Road Trip Winter 2009 (Part 1) E-mail
Friday, 23 October 2009 05:48

The past two winters I managed to spend a portion if not all of my winter in Florida. I had planned on doing so again this past winter. My friend Dee was retiring and has a place in Sanibel and another friend, Terry, was renting a house for a month a couple islands north. I also had other places to stay with friends all over the state. In my previous season in Florida I learned a great deal and there were many places I wanted to fish and explore. Kayak fishing for me is catching fish while exploring new places along with the camaraderie of all the great friends I’ve made along the way and getting together with them and fishing. 

Heroes on the Water (HOW), was doing an event in Texas and a lot of great folks were going to attend. Also Joey wanted to fish a couple days at Cast & Blast in southern Texas but we couldn’t justify flying down for just two days. However if we combined the two then it made more sense. Joey made the arrangements with Jeff at Cast & Blast. We started checking flights and working on logistics. We would need a rental car to get to the HOW event and then drive 5 hours south to Arroyo
City where Cast & Blast’s lodge was. Then it occurred to me with the drop in gas prices and the added cost of a rental, I could do the trip for the same money by driving. Also driving would allow me to leave a couple weeks early and hit Florida too. So instead of a week in Texas for less than twice the money I could hit Florida a couple weeks, Texas and then Louisiana before heading back to New Jersey . I would have the opportunity to fish two states where I had never wet a line and renew old friendships and make new ones. 

I love the freedom of driving and the ability to bring the toys along. I don’t have to wonder if I should have brought this or what not to bring. Additional bags cost money while flying these days and the costs add up quickly. There’s plenty of room in my Tundra and I set up a bed in the back. Something I had intended doing for a while but hadn’t gotten around too. My plan was to truck camp when not at events or staying with friends. The only thing I’d need is a shower each evening and I knew truck stops sold showers. I had never utilized this service before but I knew it was available. Other then extreme southern Florida the night time temperatures would never be too hot for sleeping and with Mysterioso and fleece I could be warm in sub freezing temps in my sleeping bag should I encounter any. 

While it might appear to some that I have the Life of Reilly being that I have a lot of freedom to wander, I do have responsibilities too. There are things that I have to get done and there were a couple of important items occurring at this time. We were in the process of expanding KFM and many things needed to be discussed and set up. Also my book was in its final stages and while the writing was done the type setting had just begun. Things not easily done while on the road. Florida wasn’t looking good but Texas and Louisiana were in. I figured I’d cover the 1700 miles to the Heroes enclave in 2-1/2 days. I could do it in two but Joey was going to fly and I needed to pick him up at the airport in Houston. That way he could finish up the launch of the KFM forums. I was getting excited.

I set up the bed, loaded the truck, which included three kayaks. They consisted of a Native Ultimate 14.5, a Freedom Hawk, and I wasn’t going anywhere without a Hobie Revolution. I didn’t expect to be in water deep enough to use the mirage drive, but one never knows and the Revo paddles great when the plug is substituted for the drive. I got going early Tuesday morning, February 24th and drove to northern Alabama the first day. All I had done was sit and drive so didn’t feel the need for a shower. I pulled off at a rest stop, used the bathroom and brushed my teeth before turning in. The bed was great. My shell has screened windows so I can control the amount of air and with it the temperature, to a degree, inside. I awoke in the wee hours of morning and decided to hit the road. After a couple hours I felt sleepy and hit another rest area and caught an additional couple hours of zzzzzzzzzzzs. I had a cooler with me and a variety of food stuffs. I had some cereal and added craisins, washed up and hit the road. 

