Sunday, March 23, 2014

Redfish Rumble VI, "the hidden launch"

With two days of pre-fishing over the last two weeks, I felt I was fairly prepared for this weekend’s Redfish Rumble in the Hopedale, Delacroix, Pointe a la hache area, the 2nd of a 5 part tournament series for the Bayou Coast Kayak Fishing Clubs Angler of the Year. 


While my 1st pre-fishing trip was joined by dozens of gators

and lots of grass, my 2nd pre-fishing trip, I was accompanied by Linda Cuccia, of Marsh & Bayou,
for a story on site fishing and tournament preparation. 

 While on trip #2, I was able to land several red fish that were either over the slot or in the lower range of slot, and while we did catch fish, I didn’t feel that this particular location would yield the results I was looking for on tournament day. With that in mind, I decided that these waters were not worthy of returning to and that I would stick with my original game plan, the hidden launch of pirogue past.

The morning of the tournament started early for me, as I didn’t sleep 5 minutes the night before, and left my house at 11:30pm and headed to the Waffle House in Chalmette.  After several hours watching people come and go, and a pot of coffee, my launch partner showed up for a bite to eat, and then off to the launch we went.

As we arrived at my launch point, I dropped off my yak and all of my belongings, and then headed further down the road to another launch location.  From there I had my launch partner bring me back to my yak, and there I waited in the darkness alone.  Over the next hour or two, I watched several trucks loaded with yaks pass my location without a care in the world, I was in such a secluded area surrounded by 6 foot tall cane in all directions and the smell of a Thermacell keeping the skeeters at bay, I wasn’t concerned at all of someone discovering where I was, I felt like Arnold, in Predator, when he was covered in mud along the river bank hiding from the alien.  This little spot was a top producer years ago, and gets very little pressure; in fact, I have only seen one boat within this location ever.  The water is always low, even at high tide, but the water is crystal clear year round, and site fishing reds here can be done from over 40 yards away.

As 5:00am struck, I slid my yak in the water and began the two mile trek to my grounds, paddling every bit of it by hand, as I stared at my mirage drive strapped to my front hatch with every stroke, due to low water.  As I reached the grounds my game plan was in play, and I wasn’t changing it, work the waters darkness with a weedless frog until the sun comes up, while starting at the most northern part and ending up on the most southern end as the sun should be rising.  My timing couldn’t have been more perfect, as I made it to the southern end, the sun broke and I immediately saw a reds back bulging out of the water.  I grabbed my fluke and sailed it just short of the beast, one twitch and he turned and attacked it. 
 A solid 30” fish in hand, too bad it was over the slot.  After a quiet and quick release, I stood up and began to let the breeze drift me at a snail’s pace.  As I came to an area that I knew had fish, I injected my 8 foot park n pole in the mud more than 4 feet.    I could see the water boiling in every direction.  First cast into the direction of a swirl and bam, he hit it, as I got the fish to the yak, I stumbled trying to net him and off he went.  Frustrated, YES, but I knew it was early and I was still in the middle of a red fish buffet. 

Next cast out, a red attacked the fluke again, set the hook, and pop, my leader snapped in the middle.  I reeled up the loose line, cut the leader off and tied directly to my braid, I wasn’t going to play break the leader today, like I did two weeks earlier.  5th cast, another blow up, and as I set the hook, POP, my braid broke, and that has never happened.  I was confused as to what was going on, my drag was set good and I thought my braid was fresh, all I could figure was that the fish were bigger than what I was targeting.  As I reeled in the loose line, AGAIN, I was grateful that I brought an entire pack of hooks on this trip.  I pulled about 30 yards of line out, cut it off and retied.  The next hour resulted in 10-15 redfish landed in the yack without ever lifting a paddle or moving from my anchored location.  The smallest red of this location was 22 inches.  I had a solid stringer of fish at this point, with 4 above 22 inches and 1 above 24 inches. 

