The Flying Kayak

Hunting, Fishing, Rambling, and Complete Outdoor Hilarity

Category: Redfish (page 1 of 7)

Poodles in Hell

“Oh….Oh God. Oh LORD! THEY’VE FOUND US! Let’s go! Grab the dog! Forget the tent, let’s just GO!”

It was far too early in the morning for this, but there was no escaping it. I ran back and forth across the chickee, flailing like a madman and screaming obscenities in a futile effort to rid myself from the undying horde of mosquitoes that had found us. At daybreak, the black cloud of bloodsucking demons left the safety of the mangroves and ventured out to our chickee. A faint roar could be heard coming from the swarm during the brief pauses while we caught our breath between screams.

Seriously…They were bad.

“Going!”, shouted my friend Johnny as he hopped aboard the gheenoe, swatting wildly with one hand while his other cradled a poodle. I leaped aboard a moment later just as he cranked the engine, and we sped off in an attempt to escape the bloodthirsty horde.

Welcome to fishing the Everglades in May.

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I’d gotten the bright idea to go on this adventure a few days beforehand. I’d been wanting to make a trip down to Flamingo for some time now, and I figured since it’s about a 2 hour drive for me to get there from where I live, that camping would be the best bet. The idea at least, was to be out on the water late, and also super early. A task that would be simpler if I was already out there. So my plan was to sleep on a chickee and fish for a couple of days. I ran the idea past my buddy Johnny, and he seemed game to come along under just one condition; He had to bring his dog.

Sadly, no one would be around to take care of poor Otis while Johnny and I fished, so there was really no other choice. I wasn’t exactly sure how it was going to work with two full grown men, camping gear, fishing gear, and a dog all packed into a 16ft Gheenoe, but I honestly didn’t care. I just wanted to fish.

So after loading up, we made our way down to Flamingo. Upon arrival, I had to go fill out a camping form. I realized once we pulled up that I hadn’t actually been to Flamingo in over a year. The last time I was there was when I’d finished the Everglades Wilderness  Waterway. So I went upstairs into the visitor center to fill out a camping form and pay. As it turns out, there are only a few of us insane enough to camp in the Everglades during summer, so camping was free. In addition to that, it’s all self registration. No rangers are involved. Which is quite a bit different than when I camped in January and had to reserve campsites and adjust my trip because there were so many people. I turned to exit the visitor center and stumbled across this helpful sign. Had I known it’s inaccuracy, I may have just gone back home.

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So we took off into the backcountry. We launched around 4, so we still had plenty of daylight to get a little fishing done before dark. Upon entering Whitewater Bay, however, we realized just how hard the wind was blowing. It was an absolute gale from the east, and that happened be the direction we were going. But it was anything but a dry ride. It’s called Whitewater Bay for a reason and the crashing whitecaps periodically made their way over the bow, soaking both us, and poor Otis. We finally pulled off into a spot out of the wind and got ready to fish. We dropped the trolling motor and…

Nothing. No power. We fiddled with it, and messed with it, and did everything we could do. But nothing. The trolling motor was dead. To make matters worse, as we were packing to leave, the subject of a push pole was brought up. “Do you think we ought to bring this?”.

“Nah. It’ll be alright. We’ve got the trolling motor after all”.

I dropped anchor while Johnny proceeded to mess with the trolling motor, and I took advantage of this pause to try and fish. I took a cast along the mangroves and before I could even twitch the jerk shad at the end of my line, a fish inhaled it. First cast, and it was a good fish too. It immediately took off, sending the drag into a screaming fit. I fought it for several minutes without every laying eyes on it when suddenly “pop”. And just like that, it was gone.

I generally never beat myself up over lost fish, but this one was a good one, and it hurt. I imagine the way it was fighting and generally steering clear of the mangroves that it was a nice Red. But sadly there’s no telling.

Almost as soon as I’d lost the fish, however, I heard “Aha!” along with the beeping of the trolling motor. Johnny somehow managed to get it working, and we were back in business. We fished for probably another hour, and I proceeded to hook and lose two more fish. It was odd because my line was getting cut clean like some toothy critter was on the other end. But soon, the dying light was a telltale sign that it was time to go. We needed to set up camp before it got too dark to see. But more importantly: before the mosquitoes showed up.

