Some weekends are shit-shows. This weekend was just that
Sometimes, it doesn’t matter where you fish or what you catch; good company is good company… Continue reading
Another nice February day and off work early. So, I had to explore! Additionally, I mentioned in a previous post that I wanted to land a crappie on the fly. So, Dan Dutton of River Rock Outfitters recommended I check out the area around Government Island on Aquia Creek. Due to the amount of side cover from downed trees and bush, this creek is a pretty solid location for crappie, it at least that’s what my research suggested.
Once again, we hit the beautiful Shenandoah River. Once again, I tried to get a large group of friends to join. Once again, only 4 made the trip. Seems like a trend, huh? We arrived early Saturday afternoon to a rather large crowd. I knew a few of the individuals we camped next to from my high school days. I enjoyed speaking with them. Once the campsite setup received proper attention, we waded out into the crystal clear water of the Shenandoah and fished the far bank for an hour or so. We caught a number of smallmouth bass and blue gills. My wading buddies consisted of my lady friend and Wes (or Weslihno, or Westicles as we like to call him). After the hour pasted, my brother Corey arrived from his beach vacation to the Outer Banks. We waded back over to the campsite, loaded up the canoes and yaks, and kindly asked one of my high school comrades drop us off upstream. This way we avoided the painstaking task of retrieving the vehicle from upstream after the less than sober floating and fishing session.
My oldest brother emailed me a month or so before this trip about getting out to the Shenandoah. I am lucky enough to have a close high school friend whose family owns 7 acres right on the water about 20 miles north of Luray. We decide to head to the river after work Friday and invited a rather large group. However, other than my oldest brother, Patrick and myself, only two friends made the trip with us. I met up with Wes at my parent’s house near Culpeper. We loaded up my canoe on top of my parent’s Subaru Forest, packed the car with all the necessary supplies for glamorous riverfront camping, and headed for Luray. Of course, once we reached Luray we instinctively made a stop at Wal-Mart and purchased food and a healthy (or unhealthy, depending on how you look at it) about of beer. Other than the obligatory, case of light beer, we added a few tasty numbers from the 21st Amendment Brewery. Hell or High Watermelon might be one of my favorites.
With two great days of fishing, exploring, and excitement behind us, we woke on the final day of our trip. George and I originally planned to head out before the sun rose so we could get the first bites of the morning. However, with the sunrise not taking place until 6:30 AM or so, Corey and Wes decided to join us as well. With the company of the entire group we headed north to fish some areas with 1 to 3 feet of water. While the other locations proved shallow as well, this area contained very low levels, and relatively clear water. You could easily spot little minnows and other aquatic creates of interest while sitting on the yaks. With such great water and the entire morning ahead, we thought that we were in for a treat. However, two things created problems. The islands we needed to reach for fishing looked much closer than they were. Also, with so much open water and no breeze, the sun zapped our energy quite fast.
–Little Snook on the shrimp line. One of the only fish of the day.
However, once we reached the islands, we found the bites few and far between. I hooked into another cat fish and a small snook. I found great joy in the snook because, again this was my first time catching this species. I hooked another snook (or so I thought) on the super spook junior. Sadly, this fish wrangled free. We seemed to be on the water forever and most of our time we spent paddling. By the time noon came around we decided to head back to our put in location and call it a day on the water. With only a minimum amount of bites and even fewer fish the decision was unanimous.
After about an hour of straight paddling we reached to put in location. Now, in the mid day heat and relentless sun we needed to break down the gear and load up the vehicles. Certainly, high levels of irritability entered our minds and the loading process could not go quick enough. We literally, poured sweat from every surface area of our bodies.
Once loaded up with the AC on full blast we decided to stop for some food and a rest at a local dive bar. The BBQ and Burgers were on special. For $6.99 you received either sandwich and a bud. What a deal! We all enjoyed to break from the sun, the AC, and a solid meal (Other than Wes, he wasn’t hungry) we headed back to the condo to shower, nap, and prepare for the USA versus Nigeria friendly.