I pulled my pole to venture further down, where some current lines where crossing between 3 islands and meeting up behind them.  As I arrived, the sun was covered by clouds, but I could see fish activity and bait everywhere.  About the time I was set up, the sun broke for almost a minute and I could see fish on all sides of me, and they were good looking reds.  I anchored in and started slinging the trusty fluke, but no takers.  Fish, after fish, after fish, they just looked at it, not a worry in the world, they didn’t run, they didn’t inspect, they just sat there.  I changed colors and it yielded me the same results, I threw a topwater next and nothing.  I was convinced at this point that the fish could see me as well as I could see them, but then I reached back for my always productive Seein Spots inline spinner.  

First cast, bam, fish on, 3rd cast, bam, fish on, 5th cast, bam, fish on, and this continued on for the next 9 red fish.  I don’t know what happened to the pattern, but they went from fluke happy to flukes are nasty in a matter of seconds.  I have never experienced a turn off like that, not with red fish at least; I kept thinking that the couple fish that broke my line earlier were swimming around showing off their new lip jewelry to all the other fish and warning them to not eat the fluke, DO NOT EAT THE FLUKE, I could just imagine them yelling it everywhere they went. 

At this point I decided that my stringer was solid enough to accomplish my goal of a top 10 finish, and if I was to catch a bass, maybe I could break into the top 5.  I moved a little further north and closer to a dead end in hopes of picking up a bass.  I threw my inline spinner into a bare bottom mud highway surrounded by grass from top to bottom on both sides, and all of a sudden, bam, I had a bass on, it wasn’t a big one, but it’s all I needed.  As I slung the bass over my yak and back in the water, I then calmly raised him out of the water and over my yak, as I looked at him coming over the side, I smiled as big as a 6 year old on Christmas morning, and then all of a sudden off the hook he came, straight down into my mirage drive.  Well actually what would have been my mirage drive, if I would have actually put it in the hole, the bass took a 5 foot nose dive straight to freedom through the heart of my Hobie.  I was devastated, I just knew that 8 inch bass was going to be my weight changer. 

As time was ticking, I pulled in 3 more reds in the 22 inch range while searching for another bass, when all of a sudden I got that solid bump and thrash that only a bass can mimic, and it was on, I had this fish coming to me like I had a 50:1 ratio reel, he didn’t even have time to react.  I pulled him out the water at mach 2 almost 10 feet before reaching me, I dropped my rod and in midair caught him like it was a life and death dodge ball tournament.  I had this fish grasped in my arms against my chest and securely anchored with a fin embedded deep in my chest, and I didn’t care in the least.  As I maneuvered the boga into his mouth I put him in the fish bag, boga and all. 

Off I went, time to get back to the launch point and call my ride to pick me up.  Amazingly, on the way, I was able to land another redfish that managed to pull my rod from my hands and caused me to chase the dang thing for almost 50 yards before I stabbed the reel with my paddle and was able to reach in the water and pick it up.  It took me a minute or two to clear the grass from the end of the rod to the reel before I could manage a crank.  As I got the fish to the yak, I was impressed to see it was a 23-24 inch fish and a solid upgrade for my smallest fish.  I got him on board, measured him and weighed him, and began to get excited about where this fish could put me in the final ranking, when all of a sudden he flipped up and took the same route the bass did from earlier in the day.  He nose dove to freedom right through the heart of my yak, I just sat there and laughed, not much else I could do, I had a good day, and some neat stories to tell around the campfire one day.

On my way back, I called my launch partner and told him I was headed back, as I arrived to my cane break launch, he pulled up in perfect timing, I jumped in and we were off.  As I reached my vehicle, I hurried up, loaded and strapped everything down in what felt like seconds, and I was off, relieved to have not seen anyone in the process. 

As I made it to the weigh in, the stories began, I caught nothing but bulls, I couldn’t find a fish, the bass where everywhere, I couldn’t find a bass, it was the stories that I look forward to at every event.  I get a kick out of hearing the different things that happened to others on the water, it seems no matter who is telling it, it always offers up an opportunity to learn something for later use or to mentally prepare you in case it ever happens to you.   Kind of like, keeping your mirage drive in, even in shallow water, or better yet, make sure you bring the blank that fits in its place. 

