One of life's sad lessons for parents is that our children will eventually grow up and develop different interests from their parents. The nerve, right? Eventually, the time apart from one another is more than the time together and they're off building their own lives somewhere far away. Even when the adult kiddos do come for a rare visit, they spend more time away from home (visiting friends) than at it, making the parents feel like they're running a Bed-N-Breakfast temporarily. Fortunately, for me, my grown son and I have in common the love of water in general and fishing in particular. He's an Over-The-Road truck driver and spends most of the calendar year traipsing all over the US delivering loads of "this and that", so you could imagine my surprise and excitement when he called to tell me he was taking an entire week off during the Thanksgiving holiday to come and spend time with the family. I was really excited to hear it! I look forward to spending time on the water with him because he's so at-ease, calm and relaxed out there, never uptight, in a hurry or "on-a-mission" like the typical male anglers. He just loves the fresh air and slow pace above the fish hook-ups and it makes for a fun and stress-free day for sure. He did mention, though, that even though he was in town, his social calendar was pretty tight with friends-n-family visits and a couple of medical appointments so he could only commit to one specific day to hang out with me on the water. I locked it in while I had the chance and then immediately called my buddy, Albert, to ask him if he would be our fishing guide for the day since he knows his way around the Ozello backwaters.
Last trip out, I learned a very valuable lesson about the consequences of not checking tides and wind predictions for a planned fishing trip. This time around I made sure to carve out a few minutes to do just that and I grimaced at what I saw. "Ugh!", as I threw my head back in angst, "Wind, again? I mean really, how long is this going to go on, people?" It seems to me that Hurricane Irma from 2017 has ushered in an unusual pattern of more windy days than not and it's not the typical Florida weather pattern we natives come to expect so it's been a frustrating climate change to deal with. But there it was and I had to accept it and deal with it or cancel the plans altogether and if you read my previous blog entry, you know that probably wasn't going to happen. I could only hope that it wouldn't be as bad as the predictions indicated. <Big sign> On a positive note, though, the outgoing tide would be in our favor so I had that on my side at least.
)Richie and I arrived at Albert's house to find him in the back yard shoving his green plywood boat off of his launch pad. Albert has a very colorful past and he's not shy about sharing it. He grew up on these Ozello islands and made, by hand, many of the things he needed to get by as a young boy and so over the years his skills improved and this little green plywood skiff (and the launch pad it sits on) are just a couple of the things that he's designed and built on his own. He's in a constant state of "process improvement" which keeps his mind sharp at the age of 78. Richie, age 28, and fully capable of physical labor, felt slightly intimidated by watching an "old man" manually push that boat off the ramp and into the water with ease. Slightly intimidated, somewhat embarrassed, and ultimately impressed with Albert's physical capabilities.
As I mentioned earlier, it's not often that Richie comes for a visit. The trucking company he works for only gives him "Home Time" (that's their term for 'vacation') every three months, so when he is in town, he's usually so busy trying to take care of personal obligations that he rarely has time to spend relaxing on the water, so you can imagine how happy I was to find out that he'd made a special effort to do so this time around. I was even more excited to find out that Albert would be willing to escort us around Ozello to visit some of his favorite fishing holes. Once the boat was in the water, Richie and I climbed aboard, situated ourselves and off we went heading straight toward the Ozello Causeway Culvert. Within a minute we were cruising under the culvert and out the other side.
During the short ride from Albert's house, Richie and I were taking in the scenery of the surrounding mangrove islands when Albert shut off his boat motor suddenly and reached over to get a good grip on his oars. Our anticipation was high. We had no idea where he was guiding us to, but he did. He knows how spooky redfish are out in that area and he knows how important stealth is when hunting them, that's why he opts for rowing his boat instead of using a trolling motor. The other benefit is that physical exercise and daily resistance training helps keep his body in top physical condition. We stayed quiet as he slowly rowed into a fairly protected waterway clearing us of the increasing wind. Richie and I were using different lures. I had a silver Zara Spook Jr. tied on with in-line hooks replacing the stock trebles that originally came with the lure , Richie had a subsurface twitch bait with treble hooks and as Albert rowed, we each picked a side of the boat and began casting. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed some slight water movement a few feet from an oyster point and sent my lure in that direction. A couple of twitch-twitch wrist movements and I witnessed an explosion on my lure. It's always an adrenaline rush at that moment.
I've been fishing just long enough to identify the species I've hooked before I ever see it. Each major species reacts to a hook-set in different ways and I was about 99% positive that I'd hooked a redfish by the way it pulled strong and in a downward direction. I focused on making sure my drag was set right, keeping my rod tip up, the line tight and praying that my knots would hold. Even though I was certain I'd caught a redfish, I was uncertain of how big and strong it was. As I pulled him closer to the boat, Albert quickly scooped him up in the net and laid him on the measuring device. A perfect specimen - 25.5 inches. That catch will make a perfect redfish lunch later in the day.
As I was reeling in my line and focusing on the fine balance between playing the fish vs horsing it in, I kept repeating to Richie that the Spook's treble hooks had been replaced with single in-line hooks and how amazed I'd been at the hook-up rate since making that questionable change. Rumor had it that a number of anglers have been switching trebles to in-lines for years and I was reluctant to give it a try but because I am a big fan of circle hooks in general, I thought I'd take a baby step in that direction and see what kind of success or failure I would have. Turns out I really like the results, especially the ease of dehooking. Although I still throw lures with trebles on them, once those hooks become even the slightest bit compromised, they'll be switched out to inline hooks as well. So after that brief discussion with my son, Mr. Redfish was netted, boated, measured and put in the cooler. My personal preference was to release it. I do very little harvesting these days, but Albert had his mind set on a fresh redfish lunch that he was planning on cooking up, so I bowed to his request to harvested the fish this time.
That first fish caught within the first half hour of the morning made us feel pretty confident that we'd be doing pretty well out there that day. Alas...it was a false sense of future success. Albert spent hours rowing us around, visiting some of his favorite hole as the morning breeze slowly developed into down right wind. He kept on pluggin' on, though. He was on a mission to make sure there would be at least one more redfish in that cooler. I think his ego was on the verge of taking a hit if he couldn't get Richie in a good location to hook up on a nice fish of his own before we headed in. The wind got so bad we struggled to make accurate casts and ended up with lures in the mangroves as a result. The fun was being sucked right out of the trip at that point. Albert was a trooper, though. He just wasn't going to give up that easy. We finally had to just say "Okay...let's call it. It's just too dang windy now." He was really disappointed that we couldn't put anymore fish in the box but on the bright side...we had one nice red that would feed three hungry anglers.
Eventhough we all enjoy being out on the water, regardless of the weather, we'd gotten tired of casting against the ever changing wind direction and reluctantly shrugged our shoulders, secured our lures to the base of our rods and slowly made our way bak to Albert's house. We were all a little disappointed that the fish had not cooperated with us but that's just the nature of fishing on any given day. Once we made it back, Richie and I cleaned out the boat while Albert made quick work of filleting that redfish. He pulled out a cookie sheet, lined it with aluminum foil and laid those fillets down all dressed with a slice of butter, an oonion ring and some seafood seasoning. Fifteen minutes later we were all sitting around his dining table, eating a wonderfully prepared meal and enjoying an interesting conversation about the events of the morning. So the weather wasn't in our favor but we are certainly blessed to be able to access the beautiful waterways of Florida on any given day, if we chose to and have good friends to share those experiences with. Time to recuperate from this one, and begin preparing for my next adventure.
So I have a new job now and as with any new job, there is always the typical 3-Month Probationary Period during which I am not allowed to take any time off. It's a test, you see, to see how dedicated I am as a new recruit, but really, I have no problem with it. My new employer closes on major holidays like Thanksgiving, so that was a day without pay that I was obligated to take since it fell during my probationary period.. I was told, however, that it was back to business as usual on the day after Thanksgiving so I didn't make any alternate plans for that day. Several day before Thanksgiving, though, I was sent an e-mail with the news that our office would, in fact, be closed and it would be yet another day without pay. "Okay...no big deal," I thought. My husband, Ty, would be working and I'm wasn't about to get tangled up on the brew-ha-ha that is Black Friday, so I made plans to take the Gheenoe out and practice my navigation skills. It had been several weeks since I had been in it, so this presented a great opportunity to see what I had remembered from my last lesson. The question that followed, though, was who would be my teacher for the day. Like I mentioned earlier, Ty had to work and I just assumed that most of my girlfriends would be getting their Christmas Shopping on so after a few minutes of thought and scrolling through my contact list, I decided to call my friend Albert, who lives in Ozello, and ask him if he would be my co-pilot for the day. He was delighted to take me up on my offer. He's taken me fishing on his little green plywood skiff more times than I can count. Now it would be my turn to chauffer him around for a change. I mentioned my plans to Ty. "Have you checked the tides?", was his immediate question. "You really need a guage for launch time." And, of course, he was right, my plan was just to rely on Albert's knowledge but I also needed to check for my own knowledge. I've just never given tides the power to change my decision to go fishing but as soon as I pulled up my Tide Trac app on my iPhone, I threw my head back, rolled my eyes, and uttered "UGH"! Of course I had chosen a day with negative tides (-29). "Great!", I thought to myself, "Just perfect!" <sarcasm naturally> The last thing I wanted to do was putter around in negative tides...but...I suppose it would be a good learning experience for me and I really wanted to get on the water after a long hiatus so I decided to go for it anyway.
Okay...so it's going to be low tide...so what? I haven't been out on the water in while and I'm not one to be labeled a "fair-weathered-angler". I like adventure as much as the next guy - if it's not gonna kill me and I don't think low-tide is gonna kill me. Might be a little inconvenient, but I'm not going to stress about it, and like I said before, it'll be good practice for me. Unfortunately, one of the other daily factors that I neglected to consider was the wind. I secretly hoped that was going to just drive out there and the wind would be at a minimum and I would say "Thank you, Lord, for the beautiful weather today." But today wasn't one of those days. A quick check on my wind app registered 7 mph at 7:00 a.m. and increasing throughout the day. "UGH" again! One thing I hate most is fishing in the wind. I'll do it, don't get me wrong, but it's no fun and I don't enjoy it. Again, I just have the urge to get out there and throw caution to the wind. I know it's going to beat me up and I know I'm going to be miserable, but hey...at least I'm out there and I'm in control of my route and distance, right? So despite the awful conditions predicted, I still forced myself to stay true to my plans. I'm really stubborn that way.