We watched the match at a dive bar called, Grumpy’s. This quite possibly is the only dive bar in Naples. Although, they sold a large selection of nice craft beers. The atmosphere lacked passion for the beautiful game. The crowd showed way more interest in the final race of the Triple Crown. After a couple rounds and a USA victory, we went back to the condo to pack up, have some rum cream (a creation George invented; simply add rum to the top of your ice cream. I wouldn’t recommend it). The day could have been better, but we had a could of great ones before hand. We also explored some new waters which I found pretty cool, even if we spent most of our time paddling.
Once again, exhausted from the morning on the water, sleep soon overtook us.
The following morning we headed out. After a thorough cleaning of the condo and vehicles we headed to the Fort Myers’ Air Port to drop Wes off. He needed to get back early in order to receive plenty of rest. After dropping him off, we headed over the the Bass Pro Shops located a short distance from the air port. The reason for stopping dealt with our desire to fish some mountain trout streams upon our return to Virginia. However, and we should have known, the Bass Pro in Fort Myers carried nothing smaller than a 5 weight rod. We needed something along the lines of a 2 or 3 weight in order to make the proper casts on the small tree covered streams. We ate at a burger joint whose name escapes me. The burgers tasted great. Lots of bad for you toppings created additional flavors on the burgers. Every once in a while you have to treat yourself.
We started the drive from Fort Myers around noon or so. We made great time and pulled into my place in Fredericksburg some time around 2 AM. I desire not to say we sped, however, if we were in a race with the traffic, we certainly won. George fits the mold for what some might call a speed demon.
The following morning we woke, quite groggy, and headed above the fall line on the Rappahannock. He all had our 5 weight rods and since we found no smaller rods decided to stay and fish for smallies in Fredericksburg rather than drive a couple hours to the mountain streams with only two 3 weight rods for 3 fly fishermen. After a decent little walk on the river path, maintained by the Friends of the Rappahannock, that leads to an old quarry underneath the I-95 Bridge we entered the water. Snakes, we saw quite a few. Some copper heads, some black snakes, and some brown snakes. The brown snakes and copper heads look very similar. My brother told me that an easy way to tell the difference while they are in the water. He said, they both can swim, but the copper head will not fully submerge itself in the water because of the venom in their mouth. Therefore, if the snake puts its head underwater then there is a strong chance it is not poisonous.
The fishing proved slow. I found a nice run where the water looked about 10 feet deep and it flowed with a nice bit of speed compared to the rest of the river. I thought with the amount of food running through the current here, something must sit on the edge waiting for a tasty little meal. I cast a BH Goldilox and within a few strips saw a nice smally take the fly. When I attempted to set the hook the line came loose. I reeled in a little and notice that the fly came off. At first I thought this could have been a snakehead with teeth which could bit through my 4x leader. However, upon examination, I realized the fault for the loss of fly rested on my shoulders, or I should say, on my hands. I tied an improved cinch not incorrect and therefore as soon as the tension increase with the fish bite it slipped. I felt quite ashamed. Sometimes this happens. One must simply learn from their mistakes. I know that for a good while, I will pay much more attention to how I tie a knot. There is little more irritating to know you did everything right, except the easy part. George caught a little smally and we called it a day.
Corey headed back to Charlottesville and George and I grabbed a bite to eat before he made his way to New Jersey. All in all, we experienced a great trip. We went to new places, eat great food, bonded, kayaked cool waters, caught lots of fishies, and quarreled minimally.
We woke way too early after such a fun filled first day on the water. I believe the clock read somewhere around 6 AM. We quickly ate breakfast and rushed for the door. George booked a boat with a guide he knew since childhood to take us out on the Gulf for some bottom fishing. Mike, our guide seemed like a real nice dude. He lived in the area all his life, fished it as well, and therefore knew some great locations on the Gulf to catch fishies. After a pleasant 4o minute boat ride to some deeper water, we started bottom fishing for snapper, grouper, and whatever else happened to take our bait.