It was a great event, with a great turnout, great stories, and great people.  Bayou Coast Kayak Fishing Club is a special group of people like no other group I have encountered.  I feel lucky to be involved in such an organization. Congrats to all who participated and a special congrats to the top winners.

1st Place Steve Lessard

2nd Place Casey Brunning

3rd Place Clayton Shilling

4th Place Johnny Bergeron...missing pic, sorry Johnny

5th  Place Rick “chickenwing” Dembrun

BIG FISH – Eric Muhoberac

Lures that produced, was a 6 inch fluke rigged weightless, and a Seein Spots Spinner with a Kamikaze Vortex Shad in tow.  Pressure was 30.00 and dropping early on, cloudy skies, and a 5 minute sprinkle at daylight, with the sun peeking through for a combined showing of less than 3 minutes. Water was crystal clear, and air temps and water temps ranged from in the 50s to 70s, winds southeast most of the day.

Until next time, stay safe and Catch1....

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Redfish Rumble Pre-fishing

 This past weekend I was able to escape to start preparations for our upcoming Bayou Coast Kayak Fishing Club's annual Redfish Rumble, this year being held in Delacroix, La.
I was joined on this trip by Putt Putt, and Craig, and we were all venturing into unknown waters.
The night before we decided to start the day later than usual, as we didn't know the area and weren't interested in paddling through the dark. 
As we arrived at our launch spot in Delacroix, the wind had already picked up out of the South east around 10 mph.  The temperatures were in the 50s and the pressure was rising around 30.13''.
As we entered the water, it didn't take us long to realize that we weren't alone, it appeared we launched in an area that is owned by several

alligators, yall remember ole Putt Putt doesn't like gators, before you knew it, he had his rods in their holders and was focused on getting as far away from the prehistoric beast as he could.  There were only about 7 or 8...... that we could see.
After a couple miles of paddling(the water was very low) and fighting grass beds with every stroke, I decided it time to make a move. 

I hadn't seen a redfish the entire time we were in the water, maybe the gators ate em, who knows, but what I did know is that I am going to be fishing a tournament in the next week, and this wasn't going to be one of my locations.

I paddled back to the gator infested water alone, Putt Putt and Craig stayed back to explore the dead marsh further, and yes, they came home empty handed(or at least that's what they told me). 
I loaded up my yak and headed north and then west and then back south to reach another part of the marsh that has always proved productive for.

As I reached my location, I saw fish everywhere, the grass was thick in areas, but the water was crystal clear and as long as I stayed in the middle of the canal I could work the beds to my left and right. 

 Within two hours I had landed 10 redfish and four of those reds were between 26-27 inches.  The perfect tournament redfish, now all I had to do was catch a bass(a bass and 5 reds gets you an extra weight and lbs for the weigh in next week).

 It didn't take me long to reach for my rod with the seeing spots inline spinner tipped with a kamikaze matrix shad, and on my way back to the vehicle, I landed two bass, both around the 13-14 inch range, enough to get extra weight for next week.

Seems like the fish weren't going out of their way to find something to eat.  Most of them were just sitting in pockets of grass and not moving at all.  While I did see a pile of fish, I didn't see one tail or back break the water.  I spent most of the day standing and paddling and drifting with the wind.  If I would see the red in time, I was slapping my lure on top of the grass and bringing it into the open pockets and almost setting it on the reds nose.  They were not aggressive at all.  Several times I had reds immediately suck the lure in their mouth, but then sit there and not move, they wouldn't turn, and they wouldn't run with it.  I watched one red suck up my soft lure completely and then slowly release it halfway out of its mouth, spit it, and then suck it up as it laid still on the bottom several seconds later.  It was an interesting day, I got to do a lot of observing, I didn't set the hook on every fish, it was nice to see their reaction and how they handled the lure after they ate it when I chose not to tug on the line.

Clear water is where it all went down, some grass on the sides of the banks, but overall the cleaner the water, the more success I had.

Patience, clear water, short dead end canals, and weedless lures, were the key to the day, that and learning the hard way that fluorocarbon can go bad.  My first three hook sets ended in a broken 20 lbs test leader.  I haven't broken a leader since I started using Seaguar, and this was a huge surprise for me.  Apparently something jeopardized the integrity of my line during my Everglades trip.  I have now replaced the spool and all my leaders and am looking forward to seeing it work as expected next Saturday at the Rumble.

Good luck to all those that are taking place in the BCKFC's Redfish Rumble.  See ya at the weigh in.

Lures used...Matrix Shad, Vortex Shad, Seein Spots inline spinner, fluke, spook jr

Until next time, stay safe and Catch1.....

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Adventure Fishing World Championship..Part 4 of 4..... "Everything Happens for a Reason..... the Finale"


The AFWC is a tournament like no other, it's a biathlon of sorts in which paddling long distances and fishing short periods of time are combined at the most extreme level.  Everyone is given a map at the same time with checkpoints located in strategic locations,  each angler must reach three of the four checkpoints, catch, photograph, and then release the fish back into its environment, the target species of the event are snook, trout and red fish.  
 "Everything Happens for a Reason....... the Finale"

As we all got a ride to our vehicles, I made a mad rush to my camping area to retrieve my VHF Radio, which would have been nice the previous 24 hours, and my first aid kit, being those were the only two items missing from my yak for the safety check, and I headed back to the launch area.

As I returned to the launch location with 15 minutes to spare, I sat on the bow of my yak in complete exhaustion. I was running on fumes and pure adrenaline at this point, everything that had happened over the last 24 hours was now behind me and all I had to do was stay focused and awake and maybe, just maybe, I might have a chance in competing in this tournament.

As I awaited the arrival of my teammate, Steve Gibson, from the Sarasota, Fl area, to arrive, I shared my experiences of the previous evening with fellow anglers Jorge Cancel and Scott Harper, the Roll Tide Team, but we mainly discussed tactics and lure choices for the day.  I had great success the previous two days on two lures only, the "kamikaze" Vortex Shad, and the "Seein Spots" inline spinner,  
and  my obviously, mind wasn't clear enough to share stories that were bent around the truth, so I was actually sharing information like I just received a dose of truth serum.   At the same time, I knew a team with a name like "Roll Tide" wasn't about to tie on a lure made in the state of the great "LSU Tigers" anyway. And while this combination of lures works well in Louisiana waters, I could only hope that the Everglade species of fish would attack them strictly out of curiosity, and they did.

A little while later as I was receiving information that both Russ and Elliot had withdrawn from the tournament, due to exhaustion, my partner finally arrived, I could see the look of relief, that I even showed up, and the look of, I hope he can make it, on his face.  We talked momentarily about what we thought the layout of the map might look like, and what lures we would be throwing, along with tactics of him working bottom lures, and me working lures that stayed higher in the water column, so we could attempt to uncover the pattern of the day as quickly as possible. 

As we passed our safety inspection, we were able to sit down and relax for a little while, which is not the best move to make when you haven't slept in over 24 hours, and during this time I came to the realization that I was, tired, lethargic, dehydrated, and starving.  As all of these realizations set in, Jason Austin walked up and handed me a sandwich that he had made for himself, he also filled my pockets with dried banana chips and a snacky cake, as he likes to call it, and it was like someone bringing water to a person stranded in the desert.  As I was devouring my, now favorite, peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the Roll Tide Team brought me a pack of crackers, that they had quickly retrieved from their campsite just to help get something of substance in my system.  It was the greatest display of unselfishness and kindness from fellow competitors I have ever experienced, the concern for health and well being seemed more important to some than the actual tournament.

