August, a time for a “getaway” trip, months of heat and usually a lighter schedule: A change of scenery. It was set up in advance, unusual for me, but the destination was the same as 2012. The trip went off as planned even though there was a memorial service for a friend, Mark Michael, who passed away several days before we left for the Panhandle.
Mark Michael was the type guy who would have been upset if certain decisions were made, especially not getting out of town when you have the chance. With buddies Chip and John around to pass on my regards, I didn’t dwell on it. The thoughts that are impossible to hold back: How unfair that someone so positive and happy had to be the one to get the brain tumor and die at an early age. You just had to be happy you knew the guy though. He was the positive type, liked baseball, fishing and he was just so kind to everyone he met. He really demonstrated a good way to live. Even while fishing, he demonstrated unique skills like this
My girlfriend Sarah was looking forward to this even more than I was. She shall henceforth be referred to as Chicky. She had never been up through the Nature Coast or to the Panhandle so this was going to be brand new to her. Two kayaks on the roof rack, we headed north, for Chicky into the unknown- for me, right on schedule to where I went my entire childhood at the same time of year. Up US19 to Hwy 98 and head west. Every crossroads I would tell Chicky “Redfish” and point left, “Trout” and point down a river to the south (I quizzed her on the way back and it turns out, she wasn’t really listening)
Our hosts, Mark and Elia were sitting on his boat, waiting for us to arrive for a little outing upon our arrival to the Cape. A funnel cloud dropping down from an approaching storm from the west, we went north out of the path of the microburst. Rain would be a theme for the rest of the trip. The water at the north end of the Cape was like nothing I had ever seen inside St Joseph Bay. It was “island-esque” with emerald color and clear as if it had been filtered. We saw sharks and stingrays milling around the shallows.
Deep tropical moisture, we skirted a second approaching storm, got back to the ramp and loaded up to go nesting. A short drive back and we arrived at Mark’s house, which looked pretty much exactly the same as it did a year earlier. Deep tropical moisture, a short time later, a downpour that is most likely to be seen in August. It seems like every five hours, there was another downpour exactly like the last. Pounding rains, with huge drops, loud with the clap of thunder. Growing up in the desert, I love the rain. I think I always will.
The food, always first rate at Mark’s place. My first task before I even
went upstairs, filleting out the redfish that they caught that day, dinner for a pretty big group of people, supplemented by trout and other fish he had ready to drop in the fryer. It was a feast. Chicky said “don’t forget to mention the scallops” her first time having them. They were exceptional, as expected.
Day 2 was looking even stormier than when we arrived the previous afternoon so Mark had the idea, instead of running his boat across the Bay to show him my flounder spot, we would just drive over. We had some action with Elia catching a couple of redfish and when they went up to dry off Chicky caught a 20-inch trout. She doesn’t talk about that but does say that the massive blue crab she caught was memorable. The tide was getting right but a storm was rolling in so we left. A great lunch at the marina in Port St Joe and then back to the Nest. On the drive back, I got to look around more because I was a passenger. The power of water and shifting sands: The governor should have a look at what’s going on here before he pushes more of these sand projects. Huge boulders, brought in for erosion and storm control on the southwest corner of the Cape: Last year there was a stretch of beach. Now the water is up to the base of the rocks, making me wonder what is in store in the future of that stretch of the road.
More relaxation at the Nest and then there was an effort to do some kayak fishing. Chicky really wanted to do this again because, as she says, “I need a new story.” Her first time out in January she threw lures to catch three redfish, something she has relived over and over again the past seven months. The challenge was more the wind than it was the storms on day 3 and to be out of the wind as much as possible, we went to a location I had never tried before. It was loaded with “scallopers.” Not an activity in local waters, it was obvious that there were scallop hunters using a variety of transportation to these fruitful locations. The fishing was nothing special but Sarah did catch a few trout throwing the Fat Sam Mullet. She did some beer-drinking-kayak-fishing (at the suggestion of her mother) and did not think twice about the mediocre fishing results. The conclusion of the trip, I became aware that the tide was slightly lower than when we started. Chicky made the walk back up to the parking spot while I did the Great Mud Drag of two kayaks roughly 80 yards through the muck. That’s part of the game, even when on vacation.
The conclusion to the 2013 “vacation” was going to be dependent on the weather. I had ideas of stopping along US98 where I had good intel on some fishing action but with heavy rains again overnight and unsettled weather Chicky voted to “go back to the bridge.” So we went back to the location where I spent so many hours in my youth with my Dad and my brothers to do a little fishing before the haul back to Safety Harbor. The tide was much better than it was the first day we were there. Sarah is not wild about being a baitchucker, to be perfectly honest, but she realized that’s just how it is done there. We hung out there for a couple of hours and caught some flounder and other species but as I told her when we got there “those mooks are where we should be.” The people who were just to the right of the corner, they caught BIG flounder. But it was an adventure and it was fun.
The thoughts I had that followed, heading east on 98 and then south on 19 were memorable of my youth: Vacation is over, back to regular life. With a charter the following morning after the drive back, I made a smooth transition back to reality.
Thoughts I had repeatedly in the time at the Eagle’s Nest “MarkM would have enjoyed hanging out up here.” Mark, as I will always remember him, was just “steady.” He stuck to a pretty steady regimen which was doing positive things, something I can’t achieve in my own life, but admire in how this guy was year-in year-out. Our connection was fishing but he really wanted to talk baseball with me. My background, over a decade as a pro baseball umpire, he really enjoyed asking his questions and hearing my stories. I was pleased when I went to see him the day before he passed away when a family member said “Oh, you are the umpire. I have heard a lot of your stories.” But our connection was fishing, which we did quite a bit of. We had “Ladies Night at Ramrod Key” on our Keys trip, humorous because it was kind of deceptive advertising but provided a long lasting joke. Mark, his sense of humor, but just how he embraced life: He is a model for the way others should try to live. Mark’s wife Carla is doing her best moving on, but there is sadness. Sadness mixed with happiness. Impossible to avoid either of these emotions.
The Eagle’s Nest: It is a destination where kayak clubs and other groups of fishing pals will congregate. I know I am calling “dibs” on those trips.
This property is ideal for vacations and the fishing and water activities are limitless. If you would like to talk to someone about staying at The Eagle’s Nest call: 866-966-1619. A neighboring property for smaller groups is an option; you can call 800-720-0473. Utilize this resource and take care of it when you do: This is a fantastic place to take a vacation with family, friends and a lot of fishing opportunities to enjoy.
Neil Taylor is a kayak fishing guide in Tampa Bay and can be reached at www.strikethreekayakfishing.com or 727-692-6345