The Flying Kayak

Hunting, Fishing, Rambling, and Complete Outdoor Hilarity

Category: Kayak Fishing (page 1 of 15)

It’s The Freakin’ Weekend

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The obnoxious ring tone of your alarm jerks you awake. For a moment, you simply lay there before realizing how strange it is that at some moment in the past, you purposefully chose an alarm style. You tried different tones and jingles, wondering whether or not it actually had the ‘umph’ to get you out of bed. But after a few minute of searching, you finally found it.

This is the one. This is the alarm tone I will grow to hate. Time to ruin this jingle forever.

It’s 6:00am on a Monday morning and it’s time to go do that thing. That thing that so many of us do every week: Work.

Whether you enjoy your job or not, very rarely is anyone super stoked to be woken from a nice slumber, only to realize it’s not the weekend anymore. Alas, you’ve got five more days of this and another four rude awakenings before you can cut loose again. But at that moment, you merely stare at the ceiling and mentally prepare for what’s going to be another long work week.

Though you may work in an office, you’re an outdoorsman at heart. The only thing that makes your coworker, Janet’s insufferable stories around the water cooler even somewhat tolerable is the anticipation of hitting the woods on the weekend. It’s archery season, and chasing that big buck has been on your mind for almost a year now. The national forest you grew up hunting is just an hour outside of town, and the only thing standing between you and that tree stand you’ve picked out are five days of conference calls, emails, and TPS reports. The woods are calling.

By Friday afternoon you’re completely exhausted. It’s been a hell of a work week, but the one thing that’s gotten you by is the thought of Saturday morning. The crisp, cool Autumn air, the smell of the trees, and the anticipation of seeing deer has been on your mind since Monday morning. And so when you finally clock out for the week, you can barely contain your excitement. Tomorrow’s the big day and you race home to make sure everything’s ready.

It’s odd that the alarm that you absolutely loathed on Monday morning is now a welcomed friend Saturday morning at 4:00am. With a groggy mixture of excitement and anticipation, you get dressed and head out to the woods. The drive is actually kind of nice. Unlike the commute to work every morning, the roads are fairly empty at this ungodly hour. Who in their right mind would be up this early on the weekend anyway?

Soon you reach the cut off road for the national forest and turn down an old, bumpy dirt road. A few moments later a pair of headlights turn onto the same dirt road a few hundred yards behind you.

Hmm…Must be another hunter

With the excitement of getting to your stand beginning to creep up, you speed up a little bit as you head down the road. Soon, your headlights begin to pick up clouds of dust, and it isn’t long before taillights appear in front. The wire cable of a tree stand can clearly be seen poking up from behind the tailgate of the truck in front, and it’s obvious this hunter is on the way to his spot as well.

Eventually you turn off the road onto another and lose sight of the other two trucks. Not far up ahead is where you’ll park and walk in. It’s an area that you -thought- was relatively secluded. So it comes as a surprise when you round the corner only to find a truck parked where you were planning. Your headlights shine on the hunter as he’s getting everything ready to walk into the woods.

Damn it

You get out and greet the other hunter. To your relief, he describes where he’ll be and it’s no where near where you were planning. So with that, you ready yourself, slap the climber on your back and grab your bow before walking down the trail you marked during scouting season.

Once up the tree, you quietly wait as the woods slowly begin to wake up. It’s the magic hour. This is what you were waiting for all week. A chance to escape the office. To spend some time in peaceful tranquility, uninterrupted by the hustle and bustle of every day life. With twilight quickly turning into day, you begin to scan the woods for deer. It doesn’t take long before you catch a glimpse of a tail flick, and the body of a doe materializes about eighty yards away. It’s a good sign, and in that moment, work and all your weekly troubles have vanished. This is why you’re here.

Suddenly you hear the sound of a truck door slamming in the distance. The deer, thankfully, seems to have paid no attention to it. But for a brief second you’re reminded that you aren’t alone in the woods. About a half hour goes by and the doe you’ve been watching hasn’t moved a whole lot. Out of nowhere, however, she spooks. Tail up, she blows several times before bounding away into the distance.

What the hell?