As the morning moved on, there was a mishap with the measuring boards that turned into an hour delay of the tournament, this only allowed my adrenaline to subside and my mental toughness to turn to mush. I am pretty sure at this point, I knew exactly what it felt like to be a zombie, and it wasn't a good feeling, with my stomach full, my eyes began to get heavy, and my hands were beginning to shake some, and it was all I could do to stay awake, but I knew if I closed my eyes at this point, there was no looking back, and an earthquake likely wouldn't haven woken me up. 
I got up from my yak and began to walk around, in large circles throughout the crowd of anxious anglers mainly, I had no destination in mind, just keep walking and stay awake.  During my walk about, I came across, our now famed cooks, Tk and Cebo, and Tk was having some depth finder/ GPS issues and I was able to loan him my spare battery to get his unit working properly, it was the least I could do after the extremes he had gone through to cook for an entire campground.

When I made my way back to my partner, the tournament director, John Grace, summoned all anglers to the Native Trailer where they handed out the measuring boards and within minutes they announced we could open our envelope, with the map inside, and start the tournament. 
There was a  mad dash to the holding area and anglers were ripping open their maps and launching their yaks simultaneously.  Steve and I looked at our map for less than a minute and immediately I saw the red checkpoint, which I misread as East Cape, the area where I had just spent the night in the jungle, and I quickly said we weren't going there, so from there we knew that the other three checkpoints on the map was where we were going to fish.

We launched our yaks and immediately went to the closest checkpoint, blue, grabbed our token and were off.  The tide was high at this point and everything looked the same, it was just open water all around us, but because of my midnight paddle back at low tide, I knew exactly where the drop off to the channel was.  We pointed our yaks south and headed about 400 yards out, I was throwing topwater and Steve was throwing a jig during the paddle out.  As we reached the drop off I immediately switched to the Seein Spots inline spinner tipped with the Kamikaze Vortex shad, on the first cast a 20 inch red followed the lure all the way up to my yak, but not being in the right frame of mind and not paying attention, I pulled the lure away from the red as I was taking it out of the water for another cast.  I was devastated, I knew missing one fish in this event could cost you everything.
Six cast later, off the ledge, I landed a 19 3/4 inch speckled trout. 
This trout looked 22 inches, he held his girth from his rooter to his tooter, but as we put it on the board, the measurement was clearly smaller.  I even recounted the inch marks on the board to make sure it wasn't flawed, I was convinced the fish was bigger than 19 and change.  From there, we took our pictures and released the fish as fast as we could, we paddled back to return our token at the checkpoint and we were off to checkpoint blue, a double checkpoint.

As we turned the corner on our 5 mile trip to blue, we could see yaks for days, it was as if the entire field chose to hit blue first.  Being we were now around 3 hours into the tournament and not one team was headed out of blue, it was clear that the fishing was going to be next to impossible.  We passed Dee Kaminski on our way to pick up our token, Dee is a phenomenal angler and known across the country for her guiding and her catching abilities, and seeing her still fishing her first checkpoint hours into the event created a huge shadow of doubt for us on completing the event. 

We received our token and immediately went into an oxbow close to the checkpoint where I saw several snook two days before, you don't want to travel too far because after you catch your fish you have to return to the checkpoint to return your token, but the water was muddy and Steve quickly suggested going back out into the open water. 
As we turned around and headed almost a mile south of the checkpoint, I was fishing the channels edge and Steve was working the flats on top, along with 20+ other teams.  After nearly an hour I didn't see one fish landed, my confidence was fading, and I was at the end of exhaustion.  I pulled up on a flat, set my anchor pole in the ground, laid my seat back, pulled my hat over my eyes and closed them. 
I couldn't believe after all of this I was going to throw in the towel, my body said fish, but my mind said sleep.  About 5 minutes into what felt like 2 hours of LaLa land with my eyes closed, I heard Steve paddling up and saying, " dude, wake up, you can't sleep now, we still have a chance." With that, I sat up straight, pulled up my anchor pole and paddled to a bottleneck I had learned of two days earlier from watching a guide catch fish with his clients, and I grabbed my famed lime green Bull Bay rod with a jig head tipped with, again, the Kamikaze Matrix Shad, and started jigging off the ledge.  On the third cast straight into the middle of the channel at the tightest spot of the bottleneck, I felt the strike, I set the hook with everything I had left in me and began reeling, the fish immediately came to the top of the water to show his acrobatic skills, it was a snook, and a big snook at that.
 With every jump I could hear Steve's voice trembling, don't lose that one, loosen the drag, you can't lose that one, you gotta land it, and within seconds, I had him in the net. With all of the excitement and loud banter, you could see the field slowly starting to move off the flats and into the channel, but we didn't care, we had our double point fish and we were re-energized.  We took our pictures, released the 25 3/4 inch for a total of 51.25 inch beast back into the water and we were headed back to turn in our token. 