Like I said before, once I set my mind to doing something, I'm pretty much going to carry it out despite the challenges. In fact, I welcome the challenges, they keep my problem-solving skills sharp and I learn how to develop "Plan B"s from them. Based on my new knowledge of what the tides and wind would be, I knew in advance it wasn't going to be a super pleasant trip but I was bound and determined to get that Gheenoe on the water and practice my launch and navigating skills any time I have a chance to. So I spent the evening going over my check-list so that I didn't forget anything important and then went to bed. Got up the next morning, took care of the last-minute details, like filling the cooler with ice and packing a lunch, and then got on the road heading toward Ozello.
Because I'm still a little uncertain in my ability to navigate Ozello waterways without fear of hitting hidden structure like oyster bars and such, I asked my good friend Albert if he would be willing to go with me on this little adventure. He would be able to warn me in case I strayed a little too far to the left or right. He was happy to oblige and I was glad that he would be my security blanket in case I ran into problems that I didn't know how to solve, so I swung by his house and picked him up and off to the ramp we went. He gave me some great advice as I was staging the boat before launching it. I noticed him really giving my Gheenoe the "once over" as I began to walk back to the ramp from the parking lot.
Albert and I discussed the finer points of gear placement on the gheenoe and he made some really great suggestions, not all of which I'm going to follow through on but some that made good sense like trimming the motor all the way up before putting it in the water. While I was parking the truck, the boat goes somewhat unattended and west-bound winds tend to push the transom toward the shoreline causing the prop to eventually hit bottom as it's pushed toward shallower water, therefore causing it to get stuck in softer mud at times. No bueno, right? As we climbed in, we each gave an extra foot push to get the boat away from shore. The momentum moved us far enough into the deeper water where I was able to lower the motor all the way down and start it with a push of a button (electric start, of course), and after a few seating/comfort adjustments, we were off.
Albert, is blessed. He was raised in Crystal River and his playground as a young boy encompassed the entire perimeter of the Ozello backwaters. He knows every island, creek and mangrove line and could take you just about anywhere with his eyes closed. When he retired from his career as a electronic software engineer in Nashville, he was naturally drawn back to familiar territory where his fondest childhood memories were made and ultimately build his retirement home there. He's often offered to set out a baited pinfish trap for me when he knew that I was planning a kayak fishing trip out his way, but I've never actually taken him up on that offer. This trip would be different, however. Since he would be my co-pilot for the day, I suggested that he set his trap out the night before so that if we got tired of throwing lures, we could switch things up and relax with some live bait on a hook. He was in agreement and so we left the launch site, circled around to his house, tied up to the dock and loaded our bait bucket with a handful of pinfish the he'd trapped the day before.
According to the plan, I was going to be solely responsible for operating the skiff, from running the outboard to the trolling motor and everything else in between, as though I had no passenger at all. Albert was merely going to be present in case I encountered a problem that I couldn't solve and to give navigational advise if needed. I already had a route laid out on my handheld GPS unit so there would be no question as to the distance I would travel and where I was at any given moment. I had done as much pre-planning as I could in order to keep the unexpected to a minimum. Then....while I was getting the bait bucket situated on the Gheenoe and making sure that everything was in it's place, Albert received a phone call from a neighbor. Seems that his buddy had some intel on several schools of redfish that had been spotted not too far from where we were. He made an executive decision to change my plans and so it was.
We headed off in the direction that Albert's friend had suggested. It wasn't a route I was familiar with or prepared to navigate so I had to rely on Albert to point me in the right direction. For that reason he had to sit up near the front and because I couldn't see over him, I had to add the tiller extension and stand up so I could have a good view of my surroundings. He and I worked out a few hand signals so that he could communicate to me like "turn a little to the left" or "slow down some" without constantly turning around to tell me these things. I started off going pretty slow at first, until I felt comfortable and then bumped up the speed slightly. My nervousness began to evolve into confidence.
The calm water by Albert's house was deceptive. The wind was predicted to be coming from the west and his house was situated on the leeward side of an Ozello island so we got a false sense of calmness while we were preparing to get underway. Once we made it out of the cove the wind became a significant challenge to our fishing plans. The breeze started out at 5 mph, which was delightful. As the hours passed, we felt it intensify to 10 and then to 13. Frustration set in. I had a difficult time managing the trolling motor against the opposing current combined with westward winds. We were heading east in search of that elusive school of redfish. Although I had my rod in my hand, ready to cast at any given moment, I held back because I just didn't believe that I could manage a proper retrieve while navigating the trolling motor against wind and tide. If I was going to get any fishing in at all, I would have to anchor down to do it, and that's exactly what I did. Everywhere you go to in Ozello holds great potential. You could anchor down almost anywhere and cast within a foot of an oyster bar or mangrove line. I was ready to do some fishing, even if it were only for a few minutes. I turned to Albert and told him that I was going to anchor down for a few minutes so that he was aware of my plans. As soon as I turned the trolling motor off, the wind and tide began to push me back. I quickly dropped the stick anchor and right away it stopped me from drifting. I breathed a sigh of relief and felt like I just needed to take a break. I threw my line 5-6 times, Albert threw his as well but neither one felt the slightest indication that there were fish around. Frustration set in again but we were past the point of turning around. The tide was still going out and the wind grew even stronger. This became more of a navigational challenge than a fishing trip.
The windier it became, the more anxiety I felt. This trip was supposed to be a routine practice run with maybe a few pointers from Albert about how best to navigate negative tides. It turned into an unplanned lesson in managing battery reserve for the trolling motor staying on course during constant wind gusts. Had I known ahead of time what a disappointing experience I would have, I probably would've never made the trip, my stubborn streak, however, forces me to face these challenges head on just for the satisfaction that I made it through the tough time and I learned something in the process. It was now almost noon and we hadn't caught much of anything. While I had been steering the skiff, Albert managed to hook up on a respectable sized ladyfish that shook itself loose at the boat. That was the pinnacle of our angling expedition. We had made a track in the shape of a semi-circle and it was going to be just as quick to continue on our course back to his house as it would've been to turn around and go back the way we came so the next couple of hours was spent slowly making our way back. Albert offered up some advice about channel markers, we spotted a bald eagle literally hovering over the water for what seemed like forever. I was amazed at how long it hovered in one place for so long, like a humming bird almost. We saw dolphins swim right under the boat, we almost bumped into a manatee and even though we motored past several other boats that were anchored down, we never once witnessed any of the anglers catch any fish. Albert continued to point out familiar landmarks in hopes that I would recognize my surroundings as expertly as he does but alas, I had no idea where we were much of the time. I was just ready to get off the water. The whole experience had worn me out physically and mentally.
Albert turned to me as we were slowly making out way back to the ramp and asked, "How much fuel do you have?" That question crossed my own mind as I was driving to his house that morning and it was then that I became a little concerned about it myself. I hadn't thought to ask my husband about it the day before but was hoping that he wouldn't have let me leave the house without enough fuel to get the gheenoe to the finish line. He's always the one to check that and he hadn't yet taught me how to do it, so I was just going to "hope" that I would have enough fuel to make it out there all day. Worse case scenario, I had my trolling motor as a back-up. Little did I know that I would use much of the stored battery power to get me through opposing wind/current direction so that plan would not have worked out in the long-run. I looked at Albert with a blank stare for a moment and came clean, "You know", I said, "I honestly don't know." He wasn't too happy with that answer. He told me that he should have asked me that question before we had even gotten started and I got a quick lecture on the importance of checking fuel routinely and he was right. It would have to be added to my "list of things to do" when I got home. We stopped the boat and I unscrewed the gas tank. I could see some fuel in the tank but it was almost impossible for me to measure how much was in there. I simply had no reference point to measure it by but Albert was certain we could make it back on what we had. I started up the motor again and we buzzed around some oyster bars heading back in. At one point I cut in a little too close and banged my lower unit on some sort of submerged structure. I turned the motor off again, struggled a bit to raise it out of the water to see if I'd caused any damage (which I hadn't), and then lowered it back down. It was then that I realized I could no longer start the motor. One, two, three tries and nothing! I looked at Albert and said, "Well, I guess I'm outta gas". We weren't that far from the ramp but I know he wouldn't be happy about the news, none the less. He turned and looked at the motor and noticed immediately that something didn't look right. It seems that while I was jostling with raising and lowering the motor a few minutes earlier, I had inadvertently disconnected the fuel line. He was a good coach and talked me through identifying the fuel line and how to connect it back to the motor. Lo and behold, it started right up! Big smile on my face and a sigh of relief. I'm not one to shy away from adventure but I'd had about all I could take on this one! I made a bee-line straight to the ramp, and for once was actually happy to get off the water. Albert helped me load the boat back on the trailer, I dropped him off at his house and was so grateful that I had made it through the day without disaster. It had not been a fun day, but it was one filled with good lessons that I learned and won't soon forget.
I grew up on the water in the Florida panhandle. Bobobbie and Grandaddy lived on Santa Rosa Sound in Navarre and my parents lived on the shores of Pensacola Bay. During my childhood I spent so much time in and around the water but never once did my family own a boat. Hard to believe, isn't it? It's because of that, I never actually learned to operate a boat. Soon after my second marriage, my husband, Ty, purchased and sold several fiberglass flats boats and even then I was too intimidated to learn how to operate and navigate them thought the treacherous oyster bar maze that makes up the Nature Coast waterways. All that changed, thought, when he sold both of those vessels and bought a Gheenoe. I made a decision that I would pay for half of the skiff, and accept all the responsibilities that came with boat ownership, and was granted co-ownership with the agreement that Ty would teach me everything I needed to know in order to become self-sufficient in its use and operation. And so the lessons began: hooking up the trailer to the truck, preparing it for transportation on the highway, hooking up the battery to the trolling motor, driving with it in tow, backing it down the ramp into the water and today, learning how to push it off the trailer with enough force to make it float free and clear of the trailer. It wasn't nearly as difficult as I expected it to be. I felt confident that I could do all of the above without any issues.
As often as I've been out on the water during the last 15 years, I've found a considerable number of lost items either floating on the water or pushed up into mangrove roots, anywhere from tackle that's been broken off to unsecured PFDs that's blown off of someone's boat. Many times I've said to Ty, "You know...one day I'm going to find someone's wallet out here." Well, surprisingly, that day was today. As I was walking back to the ramp after parking the truck, I noticed a brown, square-shaped item that was lying on the ramp. It was still fairly dark as the sun had not yet broken and at first glance it looked like just a piece of 2x4. Not wanting it to be a hazard to any other boater, I bent over to pick it up. My intention was to just toss it over by the trash bin until I realized that it was a wallet and had been run over several times already. My heart started to race. What were the odds of this happening? Looking around to see how many people were at the ramp with us, I decided to keep my mouth shut and not advertise that it had been found. When the sun came up and I could see clearly, I would investigate the contents of it and make plans to get it back to its owner. For now, though, it would remain in my hands. I'm sure someone was in a panic.
