Sunday, July 21, 2013

Kayak Fishing St. Marks

I love the salt.

Something about saltwater fishing just gets me excited WAY more than freshwater fishing does. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy bass fishing. I mean, any fishing is better than none. But fishing in the salt is where I enjoy myself the most.

With my Jeep and kayak trailer lights -finally- working properly, I headed out of the plantation last week and drove the hour long trip to the coast. My destination was St. Marks national wildlife refuge. Thanks to a little bit of poor time management on my part, my trip took closer to an hour and a half after getting gas and actually making it out of the plantation and onto a paved road.

I'd done some scouting via google earth, and picked out some decent looking spots that I wished to try in the kayak. So I'd finally made it to the launch, I paddled out, and pretty much went exploring. To my surprise, there wasn't hardly anyone on the water. In fact, I saw only one boat all day. And with the exception of the tide, you couldn't ask for a better day on the water.

On the second cast of the day, and my topwater lure got destroyed mere feet from the kayak. With the fish so close to the boat, I easily identified it as a trout. But not just any trout. This was definitely one of, if not the biggest trout I'd ever hooked. It did the weird "Speckled Trout Death Roll" on the surface for a moment before finally finding itself, turning around, and peeling out line. Unfortunately, it turned right for my stern, crossed an oyster bar, and cut me off. After retying, I fished the same area for a few minutes unsuccessfully before giving up and moving on.

One thing I can safely say about St. Marks is that when the tide moves, it MOVES. I quickly found myself in water too shallow to paddle in. Thankfully, the bottom is hard sand and limestone instead of mud, and I was able to walk the kayak back into deeper water without any trouble.

There wasn't a breath of wind this particular day. And from time to time, I just had to stop and stare out over the Gulf. It was impossible to find the horizon, and I'd have to glance back to shore in order to keep myself from feeling sick.

After some paddling, I moved up into a large creek. I switched to a DOA shrimp and cast repeatedly to schools of mullet that I prayed were actually reds. But with the exception of a 5 second, drag screaming strike before my knot broke, I didn't have any other hits. I'm assuming it had been a Red with the way it hit. To add, I was in less than a foot of water when the fish struck.

Soon after this, the bite just turned off completely. I sight cast to a few cruising reds that I saw, but they weren't having anything to do with me. The sun was up too high, the tide was almost at a standstill, and it was so calm, that any movement was spotting out instantly by spooky fish. I decided that I'd do a little more paddling, and went exploring further down the coast.

I found some very fishy looking spots. VERY fishy. But with the tide and the time, there wasn't much going on. It was also almost 11 and I'd been on the water for close to 5 hours. So with a few "one last casts", I called it a day, and began paddling back.

What I hadn't realized, was that in my excitement of finally getting back into saltwater, I'd paddled a pretty long way. It was taking FOREVER, to get back. The tide had now switched and began coming back in while I was paddling back, so I took a break and paddled up a small creek that made a loop. To my surprise, I actually hooked a couple of dinky little trout and lost them boatside. And after navigating the entire creek, I called it a day (for real) and went back to the launch.

During my last 1/4 miles of paddling, something rather strange happened. For the first time since I broke it, my collar bone started killing me. Every other stroke felt like someone stabbing me in the shoulder. I broke the thing 9 years ago during a soccer game, and I've literally never had a problem with it until that day. I was overly grateful to make it back to the Jeep, load up the kayak, and let my arms rest.

A few days later, out of curiosity, I did some research to determine how far I actually paddled. I was guessing 5-6 miles. Most of my trips don't go over 4 miles, so I figured the little extra paddling may have stressed the old break. To my horror, I mapped out my path and saw that I'd paddled 8.7 miles that morning. I don't even like to drive that far, much less paddle a plastic boat. But it really never felt like I'd gone that far. There's obviously something about saltwater that puts me in a different place. And that's why I love it.

I've got big plans to go back to St. Marks soon. Stay tuned! Maybe I'll luck out and actually land one of those elusive fish creatures I've heard about next time.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

A Walk in the Swamp

It’s a strange thing- to wander. To not really know where you’re going, or even care for that matter. To just…well…go. One foot in front of the other. It seems strange. Though when I think about it, it shouldn’t.

It seems too often that our lives are completely scheduled out. Work starts at this time. This is what I need to cook for dinner then. The meeting takes place there and then. So on, and so forth. Even on a vacation, things are planned out. It’s a rare, and sometimes never offered opportunity to simply go out and wander. No real plan, schedule, or anything. To just go. To literally live in the moment.

I thought about this as I was doing just that: wandering. Now granted, I didn’t just walk out my front door and zombie-step into oncoming traffic. Nor did I aimlessly drive my car around the bad side of town until I ran out of gas. I at least knew the general area I wanted to wander, and had an idea of what I was doing.

But I did take a moment to look around. I’d been walking for about an hour through this swamp. I was semi-actively looking for pigs with my 30-06 slung over one shoulder and my .45 on my hip. I didn’t, however, really know where I was going. I’d been slowly walking in the direction I thought was north, but I wasn’t too worried about where I was. All I knew I was that I still had some daylight to burn, work was done for the day, and I was wearing so much Deet that I would probably pee Deep Woods Off later that evening.

It was a nice walk though. Even through the heat, I truly enjoyed myself. I slowly weaved my way around large areas of flooded timber, occasionally ducked out of the way of a Golden Orb Weaver web, and kept my head on a swivel for pigs. I hardly noticed that my snake boots were trying to rub a blister to my bone, or that I would suck a mosquito up my nose from time to time. It was just a walk through the swamp with one slow step in front of another. It was pretty freeing to just be out there. As long as I got out of there before dark and didn’t die a shriveled husk of a wildlife technician after the bug spray wore off, I didn’t care how long I was out there or where I ended up.

As uncomfortable as my feet were, it was refreshing to have dry toes on a walk. My usual boots are a Vietnam style military jungle boot that has drains on the sides to let water out…and in. So I confidently walked through water several inches deep without worry, and my inner twelve-year-old even chuckled at the suspicious squishing sounds that the boots made in the mud. I also didn’t have to stare at the ground quite so intensely for snakes. Thus, freeing my eyes to search for pigs and consequently almost trip and die on cypress knees since I was no longer staring at the ground.

Before I really knew it, hours had passed and I had slowly wandered my way out of the swamp and back into the quail woods of the plantation. Lots of pig sign, piggy looking areas, and stump pigs (they’ll fool you every time), but no actual pigs. I suddenly realized where I was and just how far I’d walked. I guess something about not caring what time it was made time actually fly. I was miles from the truck. A few hundred yard walk through a healthy mixture of beauty-berry and blackberry bushes, and I stepped out onto an old road.

I still had no real place to be, and was in no hurry to get there. So with one slow step in front of another, I walked my way down the road and back to the truck. I picked and ate an inordinate amount of blackberries along the way, and thought about how lucky I am to have opportunities to just wander. To cut loose, not care, and go wherever my feet take me. At the end of the day, what’s more strange? To have everything from sun-up to sun-down planned out? Or to wander? Just remember,

Not all who wander are lost.

Contrary to popular belief, not –all- of my hunts are unsuccessful. I’ll leave ya’ll with a sneak peek of an upcoming report: