After everything that took place on this trip, its hard to put into words all that happened and make it believable. If someone was to tell this story the way it happened, I am not sure I would even believe it. I've heard words like crazy, FiN CRAZY, insane, your lucky, that was impossible, I can't believe it, no way, how did you make it, I would have shot flares, I would have started a fire, I would have cried, beast mode, yall are tougher than woodpecker lips, and many others that I can't recall at the moment due to exhaustion, but here is how it all started.
I arrived in New Orleans on an airplane from an interview in Dallas, Tx, my company is going through a restructuring, at 6:45pm and continued my drive home to Madisonville, La. The only thing on my mind once my flight started was the Adventure Fishing World Championship and how I had been physically preparing for this event since January 6th and nothing was going to stop me from competing as best I could. I had lost over 30 pounds within 6 weeks and was feeling strong both mentally and physically and I knew nothing was going to stop me. Last year my partner and I finished 8th in the event and this year I had a goal of finishing in the top 5 with a new partner.
As I arrived home my road partner and pre-fishing cohort, Elliot Stevens, was waiting at my house anxious to hit the road. We had originally planned on leaving around 2 a.m. in the morning, but after relooking at the miles and hours it would take us to arrive in the Florida Everglades at Flamingo, we decided it was best to leave as soon as possible. I packed my bags, rods, kayaks, and ice chest, kissed my family goodbye and at 10:30 pm we were on the road.
The weather was perfect as we drove through the entire night Tuesday and watched the sun come up over the horizon a few miles before turning south on the interstate once past the panhandle.
Looking back at the events that took place there were several signs that what we were venturing on was going to be a challenge greater than all our expectations,
but they also said this is place we were meant to be.
We arrived at the Flamingo campgrounds Wednesday evening with just enough time to set up tents and get settled in for a solids night sleep. There was no electricity and it was an hours drive north just to reach any sort of cellular signal.
The next morning we awoke as the sun was breaking over the water that surrounded us. We organized our equipment and headed to the launch location. Our first trip was going to take us to an area known as Snake Bite, we chose this location because Blake Gill of Massey's Professional Outfitters in Louisiana is familiar with these waters and we were going to use any edge we could to find fish and figure out their patterns.
The night before we had heard stories of the area and to watch out for low tide, as some of our FiN Crazy counterparts had spent a good part of the previous day stuck on mud when the tide rolled out, so we made sure to find the channel and stick as close to it as possible. On the way to the Bite, I couldn't help but fish my way there, the scenery was amazing, the water was clear, and I was itching to put a fish in the yak. It wasn't an hour into the long paddle when I landed my first ever Snook,
it wasn't the largest Snook, but hands down it was a trophy to me. This is one of the most ferocious yet skittish fish I have ever chased and it was exciting to finally land one, especially after I failed to put one in the yak last year. After a few pictures and my heart stopped racing I was able to refocus on the task at hand, until three cast later, I hooked
into a fish that began turning my kayak and ripping drag, I tightened the drag and turned away from the mangroves to more open water thinking I was about to land an even bigger Snook, but as the fish surfaced swimming in a circle, I knew all too well it was a Jack.
With two fish landed almost back to back, it was time to make the turn and head straight for Snake Bite. As we made our way through the only channel in miles of open water, I could see on my left the water was a foot deep, and on my right it was 7 feet, I just knew there were fish hanging on this ledge somewhere along the several mile channel. As we got closer to our destination there were several bay flats boats with charter captains pulling in to certain areas along the channel and anchoring up, three locations to be exact, and as we passed the last boat the captain was kind enough to share with us what they were doing. Within the channel were three bottle necks where the flats intruded into the channel and formed a nice funnel for the fish that were traveling the channel. While we chose not to intrude on their local knowledge at the time, this tip later created the game changer on tournament day. We continued to the end of the channel where we found a small oxbow that provided us a chance at several Snook through site casting, but site casting for these skittish fish was a lot different than the redfish at home, with every cast it was as if they saw the lure leave my rod and they were on there way to a safe haven far away from me. Again, that
yielded a little more knowledge for later in the day. After a couple of hours of nothing landed we decided to turn back and head to what was known as the back country, but on our way I encountered a creature that I didn't even know still existed. Thinking of my daughter and her love for the outdoors, I had to catch this dinosaur and get a few pictures for her. It was a Horseshoe Crab, something I've never seen in any of the waters I have ever fished, but the south Florida guys had all kinds of stories to share around it. I guess its kind of the Armadillo of the area.