House

Our Lodging at the HOW Event

I snacked for lunch and in southwestern Louisiana stopped at a Landry’s seafood restaurant for an early dinner. They had WiFi and I splurged on a nice redfish dinner with potatoes and assorted veggies. It came with a salad. It was excellent and I checked emails, mostly deleting junk, as I’d only been gone 1-1/2 days. I found a truck stop and bought a shower. It was a Love’s truck stop and the shower, while pricey at $9, was a lot less than a motel room. It’s all I needed. I was told it was a five minute wait. There were five showers and about that many people in front of me on the list. The wait was more like a half hour, but I wasn’t in a hurry anyway. Talking with the reception gals they said some guys spend 1-2 hours in there. I can’t see how or why but I was witnessing it. My turn came and before I could go in one of the gals had to clean it. She took several minutes. Another neat feature was I was handed a freshly washed towel, wash cloth and soap. The showers are actually small rooms with a toilet, sink, vanity and fan. After what was a long time for me, maybe 10 minutes, I emerged clean and ready for bed. That was money well spent. The truckers waiting commented how fast I was as no one else had come out. Anyway it was off to sleep. I pulled around back in the shadows and dozed off. The place was noisy. Trucks running, cars coming in for gas, so in the wee hours I hit the road. At the Texas welcome center I went back to sleep. I got up at first light, ate, cleaned up and got on the road. I had plenty of time to kill as Joey’s flight arrived a little after 11AM and I was within a couple hours of the airport.

So I did some shopping, organized the truck and took my time. Got near the airport and Joey’s flight was early. Picked him up and we stopped at a Subway for a couple sandwiches and were on our way to the Heroes’ Event (www.kayakfishingmagazine.net/16/Kayak_Fishing_Club.html ). The event was being held at a private sportsman’s club on the Lavaca River . The club is a couple hours southeast of Houston . It encompasses 13,000 acres of which 4,000 is marsh estuary along the river and the rest is dry land. It’s open range too and cattle were everywhere. It’s also has terrific water fowling, deer and wild pigs. Jim and Sally were already there along with Will and his cousin Roy were our gracious hosts. There were 4 houses and other assorted buildings. We settled into our house and set up gear. We drove to a spot and did some fishing. A few trout were caught and then we toured the property’s marshes via the roads that were interspersed among them. We had a great dinner, chatted and went down to the river to do a bit of fishing under the lights. We managed a few trout but action was slow. We were told sometime during the night it would turn on. I awoke very early around 3AM and couldn’t get back to sleep so I headed down to give it a shot. It was on with trout feeding heavily. I fished a couple hours and caught a few dozen and then went back to sleep for an hour or so. I had breakfast and then Will showed up with breakfast burritos. I grabbed a couple for lunch. The wind was blowing hard out of the south as a storm was approaching. The wind blows along the Texas coast from some direction most of the winter I was to learn. The south winds pushed a lot of water into the marshes. 

Red

Picture of Sam taking a pic of me taking a pic of Joey
with a red deep in the marshes of Lavaca River, TX.

This was our day to fish as the next two days we’d be helping out with the troops. Sam, a kayak fishing guide from the Galveston area was going to join us. He knew the terrain a lot better than we did. Sam felt the reds would be deep in the areas that normally didn’t hold water but due to the wind these areas were flooded and with lots of new territory the fish were probably exploiting. There was so much water they were scattered. At a lake deep in the marsh we spooked some fish and on my second cast I connected with an upper slot sized red. Joey got a smaller one at a creek juncture and I got a flounder a bit later. That was it but I had a slam because I got all those trout in the morning. Paddling back to our launch against the strong 25 mph wind was a bear. More folks arrived and late in the afternoon the troops did too. 

The rest of the weekend was spent helping out with the troops, socializing and Jim Sammons premiered his new movie, Game On, for us. We had a great time but couldn’t help thinking how nice it would to fish the area when it was fishable. I’ll just have to visit again. We took off early Sunday afternoon as our next stop was the Southern Laguna Madre to an operation called Cast & Blast (read full article on the trip). By the name you can tell that they also provide hunting. We were going to be fishing two days in what we were told was clear water sight fishing for reds. One of our roommates at the HOW event, Buzz, had fished there and said it was special. The weather was predicted to break and the winds were expected to be light. It looks like our timing was excellent. It took us 4.5 hours to get to the lodge and we settled in. Our host was Jeff, who is the sales and marketing director for the operation. Wade was also there. Among other things he’s a professional photographer and he would be joining us as well. Jeff made dinner which was excellent. We watched a bit of TV, mostly the Weather Channel, and the snow storm that was working its way to the NY Metro area and relishing that we were missing it.

sitting on the job

It doesn’t get much better than this. Here I am fishing
the Laguna Madre flats where I caught about 40 reds in 1-1/2 days of fishing.