I’m not an idiot. I know there are mosquitoes in the Everglades. Particularly during the warm months. Hell, even during my paddle in mid-January, I was almost carried away on several occasions. So we’d come prepared. 3 thermacells and several cans of Off. Hopefully we could eat and be in the tent by dark.

I drove us to our campsite at South Joe River Chickee and it was during this that I was overly thankful to have a motorboat. I couldn’t believe I’d once paddled this exact same leg before. It was 12 miles from South Joe to Flamingo and I was getting impatient in the -boat-. The thought of paddling it again was cringe worthy. After a bit of meandering around switchbacks through the mangroves, we came into the small bay where the chickee was. We docked up, unloaded our gear and the hound,  and I started walking around on the chickee. It was then that I discovered something I’d completely forgotten about; my initials.

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This chickee was my last stop on my paddle through the Everglades. Just before the helpful couple showed up and gave me a towel and socks, I hacked my initials into the wood to signal the end of my trip. I remember being almost overcome with a wave of emotions that evening as I watched the sunset. Thankful for the opportunity to do the trip. Proud of myself for even completing it. And most importantly, grateful to actually be alive. I was in rough shape to say the least.

So seeing this was quite the nostalgic trip. I couldn’t help but have a big stupid grin on my face.

Johnny, Otis, and I ate dinner a little bit later which consisted of Spam, macaroni and cheese, and kibble (in no particular order). The wind was still blowing quite strong, and before long we were sitting in the dark.

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But there was something happening that neither of us wanted to bring up; There were no mosquitoes. Rather than jinx ourselves, we just sat up BSing, and attempted to shark fish (which produced nothing but catfish). By about midnight we’d had enough and called it a night.

My alarm went off about 530. In the dark of the tent, I could just make out the shape of Johnny and Otis next to me. Out loud, Johnny said “They’re here…”

All creepiness aside, that’s not exactly what you want to wake up to. But before I could even ask “who”, I figured it out. The mosquitoes were out in full force. In fact, a quick glance out of the mesh window revealed that about 2000 of them had found there way to the down wind side of our tent. The roar from the swarm outside was almost deafening, and it set up a rather odd situation. Two full grown men and a poodle, having  mental pep-talks to themselves in the dim twilight of early dawn inside a tent. It’s one of those talks you have with yourself before doing something horrible like jumping into icy water, or going to the DMV. Finally, we couldn’t take it anymore. Otis most assuredly had to poop, and the hard deck of the chickee was breaking my back (we brought no sleeping pads). I unzipped the tent, and stepped out into the horde.

They really did get bad enough that we were forced to leave everything on the chickee and run away in the boat. We did a little exploring and found some cool waters that I’d like to go back and fish at a different time. It turns out that we timed our trip -perfectly with a neap tide, and got absolutely skunked the entire day. But I’ll remember to go back and fish some of the areas we visited.

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Later that day, we motored back into Hell’s Bay in search of the non-existent fish. It was actually getting hot enough (ironically) that Johnny kept having to splash Otis with water to keep him cool. Something that I’m sure he was unamused about considering he still hadn’t pooped. Hot, tired, sore, and about a gallon of blood low, we decided to call it and head back to Flamingo. I hopped behind the wheel, and turned the key.

Mrrrrrp. Mrrrrrp. Dead battery

I’d prepared for such nightmares, and actually brought a kayak paddle with us. I could only imagine how bizarre it would look to see two men and a poodle paddling a 16ft Gheenoe across Coot Bay on the way to Flamingo. But as luck would have it, the new Gheenoes come with a 25 horse that has a pull start. I haven’t been so thankful to hear a motor start in a -long- time.

I’d like to go back again soon. Maybe out front into Florida Bay instead of the backcountry. Next time I might just bring a bug net though.

And maybe leave the poodle at home. Till next time,

Fish on!

