WHEN GUIDES GO ON VACATION IV
I have been told that I don’t go on vacation because my life is a vacation so “I got out of town.” Those who have seen these stories in the past know that it is way more than that. Getting in the car and going to a location where my Dad took me on vacation from the time of my first memories: It is a very good thing.
A five hour and 45 minute drive to the bridge. The Eagle Nest was my nest for nearly a week. Out on the Cape and just 50 yards from the Gulf of Mexico, a nice breeze blew in through the patio all week. Going to the Panhandle is almost like leaving the country. Everything looks so much different. The trees, the water, even the people.
Finishing my 10th year as a fishing guide, I did not get away last year breaking a 3 year tradition of going to the Panhandle for a late summer getaway. The scenic drive is the same as it’s always been with very few changes. I enjoy the shoreline along where it meets Carrabelle and Apalachicola the best. The Nature Coast of Florida is less visible on this drive. One of these trips I will get off the main road and go take a look at more of these areas. I was able to get by Sun jammers watersports and visit with my friend Brad Stephens. We had lunch and then he took me to buy shrimp in bulk which I brought back to the Eagle Nest. The original intent was not to go fishing much. That is something I have a hard time doing. Growing up waking up early to go to the bridge and see what we can catch was just part of the routine. I made four trips to the bridge this year in a six day period.
In one of the most amusing interactions of the week I was on a stop to get some ice for the cooler and when I came out a man was looking at the kayaks on my roof rack. I took my time loading the cooler back in the car and this man said to me we are taking a trip like this since September with a guy in Tampa and I think he uses both like this. I casually grab the business card from inside the car and handed it to him. He said yeah that’s the guy. I pointed at myself and said “I’m on vacation”. He yelled at his wife to get their son out of the car to meet their fishing guide for September.
An item that is very interesting to see and something that makes one feel better about the future: Seagrass. The visible water in the area around Carrabelle to Apalachicola, there is more seagrass visible than I have ever seen before. Could I be wrong? It’s possible. But when I mentioned it to people several said they had noticed the same thing.
Comedy, my host Mark is a very well-spoken, intelligent man. He is a local architect who spends August at his Cape house. His girlfriend Elia was talking about Ivy League schools and Elia asked “Why are the people at the northern schools so much smarter?” Mark “It’s tougher to think when you’re sweating.”
First day: I caught enough fish to feed eleven people. It was a strong day. Ironically there was no action where I would normally catch fish so I went exploring. I found the fish loaded up against some rocks and caught like six species from one location. Seven redfish, croacker, flounder, mangrove snapper, jacks and trout. My last move was to set my anchor where I could make casts to the giant submerged rock (It used to stick out of the water 30 years ago, now with sand erosion, the rock sits about three feet deeper). Bam! A hookup. The fish, a 27.5 inch trout. Normally a fish I would release, this fish was hooked deep and from the fight, stressed. That fish made three containers of fish spread.
Second day: Less action, bigger fish, three redfish all oversize. The biggest I thought was a cobia. That redfish was approaching 40 inches. Another great hookup, I got that fish up and it was a gag grouper (probably close to 30 inches). I didn’t know if they were open or closed and I had left my phone in the car so I just let it go. They were open and it was easily a legal fish. It was his lucky day.
The third outing I took Mark with me for a midday trip. Midday fishing even up here, just not the best choice. We caught fish (with Mark working harder at it while I watched sitting on a flipped over bucket) but not a lot and nothing particularly large.
It was a full house at the Eagle’s Nest: Mark the host. Danny and friends. Juan and Lori. Elia’s parents. Mark Jr. Later in the week Amanda and Chris. The Neilster. Uncle Neil. I divulged my alter ego to these people. During my umpire years I was also known as Harvey Whippleman, postal inspector.
I took a break from the fishing to drive to Panama City Beach, the mission, to see my friend Brad Stephens. Brad is the owner of Sunjammers Watersports and opened a second store in this past year. I accidentally drove past his new store (thinking not only that he was at the original store but also that his new store is west of his original location). His new store is right in Panama City, on the main stretch and almost connected to the port. My two previous visits, I never left Port St Joe and the Cape so it had been four years since I had seen Brad. Brad is a real “insider” in the industry and he knows his business very well. We compared notes on a lot of things (and that insight will be helpful to me as I do some upcoming negotiations). We had a great grouper sandwich lunch, I spent some time talking to his two employees that were there in the middle of the week and then I concluded my visit by having Brad take me to score some fresh shrimp for dinner- which we got “right off of the boat.” Dinner that night, like all other nights really, was exceptional. I thought I bought enough for a feast, five pounds. It ended up being a feast plus a lot more left over for Mark to do it up again after my departure.
Last day: The best fishing trip I have ever had at the bridge. I arrived at sunrise. I got to fishing fast. Odd results. For a guy who was on vacation and who wasn’t going to try very hard, I became inspired (my last day in town “I may not be here again for a year”). I caught seven founder on my first eight drops….. The smallest fish was 15 inches. (Pause for reflection) Then. The real fun began. Nine yards away from where the flounder were, the redfish arrived. I caught reds every cast for two straight hours, a total of around 20 fish 19 to about 30 inches: Anyone who knows redfish and this kind of action just knows all of them of ever size was fun. What a pity, no photographer. What a way to live: I don’t need any pictures. “The best outing I have ever had at the bridge” this usurps trips going back 33 years. One of the top four trips at this location? September 11, 2001. I listened to the towers fall on my earphones while I was wading in that water (catching a lot of fish) with my father with me.
Two days earlier some locals showed up. They were interested in the Ultimate. They were using lures, something I have never done well with there. They were talkative and the guy showed me his lure. His modification to a paddle tail was to cut a lot of the excess of it after he put in on the jighead. On the final day I caught four of the redfish on the white mullet, modified. They said it’s tough to beat using the same baits that are swimming there but his trick worked.
Probably the funniest story of the week. I made my daily stop for ice and (not unusual) someone stopped at the van and was looking at the kayaks. I came back over and put my cooler back in the car. The guy complimented me on the boats and said “we are going fishing with a kayak guide in September and I think he has boats like these.” I handed him one of my business cards and he said “Yeah, that’s the guy.” Then he just kind of stared at me for a minute. I said “I’m on vacation.” I got to meet his son, who is behind the charter in late September.
Pictures? Only the shots you see. I had no photographer, something that would have been good on day 2, with the fish that I caught. The only two fish shots are these: 27.5 inch trout and a solid redfish. My trip was actually cut short by a day. The phone calls from other guides talking about rampant poacher activity was reason enough to get back into hometown mode. It also explains why the pompano fishing has been so dismal this year.
Until next year!! If you are interested in staying at the Eagle’s Nest, let me know. It is available for rent 11 months of the year. This place will accommodate a pretty large group.
Owner and guide: www.strikethreekayakfishing.com
(Cell) 727-692-6345 LivelyBaits@aol.com
Owner and site administrator: www.capmel.com