As drowsy as I feel when I get out of bed at 5:00 a.m. to go fishing, I always seem to get my butt in the truck and make the one hour drive to Ozello from Ocala, constantly asking myself during the drive, "Why do I keep doing this? I'm tired and I wanted to sleep-in." Launching in the dark, before sunrise, is also not one of my favorite activities either but the ultimate reward of watching a mesmerizing sunrise break the mangrove line just seems to make it all worthwhile. Today was no different. Arguably one of the most tranquil daily events God ever created.
I typically spend the first few hours of the morning throwing a topwater lure for several reasons. First, I like the distance that I get when casting in the early morning because the wind is usually at a minimum. I can cover so much water during a single retrieve which increases my odds of hooking-up significantly. Secondly, I like the way the entry "shocks" the water and it's easier for me to keep an eye on the lure as it's returning to the boat. The smoother the water is (usually in the morning) the easier it is for me to focus on my lure retrieval. Finally, my energy level is at it's highest point in the morning and I haven't grown tired of casting for hours on end. Today paid off with a nice seatrout. It's so much fun to watch them attack those lures from underneath, sometimes missing them several times before actually getting a good hook-set.
Topwater did well for me first thing in the morning but one of the things I want to do is move past my comfort zone. I'm a creature of habit and routine for the most part but I also see the value in trying new things. For that reason I make it a point to throw new lures that I've shied away from in the past. Next up on my list was a soft plastic paddle-tail rigged on a belly-weighted hook. Now, I know these are very popular lures for most anglers so I had no doubt that something would strike at it at some point. The question was when and what. Being that October is a great month for trout (and just about most everything else, too), it was no surprise that a trout was exactly what I caught with it.
As the morning turned into noon, I continued to use various artificial lures, catching more small trout, ladyfish and the like. High tide came in around 1:00 p.m. and I tied on a red jig-head and accessorized it with an Unfair Lures smacktail in hot orange. I spent about 10 minutes throwing right up next to the mangrove line that was about 100 yards long before it came to a point. The power of the strike made me think I had accidentally hooked into a mangrove root during my retrieve. It was a change of emotion when I realized my line was speeding parallel to the mangrove line and I had a fish on. This lure was a good decision, I decided. Mr. fish and I played tug-of-war for a few minutes but he tired out before I did so I was able to net him without too much resistance. A measurement of 23 inches and a few pictures later, he was successfully released and swam away fast and hard.
It had been a great day of fishing...beautiful weather, calm waters and great tides. As I loaded up my gear preparing for the drive home, I thought about the owner of the wallet that I had found earlier that morning. I pulled out the driver's license, punched the address into my Garmin and was glad to know that the owner lived within three miles of where I was. In fact, I would be passing their house on my drive home. Ten minutes later and I had arrived at their home. I'm sure they were curious why I had driven into their clearly signed private drive, but when I got out of my truck with a wallet in hand, smiles came to everyone's face. They knew why I came for a visit. We chatted for a few minutes about how the wallet was lost, and then found and I received many "Thank You"s as I strolled back to my truck. All - in - all, it was a memorable day to be sure.
Several weeks ago I drove out to the end of Ozello Trail to visit a good friend who lives just east of the Causeway. We had made plans to do a little fishing together but during our preparations he received a phone call from his son and indicted to me by a quick finger point to his watch that the conversation wouldn't be a short one, so I nodded in acknowledgement and took a stroll around his waterfront property to give him some privacy during the call.
As I slowly ambled along the mangrove lined water's edge, about five minutes into my walk I'd say, something shiny caught my eye. Resting on a patch of grass that the tide had brought in was a bone colored Heddon brand Zara Super Spook Jr., one of my favorite top-water lures. "Bonus!", I thought to myself. Now I've spotted my fair share of entangled and abandoned tackle over the years and because I fish from a kayak, I have the advantage of reaching most mangrove branches in order to salvage many of those lures, bobbers and hooks more easily than the average angler fishing from a motorized vessel. Those folks run the high risk of damaging fiberglass hulls if they take a chance and venture too close to oyster covered shallows that many times run parallel to the mangrove lines. Most of the tackle that I've been lucky enough to recover, however, were not in as good of condition as this particular one was. It looked to me as if it were practically brand new. Let me explain: after this specific lure has been thrown several dozen times, a small section of the coating begins to scratch off because the force of the forward motion of a cast causes the treble hooks to come in contact with the body of the lure and each time those hooks rub up against the lure body (which happens during every cast) a tiny amount of coating gets scratched off. The lure I found had no such damage which led me to believe it was lost by the angler soon after it was tied on. The only down side was that the saltwater had rusted the treble hooks so badly that they would have to be replaced, there was no doubt about that. After a quick evaluation of "my new lure", I was quite pleased at my luck. Trust me when I tell you that I've certainly lost more brand new lures (due to bad line to line knots) than I've found so this fortunate discovery made me a pretty happy girl.
One of the benefits of social media these days is that you can become acquainted with so many other individuals that share the same passion you do that, under normal circumstances, you would never have met. Those platforms are great ways to discuss and share ideas. That's how I learned about the option of changing out treble hooks with circle hooks. Now, we all know that circle/bait hooks are more 'fish-friendly' in that they are designed to be easily removed from a fish's mouth than your typical treble or jig-head style hooks, but it was a new concept to me to switch these hooks right out of the box. Seems that many seasoned anglers have been doing it for years. I had no idea! Since the treble hooks on the lure I happened upon were already rust-damaged and I had to replace them anyway, I thought I'd do a little research and get some practical advise on exactly how to do that. So I hit-up a few fellow Instagram followers and received some great feed-back and encouragement.
Advice was given, suggestions were made and recommendations were offered. The consensus was to purchase 2/0 inline circle hooks and replace the rusty old treble hooks with them. After about an hour of web searching for the correct product, I finally zeroed in on it and ordered a couple of packs. Patiently I waited for them to arrive in the mail. My hands were anxious for a new project.
While "not so" patiently waiting for my hooks to arrive in the mail, I continued to watch several informative YouTube videos on the process and soon came to realize there was a pair of pliers on the market designed specifically for this type of thing. They're called Split Ring Pliers, and had I learned about this tool earlier, I certainly would have ordered a pair when I ordered the hooks, but I was impatient and didn't want to wait yet another week for this item to arrive, which would delay the start of my project. I would have to make due with the two pair of needle-nose pliers that I did have. After all, that's how it was done before split-ring pliers were invented, right?
My husband always beats me home from work and checks the mail before he walks in the door so my daily greeting to him when I finally make it home is, "Hey Babe...did we get any mail?" His response is always, "Sittin' on the counter." And there, sitting on the counter, was a small manila envelope that held those incline circle hooks I had been waiting for. I ripped it open and gave them a curious look. They were quite different than anything I had seen before but I was satisfied with what I had ordered, I set them aside for the time being to get dinner prepared. Here was my plan: Cook dinner, clean up the kitchen and then spend the rest of the evening working on my project while my husband relaxed on the couch and watched "Guy T.V."
Chores were all taken care of for the evening. I took a deep breath, organized my workspace and contemplated how this was all going to work. I knew I could do it, I just had to concentrate and take it one step at a time. Step 1, of course, was to remove the old rusty treble hooks off. That turned out to be a lot easier than I thought. Weeks of rust had compromised the integrity of the hooks and they practically disintegrated under the pressure of the pliers. "That was easy!", I thought.
The next challenge, I knew, would not be so easy. If I gripped the split ring with the needle-nose pliers just right, I could use my mini-screwdriver to wedge an opening small enough to force the eye of the circle hook into the tiny spread. The question was, "How was I going to do that with only two hands?" One hand to grip the pliers, another to hold the screwdriver and that would leave the hook still sitting on the counter. It was a dilemma but one I had to solve. Not only did I have to figure out my process, I also had to make sure that the hooks would be facing in the right direction. Lucky for me, my mother was a very resourceful woman and taught us kids never to give up on something we were trying to accomplish. Focus, figure it out, be persistent! "I can do this!", I said to myself, and after about a 20 minute struggle with my tools, I finally threaded the first hook on and in the right direction too. A sense of accomplishment is a good feeling.
One hook replaced and I felt pretty good about it. I wouldn't consider it easy but I knew I still had another one to put on the back end before I was finished so I took a deep breath and got to it. I had my system down now and the second hook took only half the time. When I completed the final steps I was pretty happy with my accomplishment and my "new" lure. I held it up, gave it a shake or two, listened to that beautiful clickity-clack noise and nodded my head in self-approval, then walked straight to the kitchen calendar to circle a date for the water trial.
Flat, calm water greeted us as my husband and I pulled up to the boat ramp at Ozello Community Park. "This was going to be a good day", I thought to myself. Tide was high and outgoing so we made quick work to get the Gheenoe in the water and on its way. Oyster bars were just beginning to show themselves so I gave my "new to me" redesigned topwater lure a quick kiss for good luck and chunked 'er out there. A few 'twitch-twitch-twitches' and there was a strike and a miss, then another, then another. Whatever it was, it wasn't giving up but I suspected it soon would. Most fish won't hit a hard bait that many times but on the fourth strike he was done and hooked! SWEET - Fish On!! Using these new hooks on a topwater lure wasn't a waste of time after all.
What I brought to the boat, to my complete surprise, was a 20.5 inch bluefish! "Wow", I said, "I haven't caught one of those in years!" I was still in a bit of disbelief that bluefish were hanging around anywhere east of the Ozello Trail causeway, but there it was, up close and personal. As I took a closer look at the hook-set, it was clear that had I given even the slightest bit of slack in my line during retrieval, I probably would have lost it. That hook, as sharp as it was, never fully penetrated through the entire jaw of the fish so I considered myself very lucky to have boated it in the first place. Regardless of the drama, it was my first solid quality fish using the circle hooks on a topwater lure. Success!
After boating "Ms. Blue" and inspecting the precarious hook-set, I was curious about her length. Based on my recollection over the past few years, she looked much bigger than any I had caught before so I was anxious to know. I grabbed my measuring device from the deck of the boat, laid it on a flat surface in the middle of the skiff so I wouldn't lose my fish in case it flopped a little too much and carefully pushed her nose to the -0- mark. She measured a respectable 20.5 inches at the fork of the tail. That was impressive in my book.
Well, I had come full circle. Found a lure, switched out hooks, caught a nice fish, photo-documented the lure that was used, measured the fish and now it was time for a successful release. All of these steps can sometimes keep a quality fish out of water too long which decreases it's survival rate after release. The second most satisfying thing for me, after catching a nice fish, is to release it and watch it swim away strong. That's when you know your C.P.R. (Catch / Photo / Release) was a successful one. This girl took a while longer than I expected to regain her ability to swim off. I held her head deep against the current to get the water flowing through her gills and she finally came around and with a quick thrust of her tail, she let me know she was ready to go. It was a very satisfying feeling to know that a little "lost & found" treasure would bring me something new to learn and do and result in such a rewarding outcome. I'm looking forward to using it again in the near future.
