The Year in Review:  Strike Three Kayak Fishing

For my business, publishing an article on the events of the year and expectations for the following year is usually enjoyed and a worthwhile read.   So many of the people on my database are not anglers but like to get the steady items popping up in their In-Box.    I am pleased that this is the case.   For the articles throughout the year, I try to make it more than “here are the fish that were caught” because there are stories from every day on the water that are fun and entertaining.  2012 was a really good year.   Being assertive in this business climate, people enjoyed the value of my instructional kayak fishing trips.

Personally in 2012, I did a little fishing but mostly just acted as the photographer for my clients.   On my own outings, I didn’t have any trouble catching great fish.  Probably the biggest story was my all-time best:  a really fat 33 inch trout.   Estimated without being taken out of the water, my previous largest trout were 30 inches long, achieved three times.   The lure:   The 12 Fathom SlamR.   Color:  Glo Shrimp.   The man that was with me thought it was a redfish and he was mystified when the fish swam off without being removed from the water.    Untouched, I wondered if she had ever been caught before and if she would be caught again.   I told Joe “If it was a red, it had four thousand, two hundred five spots on her.”   As usual, on “off days” I went out by myself which is what I call “scouting” and although shorter outings, I did enjoy my time on the water where I could have been doing something else.    It is interesting which stories stand out the most.  I was out another time, a little windy and a gust blew the hat off of another kayaker’s head.   I picked up a rod, made a cross wind cast landing a lure right on top of the hat, hooking it before it sank and reeled it in.   His lucky hat not lost, he did stare at me for a few seconds before he said “If I didn’t see it, I wouldn’t have believed it”.

The Clients

Without question, the best stories of the year were not only just on my trips but the stories people had “post training.”   People like Nevin, Brian P., Roger H. and Pam comes to mind.   Nevin has not only steadily improved his equipment and skills; he is also getting really good at locating and intercepting fish.   He has come a long way.   His wife has been pivotal in the process, buying him a charter certificate every year at Christmas.   Roger goes back farther with me, as both a client and a member of the Bay Area Canoe and Kayak club (which named me an honorary Lifetime Member earlier this year).  Roger enjoys his Ultimate 14.5 and just doesn’t have too many tough days out there.   The good times will roll for Rog, who just retired last month and can now fish as often as he wants to.

Brian dumped his boat club membership and shifted funds to Strike Three Kayak Fishing charters instead.   Dual purpose, his wife feels better that he’s not fishing alone- but Brian’s requests were very specific.   He likes to intercept fish he can eat and he wanted to learn a lot more areas around the Tampa Bay region.   All the while, we have been modifying technique and Brian has transitioned to an exceptional angler.    I learned that I need to just sit and watch Brian part of the day to get a good perspective.   That guy smiles most of the day when he is sitting in a kayak holding a fishing rod.   Catching fish helps but he looks happy all the time when he’s on the water.

The camaraderie of the Club connection:  Brian, Roger and Pam can be discussed together.   They have mixed and matched to get out on the water together and just last week they all got out together, and had Skip with them.   Could they find the fish without me there?   They sure could.   Pam is the newest arrival on the kayak fishing scene.   She booked me for multiple trips earlier this year to see if it would be a relaxing stress relief for her.   When I finally got to meet her husband Dave a couple of months ago we talked about how it became much more than that.  This was at a tournament awards party: Pam’s first competition: She was one of the top finishers.   It only took those couple of outings for Pam to catch the fever.   A trip to Bill Jackson’s and Pam left with the Ultimate 14.5, fully rigged, a really nice trailer, rods, reels and tackle!  The blueprint of a perfect student, Pam fires lures around local waters every weekend but probably is most proud that Roger, Skip, BP and the others think of her as “one of the guys.”