Then you hear it. The all too familiar crunch crunch of boots. You turn to see another hunter strolling in late to his stand, right down the trail you took to come in. The immediate reaction is surprise. Then anger. Then simply frustration. You wait until he’s about sixty yards away before whistling at him. Stopped mid stride, the late hunter looks up at you and raises a hand apologetically before turning around and slinking off the other direction. With a heavy sigh, you lean back in your stand. You’re beyond annoyed. The doe you were watching is long gone, and the morning hunt might as well be ruined. You slugged through a brutal work week, and the one thing you were looking forward to beyond everything was to be here in this tree. Away from people, and to have time to yourself. But now? Now it’s ruined.

Welcome to the weekend.

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Over the years, the above scenario has happened to me far too many times. Of course, I don’t usually have office jobs, but it’s the same  concept: I have off on the weekends, I love to hunt/fish, so I go hunting/fishing on the weekends. The problem? EVERYONE ELSE DOES TOO.

I’ve been a weekend warrior before, so please don’t think I’m hating on them. Unfortunately many people have no other options than working that Monday-Friday 9-5. So that means they’ve no choice but hit the woods or the water on Saturday and Sunday. Weekends end up becoming insane. Hunting and fishing pressure go through the roof as everything is inundated with people trying to get their outdoor fix. But eventually there’s a point where it becomes unappealing. We all seek the outdoors for some reason, and often that experience becomes tainted with -far- too much human pressure.

“Why bother going fishing this weekend? There’s going to be 8 billion people at the boat launch Saturday morning. I probably won’t find a place to park the trailer”

“I guess we can go to the springs, but we’re gonna have to wait in line half an hour since it’s a pretty day”

“I’d rather not go to the trouble of getting to the tree stand. Someone will assuredly walk in on me”

It applies to almost any outdoor activity you can think of. Too many people end up ruining an good thing. And they don’t have to be destroying anything, or trashing it, or being loud, etc. Simply too many people being there end up taking away the experience that many look for.

Hell, I might as well have just stayed at the office. I’d see less people”

For almost two years now, I’ve been lucky enough to be a guide. Whether it be taking people out in the Everglades to look at Alligators, kayaking to look at Dolphin in St. Augustine, or chasing down Elk in Colorado. I’ve gotten to see people use our natural resources that have been set aside for just that: Use. And since I’ve been guiding, I rarely get a weekend off. Ever. It makes sense though, when you think about it. People primarily have off on the weekends. They want a guide and they hire me on their days off. So I’m thrust into these outdoor settings every weekend with everybody and their brother.

What it’s done is change me. At least as to how I enjoy the outdoors. On the off chance that I actually get a weekend off, you won’t catch me dead outside. I’ll be inside on the couch. I’ve had too many days practically ruined during the weekend rush. Be it a jet-ski buzzing by the kayak at 30 yards and scaring all the fish, or a hunter walking right up to my tree stand. It happens all the time and I’ve grown tired of it. Friends might ask:

“Alex! Can we go kayaking Sunday morning?”

“Absolutely not”.

I simply won’t do it. I can’t do it. There’s too much pressure and it’s lost its appeal for me. So I question; How many others are like me? How many hunters, or fishermen, or hikers, or whatever, have altered the way they use the outdoors? How many have all but just given up? Think about the most popular outdoor spot near you. Now imagine it on a holiday weekend. It’s going to be an absolute zoo. There are so many people that it might as well be Wal-Mart, and lord knows no one ENJOYS going to Wal-Mart.

Luckily for me, since I work the weekends, I often have weekdays off. I can go kayaking on a Tuesday morning and not see a soul on the water. I can hike after lunch on a Thursday afternoon and not see the faintest sign of another hiker. It’s fantastic. But I realize not everyone has the same luxury of doing things on the weekdays like I do. I’ll never claim to be any more or less avid than any of my fellow outdoorsmen. So I ask the question: How do you get around the weekend crowds when you’re stuck to the weekend schedule?