Tight Lines -
My grown-up daughter is an avid nature lover like myself. We both are basically 'big kids' that like to push the envelope, throw caution to the wind and just down-right explore nooks & crannies at every opportunity. She's my "mini-me", so it was no surprise that she jumped at the chance to do some kayak fishing with me in Ozello during one of her recent visits. Since my husband, Ty, was at work, she used his 13 ft. Native Slayer Pedal Drive vessel to get around. This was a first for her and the weather was perfect!
we pulled up to the boat/kayak launch at Ozello Community Park, I was a little surprised to discover that much of the limestone parking area was covered in several inches of water and I was a tiny bit concerned about getting my truck tires and rims in contact with the saltwater that had flooded some of the area. I reached over for my smart phone and opened up my tide app (TideTrac) to take a quick look at what I should have looked at before we even left the house. That's when I realized that we were launching at a high flood tide. In a way, I was actually okay with it. Since my daughter had no experience maneuvering in a pedal driven kayak, it would be easier to show her the different features on the yak while still being very close to the launch site. There would be plenty of water to do so within 10 feet of the shoreline. Another advantage to the high tide was that there would be very little chance of her accidentally peddling up on an oyster bar and therefore possibly damaging the skeg or props underneath the yak. I gave her a quick tutorial and within 15 minutes we were heading out to open water.
We navigated a familiar route, one that wouldn't take us too long to complete. I didn't know how long she would be able to stay out in the Florida heat during the mid-afternoon sun given the fact that she was 4 months pregnant. The last thing I wanted to do was to have to tow her back because of heat exhaustion. We had been so busy during the other parts of her visit that we only had a short window of time to get the kayaks out. If we didn't do it now, we would have no other opportunity during her short stay to do it. Artificial lures were going to be the bait of choice during this outing, there just wasn't enough time to catch or buy live bait this time around. I tied on a Rapala Twitchin' Mullet on her line and a weedless Unfair Lure Smackpaddle for myself.
She did surprisingly well with her distance casting given the fact that she had not held a rod in her hands in several years. I was fully expecting to have to peddle over to her location from time to time to help her retrieve the Twitchin' Mullet out of the mangroves. I know I have to do it for myself more often than I'd like to admit, but she managed to stay clear of those obstacles. The floating grass, however, became a cause of frustration for her and although I offered to change out her lure to something weedless like my own paddle tail, she opted to pass and continue using the Rapala. Her mind-set was focused more on having a relaxing time on the water than it was actually catching fish so I left it at that and continued on as she slowly followed a good distance behind me.
We threw lures for a couple of hours and felt a bump or two periodically as we followed the mangrove line. Serena even witnessed a trout chase her lure to the yak but was unable to entice it to strike. Even so, we continued to follow our pre-mapped route, casting around points that looked promising and chatting as we went. Next thing I know, I have a fish on. I suspected it was a small snook by the way it hit the lure and sped off but, of course, you never know what it is until it surfaces at some point. Sure enough...once it was close enough to net, it turned out to be exactly what I suspected it was....a small snook. Little snookie was netted, boated and photographed.
I'm always curious as to the length of any fish I catch. I still don't have enough experience to correctly estimate a fish's length by vision alone, although I know many other anglers do. So out comes my worn-out measuring device with my official CCA Florida STAR Tournament measuring tape stuck to it. Even though this snook isn't big enough to enter in the snook category of the tournament, it can still be entered in the Conservation Division.
Time passes too quickly when you're out on the water with friends. My daughter and I had launched our kayaks fairly late in the afternoon and although we had only planned on being out for a couple of hours, we had gone a good distance. She began to feel a little heat exhaustion coming on and let me know that she was ready to head back to the ramp. There was a slight breeze but nothing that would cause us to exert more energy than we needed to get back so we headed back at a slow pace and took in the beauty of our surroundings and agreed that we were blessed to be able to live so close to such a beautiful environment. The Nature Coast always delivers on that.
It all started with a visit to Precision Tackle....
It all began with an announcement to the NCLA members that a new meeting location may have to be selected in the near future and a request that the ladies keep their eyes and ears open for a place that would meet our needs. While Yella was at Precision Tackle she mentioned to Dave, the owner, that we were on the look-out for a new meeting place. Dave gave Yella a lead about a fishing guide named Capt. Carey Gibson, out of Homosassa, who may be able to help us. Yella, in turn, sent Delores a text with a condensed version of the conversation and Capt. Carey's contact information. Something to look into, for sure.
A few days went by before Delores found enough time to give Capt. Carey a call. Seems Dave had given him a "heads-up" that someone from the NCLA would be calling, which of course, makes the conversation a bit easier. They talked about the need to visit a few location options, talked about his charter business, and talked about this unique charter package that he offers called Private Island Retreat. He went on to describe the package, which included a trip out to a private island at the mouth of the Homosassa River that had a "mini-rustic-resort", for lack of a better term. There was a pier/dock, a boardwalk that led to two cabins, a small community bathroom, an enclosed kitchen with all the necessities, and a covered porch with grill and lawn chairs. And to top it off, it even had hot-tub and hammock! It sounded pretty amazing and like something a few of the NCLA gals would be interested in doing. Capt. Carey agreed to meet up with Yella and Delores and show them a facility at Homosassa Riverside Resort & Marina in Homosassa that might suit their needs for a new meeting place and take them on a quick tour of the private island he had referred to in the conversation. So plans were made to meet up.
The primary purpose of the visit was to check out the Riverside Inn's Community Center. Capt. Carey felt that it may meet our needs for a new meeting place, if we ever needed one. It had plenty of tables/chairs and a bar and looked like a fairly good alternative. As the conversation went on, it shifted to talks of a private island resort that the Capt. has access to. It's an exclusive charter package that he offers which includes transport to the island that houses two rustic cabins, a community bathroom, a full kitchen, covered patio with grill, a fishing pier, and much more. It sounded too good to be true, so he offered the gals a boat ride out there so that they could see for themselves what he was talking about.
Delores and Yella climbed aboard Capt. Carey's boat out of Homosassa Riverside Resort & Marina and enjoyed a 4.5 mile scenic trip to the mouth of the Homosassa River where the Private Island Retreat was located. It was a beautiful day for an adventure and they were eager to tour and explore the Retreat Compound..
Capt. Carey helped the girls onto the dock, escorted them down the boardwalk and gave them a tour of the place, making a special effort to point out a few of the amenities such as the covered two-story boathouse at the end of the pier, a deck with two lounge chairs for relaxing in the sun, a hot-tub and a hammock. He went on to show the two separated sleeping quarters, each with a queen bed, a set of bunk-beds, dresser, night stand and T.V. Both of which have wall unit air conditioners. Then a peek into the "community bathroom" with toilet, sink and shower. The "community kitchen" was next and it also serves as the Captain's Quarters with a futon that Capt. Carey would call home for a weekend. Safety First policy prevents the gals (or anyone else for that matter) from being on the island unsupervised. Finally, an impressive and well designed and decorated covered patio complete with super comfortable patio furniture, large gas grill, dart board, and dining table with chairs. Seriously?!?! What more could you want in a get-a-way weekend stay? It was perfectly awesome! Many thanks to Capt. Carey for taking the time to give a personal tour of the place. The trip back to Riverside Resort & Marina was spent with talk of organizing a NCLA Girls-Weekend-Get-A-Way. And the sooner the better!
Not too long after the Island Retreat Tour, Yella gave Capt. Carey a ring and set up a tentative date, (the weekend of March 15th) to get a few of the NCLA girls together and organize a "Girls Weekend Get-A-Way". It would include a kayak shuttle aboard a pontoon boat, a boat ride for the gals and all of their fishing and over-night gear (including enough food and beverages for the weekend), and a full day fishing charter. Yella sent out a mass e-mail to all of the NCLA members and it wasn't long before she had the necessary four takers to solidify the event. Yella, Martha Ann, Amie, and Delores were planning on having a fun-filled weekend of kayak fishing, night fishing, and charter fishing. March 15th couldn't get here fast enough!
As calendar dates were being circled and excitement built up, Yella got funny feeling in the pit of her stomach that March 15th had a more significant purpose than a rustic cabin sleepover...in fact, she knew that date rang a bell, but couldn't quite put her finger on it....until it dawned on her that she had a Baby Shower to attend that day. Not something that she could just "reschedule". March 15th was that date and she had somehow forgot to mark it on her calendar as such. Panic Mode begins. How does this problem get solved? What to do? The simple solution would be to reschedule the cabin sleepover to the following weekend. Capt. Carey seemed to be fine with that plan, and the other three girls were easily convinced as well. So the March 15th date got postponed one week to March 22nd, Crisis Averted.....right?
Yeah, well...guess again! The following day Yella got a call from Martha Ann, she owns a pottery in Homosassa called Peppercreek Pottery. Well, it just so happened that one of the biggest festivals held in Homosassa, Shrimpalooza was being held that very weekend and it's one of the biggest revenue days for the pottery so naturally Martha Ann had to be at the shop that weekend which caused her to bow out of the Rustic Cabin Sleepover. Yella sent out and emergency S.O.S. to the NCLA club members. She need a replacement and she needed one fast! That's when Pam came to the rescue and took Martha Ann's place for the weekend. Things were back on track with Yella, Delores, Amie and Pam.
lCapt. Carey had clients scheduled for a fishing charter the morning of March 22nd and so the gals were instructed to meet at the Riverside Resort Crab House Restaurant on the Homosassa River at 12:00 noon. The weather reports predicted rain for most of the day but as with any other Florida day there was a 50/50 chance that the predictions were wrong. The rain started falling by 11:00 a.m. By noon there was a slight reprieve and the ladies began to pull into the parking lot one right after another and made their way into the bar/lounge area where they found Capt. Carey waiting for them. The rain had stopped just long enough for them to make their way inside, giving them the false impression that the rest of the day would be clear and sunny....then it showed up again twice as heavy, this time with strong winds combined. This was not what they had bargained for. The Capt. had the most up-to-date weather app on his phone and he referred to it every 15 minutes. 1:00 came and went while the gang consumed a few beers and nibbled on some appetizers, patiently waiting for a break in the weather. 2:00 came and went ... still the rains and wind were there. By 3:00, the group came to a mutual decision to cancel the trip and reschedule yet again. It just seemed that they couldn't catch a break no matter how hard they tried.