We knew not how the fishing would turn out. However, our uncertain thoughts soon turned to certainty. The second the bait hit the bottom of the ocean and we tightened the line, the fish started feeding. We landed lane snapper, yellow snapper, mangrove snapper, red snapper, grouper, and other little fishies similar to snappers. We caught a 6 inch bait fish, mike threw it on a larger setup, cast that sucker to the bottom, and let it sit. Luckily I stood closest to the pole when something slammed the bait. Mike showed me how to reel in the beast, which, I messed up. However, Mike’s skill allowed for the fish to come out of its hiding place and into the open water and the fight resumed. Thanks to Mike I pulled in a rather large grouper. Wes managed to pull in a nice size mangrove snapper on the smaller spin casting pole. Corey caught a small shark and George caught a little bit of everything, but nothing of great significance.
–Grouper sandwiches are all the rage in Florida. If you failed to notice, this really excited me. That’s Mike posting up in the back of the boat.
After bottom fishing for a couple hours and catching more fish than our feeble minds could count, we headed in closer to the shore to take a stab at trolling for Spanish mackerel. This turned out to end with no success. Yet, none of us minded. We caught so many snappers, groupers, and others our hearts felt quite content.
After this we headed back in to shore and Mike cut up the few fishies we kept. We planned on making fish tacos with the snapper and large streaks with the big grouper. Corey, Wes, and I tipped Mike — because George funded the outing — and made our way back to the condo to eat, nap, and figure out the plan for the afternoon.
George decided on taking us south of Naples to some area with a nice put in he knew about from a previous trip. It took about an hour to drive to the location. We stopped along the way and picked up some more shrimpies and a couple more lures (super spook juniors in bone white). While driving through the wildlife management area which held out put in location, we spotted a few tortoises and a wild bore. Although the bore ran across the road a good distance ahead of us, I found this experience very entertaining. This proved to be my first sighting of a wild bore. Awesome!
After arriving at our destination we unloaded the yaks, put in the water, and started paddling out. George lead the pack, followed my Corey, then Wes, then myself. Soon after we left the little put in lagoon, George’s kayak took a knock from something with a large amount of force. His yak abruptly moved several feet sideways. He made a slight noise and we all asked, what just happened? Before he could get any coherent words out, we saw something breach the surface and make a strange noise which I never previously heard. A manatee stuck his kayak with its tail. We all laughed at the incident, and you could tell George felt quite flustered by the experience. Maybe these gentle giants were in mating season? Maybe we came across a rouge manatee seeking revenge for all the propeller blades which stuck his family down? Whatever the case, we all thought with a little more caution after the experience. I landed the first fish of the day on my trolling shrimp line. Low and behold, another catfish. I started to hate this normal aquatic species due to the prevalence with which we hooked them.
We kept paddling out towards the open water and every now and then heard the cries of a manatee, making us all remember the recent attack. Corey started fishing off an exposed oyster bed and pulled in a few little snooks. However, having previously never caught a snook, he mistook them for lady fish and therefore, showed no great appreciation for the fish. George explained to us that lady fish are like the chubs of this area. They fight hard, and prevalent, and possess too little meat to make a meal out of them.
We kept paddling until we reached the last islands before the open ocean. The tide pushed in we started fishing off the sides of the islands where the water flowed in like a river. I threw out a line with the shrimp and popping bobber. I immediately started getting hits. Soon I found myself going head to head with what I thought to be a decent sized fish. However, his strength soon surprised me. Once whatever species of fish that I fought came in sight of the kayak it took off towards the mangrove island for cover 20 or so feet away. I used a medium heavy rod with 20 lb braided line and a 25 lb fluorocarbon leader. The fish literally bent the rod over til the tip touched the water. Whatever beast I hooked wanted free and he had the power to do so. With the recent manatee attack in mind, my heart started pounding. I would either pull in a really nice fish, or pull in a shark, dolphin, manatee or some monster. At least these ideas flashed through my mind during this brief moment. The fish took the line underneath the anchor and I asked Wes to come pick up my anchor as to not break off the fish. However not soon after he arrived to do so, my line broke. I felt quite excited, a little nervous, and very let down that I fell short of even catching a glimpse of the fish.