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I’m avid enough that should I ever find myself stuck with that schedule, I’d still try. But I can’t say I’d enjoy it nearly as much as I should. It would wear on me, and eventually might break me. I’d find myself skipping weekends and just watching football and drinking beer instead of being outside. Anything to avoid a tainted experience with something I love.  All because everyone wants to do the same thing at the same time with their days off.

Are there ways around this? Yes. Well…Sort of. Take hunting for example. Don’t hunt public land like national forests, right? Okay, so you fork over the cash to join a hunting club, and you’ll get to avoid the crowds. But what’s that end up doing? Driving the cost of hunting through the roof. If you weren’t already aware, hunting is becoming a rich man’s sport. Yes people pay big bucks to hunt…well…big bucks. But they also pay up to avoid the crowds of people who flock to public areas when they can’t afford a private hunting lease.

I honestly don’t have a solution when it comes to dealing with the weekends. I’ve figured out how to deal with it personally, but I question everyone else. Do you simply grin and bear it? Do you wake up -extra- early to beat the crowd? Or do you hike those extra ten miles into the wilderness JUST to dodge everyone else?

Personally, I don’t see the issue getting any better. Hell, if it’s even an issue at all. For all I know maybe there are people out there who love fishing around the crowds or watching the chaos that is the county boat ramp in the morning (ok, that’s admittedly fun to watch). But for me, it’s a problem. And I can only hope that we can find some sort of solution before more people want to simply give up.

 

Cedar Key Kayak Fishing

It had been a while. A long while, in fact, since I’d taken the kayak out in the saltwater. My Everglades adventure was the last time the big yellow yak had seen action and as I loaded up the trailer and dragged the boat out of my apartment, signs from the Glades were still very much present. The kayak still had mud all over it. Inside, my spare paddle banged around. And the snapped cable to my rudder was still broken, held together only by the piece of dock line I’d found washed up on the beach.

I honestly haven’t had much time for…well…anything really. Especially not fishing or repairing gear. I just recently quit my second job because I was so busy. Now that I’m down to just one, my weekends are free. But rather than spend them fishing, the past few weeks I’ve found myself spending time with friends who were about to graduate and leave this college town.

But I finally got a free weekend with good weather (a miracle…I know), and I took advantage of it. So early one Saturday morning, my friend Ian and I loaded up the kayak trailer, and drove over to Cedar Key to look for Reds.

We arrived just a few minutes after sunrise and quickly began loading up the kayaks. I realized that it’d been nearly two years since I last fished this area near the Shell Mound and the last time I was here, my dad and I tore into the tailing Redfish. I could tell we were both excited with how quickly the yaks were loaded and the paddling started. But I was quickly reminded of an extremely important act of nature that practically drives Cedar Key: The tides.

Considering how strapped I’ve been for free time, I decided to just go. Just go to Cedar Key and not worry about what tide it is. There’s no other opportunity for me to go. So go I did, and I did so during a time that the tides were polar opposite of what I wanted. Outgoing tide all morning, low tide at 10:15.

Needless to say, the water was skinny, and getting skinnier by the minute. To add to my frustration, the wind decided to kick up to about 15-20mph out of the east. Paddling was by no means easy, but we managed to make our way around the oysters and cuts and work out toward the gulf.

I’m still not exactly sure why I decided to switch up lures, but I did, and I tried something I’ve never done before. A few days prior, I bought a $1 spinner bait at Walmart. I think I may have done it just to help begin filling up my new tackle box, but I remembered that I read something once about using spinners for Reds. So…why not give it a try?

Three casts later I hooked what I thought was an oyster bar…at least until line started screaming off my drag. I set the hook and immediately began getting drug around. I shouted over to Ian that I had an -actual- fish on. Not just something small. Round and round we went; the fish peeling off drag and pulling the kayak in wide circles against the wind. Repeatedly the fish circled the boat and thanks to the high wind, the kayak stayed pointed one direction as I was being pulled the opposite. This made me play the fun game of fighting the fish backwards and switching the rod back and forth over my head. By this time Ian had made the paddle over from where he’d been and was getting the camera ready.