A few days later, Yella conversed with the rest of the group and decided on yet another rescheduled date for the Rustic Cabin Sleepover Weekend adventure. This time April 23rd was the chosen weekend. It really didn't matter much to Yella at this point in time anyway, though, because over the course of the past several weeks, she had started a new job that required some of her weekend time. Her window of opportunity had come and gone. She advertised her open slot via e-mail and that's how Nadia came on board. Now the group of four consisted of Delores, Martha Ann, Nadia and Pam and they would have to work together to pull this off. A plan was put in place. Delores would bring enough beverages for the weekend. Martha Ann would cover breakfast food. Any fish that were caught and in slot would be harvested for dinner but Pam would bring hamburgers just in case that didn't happen and Nadia would provide the sides for dinner. The skies the morning of looked promising as everyone kept their fingers crossed for a beautiful weekend. Each made their way to Homosassa for another try.
By 9:00 a.m. Saturday morning all of the girls had arrived and were wandering around with their cell phones trying to find one another by calling and texting. They converged on the Riverside Resort & Marina's Gift Shop where Capt. Carey was waiting for them. He escorted them to the back side of Riversport Kayaks which is a local kayak dealership in the Homosassa area. Behind the shop was a man-made canal with several boat slips and a boat ramp. Capt. Carey kept his utility pontoon boat back there and that's what he planned on using to ferry the ladies' kayaks out to the private island. All of the ladies went back to their vehicles and moved them closer to the ramp where Carey had positioned the pontoon for loading. With the help of his good friend, D.J., (Riverside Resort Manager) those yaks were carefully loaded and stacked so that they would be secure during transport. It took them several minor adjustments before they got it just right. After the ladies gave their stamp of approval, D.J. took the pontoon and headed out down the Homosassa River toward the private island. Phase 1 complete.
Next on Carey's agenda was to get the ladies to the island. Focused shifted and Carey had all the gals bring their gear to the boat slip where his restored 1972 20 ft Proline flatback was waiting. This baby was equipped with a 2016 Mercury 150 hp 4 stroke motor. It was quite impressive. Then the loading of the gear began: 4 women / 4 totes full of fishing gear / 4 totes full of clothes / 4 totes full of food / 8 rods/reels and a cooler full of beverages. So, the biggest shock about the boat was that it actually had enough room for all of that "stuff" with plenty of room to spare. It was quite a pleasant surprise. The ladies were assisted aboard and felt the excitement built as Capt. Carey pulled away from the dock.
And everyone knows that you can't pull away from Homosassa Riverside Resort & Marina without checking out what the monkeys are up to on Monkey Island. For the history of Monkey Island:
The 4 1/2 mile boat ride down the Homosassa River was spent sharing expectations of what exciting adventures the weekend would hold. Capt. Carey pointed out various landmarks as he slowly made his way through the No Wake zones. As soon as he was able to throttle up the motor he gave the ladies a quick warning. They closed their eyes, held on to their hats and felt the wind in their face as Carey made his way through the last leg of the trip. Several minutes past before they felt the motor slow down and when they opened their eyes, they saw D.J. at the island pier with their kayaks. Another wave of excitement overtook them!
Carey carefully approached and tied off to the dock and the both he and D.J. assisted the ladies off the boat and onto the pier. It was time to explore the island oasis and all it had to offer. It sure did look inviting.
D.J. and Carey helped the gals onto the dock and proceeded to transfer all of their gear off the boat as well. While the ladies transported all of that from the pier to the covered patio and made sure that everyone had their own belongings, Carey and D.J. started carefully moving the kayaks off of the pontoon boat and onto the shoreline. The empty pontoon boat stayed at base camp for the duration of the weekend.
Once the boat was unloaded, all four ladies separated their gear and took a walk around the area to get acquainted with the layout. Delores and Martha decided to share Cabin A. Nadia and Pam took Cabin B. Each air-conditioned cabin had a dresser, queen bed, night stand and a set of bunk-beds. There was a community bathroom and community kitchen. Martha Ann brought all of the breakfast supplies, Nadia brought snacks for the weekend, Pam brought dinner fixin's and Delores brought an assortment of beverages. All of which were stored in the community kitchen. Martha Ann lead the group in a mid-morning break under the covered deck area. Seemed this place had pretty much everything they needed for a fantastic fishing weekend.
Now that all of the chores were done around camp, it was time to get a look at the surroundings. These would be the waters that they would be fishing for the next couple of days and it was new territory for them. They liked what they saw. Everything looked fishy as far as the eye could see. Calm waters, mangrove islands, and points scattered about here and there. So much water....so little time. They were anxious to get out there but that would have to wait a little while longer.
While the girls were getting supplies and gear situated in and around the camp, Capt. Carey was giving D.J. a ride back to the marina. Carey would staying at the island during the weekend for safety precautions but D.J. had other chores he needed to do around the marina. From the 2nd level of the boat house, Pam and Nadia got a better view of their surroundings.
Well, there's no time like the present. The minutes were ticking by and the girls were wondering what was taking the Capt. so long to get back. They were anxious to get water bound in their kayaks and explore the fishery but didn't want to give the good Captain a scare by vacating the island before his return so they decided to be patient and in the meantime, they could always cast a line from the pier. You never know what could be lurking in the water within casting distance. It was the best way to pass the time until Carey got back.
Pam and Nadia had been keeping an eye on the river looking for a glimpse of Capt. Carey's boat. As soon as they could confirm that it was him heading in their direction, they scrambled down from the boathouse platform and notified the other two that he was on his way back. Delores made her way down to the waters edge where all of the kayaks had been tethered together to keep them secure and began the process of separating them so everyone would have enough elbow room once they started loading them with fishing gear.
Poor Carey - he had no idea how those four ladies were going to keep him running. As soon as he got back, the girls began badgering him about getting the kayak fishing adventure underway. They had been pacing for a while and were eager to get those yaks water bound. It had been quite a while since he had been in a kayak but he was determined to give it a go. So he drug his yak to the water, loaded it with his gear and prepared himself for a long, uncomfortable afternoon, all for the sake of making sure these gals had a great experience.
The girls were so anxious to get on the water and start fishing. The minutes were ticking by and they didn't want to waste a second of sunlight. This was new territory and there were so many new places to explore and cast a line. They were already water bound by the time Carey got in his kayak. Martha Ann led the pack by heading west and then everyone split up to cover more ground....er....water. The kayak fishing adventure was now under way and Carey did his best to keep an eye on everyone.
Martha Ann was the first to get her bearings out there. She spent some time scouting the area and getting familiar with her surroundings but it didn't take her long to get comfortable. She knew what she was looking for: mangrove points and fast current and she soon found it, pin-pointing the spot where she would anchor down and start her fishing mission. While the rest of the girls were still exploring new territory, Martha Ann has positioned her kayak just where she wanted it and anchored down so that she would have no distraction (like drifting out of range) while she dialed in on a few casting spots. By 1:30 that afternoon she had boated her first snook from her kayak. It measured in at 29 inches but without knowing (off the top of her head) what the snook regulations were, she snapped a quick picture of it and then gently released it back into the water. She did not want to take the chance of it dying on her kayak while she researched the regulations. She found out soon afterwards that she had released a slot snook...one that could have been harvested for a celebratory dinner that night. But Martha Ann was unaware of just how "On Fire!" she would be that day...she was just warming up.
Delores, Nadia and Pam didn't have as much success as Martha Ann, but it wasn't for lack of trying. It took them a bit longer to identify potential hot-spots and they spent most of their time just making blind casts and hoping for the best. That's not to say that they didn't catch any fish, but certainly nothing in comparison to what Martha Ann was boating. That woman was on fire! Within an hour of her first snook, she nailed this slot redfish. This was the fish that would be put on the evening menu and could easily feed four hungry women. It was a good thing knowing that there would be a choice for dinner: redfish fillets or hamburgers.
When Martha Ann caught her slot redfish, she really wasn't too far from the campsite so she paddled back there to put Red on ice until dinnertime rolled around. Perfect opportunity to take a potty break and stretch the legs, too. Nadia had the same idea and was already at the campsite when Martha Ann got there. Nadia, like the other girls (and Capt, Carey) hadn't done as well. No real solid fish to report, unfortunately. Martha Ann had set a pretty high standard and seemed to be dialed-in on where the action was, so by 3:00, after a few minutes of conversation, she invited Nadia to follow her out for one last trip. Hopefully she could help Nadia boat a worthy fish of her own that day. So she lead Nadia to her hot-spot and told her where to anchor down and in what direction to cast. While Nadia's getting situated, Martha Ann paddled a short distance away so that she could try a new spot but still keep an eye on Nadia. And as fate would have it, Martha Ann would pull in the next fish, and not just any fish, another slot snook at 28.5 inches. There was just no doubt that she was having a stellar day! A second slot snook was a rare treat and would join Big Red in the cooler. This would be the perfect opportunity for the gang to savor the flavor of both species that evening. Two tasty fish, five mouths to feed. Back to the campsite once again to keep it fresh on ice.
It was getting pretty late out there and by 4:00, the gang thought it best to go ahead and head back to home base. They would have like to stay out even longer and keep fishing but their bodies were cramping from being in their kayaks most of the day and they were hungry and thirsty and just plain needed a break so they decided to go head and call it a day. While they pulled a few cool ones out of the YETI, Carey was busy working his fillet knife and getting some snook and redfish fillets prepared.
Whew - - It had been a truly exciting and action-packed day! Loading kayaks at the marina, unloading kayaks at the retreat, organizing gear, fishing for hours on end. It was definitely time to take a serious break from it all. The cabins had this really awesome covered deck that afforded lots of shade and was furnished with comfortable patio chairs which the girls took full advantage of. There they sat enjoying a few adult beverages and chatting about the happenings of the day: Martha Ann's stellar angling prowess, Nadia's scenic photographs, Delores's salvage of abandoned lures. All while Capt. Carey was busy cleaning fish. Dinner would soon be served.
During the planning stages of this trip, Pam contemplated the possibility that even though four lady anglers would be spending most of the day fishing, the ultimate yield of slot table fare species might be a big fat zero. Stuff happens. On the off chance that this might occur, she developed a strategy for "Plan B". That would consist of her secret homemade hamburger recipe with all the fixin's. Without Martha Ann's redfish & snook, beef would have been their only source of protein. But since those "just-in-case" burgers were grill-ready, there seemed to be no reason to hold them back from the buffet line. Four grilled fish fillets and four grilled hamburgers would be just enough to feed four hungry lady anglers and one hungry fishing guide!