The morning was cold and it was suggested that we definitely wear waders. The ride to where we were going to fish was cold but high was predicted to get into the 70s. Our Captain, Tom, showed up and we got the boat loaded and headed out. I was dressed as if I was skiing and was fine. The plan was to fish a spot they had been to recently that held a lot of fish. Kayak fishing is relatively new for the operation but they’ve got incredible terrain. As we pulled up reds scattered in all directions, so while the crew set up the kayaks, Joey and I waded with fly rods. There was a lot of grass and the bead eye clouser, while light for my customary NJ or FL fishing, kept getting hung up. I needed an un-weighted bend back version of the fly but I hadn’t tied any. I saw that the yaks were ready so I headed back to the boat and traded in the fly for a spin rod. I was excited about the fishing but also this was going to be my first time using a Freedom Hawk kayak. They are the kayaks that have stern wings that separate, turning into outriggers to provide stability for stand up fishing. There’s even a bar to lean against. The kayaks, when the wings are deployed drift stern first. The crew at Cast & Blast had developed a neat technique that used a folding canvas seat in the cockpit. It allows you to paddle from a raised position. You’re as high as if you were wading. Once I tried this it became my preferred method of using the kayak. I could cover more terrain while still seeing well. I found it much better than poling as I could maneuver while I was seated. The technique is to set the wings to ¼ open and the kayak moves nicely, besides there was a slight breeze that would move us across the flat. I was the first to hook up but lost the fish. Joey got two and we sort of paired off - Joey and Wade and me with Jeff. Jeff kept hammering fish and I wasn’t getting hook sets. I was using a Gulp minnow and didn’t seem to have the technique down. It was frustrating as there were fish everywhere. Jeff was using a spoon so I switched. Then I caught fish after fish. We experienced one of those days I’ll never forget - sight fishing for nice reds that averaged about 26”. It was the closest thing to bone fishing I’d ever done since my trip years before to Turks and Caicos. The big difference is the reds are a lot more tolerant. Rarely did the school hard spook and leave the area. It was as if they’d say “what happened and each fish would say I don’t know what got George spooked”. So they’d often settle down still within casting range. If they didn’t another group would show up or be nearby. It was such a rush watching them chase that spoon. All of this was happening in 12” to 18” of water. There were so many fish. Schools were everywhere. After about 15 fish I switched to targeting single fish for more challenge. After I caught several I went back to schools. When it came time for lunch we reconnected at the boat, I had landed over two dozen fish! Joey had about 20 as he and Wade were staging pics and this took up fishing time. Joey lost a bruiser at the yak as Wade wanted to get all sorts of shots of it and the fish regained its stamina and broke him off under the kayak. Joey really wanted that fish as it was in the three foot range. After lunch we moved to a different area so we could see other terrain. 

The fishing was much tougher. The wind had picked up quite a bit from the mornings light breeze with conditions that varied from glass to a light chop. I still managed three fish, the first blind casting and the other two were tailers I stalked. That brought my total to around 30 fish for the day. It doesn’t get much better than that or does it? We had another great dinner centered about blackened redfish, some boob tube and bed. The next day was a lot warmer and we headed to the same spot we’d fished the previous morning. 

nice meal

After a fantastic day of fishing Jeff cooked a
great dinner featuring fresh redfish.