All I could think of at this point was, did that really just happen, did we really just take the lead in this tournament, can we really win this thing? I was speechless. I knew we still had a long road ahead of us, but right now I was thinking if we can reach the yellow checkpoint, because we ain't going to red, we can finish strong.

On our way to yellow, I was gifted with the site of a manatee, I have never seen anything like it in the wild, his nostrils came out of the water and looked like the barrels of two ship cannons staring at me, he took one look around and disappeared back below the surface.  I took the siting as if the underwater elephant was a gift to what we just accomplished. 

As we reached the marina, where we had to portage our kayaks across land to another launch spot, we came across Mike Mcdonald (last years AFWC Champion) arriving back from the yellow checkpoint, I shared our plans with him and asked him if he thought we could make it, Mike immediately said, "no way you can make it there and back in time for cut off time, but good luck."  I told Mike it was our only option because the red checkpoint, East Cape(at least I thought) was way too far, and Mike looked at me with the most confusing look anyone has ever given me.  With adrenaline and hopes high, Steve and I re-launched our yaks and began our route. We weren't 100 yards into our paddle and I couldn't get Mikes look of confusion out of my mind, I told Steve to stop and lets re-evaluate the map, at this point we discovered that the map said East Clubhouse, NOT East Cape, and it was only 3 miles away, verse the 5-7 mile paddle to the yellow checkpoint.
We immediately turned around and began the portage back across land to familiar waters.  As we passed Mike at the launch again, I could see him internalizing his laughter for our lack of map reading abilities.

We put back in the waters we just pulled out of not 30 minutes earlier and began our paddle to the final checkpoint.  On our way we battled low tides and giant grass flats that slowed me down tremendously, and wasted around 20 minutes of valuable fishing time, because I couldn't peddle, Steve had to wait on me the entire leg there.

As we arrived, we got our token, and again I knew where the channel was from the midnight paddle back the night before, and we started our way several hundreds yards south to search for the ledge.  I saw three separate sharks feeding in the grass and maneuvering their way throughout all of the areas I was wanting to fish. 
When we finally reached fishable waters, I was throwing a topwater to avoid the grass, as we only had 15 minutes of available fishing time if we were going to make it back before the cut off time, and I didn't want to spend a second pulling grass off my lures.  All we needed was an 8 inch trout to measure and we would be off to the scales.  About 13 minutes into fishing I looked back to see Steve throwing a popping cork, I am not big a fan of popping corks, especially in clear water. 
Due to my dislike for this fishing style, everything coming into my mind at this point was now negative, had my partner, who woke me up hours earlier in the middle of the tournament, now given up on finishing, has he really resorted to a popping cork of all things?
Then it happened, I looked backed to see Steve reeling in a fish, the trout had his yellow mouth and head out of the water all the way to boat, he was showing off his heading shaking skills, that we all have seen when bringing specs to the boat.  It was a small trout, but it was definitely within the 8 inches that we needed, and as I was about to sound off in excitement and relief, the fish took one more shake and was free, we just lost the winning fish. 
I called out to Steve and told him, its over, we need to leave in the next minute if we're going to make it back in time for weigh in and before I could get the next sentence out of my mouth, Steve was hooked up again, and this time his rod was bent over like he was hung a cypress tree below the surface.  The 21 inch spec surfaced and I knew immediately it was a trophy trout, especially given the situation we were in, as panic set in on me, Steve was getting the fish to the boat, he lowered his net and the beast jumped out the water right over the net, the fish then jumped again, this time almost landing in the yak, but instead slammed the side of it and back in the water, three more times this fish went airborne before Steve finally landed it in the net. 
 It was a meant to be moment, and during this show, I  was paddling as fast as I could to him, so we could take the picture, release the fish, and hurry back to the weigh in. When I reached Steve with the camera, excitement was at a high, and so was my speed, I collided with his yak so hard he almost got the chance to practice re-entry in shark infested waters, but fortunately we both stayed topside and kept focused on the task at hand, get the picture.  I think we took over 50 pictures in 10 seconds of that fish.