While Grill-Master Carey was slaving away over a hot grill, the girls were preparing the table for a well deserved feast. Paper plates, napkins, plastic utensils, fresh redfish & snook fillets, hamburger fixin's: buns, cheese, mayo, mustard, ketchup, lettuce, tomato, onions, chips, sides: macaroni salad, southwestern corn, baked beans and cold beverages in the YETI. As they enjoyed dinner, they relived the events of the day with the focus of attention on Martha Ann's unforgettable angling prowess. She certainly earned the crown that day and the ladies were just so happy to have been a part of the memory. Having a dinner on a private island with great company and knowing that the meal was a joint effort between them gave them a sense of accomplishment. And things just kept getting better.
Oh Lord...what a day it had been. So much had happened and after the dinner table had been cleaned and things put away, they found themselves with full bellies and a little unexpected down-time. It was getting late and they contemplated a few options. 1...Do they take a quick nap and gear up for a stab at a little night fishing or 2...Do they call it a day and just use the rest of the evening to relax. There was still a long day of charter fishing with Capt. Carey the following day, but no one wanted to waste a single second of the time out there. They had to make it count. That's when Carey suggested a Sunset Boat Ride. That would entail a trip to the mouth of the Homosassa River to watch the sun set and then the return trip afterwards. Their reaction was a unison of "ooohhhsss" and "aaahhhsss" with wide eyed looks of wonder. They couldn't think of a better way to cap off the day and were so grateful to Carey for suggesting it.
As if Saturday wasn't exciting enough, Sunday held even more adventure. A six-hour professional fishing charter with Capt, Carey targeting trout and redfish. It was the topic of conversation after they arrived back at the cabins after the sunset cruise. But those plans would require a good nights sleep instead of nighttime kayak fishing and so they opted to rest their weary little bodies. Pam and Nadia occupied Cabin #1 and Martha Ann and Delores took Cabin #2. Both cabins were furnished with dresser, night stands, a queen bed and a set of bunk beds so technically each cabin could sleep up to 4 people. But most importantly....there was A/C. There was also a T.V. in each room but no one really cared to watch it. It was time for some much needed rest. When Sunday morning rolled around, the thought on everyone's mind was the weather and water conditions so curiosity took them to the dock at daybreak to get a glimpse of how the day would begin and they were met with a beautiful site. Calm waters and smooth as glass. Breathtaking sunrise. The girls were anxious to get the day started,
The Homosassa River sunrise was a beautiful sight. The flat water surface allowed the ladies to catch the subtle clues of where fish were pilfering for food within visual distance. They had a feeling it was going to be a beautiful day. But what's better than watching a sunrise? Watching it with a fresh cup of coffee in your hand. Nadia was on top of things. She had already found the coffee supplies in the kitchen and was busy getting them laid out for the rest of the girls. She's awesome like that.
The smell of Nadia's fresh coffee brewing made its way to Martha Ann which prompted her to pull her breakfast tote out of the refrigerator. She had brought enough breakfast supplies to make sure no one would walk away from the table hungry. Lined up on the counter, buffet style, were bagels, cream cheese, sliced tomatoes, capers and salt & pepper shakers. They each created a bagel masterpiece and took that and their coffee outside to the community table under the covered deck. That breakfast was delicious, and a perfect way to start the Sunday morning. How nice it was to be a part of a ladies-only fishing retreat. Drinking coffee and eating breakfast together outside while the sun came up and the morning began. It was a good thing that they filled their bellies. The day turned out to be a busy one.
By 8:00 that morning, everyone had their fill of coffee and bagels. Breakfast time had been relaxing with conversations of what excitement the day would hold. The table had been cleared and the small amount of dishes they used had been cleaned and put away. It was time to get ready for a 6 hour professional charter with Capt. Carey Gibson. Kayak fishing the day before had been fun, but it hadn't produced the quality fish that they hoped for (with the exception of Martha Ann, of course). They were certainly counting on Capt. Carey to help them rectify that problem. His boat was loaded with gear and some comfortable chairs and by 9:00 a.m., they were ready, willing and eager to get going.
Every Homosassa local knows that no fishing trip is complete without a visit to Bonnie "The Bait Lady"'s bait houseboat just outside the mouth of the Homosassa River. Her bait boat had become a well known landmark and one of the local icons that add to the charm of Homosassa. This trip would not jinx that tradition so naturally Capt. Carey headed straight for her boat after leaving the island. He had to pick up a couple of dozen good-luck shrimp in order to stack the odds in favor of some slot trout and redfish.
Some of the awesome photos from that day:
From 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Capt. Carey motored those girls here, there and everywhere. They spent a little time at each hot spot and if too much time past without someone hooking up, he would pull up anchor and move on. There were lots of places to hit and he was prepared to visit every single one of them, if he had to, just to make sure these ladies got what they came for (mostly just a fun time, but some keeper fillets would be nice, too) By 3:00, the group had their fair-share of fish in the cooler and agreed that it was time to head back to camp. Their casting arms were tired and there was still lots to do before they could make their way back to the marina. They realized the weekend was coming to a close.
Although they continued to relive the events of the day, they knew they had to turn their attention to a new project like clearing out their belongings from the cabins and making sure that all of their things were present and accounted for. Bags were packed, gear was organized and totes were lined up down the pier, ready to be loaded. That was the easy part. While the girls had been busy taking care of those details, Carey had been trying to contact D.J. by cell phone. DJ had helped transport the kayak barge from the marina to the island on Saturday morning and had agreed to do the same for the return trip. Problem was...cell phone towers were down (ATT, Sprint, Verizon) and DJ couldn't be reached no matter how hard Carey (or anyone else for that matter) tried. Plan B went in action. The girls joined forces and worked hard to help Carey load all four kayaks and all the gear onto the pontoon. There was just no other option and no telling how long it would take for cell phone service to come back on-line and it was getting later by the minute. The girls were pretty anxious now to get back to the marina and call it a day.
Carey made a final walk around the property to make sure that all the doors were locked, windows shut and the air conditioners turned off. There was a lot to secure before he could take the girls back to the marina, so while he was taking care of all those final details, they gathered together at the end of the pier to wait for him. While they were there relaxing and chatting, they spotted this family of manatees leisurely swimming by. It was a great way to end their stay on the island.
By the time the manatee family cruised by, Capt. Carey had the mothership loaded with kayaks and gear and everything on the island secured. It was time to make their way back to the marina. Although the ladies were exhausted and ready to go home, they had such a great time that it was hard to accept the fact that it was almost over. The weekend had been a nice break from reality. Nonetheless, they boarded the boat and found themselves a comfortable place to sit for the ride back. Carey pulled away from the dock and turned toward the river. It was a very quiet ride back, everyone doing a little internal self-reflection of the weekend events....ready to get home and share those stories with friends and family while they were still fresh on the brain.
Back at the marina, Carey positioned the boat so that it would be easy to unload gear and kayaks. The ladies, with help from their spouses, began the daunting task of organizing and transferring their things off the boat and into their respective vehicles. Carey turned his attention to unloading the cooler full of redfish and trout...the haul they brought in earlier in the day during the chartered fishing trip. Those fish still had to be cleaned and filleted. Everybody was tired at this point, including the Captain, but even after putting up with four women this weekend and doing 99% of the physical labor, he was still happy to get those fish prepared for transport and made certain that all the ladies got to take home their fair share of fresh fish!
Overall the weekend was a complete success and worth every single penny they had paid to experience it! Capt. Carey went out of his way (and above & beyond the call of duty) to ensure that these four Nature Coast Lady Anglers experienced a fishing weekend that they would never forget. It was an amazing one from start to finish and Capt. Carey Gibson was the Capt. that made it all possible. Everyone should try this trip at least once. The NCLA is planning on making it an annual event.
Thank You Captain Carey Gibson for an unforgettable weekend! We appreciate all the time and effort you put in to make it an outstanding event.
There is a small dot on the west coast of Florida's map that represents a tight-knit fishing village/community called Ozello. It is Florida's best kept secret and we, as Nature Coast residents, are the ones lucky enough to call this place "a little slice of old Florida". As kayak anglers, this is Heaven on Earth with kayak launch spots all up and down Ozello Trail with access to Snook, Trout, and Redfish within a one mile paddle from any of those sites. It is Paradise and we love to spend a lot of time on the water there.
It just so happens that several of our NCLA club members live in Ozello and are part of the various community fundraisers. One of the ladies told us that one of the most popular attractions is the Annual Ozello Craft Show & Chili Cook-Off. She thought that maybe it would be something fun for us, as a group, to get involved in so we checked it out. Then, an e-mail went out to all of the members to see how many would be willing to support such a function and we received an immediate response back from Lori & Rita, two of our members who are co-workers and good friends. Their response went something like this, "We've been known to compete in various chili cook-offs and have taken home a trophy or two!" And after digging a little deeper, they agreed to represent the NCLA by entering their trophy winning recipe in the 11th Annual Chili Cook-Off this year. This was a first for us and a very exciting endeavor. GAME ON !!
We knew how to get to Ozello and just followed the signs to the Craft Show. There were volunteers there every few yards directing drivers into the free parking area, but once we arrived, we wondered how we were going to find Lori and Rita. once we got past the entry gate. It just so happened, though, that as we were checking the weather report for the day, a text came in from Rita with directions to their Chili Station - that was very helpful info.
It looked like it was going to be a beautiful day. All of the venders and crafters had arrived early to set up their booths under tents and were ready to sell their wares. Lots of folks were already strolling around the grounds taking in all of the new and interesting items that were being displayed. But for us, there would be plenty of time for that. Our mission was to find Lori & Rita's chili booth.
Our intention was to make a B-line straight to Lori & Rita's chili booth, but without knowing exactly where that was, we had to stop and ask for directions. We wanted to be sure we were heading the right way. The minutes we stopped however......shiny, sparking crafty gadgets drew our focus away from our plan and we justified that spontaneous detour by telling ourselves that there really wasn't any major rush to find the girls. A 5-10 minute delay to inspect a few creative masterpieces wouldn't cause any harm and so we succumbed to the temptation and did a little window shopping along the way.
It wasn't long before we ran into Lori & Rita proudly standing behind a crock-pot full of their award winning chili. The competition hadn't officially started yet, though, so they gave us a run-down of how the voting process worked.
By 9:00 a.m., a line had formed at the ticket booth. Those folks were waiting to get their chance to taste each chili recipe and cast their vote for their favorite. The line got longer as the minutes ticked away. We managed to pull Lori and Rita away from their crock-pot station just long enough to get a photo of them under the Ozello Chili-Cook-Off sign and sent them back to represent. It looked like they were going to have lots of mouths to feed.
By 10:00 a.m., we had run into a number of our NCLA members who had come out to support for the Ozello Craft Show and Lori and Rita at the Chili Cook-Off in particular. We managed to pull most (not all) of them together for a quick group photo before they disperse once again to go perusing craft tables and vendors.
