By Terry Gibson

After a long week of hard work, Teresa and I opted for a late start and a Saturday afternoon cruise on the seculded North Fork of the St. Lucie River. The North Fork, which runs through St. Lucie and Martin counties on the Treasure Coast (on the Atlantic), is managed by the state as an Aquatic Preserve, and offers more than 16 miles of winding brackish waterway to explore.

We launched at River Park Marina in Port St. Lucie, and waved to families fishing on the park's bank as we headed down river. One turn around the bend and we were insulated from road noise and most cares by the towering cabbage palms, live oaks and mangroves. These were some of the very scenes that inspired renowned painter A.E. "Bean" Backus and his students, the Highwaymen Painters.

Fishing wasn't the focus. Relaxing was. But I trolled a lipped crankbait as we cruised the edges of the river channel watching for wildlife. We caught two jack crevalle that had taken on the deep, copper color of the river, and lost a fish that we couldn't stop – likely a big snook. I made a mental note to come back and fish these shorelines, points and dropoffs as carefully as I have in winters past.

The birdwatching and photography opportunities were awesome. We counted numerous species of birds of prey, wading birds and waterfowl. Half a mile downriver, we watched an osprey pluck a mullet from the river and carry it back to a nest full of fluffy chicks. As we watched, a school of jacks erupted on minnows, and swift, agile kingfishers capitalized on having the baitfish so close to the surface.

We also enjoyed watching the wading birds feed along the lush banks. We saw great blue herons, little blue herons, tri-colored herons, black-crowned and yellow-crowned night herons, great egrets, snowy egrets and my favorite, the prehistoric-looking wood stork.

It's always fun to see the non-migratory ducks, and we spotted the colorful wood ducks and Florida mottled ducks – a sub-species of mallard – along the way. It's getting time for the migratory birds to head back north, so I was pleasantly surprised to watch rafts of scaup and common mergansers lift off in front of us.

Near sundown, the sunlight gilded rafts of white ibis as they flew over the river on the way to their roosts. It was such a beautiful afternoon I almost didn't want the sun to sink beneath the treeline.

If the Indian River Lagoon is the Treasure Coast's crown jewel, the St. Lucie River is a mesmerizing gem in this area's trove of rivers. Several parks in Martin and St. Lucie counties offer access and recreational activities, including bank fishing, picnic sites, canoe/kayak rentals and river cruises.

If you're the kind of water-lover that appreciates seclusion and natural splendor, you'll be pleasantly suprised by the gorgeous river that runs through the heart of urban St. Lucie and Martin counties.