Sand in the tent

“Did you hear that?” asked my dad, looking over his shoulder at the ominous dark cloud across the bay.
I had, of course, heard the thunder coming out of the massive storm. “Yeah.”, I responded, brushing some sand off my arm. “I think it’s heading away from us though”.
If ever there was a phrase to guarantee a direct hit from a storm of apocalyptic proportions, that’s the one. It’s probably what Jim Cantore says when he arrives at some poor old coastal town ahead of a hurricane.
The storm took no time to decide to jump right across the bay, and whip everything into a frenzy. Paddling our hearts out, my dad and I raced back to shore, praying that we not only made it, but wouldn’t get hit by a bolt of lightning. Our campsite was a little dot on the pristine white-sand shoreline of St. Joseph State Park and in that dot was our tent, the only shelter for miles….
I was lucky enough growing up to get to spend many of my summers in and around Port St. Joe Florida. A hidden gem along the Gulf Coast, St. Joe and its state park provided an almost limitless playground for me in the form of camping and fishing. My dad and I would load up the canoe or kayaks and set out for week long camping and fishing trips along the bay. We’d pitch our tent right on the sandy beach next to the water and fish from there.
If you’ve never had the good fortune to camp on the beach, allow me to set the scene for you:
Sand
Sand everywhere.
Sand on your feet. Sand in your tent. Sand in your shoes, your gear, your clothes, your hair, your food, your water. Sand in your soul.
Try as you might, the sand gets onto and into everything. After about four days, it becomes a way of life. Its omnipresence is a constant reminder that even in paradise, you’re forced to cope with this otherwise unseen gritty hell. There was, however, always one thing that could give you a break from the sugar white sand: Rain.
So as my dad and I paddled for our lives from the storm ,which had now whipped the bay into a frenzy, we were hit with fat heavy raindrops. I was already covered from head to toe in sand from camping for several days. So when the rain finally hit me it was almost like taking a shower. It honestly felt amazing to finally get SOME of the sand rinsed off my body.
We were close enough to shore now that I could see the trees and grasses getting whipped around in the high winds. Heavy bands of rain and wind were no longer showering us, but rather drowning us. Most of the sand on me -had- to have been washed away at this point. A crack of lighting ripped through the white-washed sky as our kayaks ground to a halt against the sandy beach. Only a few yards up onto the beach was our tent. Shelter. And inside were towels, sleeping bags, and various gear to get us dried off. I pulled the yak onto shore and looked up just in time to witness one of the strangest sights I’d ever seen.
Thanks to a massive gust of wind, our tent, with all of our supplies, was ripped from the ground and sent tumbling down the beach. I couldn’t really believe my eyes. I just sort of stood there trying to mentally grasp what I was watching. The tent, with its poles sticking every directs, was hurtling itself down the coast like some massive sea urchin. To make the sight stranger, all of our gear pushed and bounced on the canvas from within, making it look like some beast was attempting to kick its way out.
By the time I gathered myself, the tent was a good 40 yards down the beach and gaining distance. I immediately broke into a sprint after our runaway shelter. I should note that no matter how many sports you play, or how many outdoor articles you read, you’ll never be fully prepared to chase down and tackle your own tent. It’s not exactly something you get to do every day.
I’d finally gotten within arms reach of the tumbling canvas mass and after lining up my shot to avoid the swinging poles, I dove…
Face first into the sand. I did manage to get my hands onto the tent, but the wet canvas just slipped out from underneath me. I spit a mouthful of sand out onto the ground as I picked myself up and took off after the tent again. I was angry now. Not because our gear was threatening to blow into the water and out to sea, but because less than 2 minutes after my “shower” I was sandy again. Actually, sandy isn’t the right word to describe me at that point in time. Powdered donut is perhaps a more accurate term.
Perhaps I just got lucky, or maybe it was the extra grit all over my body, but my second attempt at tackling the tent proved successful. I wrestled it still and my dad caught up to help me stake it back to the ground. I opened the tent to find that our gear had been thrown around every which way, and I sat down inside to try and dry off.
Never in my life have I seen more sand in a tent than I did that afternoon. I thought about going back outside into the storm to let the rain wash some of it away, but as quickly as the storm was on us, it was gone again. Trying to become sand free would be nothing more than an effort in futility.
I just sat there, looking like a powdered donut, and stared out across the now sunlit bay. “At least the fishing’s good”, muttered my dad.
Summertime in St. Joe is something I’ll always be grateful for. Even through all the bugs, heat, storms, and runway tents, I enjoyed (and still enjoy) every minute I get to spend down there. Everything about the place has a special place in my heart. Even the sand…
Seriously there’s probably sand in my heart from that place.

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.

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