So by days end, there had been hundreds of folks that paid their dues to sample each of the chili recipes that were presented for the competition. Crock pots ran empty pretty quick. The rule was that as soon as one sample was completely gone, the competition was over and by the ending tally, our gals knew where they stood. They were disappointed that they came in 4th, but given the fact that it was their first time competing against this group of about 20 contestants, we say that 4th Place was pretty darn good and we're proud of their effort. We just know that next year, we'll have to bring in reinforcements!
During a general conversation between some of the NCLA ladies, the topic came up about the various privately owned restaurants on Ozello Trail, one of which is called Backwater Fins. One of the gals mentioned that there is a makeshift cement launch area next to the restaurant where a small john boat or gheenoe could easily be launched and another area by their grassy parking lot where a kayak could be put in as well. Well - that got us thinking...if that were the case, then why don't we put together a group one day and check it out?
So a phone call was made to Debbie, the manager at Backwater Fins and confirmation was received that we would be able to use part of their parking for a Ladies Only Kayak Fishing Adventure. Tides were checked, a calendar was pulled out and a date was set. Now all we had to pray for was good weather.
The only thing that could ruin our plans was the weather. January and February had been unusually windy. The cold temperatures were to be expected but the wind had not stopped for weeks. The weather threshold that would cancel these plans would have been a 60% chance of rain or winds greater than 15, which would be a roll-of-the-dice any day in Florida. We made daily weather checks on Weatherstem
Two of our newest members were eager to join in on the fun but had not had time enough to really research fishing kayaks for purchase of their own and had asked if any loaner kayaks were available. An NCLA "distress call" when out to our good friend and kayak fishing guide, Brian Stauffer of Fishhead Kayak Charters who generously loaned out a kayak so that everyone who wanted to participate would be able to do so. And we greatly appreciate his assistance.
After loading the extra kayaks on the trailer, we had to make a drive to Moore Bait & Tackle so we could pic up about 100 shrimp to distribute among the 10-15 ladies that were on the list to meet-up at 10:00 a.m. A bubbler with with new batteries should keep that 5-gallon bucket of shrimp alive for a couple of hours.
Well, as great as it is to buy live shrimp for bait, it's more satisfying to possess the ability to throw a cast net and catch your own live bait and subsequently add a few different species to the menu (killifish, greenbacks, & finger mullet) so by 8:00 a.m., we had a myriad of live bait to choose from.
The tides were manageable for the number of ladies we were expecting, many of them in a kayak for the first time. We certainly didn't need a strong incoming or outgoing current to add pressure to a new paddler, nor did we need any winds above the expected 11 mph hour for the same reason. Too many new ladies to worry about a difficult paddle back to a new launch site. What we had been given for the day was PERFECT.
Each of the ladies that had signed up for the Group Kayak Fishing Trip received, via e-mail, an ariel Google image of the launching spots and parking instructions. We had permission to use their overflow parking but without blocking customer parking. It was a bit difficult to accomplish that with 15 ladies pulling kayak trailers, but we managed!
Between 9:00 - 10:00, the masses began to arrive starting with Alice...
Up rolled compact cars with kayaks on top, SUVs pulling kayak trailers, and trucks with kayaks sticking out the back. All shapes and all sizes pulled up, backed in and began to unload gear...one right after another. Several S.O.s had accompanied their better halves to help with the lifting and those muscles came in particularly handy when Yella realized that one of her Scotty Rodholders had somehow gotten stuck in the mount. Brett came to help and was able to dislodge it. Overall the unloaded process went smoothly.
Anne & Marie organizing their gear
Amie takes a minute to make sure she hasn't forgotten anything before getting in her Hobie
Even though we set a 10:00 meet-up time, many of the gals got there early and put in so they could get an early start and not block the clearing for the others.
While Martha was waiting for the others, she spotted a bill on the bottom and scooped it up with her dip net! Not sure what's better...catching fish or catching $$.
The initial plan was to fish while we slowly made our way along a meandering Ozello "back country" waterway until we reached an area that seemed to allow enough room to get our of our kayaks and stretch our legs, however, with so many ladies signed up for this outing (many of them new to kayaks), and the light winds playing a factor, it would be extremely difficult to make sure no one got lost in the 4.5 mile maze. We made a unanimous decision to axe that long paddle and just stick around and fish the local waters. So that's what we did.
Random Photos: Alice & her little dog, Jasper
Anne fishing with the group for the first time
Deb trying her skills at fishing from a kayak for the first time
This ain't Lori's first rodeo !!
Patsy is armed & dangerous!!!
Delores working the shoreline
We spent the next several hours exploring the new area. Some folks were fishing from a small bridge nearby so we had to make sure we stayed a good distance away from their tackle in the water. Most were using brightly colored popping corks so they were easily spotted. We came upon a couple of nice areas with crushed shell masses that we could paddle up to, get out, and still be on solid ground. We would have to keep those areas in mind for our next trip out this way. There were lots of small coves that blocked the wind so those were nice to paddle into and just "take-5" while the sun was sharing its warmth. Those who got a bit tired of fishing, paddled around and picked up trash that had gotten stuck in the mangroves. This is sometimes a great way to collect new fishing tackle, too. Some witnessed a Bald Eagle and its young flying overhead. That's something you don't see every day and often times you don't want to look away to locate your camera to get a picture or you miss the entire fly-over because it's gone in a matter of seconds.
By mid-day the wind had kicked up considerably. We knew, based on the past few weeks alone, that it would, but we really weren't out there to do any type of "hard-core" fishing, we were just learning a new area, exploring, and experimenting with different baits and lures. A couple of the gals had hooked into a few good size trout along with a boated redfish as well so there were fish caught. But because we had no desire to fight our way back to shore, over the next hour everyone began the paddle back.
There's our sign !!
By 1:00 p.m. everyone was off the water and starving! We dragged ourselves into the restaurant and managed to put together several tables so that the majority of us could sit together. Jamie, our fearless waitress, was kickin-butt with our drink orders and we were grateful. We're a hard bunch to manage. After our food orders were put in, we walked outside to get a good group photo under the restaurant awning and then back in again for some time of fun, food, and general mayhem. It was a great start to the year!
The date had been set a month prior and several of the gals had made plans to take the day off from work that day in desperate need of a change of scenery and in hopes of a super fun adventure catching fish and hanging out. Amazing and unexpected things happen on the water every day and you never know what you're going to witness from one day to the next. One thing's for sure....you can't be a part of it if you're not out there.
The coastal days prior to the outing had been pretty windy by all reports and this day's prediction seemed to follow the same course. A few of the ladies bowed out of the trip because of this but three decided to "throw caution to the wind", literally, and followed through on the meet-up. Maybe Mother Nature would show some mercy and surprise the crew with an unexpected hassle free day.
Delores, driving from Ocala, and Louise, driving from New Port Richie, met up at 7:00 a.m. at the Hook Line & Sinker bait and tackle shop in Yankeetown. They spent a few minutes inside, browsing the aisles to see what caught the eye and chatting with Nickie behind the counter before walking out with a bucket of live shrimp. Then it was back on the road and heading for an area called Redneck Beach.
Redneck Beach is just a small clearing off the side of Highway 40 West on the left about 100 yards before you reach the boat ramp at the end of Hwy 40 in Yankeetown. Most folks just throw a couple of lawn chairs in the sand and fish the Withlacoochee River right before it feeds out into the Gulf of Mexico. It's probably not the best place to launch kayaks because you never know how fast the current is running in the middle of the river or when a boat is going to come buzzing around the bend at full throttle. If it's a strong current then a kayaker is in danger of being pushed by the current faster than they can paddle against it. This would be the first time in a very long time that we've ventured to cross it to explore some new fishing grounds. We were anxious to see what the surroundings looked like once we got there.
We were hoping that no one else had the same or similar idea about launching or fishing at Redneck Beach this early in the morning on a workday Tuesday, but you never know. So we were delighted to see that we were going to have the site all to ourselves when we arrived. Sue and Delores helped Louise unload her kayak and then Sue and Louise helped Delores do the same and then Sue's kayak was unloaded last. The next half hour was spent gearing up and parking vehicles.
The overall plan was to get to the west side of Chamber's Island and fish all of that area. The question was which route we would eventually take to get there. We knew we'd have to paddle across the Withlacoochee River, which wasn't too big of a deal, we just weren't sure how fast the current was running with an outgoing tide. So....should we circumnavigate the east side of the Island and work our way around or should we take a chance on a small short-cut that we hadn't tried before and see if it would pay off and get us to the other side faster. The circumnavigation was a sure thing. We knew we could paddle that, but it would take longer. We weren't sure if the short cut was one we could get all the way through. A satellite image gave us the impression that it may be too shallow to pass. We may be forced to turn back and take the long way anyway in which case we would lose valuable fishing time. Decisions....Decisions.....
By 8:30, it was sunny and 61 degrees with a high of 80. It was turning out to be a perfect morning as we paddled across the Withlacoochee River toward the shortcut. Even though high tide was at 6:00, we still had plenty of outgoing water to carry us through the shortcut and the current crossing the river was manageable enough. As we navigated the creek we could see swirling water on both sides of us from the fast current and we had a feeling that the creek itself had the potential to hold lots of fish. We had to make a mental note of that because three people fishing the creek at the same time was a bit too much congestion. There would always be time to paddle back to the mouth of the creek if anyone wanted to do that.
Once we made it to the west side of Chamber's Island, we split up. Sue turned around and headed back into the creek and Louise and Delores started fishing the grass line. By 9:30, Louise had caught her first redfish of the day and between her and Delores, several small redfish were caught and released over the period of a couple of hours.
We continued to monitor the weather and wind speed during the course of the morning and everything seemed to be peaceful and calm on the west side of the island.
From a Google Earth view, there looked to be an excellent lunch spot that we were anxious to check and so right about 11:00, we paddled up on it and was pleasantly surprised at how accommodating it was for kayaks and so we were able to take a break, explore, and eat a bite.
We canvased a small section of the shoreline picking up trash, recovering lost tackle, and collecting a couple of horseshoe crab skeletons that were fully in-tact. Through the trees we were able to get a glimpse of the east side of the island and discovered that the wind was blowing pretty strong. It was then that we realized we had a false sense of security with our weather prediction because those trees had blocked much of the wind from us. But....maybe it wasn't as bad as it looked.
We were having such a nice time scouring the island and just chillin' that we really lost track of the tidal flow. Our kayaks were practically beached before we realized it and we had to hustle to get them back in the water and floating. The water was still calm and we were trying to determine if we were going to circumnavigate the rest of the island while we fished our way back to the launch site or were we going to take the easy way back going the same way we had come....through the shortcut creek.