Why go anywhere else when this spot was so good to us. We were hoping for the same. Wade had something up with his son so couldn’t make it. Tom, our captain, positioned the boat on the edge of the flat and we got the kayaks ready and headed towards the shallows and schools of fish. Actually where he anchored was also a flat but it was a boat flat. The difference being where we were fishing was either via the kayak or wading. No boat could fish where we were fishing. The fish were still there but not as many schools. The wind had shifted a bit and our drift took us more to the east and shore which was also shallower water. The previous day we were drifting parallel to the shore. Joey and I wanted to shoot video and get some pics as we didn’t know what Wade would let us have. Fishing was just as good but different. There were still some large schools but there were smaller groups, singles and pairs. We got some great pics and video, mission accomplished. We each ended up with 9 or 10 apiece and if we hadn’t been shooting I’m certain we would have doubled our tally - another fantastic morning. At times it was glass calm, even calmer than the previous day. We ended up in an area where it got so shallow we had to get out of the kayaks as they wouldn’t drift across the flats. The grass would catch the bottom of the kayaks. There were high ridges that ran perpendicular to the shore. Between each ridge the water got as much as a foot deeper. The redfish could be anywhere. Sometimes they were in the shallow grass and other times in the pockets. When they weren’t on the move they were often hard to spot. You’d be cruising along and then there’d be one right in front of you. I never grew tired of sight casting these fish. I especially liked watching them work their way towards me, especially singles and pairs. I’d just wait for them to get within casting range planning an intercept. We worked our way back to the boat for lunch. As I paddled across several sand potholes I spooked some fish and a few looked like large trout. The southern Laguna Madre area is one of the three best places known for very large trout. Tom had asked us to keep some fish for him so Joey and I each had our limit of 3. Turns out I had kept one that went over slot so a trophy tag was used on it. It’s not often a fisherman thinks a fish is smaller than it is but that’s what happened here. The guys had an area we could fish in the wind where you drift over potholes that hold fish. The winds were building as our vacation from Texas’s winter winds was abating. The wind machine was cranking up again. Joey had enough and that was fine with me. We went back to the lodge and packed our gear. Joey decided he was going to fly back and arranged a flight from the local airport in Harlingen to connect with his previously booked flight home the next morning. 

Jeff told us not to give the impression that anglers were going to catch 20-30 fish a day. However we had two extraordinary days and this is a relatively new way for them to fish here. There are miles and miles of flats like the one we fished that are inaccessible to even the very shallow draft boats that are the prevalent vessel here. Tom fished with Gulp from the boat both days and didn’t catch one fish. Several boats fished the outside edge too and also caught nothing while we were hammering them. We were fishing for fish in an environment where they aren’t usually pursued. The biggest issue in my opinion is the wind. Still they regularly fish clients in the wind by drifting the yaks, deploying drift socks and working potholes.

on th beach

Driving the beaches of South Padre Island was unique
and I camped out at the farthest point from the road.

I decided to explore the area a couple days and see if I could get on the water. The exploration was great but the winds didn’t allow for anything else. The bay was a mess with winds in the mid 20s. I camped that night at the northern end of South Padre Island, at the inlet. I was at least 20 miles from the end of the pavement. It was just me and the coyotes. I was trying to find access to the bay side of the island but the only road I found had a sign saying the area was a wildlife area and closed to vehicular travel. The guys at Cast and Blast did say that you could access it though, but it had been a while since they had. The dunes would have blocked the wind in certain exposures allowing me to fish. It would be neat. I’ll have to do a bit more research. 

Upon awakening the winds were still strong so I headed back down the island towards the town of South Padre. My intention was to see if I could find the area we were fishing with Cast and Blast. While leaving the island a guy in a car asked me to roll down my window. He had questions about one of the kayaks on my roof. I suggested we pull off the road and we did at a bait and tackle shop. Turns out he wanted to know about the Freedom Hawk. He owned a Hobie and was curious. So I filled him in. Turns out he had been in the area for about a dozen years and thought it was the best fishing in the country. He was on his way to the office so we parted. I found the area where we were fishing. It was adjacent to the Laguna Atascosa Wildlife Refuge. I didn’t check if they allowed the launching of kayaks to access the Laguna Madre. I did find access to the water south of the refuge. I did some exploring on my way up to Corpus Christi where I was going to hook up with Dean and Jennifer Thomas of Slowride Guide Service and Kayak Rentals. My first stop was Port Mansfield which is across from the inlet that separates North and South Padre Islands. The wind was fierce and the bay looked like chocolate milk. At Sarita I again got to the water and it was just as messy. 

(The rest of my winter excursion will be in next month’s issue.)

 
 

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