It was then that I saw it. The massive Redfish rose up from the muddy waters and thrashed on the surface. It was a big fish. 30+ inches and it still had quite a bit of fight left in it. It rolled on the surface for a moment longer, then peeled out more drag. Soon it was back on the surface, and it made a quick turn, running straight toward the boat. I quickly reeled to keep the line tension up, but to my dismay, I literally WATCHED the lure fall out of the fish’s mouth.

Not break, or bend, or rip out. It just sorta fell out. I was shocked to be honest. It’s rare for me to lose a fish after fighting it for so long. Usually when I lose one, it happens in the first few seconds of the fight. Not several minutes in.

I’m not one to really ever let losing a fish get to me, but this one hurt. It’d been a while since I’d been in the saltwater, and it was an awesome fish. What really bugged me was just how surprised I was that I lost it. I certainly know that’s why they call it fishing and not catching, but I beat myself up for the rest of the day over that fish, and that’s something I never do.

Unfortunately the tide continued to race out, and fishing soon became almost impossible in the extremely shallow water. Ian and I stood on a mud flat and waited out the tide switch. When it finally started coming back in, we got about another hour of fishing in before we gave up. It was nearly noon, and neither of us had eaten anything all day. Plus, aside from that one nice Red, we’d had zero luck.

I honestly can’t wait to go back. Now that I’ve settled into my work schedule, I should be fishing every weekend that I can. Next time I’ll be sure to time the tides a little better and actually hit it on a high tide. And with any luck, I can get round two with mister Redfish. I’ve got a score to settle.

Everglades Wilderness Waterway: A Journey’s End

Day: 8

Trying to sleep was a chore. The wooden planks of the chickee felt like concrete underneath my tent and I was constantly reminded of my lost sleeping pad every time my bony frame rolled over. Despite it being several degrees warmer than the previous night, I was actually colder and more uncomfortable on the chickee than I had been on the oyster beach. Open to the wind, the cold night air was able to blow between the water and the bottom of the chickee. So every ounce of heat that I clutched to underneath the towel and emergency blanket was quickly lost through the bottom of the tent.

But through the shivers I was able to drift to sleep. Morning couldn’t come soon enough. It had been one hell of a trip, but I was ready to get to civilization. My shredded feet were a constant worry to me as I had no first aid kit, and I wasn’t fond of the open wounds being caked full of low tide mud and God know’s what else. I’d just found a comfortable spot where it only felt like someone was stabbing my shoulder with a dull knife and had closed my eyes when I heard it.

A loud exhalation and immediate deep breath pierced the thin walls of my tent. Startled, and being half asleep, I shot up like a rocket, ripping my emergency blanket in two. The breath came from underneath me and it took me a moment to calm down and realize what it was. Though I never actually laid eyes on it, I’m 99% sure that a manatee was cruising around underneath my chickee that night. I heard him breathe a few more times some distance away before I curled back up underneath my torn blanket and fell back asleep.

I should note something important about emergency blankets: They’re for one time use ONLY. Through my tossing and turning over the course of two nights, I had absolutely shredded the thin blanket. Foot holes, knee holes, elbow holes, you name it and it ripped the blanket. So as if I needed any other gaps to let the cold air in, I was now hiding under two halves of a hole-ridden emergency blanket.

Life was grand.

I got up well before light. I simply couldn’t handle the cold any longer. Wearing every piece of clothing I had with me, I walked painfully back and forth across the chickee in the pale moonlight. My eyes fixed on the eastern horizon, I practically willed the sun to rise. I wanted off the chickee and to warm myself in the sun. And the moment I caught even the slightest hint of dawn, I broke camp and started paddling. This would be the earliest I ever left camp, and I paddled south out of South Joe River chickee so early that I still needed my headlamp to see.

This final morning of paddling would be for myself. In a strange way, I don’t particularly enjoy taking pictures. Every time I stop, take out the camera, turn it on, snap a picture, and put the camera away, I feel like I missing something. For me, I feel almost disconnected. The picture won’t do the experience justice to someone who isn’t there. The only real way to take it all in is to be there. Sure the pictures are nice to reflect on at a later time, but there is no substitute for witnessing things firsthand. The memory will always be much, much sweeter than any picture or story can describe. And I like to soak up every moment without worry of capturing it on film. So I shut the camera off and stowed it away below deck.