-Sheepshead. I wish the photo showed his teeth. The name of the fish comes from the sheep-like chompers they possess.
After I pulled in a nice little snapper and a jail-like attired sheepshead, the rest of the guys started fishing this section as well. With great amusement, we heard another yelp from George, who against all odds, managed to achieve another run in with a manatee. We could tell he started to get a little annoyed. After I told him about my unseen monster he said it probably was a large snook if it took off towards the mangroves. I felt a little better than he responded so quickly and gave no thought the illogical hooking of a dolphin or manatee.
–Another view of the sheepshead. We came through the area in the background. The put in lagoon was somewhere around the two tall trees in the back right corner of the photo. I wanted to snap a shot of the snapper as well, but the fish slipped out of my hand before I could do so.
–These are mainly the grouper steaks. They measured about 1.5 inches in thickness. The couple fillets in the top right are the snapper. The rest of the snappers already made their way to the stove top for frying.
With daylight running out and a storm moving in from the coast we all agreed to head back. We loaded up the yaks in a much more efficient manner than the previous day. Practice makes perfect, I suppose. Then, we drove back to the condo. Took on the responsibility of chief and made the fish tacos. They tasted wonderful. By the time we finished them our stomached reached capacity. He still made the grouper streaks, but sadly, we only took a few bites. They tasted great as well. We just possessed no more room within our bodies for food. We played a little FIFA and watched to tube for a while before sleep soon overcame us.
–The snapper tacos with El Presidente; the best pilsner I’ve ever tasted from the Dominican Republic. Wes did a great job preparing the meal.
In a recap, we woke early, fished to open water, caught some great new-to-the-group fish, ate lunch, napped, kayaked to another beautiful back bay, view some wildlife species for the first time, caught some more awesome new-to-us fishies, and ate a great dinner. Well, George probably came across most of the species before, but the rest of the group experienced them for the first time. Again, it goes without saying, we all slept well.
On the drive down we decided as a group to sleep for a few hours after we arrived. Then, we would wake around 8 or 9 AM, get our gear together, head off to rent kayaks and fish the entire afternoon. However, sleep consumed more time than we anticipated and no one woke till noon. In a groggy haze due to lack of sleep, we began getting our fishing rods, reels, bait, flies, and gear together. This took a little longer than expected and made our way to the kayak rental location around 1:30 PM. We rented the kayaks from Naples Outfitters. The guys working were nice and helpful. They mentioned a few places we should try. Next we took to the challenge of installing the kayak racks on the vehicles. We figured it better to wait till we arrived in Florida to install them so not to lower our gas mileage. They proved to be more of a challenge than one might think. I contribute this more to sleep deprivation than lack of know how. George’s kayak rack excited me because it had “four yak capacity”. However, we decided on spreading the weight between two vehicles. 2:30 PM arrived by the time we installed the racks and strapped the kayaks down somewhere securely. Then, covered in sweat, we eagerly headed off to get a bite to eat before we hit the water.
–Wes at the Taco Mix. The table reads “Taco Caliente” or “hot taco” in English. For the price and authenticity, this place is pure gold.