Record attendance at Kayak Fishing Skool

Bill Jackson Shop for Adventure has been the host site for Skool for six complete years now.   I am grateful to them for providing the facility and people seem to continue to enjoy the format.   There are people who have attended since Skool began.   There are many others who became new attendees who have entered the ranks of kayak angler.   One session had 65 attendees.  One of my favorite in attendance:  Samantha, who probably made it to 8 of the 10 sessions this year.   Kayak Fishing Skool resumes again in January.   Topics for all ten sessions are posted on my Seminars and Events page on my website.

The store:  Impressive improvements to the inventory and service.   They are consolidating the items that I use into one particular area to make it easy for Strike Three clients to find exactly what they used with me.   They are carrying the St Croix rods, Daiwa reels that I use and have also added significant inventory of Yak Attack accessories (a new sponsor of mine, Captain Mel Classic sponsor; product reviews forthcoming).  If you haven’t been to the store in a while, drop in and marvel at the fishing department.   I must compliment Brad Lowman for his diligent work in that department.   Sam Ledford remains my “kayak guru” assisting dozens of my clients with the purchase and rigging of their fishing kayaks this year.   (Note: The “Slayer” which will be mentioned below is in the store!)

Tropical Weather We got through another year, the third in a row, without having hurricane anxiety.    Tropical Storm Debby dropped the most rain I have ever seen. Sandy, late season, missed this area by a few hundred miles and then wrecked things for so many people in the northeast. Consistent rains all summer recharged our aquifers heading into this, our dry season.

The 2012 Captain Mel Classic

A major addition to my life the past couple of years, this is the memorial event for Captain Mel Berman.   The 2012 event had a few less people than the inaugural event but it was well attended and well liked.   Added for 2012 were the Fly and Ladies divisions.   Also added was a “bonus species” which was flounder.   The participants enjoyed the hospitality of the Fat Cat Tavern in Clearwater.   The Ladies division was well-fielded with many members of one of my favorite clubs “The Adventurous Woman” taking part.   Jenny Kent was the big winner in that division.   Tristan Raulerson cleaned up in the Junior division.   The 2013 event is set for March 23rd with the same format.

12 Fathom Lures I cannot say enough about the owners and this product.     If you don’t have these lures, why not?   Craig was a supersponsor of the Classic both years and will be the soft plastic lure sponsor for 2013 again.   The donations he has made to the tournaments are generous.  His other involvement is also worth noting.   This fall, I became affiliated with some military vets through the Heroes on the Water program.   One gentleman in particular, Jeff Wagner, was interested in using a kayak that he has.   The problem:  Jeff is paralyzed from the chest down.   I was telling Craig about a special seat made by a man in Minnesota and Craig offered to pay for it outright.    I proposed that I get donations from the BACK club, as I knew the members would enjoy being involved with showing Jeff time on the water, with rigging they had sponsored.    That project 100% funded by donations from the club members, I wanted to tell everyone that Craig Bayhi would have paid for it himself.   The challenges Jeff has had are considerable.   The opportunity to do something that will bring him happiness, exercise and some fellowship with grateful folks is something that everyone wanted to be involved.

Topwater Adventures Added to the agenda in 2012, the topwater fishing was tremendous this year.   My sponsor, Mirrolure, participated as a tournament sponsor again and I used their products a lot more this year than before and wrote product reviews on the Mirromullet and the “Dog” series of lures.   Fish crashed topwater lures a lot of the summer and fall, exciting action for my clients who learned the right technique to get in on the action.

On-the-water clinics Something that I did for clubs in the past, this is actually going to be a bigger item next year.   So many people interested in the mini-clinics on the water booked charters instead.   These will be offered in beginner and advanced with dates that will be set on the calendar.

Fly Fishing My 2012 St Croix rod order included two fly rods.   The reels that will be going on them will be Lamson fly reels.   My fly fishing clients in 2012 had great success.   They came in as existing fly anglers because I have yet to make a cast with a fly rod.   That will be rapidly changing very soon.   Tapping my many resources, I will be getting some instruction but I have paid attention to fly casters for years.   I basically want to have the background so I can help a client who is not completely skilled in the art of casting and presenting a fly.  I can make recommendations for professional instruction for those serious about trying out a new facet of Florida fishing.