The sunrise that morning was spectacular. Whitewater Bay’s southernmost waters were a mirror image of the multicolored sky and scattered clouds shot the sun’s early morning rays in all directions. To the north, I could see in between mangrove islands to a vanishing point. The sky and water melted into one in several places where the far shoreline lay out of sight. For a while, I focused on the sounds around me. The rhythmic swishing of my paddle strokes in the water, the distant hum of a motorboat miles away, and the quiet ‘click’ of my paddle handle as it began to show wear from the arduous journey were all taken in. The paddling was easy going. There was no wind, no current, and no giant waves this morning. Merely flat water and several miles of gentle gliding lay ahead of me.

It was about this time that I really began to think about the entire adventure and of what I was about to accomplish. Why had I gone on this trip? What was I looking to do?

To this day, the answer remains a relative mystery. When asked why I went, I answer as honestly as I can: “Because I felt like going”. I left the shore of Everglades City with the intention of fishing and getting some paddling in. Of course I wanted to “get away from it all”, and I did just that. But the reasoning behind going was never any deeper. I wasn’t looking for anything, or trying to prove something to anyone.

But after thinking about it, I realized that I had, in fact, found something and simultaneously proved something. Over the course of the eight days and 100+ miles, I discovered something about myself that I never knew existed. I discovered a drive. A will, even, to complete a task regardless of the difficulties. Never before had I been as motivated to do something as I was every morning I paddled away from camp and shot a quick video. Each day had a goal: Get to my next campsite. And I never allowed myself to give up on that daily goal. Perhaps it was because giving up was never an option. I -had- to complete each paddle as my safety relied on it. I had several instances where I thought you got yourself into this mess…now get out. And with the exception of my one mishap, I did my best to complete each day as planned. I -wanted- to achieve each goal ahead of me. And that hunger was something I’d never experienced before.

I set out with no intention of proving anything to anyone, but I finished by proving something to myself. I’d honestly had my doubts upon leaving that I could complete the waterway solo. I half expected (in usual fashion) for something to go horribly wrong and force me to quit. Maybe I’d be forced to give up and paddle back to Everglades City to drive home in the Jeep defeated. I didn’t know. But the thought that I might -not- be able to finish was very real to me. And it wasn’t until I paddled through Tarpon Creek and into Coot Bay that realized I proved something to myself: I -could- do this. I DID do this. The journey was at an end, and I felt like (as cheesy as it sounds) I could accomplish anything if I really set my mind to it. It was my first time ever experiencing something so…profound. I once again, felt like I was standing on Highland Beach looking out across the gulf. I felt unstoppable, but it was a little different this time. My respect for Mother Nature had grown along with my confidence. I knew I’d gotten lucky at Shark Point, but with that healthy dose of respect for the elements came a strong sense of confidence. I’d set myself a task I wasn’t sure I could complete, and proved that I could do it, if to no one else but myself.

The roar I let out when I saw the channel marker to Buttonwood Canal was unrivaled in any memory I’ve had. Its sound raced across Coot Bay and was absorbed into the mangroves without echo, meeting only the ears of some slightly startled pelicans. I couldn’t believe it was over. The experience is still something that, to this day, I’m soaking in. I made it to the Flamingo docks at 11:15 am, January 18th, 2014: Eight full days after leaving Everglades City. A man launching his boat was nice enough to help me pull the yak up the ramp, and I limped over to the convenient store to buy a coke and some chips while waiting on my ride. I talked to several interesting people, most of whom wanted to only hear the story of my trip. I’m sure I must’ve looked happy about something to them as I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face.

I’ve got to give a huge thanks to my friends Brennan and Aimee, without whom, the trip never would have been possible. And a massive thanks to my family for being so supportive during something that I’m sure was a worrisome time for them. I’ll be back for sure, but never alone again. Next time I want to share the experience with friends. Solo paddling the Everglades Wilderness Waterway was an experience I’ll never forget, and I’ll be eternally thankful that I took advantage of the opportunity to go on such an awesome trip.

So until my next adventure,

Fish on, and just keep paddling.

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