These Florida Men Are What's Wrong with America

These Florida Men Are What's Wrong with America

“I wonder if there are fish in there…”

Most anglers have had this thought driving past the retention ponds that dot suburban America, and I admit that I’ve succumbed to that curiosity more than once in my life.

Two days before graduating from college, I and my then-girlfriend (and soon-to-be-wife) dodged pimply-faced campus security guards to cast a line into the scummy pond students affectionately called Lake Bob. Turns out, chicken liver can seduce even the most lethargic catfish, and Motorola Razr phones take awesome pictures.

Jordan Razr pic

Marriage, kids, grad school, and a 401K have failed to cure me of this disease. A few years ago, in search of an easily accessible place to fish with my five- and seven-year-old children, I drove to another retention pond inside a swanky subdivision/golf course. Before you ask, there were no “No Trespassing” signs, gates, or fences. The spot had been recommended to me by another local angler, and we were the only people there.

We had a great time. We caught bluegill right away, and I had my hands full re-worming hooks and untangling lines. But our joy was short-lived. A golf cart rolled up a few minutes later and very politely asked us to leave. The pond was for community residents only, the golf cart driver said, and we were trespassing.

Delighted to see Dad finally be the one to get in trouble, my kids were tickled by the entire experience–the fish and the golf cart. I appreciated that the security guard was so genial. He said we could catch a few more fish before we packed up, though he made clear that unless I could afford a home in the “community,” we were never to return.

Not everyone is so lucky. Three other kids had a much different experience last week in the Florida town of Palm Bay. There, according to Fox35, a 56-year-old HOA president named Kyle Tate pulled out a handgun and chased a 7, 10, and 15-year-old away from a subdivision lake.

He then (allegedly) stole the kids’ fishing tackle–rods, reels, tackle boxes, and nets–and “maliciously” threw them into the woods. He also (allegedly) took one of the kids’ phones, which has yet to be found.

By now, you’ve conjured an image of this King of the Pond, and it’s probably accurate.

kyle tate

Tate was arrested and booked into the Brevard County jail but was released after posting bond. He’s being charged with felony counts of criminal mischief and grand theft.

I don’t know all the details of this story, but I do know that a seven-year-old should never be chased with a gun (unless it’s a water gun; then all bets are off). I also know that fishing retention ponds is an American pastime, especially in a state like Florida. It’s like the outdoorsy version of backyard baseball. Going after a group of kids for fishing a subdivision lake demonstrates a level of derangement that might qualify you for the HOA presidency (and maybe some other kinds of presidencies) but won’t serve you well in most interactions with normal, well-adjusted people.

Incredibly, Tate wasn’t the only Floridian to take a swing at a group of young anglers this week. In the Tampa Bay neighborhood of Starkey Ranch, a resident brandishing a knife confronted two boys as they were leaving a local pond.

“I was about to ask to pet his dog, too, but I waved hello to him. Next thing you know, without saying a word, he whips out his knife and starts cursing at me and starts chasing me around,” Luke Hatcher told WFTS Tampa Bay.

The boys ran away, but Hatcher pulled out his phone and filmed the confrontation. As they were fleeing, the man took a quick break at the mailbox to see if his new knife catalog had arrived (I assume).

“He chased us the first time, and then, in between it all, he decided to check the mail. Took a mail break. And then decided to chase us again,” Hatcher said.

The video, along with the address number on the mailbox, allowed authorities to identify the knife-wielding assailant, a man named Edward Cullum, who, as far as I know, has no affiliation with any HOAs. Cullum was arrested, but it’s unclear what charges he will face.

Edward Cullum

I should make clear at this point that I’m not advocating for trespassing. As with hunting and fishing on any kind of private land or water, it’s better to ask permission than forgiveness.

In this case, there’s reason to believe both sets of kids may have inverted that advice. The Palm Bay Three don’t live in that private subdivision, but one of their moms told Fox35 that they’ve fished at that lake before “without any issues.” I have no idea whether that’s true, but the fact that they’d been there before suggests a longer history with the gun-toting HOA president. As for the Tampa Two, they admitted to WFTS that they’d been told not to fish the pond before.

In other words, don’t trespass to fish, and if you’re ever told to leave, don’t go back again. You never know what kind of psycho is peering through Venetian blinds just waiting for an excuse to put that concealed carry license to good use.

There are also easy places to fish that are free and open to the public. Here in Texas, Texas Parks and Wildlife operates stocked ponds specifically designed for kids. You might run into the odd adult looking to fill his freezer, but the ponds are re-stocked regularly, and we’ve had good success.

Still, if you’re somehow in the position of policing a containment pond, neighborhood lake, or office park floodway, remember that not everyone can afford a boat. Not everyone has parents who will take them fishing, and not everyone can access the public waterways that many of us take for granted. If you run into a passel of kids casting into the only body of water they can get to, do us all a favor and leave the handgun at home.

To put it another way, be like golf cart security guard, not Kyle Tate or Edward Cullum. Get out and do some fishing yourself, and maybe you’ll learn that the real point of a pond isn’t to install a nice water feature or “flood mitigation” (whatever that is). It’s to catch fish.

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