We hurried back to return our token and we were off.  We had to venture a ways south and around two islands in order to stay in the channel so I could peddle, we would have never made it back in time going the shorter way due to the low water and grass beds.  I was peddling and paddling simultaneously all the way back, I kept telling Steve how much time we had left every few minutes, and of course I was cutting our time short to encourage every last bit of energy he had.  We made it to within 300 yards of the weigh in and we were deep in grass, we were both exhausted and it was everything either of us could do to move our yaks faster than the wind could push us.

Finally we made it, we reached the scales with 13 minutes left in the tournament. We didn't know where we were going to finish, but we still had high hopes of finishing in the top 5. 

We then loaded up our yaks, which took me over an hour due to exhaustion, and I am still convinced that without the help of Russ, my yak still may be down there, and we headed back to camp.

After a shower and eating all of Elliot's turkey I was able to take a 15 minute nap, it felt more like 15 seconds, and we were on our way to the final ceremony.  During this time, I heard stories of huge fish at double checkpoints, 24 inch trout at the checkpoint where we only landed a 19 3/4 inch trout, I even heard someone talking about the board wasn't long enough to measure their red fish.  Hearing all of this developed a heavy weight on my shoulders for finishing first, but from what I interpreted, we still had a chance of being in the top five, and that kept me going. 

As John Grace stood in front of the crowd and handed out awards for biggest fish, I stood in the FiN Crazy circle of friends and expected Michael Ethridge, our stranded in the Everglades savior, to pull off the win, I knew they had landed a couple red fish over 20 inches and based on the measurement totals that were being announced it sounded like he and Shallow Fly Walt were going to be sitting on top.

I knew what our total inches were for the day, but Michael kept his total to himself and would only share a glimmer of what it really was, so this led me to believe that his team was going to dominate the event. 
When they read out the second place winner and Michael and Walt walked up to received their awards, I was like a kid on Christmas morning, I clapped and cheered and yelled and was elated that one of my FiN Crazy team members was taking home a 2nd place finish. 

It wasn't until Steve's name and mine were called that it even sank in that we won.  I was so caught up in Michael being up there that I never paid attention to their total aggregate score.
It was amazing; to be named the 2014 Adventure Fishing World Champion was something that I never envisioned, having a goal of finishing in the top 5 was a steep goal in itself, but finishing number one is something I will never forget.

There were so many signs that took place throughout this adventure that until the 1000 mile drive home, I never put together.

From the exit sign of Yee Haw junction pointing a few rednecks south, to the hundreds of buzzards at the landfill warning us that this trip could yield deadly turns, to the midnight paddle back in the middle of the night showing me the channels, ledges, and grass beds, to the look that Mike M. gave us at the boat launch of our decision to attempt to reach the yellow checkpoint, to coming across three separate guides camped out in the bottlenecks at checkpoint blue two days prior to the tournament, and many more, it seems this trip was scheduled by a guardian angel.
Most decisions I make are always calculated, but the decisions made during this trip were calculated by a power a lot bigger than me.  While the points we chose to reach during the trip all had reason behind them, the paths we took along our journey were laid in front of us all the way, I didn't see them at the time, but now I do. 

We always hear the age old saying, everything happens for a reason, well after this trip, it's become clearer than ever, that everything does happen for a reason, sometimes you just need to open your mind to see it.