On our way back to the launch site we encountered yet another visual of something I've never seen in South Louisiana, Pelicans in trees. I always see Pelicans in one of two places, the water, and on the top of wooden pylons around marinas or channel markers. One thing I learned real quick about Pelicans in trees is, you better stay real close to them or far away, because when they leave that perch they don't fly up until they drag the water, and on several occasions I was almost beheaded by a couple of them, and one time I thought I was going to be hit square in the middle of my yak, like a torpedo attacking a battleship, and in a kayak, I already knew who was going to win that battle.
After 10.31 miles of paddling and fishing we made it back to the launch location, we picked up our yaks, filled our appetites, and reloaded on water for the trip to the back country. All we knew was it was a 3 mile paddle just to reach the first bay. On our trip we passed our fellow teammates and they all told us the same thing, when you reach the bay, go east, if you go west you will never make it back against the currents and the wind that was blistering through it, well of course you know that was a hard headed challenge that sat at the top of my to do list.
When we reached the bay, known as Coots Bay, we ran into yet another guide that went out of his way to point us in the right direction and tell us what tides to follow and where to fish based on rising and falling tides. Elliot and I both paddled away from the guide in disbelief of the information that he had just shared with us, and guess what direction we then headed, that's right, west, with the wind and the tide, knowing we would have to fight a battle to make it back to camp before sun down.
As we followed the guides direction we came across the white pipe that he said would be there and we ventured into our first mangrove tunnel. He told us that his buddy had fished the bay, Mud Lake, just two days prior and caught a boat full of 25''-30'' redfish. In order to make it through the tunnel we needed to lay all our rods down beside or behind us as the tunnel was barely tall enough for us to paddle through let alone with a 6'6'' rod sticking up above us. The trip was amazing, and at the end it opened up into a lake that was full of small islands covering the north end of it. It looked like a paradise for fish, and as small as that tunnel was, we just knew that it hadn't been overfished liked everywhere else we had experienced thus far.
I fished the lakes shorelines and mud flats as Elliot worked the middle, the water was extremely muddy, hence its name Mud Lake, so I opted to work a top water lure and try to attract the fish more through sound rather than site. At one point I noticed hundreds of fry bait gathering near an exposed mud flat and jumping out of the water continuously when all of a sudden a Snook
came flying up out of the water in the middle of them and landing halfway on land, I watched him flop his way back into a depth he could swim in
away he went.
Watching that and seeing the condition of where the bait was piled up, I chose to make a move to the corner of an island where the wind would have blown the bait into a corner location. As I reached my first island there was a tiny area on the back side that was just out of the wind and it looked like dead stagnant water, but there were fry jumping all over. I grabbed my skitterwalk and landed it at the edge of the mud, with every twitch bait fish were flying out of the water like my lure was chasing them. About that time the water erupted and my lure was engulfed in the mouth of another Snook, this time he put on an acrobatic display of jumps, I think he exploded out of the water 5 or 6 times before I was finally able to land him in the net.
After a couple of pics I was able to release the Snook in hopes of landing him another day, hopefully on tournament day.
The next island over I found the exact same conditions, but when I laid my lure out this time, it landed on a Snook, and not just a Snook, but a monster Snook, of course they are always huge when they get away. As the fish blew up getting out of the way of my treble hooked fish catching machine, he couldn't help but turn around and make an attempt at devouring what had spooked him just seconds before. I again began working the lure to me when he attacked it like a lioness protection her young, but in all the excitement I set the hook a split second too early and he was gone, had I not just landed one minutes before, I would have been devastated, but I was still living on the high of the Snook I had just released.
After that explosion, I looked at Elliot and made the suggestion to start our trip back, I knew it was going to be dark by the time we made it back, especially when we entered the mangrove tunnel and we almost needed a light to navigate through it, I just didn't realize how dark.
Our 12.4 mile evening trip was beginning to take a toll on our paddle back to the camp that took us nearly four hours of constant paddling against the tides and wind (that we were warned about), with one stop on the way to try for a few a trout with no success.
As the sun fell, we heard sounds that were foreign to us both, it was like what you hear in the movies of people spending the night in the rain forest, beautiful, but eerie all in the same breath. We passed three crocodiles on the way back that we could only see because of their glowing eyes as the headlight passed over the floating heads, but we made it back.
As we arrived at the launch, there wasn't a person or vehicle that remained in the area, we looked at each other with relief and excitement of what we had just accomplished in our first pre-fishing day of the AFWC. We loaded up the yaks and headed to camp, little did we know that our teammates were actually formulating a rescue plan, as it was an hour or two after daylight and concern was beginning to rise. While it was a concern it also set the ground work for what was going to take place on day two.
As we reached the campsite we were welcomed with hot ribs and chicken straight off the Orion cooker perfected by TK "animal" and Cebo, we were also welcomed with a little scolding from the poppa bears of the group for being out so late. But in the end we caught fish, we stayed safe, and we had pictures and stories to share around the feast with old and new friends.
Part two is soon to come...............