Our intent was to paddle around the point and fish the shoreline on the left (deeper water) all the way back to the launch site but as soon as Sue, who was in front at the time, made her way around the bend she discovered that the wind was much stronger than we had anticipated and we weren't comfortable going any futher. We had no intentions of working any harder than we already were to get back. We decided to turn around and paddle in shallow water with some, although very little, protection from the wind.
We made a few attempts to fish during that paddle back to the shortcut creek, it was very infrequent or we trolled a live shrimp behind. The wind played tricks on us, switching from dead zero...not even a breeze, to gusts of 15 mph, but we knew where we were headed so we paced ourselves to get back to the mouth of the creek.
When we made it back to the creek, we couldn't help but notice the amount of water that was pouring out, giving us the impression that there would be predator fish lying-in-wait along the edges taking advantage of smaller fish being swept out by the strong current. Knowing that we really shouldn't stop to fish it because we were already taking a chance on getting back through the creek while the tide was going out, we just couldn't pass it up so we convinced ourselves that it would be worth the delay.
Unfortunately, it wasn't! And to add insult to injury, we had made the mistake of staying there a little too long and really struggled to paddle the shortcut creek against the westward blowing wind along with a strong outgoing tide. We managed.....but it was a fight.
We finally made it back to Redneck Beach, a little exhausted but proud of ourselves that we didn't get swept out to sea in the process. We pat ourselves on the back and vowed never to do that again...although we probably will. We helped one another load up gear, talked and laughed about the short fishing day and went on home relieved that we had made it off the water safely.
Will we go back there again? SURE
Will we be more careful about the wind predictions? SURE
Will we let weather reports dictate our every move? Probably NOT
Back in May of 2014, Capt. William Toney, President of the Homosassa Guides Association, came to our NCLA meeting and introduced us to the Spotted Seatrout species - how to identify them, catch them and cook them. During that presentation, he mentioned that every fishing guide in their association offerd a charter trip called a Cooked Shore Lunch. It's a morning of trout fishing and then an afternoon of cooking and eating fresh fish with all of the fixin's (hush puppies, baked beans and coleslaw) on a nearby private island. He described the process in great detail and our minds quickly shifted focus from trout talk to charter talk and in June of 2015, over a year later, four of the NCLA ladies got to experience this exclusive charter for themselves. Here's how it played out:
The entire month of May had been filled with sunshine and blue-bird skies, however the weather reports called for 40-60% chance of rain during the entire first week of June and when was our Cooked Shore Lunch charter scheduled? Of course, you guessed it....the first Tuesday on the June calendar! Those reports were right for the most part, it did rain most every day that week but the rain seemed to hold itself off until the latter part of the afternoon. We had to decide, as a group, if we wanted to take the risk of getting dumped on out there or cancel the trip entirely based on the chance of getting caught in a thunderstorm with possible lightning. After a brief exchange of thoughts and looking at the morning skies, we decided to go for it.
7:45 a.m. All four ladies met up with Capt. Toney at MacRae's Marina, located right on the Homosassa River, where he had his boat already in the water and ready to be loaded. He reassured us that we had picked an outstanding day for a Cooked Shore Lunch Charter. The daily rains we had been getting over the past week had cooled the water off significantly and the overcast skies that we were expecting throughout the day would make it easier for trout, which are top water feeders, to see lures above without the disadvantage of the sun's intense glare beating down on the water's surface. The tides were prime just after the full moon. We had all the odds stacked in our favor.
We would still keep our eye on the morning skies, though....just so there were no surprises!
8:00 a.m. We handed over to the Capt. our 'snack packs'. This included a couple of beverages and granola bars and such....just a few snacks to get us through the morning in case our tummies started growling out there before it was actually time to eat lunch. He stowed them away, assisted us in boarding the boat and we were on our way.
(Alice - in the blue long sleeve shirt / Delores - sitting down dressed in grey / Dot - wearing a chartreuse t-shirt / Nan - in the blue short sleeve NCLA t-shirt)
Naturally, seeing rain showers in the distance brought out the synical side of us.
As we were navigating the channel markers in the no-wake zone of the Homosassa River, Capt. Toney pointed out some of the local landmarks like a mega-house on the south side of the river that is noticeably uneven due to foundation problems, and the old Crow's Nest Restaurant located on a private island at the mouth of the river. The island and structure are for sale if you're interested.
On the opposite side of the river, almost directly across from the old Crow's Nest Restaurant is yet another privately owned island with a mini-resort, called Tarpon Key Lodge, for rent by the weekend, week, or month ---only accessible by boat, though. Note to Self: "This will definitely be put on the NCLA Bucket List!"
When we passed the Tarpon Key Lodge to the left and were approaching the mouth of the Homosassa River, Capt. Toney interrupted our random girly chatter to give us fair warning that he was about to push the throttle down. He gave us a few seconds to prepare ourselves and then off we went, cruising in and then out of a body of water known to the locals as the "Sugar Bowl". Given that none of us women were at all familiar with the Homosassa fishery, we had no clue as to where the good Capt. was taking us. We just relished in the fact that we really didn't care where he was going or how long it would take to get there. We all sat back in our comfy deck chairs, closed our eyes and enjoyed the fresh morning air as it blew in our faces. It was quite a relaxing 15 minute ride.
Capt. Toney had our tackle ready to go. Here is what were would be fishing with throughout the day:
Rod: G-Loomis Saltwater Greenwater
GWR 901 S / 7' 6" / Mag-Medium / Ex-Fast
A more powerful spinning rod designed to fish live bait and soft plastics. It makes a really good choice for the deeper flats and bigger fish. It is a good choice for permit, small jacks and big reds. It will handle small crabs and has enough power to handle those over-sized surprises. Made with our "fiber blend technology", it is light and sensitive!
Reel: Shimano Saros 2500 / SAR2500FA
Series - Saros
Family Type - Spinning
Models Offered - 4
Key Feature - X-Ship
Ball Bearings - 5
Roller Bearings - 1
Maximum Drag (lb) - 7-15 (lb)
Retrieve Per Crank Range (in) - 29-37
A redesigned series introducing Shimano's new XGT7 Graphite, the new Saros FA reels feature a super strong high tech frame, rotor and sideplate construction providing an exceptionally solid feel. Combined with X-Ship technology for solid cranking power, the four new Saros FA reels feature Rapid Fire Drag for easy and accurate adjustments when fighting fish. Just realized it's bigger than you thought? Rapid Fire Drag will help you land it. Saros FA - a new standard in spinning reels from Shimano.
Tackle: Popping Cork with Seaguar Brand Fluorocarbon in 20# test
Lure: D.O.A. / 3 inch C.A.L. Jerkbait in bourbon and bourbon flake on a red, short shank D.O.A. jig-head
We certainly enjoyed the trip out to open water. There was just something therapeutic about it that can't always be put into words, but we knew once the boat began to slow down that we were coming to the end of our ride. 8:30 a.m. - First stop of the day - Capt. Toney gave us a few moments to get our sea legs on and then began to hand out rods one by one. It was a little tricky to have four women casting rods from the same boat but he did a great job of spacing us out and pointing in the direction that we needed to be casting for the best chance of trout strikes. None of us were expert casters so it's a wonder that no one ended up with a new body piercing they hadn't planned on....including the Capt. himself, it's one of the hazards of the job.. It was 72 degrees with partly cloudy skies. The Capt. had done his job by getting us out to the feeding grounds, but now the pressure was on us to catch lunch.
We spent the next five or ten minutes getting used to casting a 7 ft rod and fishing with artificial lures that had no scent on them.. A little different than using a live shrimp like we're used to but it didn't take us too long to get the hang of it.. Alice was probably the most experienced angler of the group so it was no surprise, really, that she was the first to hook up with a fish. Unfortunately, it wasn't a trout like we'd hoped and were targeting. It was a nasty ol' Remora. Ugly boogers for sure and Capt. Toney told us how really nasty they were.
"The relationship between a remora and its host is most often taken to be one of commensalism, specifically phoresy. Though it was originally thought that the host to which it attaches for transport gains nothing from the relationship, research indicates that hosts also benefit, given that remoras feed on parasites (such as copepods) and clean sloughing epidermal tissue as well as ingesting scraps of food, feces, and small nekton and zooplankton. The remora benefits by using the host as transport and protection, and also feeds on materials dropped by the host. Controversy surrounds whether a remora's diet is primarily leftover fragments, or the feces of the host. In some species (Echeneis naucrates and E. neucratoides), consumption of host feces is strongly indicated in gut dissections."
We had no clue. Pretty Gross!
For Alice it was cast after cast after cast - Remora, another Remora, and another Remora. Still...it was better than the rest of us were doing. After a half hour of that, Capt. Toney decided it was time for a move and we were ready.
Our new spot was a bit more productive but maybe that had a lot to do with the fact that we all were a tad more comfortable by then. Alice brought in an undersized trout for starters. It was too small to keep for our planned Cooked Shore Lunch, but an undersized trout is 10x better than a Remora any day of the week. And things started looking up after that.
Next in the boat was a 16 inch Trout. It was the first to be measured in the slot and so was quickly tossed into the cooler as we celebrated the beginning of our "collection" of future fillets! Delores remembered to bring the official CCA STAR measuring device because even though we were targeting trout, there was a minuscule chance that one of us could hook into a STAR tagged redfish. After all, there were four of us fishing at the same time.....it could happen.
10:00 a.m. - We had fished and relocated a time or two in the hour and a half we had been out there and every time we watched our bobber go down we naturally assumed we had another trout to add to the cooler but that wasn't always the case. This little guy was hungry too and if a Trout wasn't going to take our bait, he certainly would....and did. This encounter was the closest Nan had ever physically been to a free swimming shark....even if it was just a wee lad. They are fascinating creatures and we enjoyed a little "show & tell" time.
Much of the morning was spent just making general conversation, asking Capt. Toney lots of questions and soaking up the experience. The Capt. threw a few casts out himself in order to bump our numbers up a bit and it was fun to watch him in action.
10:30 a.m. - We had relocated to another area that had some bottom structure. We hadn't been breaking any records yet with our trout haul, even though we had four lady anglers on the boat. We were novices and doing the best we could. Capt. Toney was watching each of our bobbers with eagle eyes and knew the second he saw Delores's drop below the water's surface. She had a fish on. He instantly gave her the instruction to "Stay Tight", meaning 'don't give that fish any slack line and/or the chance to break free'. He knew the minute he netted it, it would be a legal fish, approximating it's length at about 20 inches.
He laid that Trout on the CCA STAR Tourney measuring device and it measured in at 20 inches, just like he predicted. Delores took a picture of it on her cell phone and uploaded it into the Ladies Division using the official CCA STAR phone app. And then into the cooler it went.
Nan above fishing at the bow,
We're just a bunch of ladies having fun on the water.