Articles, reports and product reviews. Being on my email list, you would know what volume of typing I did in 2012.   Primarily “my own editor”, I also still write for the Tampa Bay Times.   The reviews are not yet complete, with so many new industry contacts that I believe in their products, you will see more information forthcoming.   A huge item that I believe people should revisit in the Steelcore locking straps.  This is such a multi-purpose item; the non-fishing people will see uses for this product.   The biggest news and pending review is the Native Watercraft “Slayer”, their 2013 kayak which will be one of the most popular fishing kayaks around the country.  My loyalty to Native products is no secret but this and future Native offerings are benefitting from the company’s success at eliciting feedback from their guide staff.    For 2014, a redesign of the Ultimate series will include significant modifications and adjustments.   For those who would like to try the Slayer watch for me to announce that my boats have arrived, which will be very soon.

School’s Out! My youngest nephew Garrett Taylor does a lot of fishing around here.   He just turned 14 last month and he is another fishing junkie in the family.  Before school was going to start back up, we decided to have him come over and stay with me for a while.   He came along on a charter and we fished all the other days (including one day where we went out twice).   Word on the streets was that I wouldn’t last more than a day.   On day 5, both he and I were lamenting that he was going back home.   The fishing part was fun but he is a really nice young man, social and helpful.   He made a lot of friends bellied up to tell his stories to the locals at Bar Fly, a new bar (and soon-to-be restaurant) in Safety Harbor.   Everyone still asks about him.    When time allows, he’ll come back and settle in for another visit.

The Departed In 2012 the biggest two losses to the fishing community were Jose Wejebe and Mark Bellotte.   I did not know Jose personally.   Mark Bellotte and I went back about ten years total.   Mark made it to the ripe age of 39.   At odds as internet acquaintances at first, we gradually became friends and realized we shared a lot of the same philosophies.   It was tough news to take but in conversations he and I had, there were some realities that he was ready for and as I said at the time he died: The last nine months or so before he died, I believe he was happier and more amused with things than I had ever seen him.    You have to admire a guy who had some significant challenges and difficulties but hardly anyone knew it.   He loved his adventures and he had plenty of them in his time here.  A final tribute:   Mark was probably one of the top three anglers I have ever met.   He could catch a fish in a mud puddle.

Another year without snook The decimation from the January 2010 freeze wiped out nearly all the snook in the region.   I immediately removed them as a target species for Strike Three Kayak Fishing charters.   This, the third year where snook were not on the agenda, it was the right choice.   Stories from other guides lament that they wish they had done the same.    For one, they mostly caught so few; they transitioned to chase other fish instead of having slow days trying to catch what wasn’t there.    One guide talked about picking on one concentration of snook (not just him, but collectively everyone that went to exercise these fish) and how a concentration of 60 or so snook whittled down as they were accidentally killed, brutally mishandled, taken illegally or released to be eaten by opportunistic dolphin.

The good news when it comes to snook:   After a failed first spawn after the 2010 freeze, the spawn the following year was much more successful evidenced by the presence of upper-juvenile size fish that became more prevalent this year.   As stated, I removed them as a target.   Accidental catches of snook were about 12 in 2010, 18 in 2011 and after it started out very slow this year my clients caught about 30 snook that their lures went past.    Bypassing the areas where people could catch a dozen snook where their small concentrations were, seeing more caught in areas where large trout and redfish were the target, to me is a good random sampling.    When spring comes around and snook come back out of the backcountry, I will make a decision to either continue leaving them alone or reopening catch-and-release snook charters.

2013 will be a spectacular year.   I am already getting requests for trips for the busy spring season but with any luck, the fishing will be just as good as it was in 2012.  For my life, business, friends and family I am fortunate and very thankful for my many blessings.     I hope that 2013 means tight lines and bent rods for you!

Every day I was on the water made me realize I chose the right place to live.

Neil Taylor 727-692-6345

Call or email with your questions about become a Strike Three Kayak Fishing “student.”

Neil Taylor
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