While driving to our put in location, George and I thought it best to purchase subs from Publix (grocery store) to cut down on time and money spent. However, Corey and Wes (the usual cheaper individuals) wished to stop in somewhere along they way. So, George and I gave in. I spotted a wings, burgers, and bbq joint, but the guys wanted to try the Taco Mix. The Taco Mix appeared a little skeptical in my opinion, as a small, hole in the wall location just off the road. However when we entered I realized the authenticity of the place. The lady working the register spoke little to no English and the cook fell in the same boat. So, ordering proved a little challenging. However, everything came out how we ordered and it tasted delicious. I curiously purchased the fried green plantains, two seasoned pork tacos, and a vitamin water for a grand total of less than 10 bucks. I found it impossible to finish all of the plantains as well. Although, they went down smooth, I shared a couple with the guys. George, however, took the winning ticket with his meal selection. We went with the deal of the day; 6 chicken tacos for $6.99. The smell, the appearance, and the taste all ranked high in quality. I know if I ever journey back down to Naples, a visit Taco Mix will be a must.
With our stomach’s stuffed and our heads spinning with excitement we made the short trip up to Lovers Key State Park. We stopped in to the visitor’s center and grabbed a live bait holder and 50 little shrimpies. After driving in circles around the park for a few minutes, we found a place to put the kayaks in, parked, unloaded, and continued to gain more energy and eagerness about setting paddle into water and casting our first lines.
We put in, threw some shrimp on our trolling poles, and started casting. Along the banks, which always remained covered by mangroves, lady fish leaped into the air constantly. George, Corey, and I threw the fly rods for a bit, while Wes stuck to the spin casting. Speaking of stuck, Wes soon found him lure hung up in a mangrove. We thought little of it until we heard a blood curdling scream (okay, maybe just a large shout). The lure came out and flew straight into his hand. However, we previously bent down the barbs and therefore, very little harm was done. Within 15 minutes of launching the yaks Corey landed the first fish on the trolling shrimp line. George and I fished the other bank and eagerly awaited the shout across to discover what type of fishy he pulled in. I thought I misunderstood him at first, but upon several more shouts we heard loud and clear. A catfish took the first fish for the group in Florida prize. I surprisingly and naively thought catfish lived only in freshwater and also lacked the knowledge about their presents in Florida.
–George with a nice red fish. When you put your hand underneath their red tail it turns blue; pretty cool.
We continued to fish the beautiful water all afternoon and into the evening. We pulled in quite a few different kinds of fish. The first I landed as well turned out to be a catfish. However, this catfish looked a little different than the ones I usually view. The whiskers astonishingly stretched to half the length of this fish. George pulled up beside me and informed me they called these strange creatures Gafftopsail Catfish. I caught the exotic catfish on the shrimp line as well. Corey also pulled in the first fish on the fly rod. unexpectedly he pulled in a flounder on a size 4 chartreuse Clouser Minnow. We also received the pleasure of landing a few lady fish, lots more catfish (which I would not called pleasurable, due to the fact that they almost always swallow the hook), almost a sheepshead, a nice red fish, and viewed quite a few dolphins swim right past our yaks. I saw the sheepshead through the water, but it came off before I could get my hands on him. This felt like a little bit up a letdown because I really wanted to catch one of these beauties; hopefully I get another shot before the trip ends. George received the honor of catching the red fish. Wes, landed a few ladies and a couple cats. While out on the water, I fell behind the pack a little in order to tie on a new hook and shrimp. I looked up and knew I needed to snap a photo of the view. At that moment in time I felt happy and at peace. I felt like no other place in the world mattered, like time stood still. I felt great.
–I could not have been happier.
We reluctantly started back to the put in area around 8 PM. After getting all the gear rinsed and started putting the yaks back on the vehicles the park had already closed. We just tied them on lightly and headed for the exit so the park rangers could lock the games. Then, in the dark we finished strapping down the kayaks while bugs bit the hell out of us all. On the water a slight breeze kept the insects away. However, once on dry land and sheltered from the wind, they thrived on the succulent taste of our flesh.
We drove back to the condo, showered, and George and I went to grab some food and supplies for the week from the grocery store. We ate some pizzas, played a little FIFA, watched the Spurs battle the Heat for the MBA Finals and soon slept sound. I believe I can safely say, we all slept well dreaming of our first day on the water and about what we would encounter at the end of our lines over the few that followed.
