that’s where my head is. It’s an investment, both for my personal finances and for my mental health. It’ll get me out of the snow, and onto the water, fly rod in hand.

I will never really leave Idaho. For many years I was a wanderer. He took me in about 25 years ago and he’s looked after me pretty well ever since. But I’m ready for a winter break that actually lasts the winter. So I found a fishing hideaway worthy of a snowbird.

And I’m getting ready to fly south.