Before I get into the details let me say planning for this trip started back in January or possibly earlier. George Franklin (alias), my brother Corey, and I wanted to go somewhere cool and catch some fishies. We always do a winter snowboarding trip and we figured that since we salivate for the water these days we should take a summer fishing trip to balance out the year. We decided on Naples, Florida for a couple of reasons. Many different kinds of fish reside in the area. The water is salty enough that alligators generally stay away. The water flows into many back bays and areas where kayaks are king. The main reason however, deals with the fact that George’s parents own a condo in Naples. Therefore, we slept in a nice place for the entire trip for free. Free sounds nice when sandwiched in between undergrad and graduate school payments. We originally planned on our friend, Josh attending this trip. However, he recently dropped to bomb that he plans on moving to Dallas, Texas. Therefore, he backed out of the trip. These things happen sometimes. No hard feelings, Josh. So, we added Wes at the last minute. He jumped in with about one week’s notice. I find last minute additions to trips quite awesome. With background information out of the way, let us dive in.
After my usual long Tuesday of working a 12 hour shift at the Physical Therapy Clinic followed by reffing soccer for another 4-5 hours, George Franklin and Wes arrived in Fredericksburg. The clock read somewhere close to midnight and they brought lots of beer. George and Wes said they needed to eat so we wondered across the street to Capital Ale House and ate a few appetizers and drank a few rounds. I had a hard cider that tasted exactly like apple cider. Most hard ciders resemble more of an apple juice taste than apple cider. I like it. The name of the cider is The Saint, by Crispin Cider.
–Grabbing some grub and a round at Capital Alehouse before we called it a night.
We then headed back to my place to get some rest before packing the vehicle and heading out on our trip. By now, the clock read somewhere around 2 AM. I think we stay up too late. Oh well, George is an insomniac and Wes may be one as well. We woke the next morning, packed up the vehicle, and made our way to Bass Pro Shops near Richmond. We purchased the essentials, then headed over to the restaurant, Islamorada Fish Company which, connects to Bass Pro Shops. One of the physical therapy patients recommended we try the fried alligator and fried crayfish. We tried both. I liked them both. The alligator had a gamey taste. For my entree I order the mahi mahi fish tacos. They tasted wonderful. I like fish tacos, a lot. While at Bass Pro I also purchased a small trout net. I knew I would not use it for this trip. However, I lose a lot of small brookies due to the fact that the holes in my net allow for the fish to slip through. Now, I will no longer come across this issue. It cost 5 bucks as well. So, purchasing it seemed liked a no-brainer.
We headed south and met my brother, Corey ten miles outside of Richmond. We arrived early so, we waited at a Wawa and George set up our FIFA 2014 season with Tottenham Hotspur on his laptop. We sold Bale to Real Madrid and brought in Luke Shaw, Cavanda, Dzeko, and Dumbia. Corey arrived and we began our long trip as a group of four. After a lot of driving we stopped for dinner in Savannah, Georgia. I previously stopped here a couple of years back with my girlfriend on our way to Tampa, Florida. I really like the city. It possesses history, a cool nightlife, and lots of young individuals due to the many colleges located in and around the city. All this and it’s proximity to I95 make it a perfect stop along the way. We pulled in around 10 PM and went to Wet Willies for dinner. We did not realize when we sat down, but this restaurant is all about Daiquiris. Since Wes and I drove from Virginia to Savannah, we each partook in drinking one with dinner. Since their driving shifts followed dinner, Corey and JB reluctantly abstained. The drinks were strong, the burgers were delicious and Wes and I soon fell asleep for a good portion of the remaining drive. We arrived in Naples around 5 AM. Since George drives really fast and we hit no traffic, we made great time. Inevitably, sleep soon followed for all.
The next day our fishing adventures began.