A weekend in Tampa Bay


I received a message from friend Rob DeVore a few weeks back and he said that I should come over to the west coast for a weekend to go fishing. Rob lives about 20 minutes from my wife’s cousin so I figured we could have a minication with the best of both worlds. I would fish all weekend with friends and Stephanie would hang out with her cousin and get some family time in, AKA shopping. We found the first free weekend, strapped the OK down in the truck, gave the cat some extra food and water and we were off on Friday after work.
Saturday morning we were greeted with an eclipse.
My friend Neal (my wife’s cousins husband) has a kayak and he’s been wanting to fish with me for a while so he would join Rob and I along with Rob’s fishing buddy, Keith on Saturday morning at O’dark:30am. The plan was to fish the “No Motor Zone” of St. Joseph’s Sound and the plan was attacked at its full potential. However, the fish did not attack us back. We saw a number of fish during our 4 mile paddle but they were just not into it. Some would blame it on the full moon the night before but I’m not a firm believer in that theory. I would say it’s a combination of not playing the tides correctly and the pressure these fish see in this very recreational area. I managed one ladyfish to knock the skunk off my shoulder.

Rob and the sunrise
 
One of the best flats anglers out there.
 
Relationship between environment and the busy world.
 
As busy as this body of water was, there was something I noticed. There was life and there was a lot of it. The amount of wading birds taking advantage of an extremely low tide was a clear indication that it was a sustainable area. Along with crabs, fish and rays, I found a few large lightning whelk. Along with the wildlife, there was some wild life. Boaters, jet skiers, kayakers, ultralights, campers, shore anglers, picnics, everyone was out to have their own adventure on the water just like we were. It was great to see so many people enjoying the water but to be honest, it’s a place I would never fish if I lived there. I like solitude and isolation but it was great to paddle a new area and explore.
Lightning whelk.
Taking flight.
 
It’s not always what happens on the water that is as much an adventure as what it takes to get to and from the water. After loading the kayaks up and getting in the truck in search of some local Mexican food, I quickly realized I had a flat tire on my wheelchair. I was rolling on brand new tires and tubes and left my spare at home because I figured I was safe. The first bike shop did not have my odd size tube so they sent us to City Cycle & Supply where Mike took great care of my tire and had us out the door after telling us all about the giant snook his son reeled in the previous week. Off to Mexican followed by some R&R; for another day on the water.
Sea grape leaf.

The Sunday plan had us meeting up with an old skater friend Matt and kayak fishing guide and friend, Derick. Derick previously informed me where we were going to fish and I checked it out via Google Earth and quickly realized it would be more my pace. Upon waking up, Rob informed me that Derick was not going to make it because his truck wouldn’t start. We continued to our destination where we launched and poked around the ramp for a bit until we figured Matt would be a no-show. It was a bummer neither could make it but Rob and I would be just fine. More fish for us. Prior to launching the boats, I was taking this photo below when I found a penny, heads down. Most people don’t pick them up but I do. I’ve also caught plenty of quality fish with a banana on board. The glass can be as empty or full as you wish and it will all taste the same.

3,2,1 blastoff.
 
1 of 3 eagles we saw Sunday morning.

Got places to go, faces to film.
 
After riding the outgoing tide and catching five small and healthy snook, we were introduced to Tampa Bay. It was much more windy than expected but I’ve never met a weather man that told the truth. With some intel text messages from Derick, we were able to hone in on some fish. The sixth fish was another common snook but fairly bigger than the first few. Steady winds restricted us from sight fishing the flats so stake out and blind cast became the game. I perched myself on the edge of a drop and worked the darker water clockwise with a cast on each minute. The 12 O’clock position possessed a 32” snook that was quick to extract 30 yards of braid from the reel. A beautiful fish it was but I could tell she was wore out from the extreme runs she produced. I pulled her from the water for a quick photo and sent her swimming. Before an hour passed I was able to relive it all again with another snook just a scale smaller than the first. The strike alone on the second is an image that won’t leave my memory for some time. Same situation with the extreme outburst leaving the fish wore out so she stayed in the water as much as possible. These large fish truly have no reason to be removed from the water and I’m slowly doing my part to adapt to just that. There is no need for a selfish hero shot on every fish but sometimes the excitement will get the best of us.

A couple and their dog were the only ones out with us Sunday.
 
My inner most bird bank doesn't know what kind of bird this is.
 
Snook are by far my most beloved species to catch. Fighting a 6” snook can bring me just as much joy as a 16”, 26” or 36”.  This beautiful and powerful fish often takes skill and knowledge to simply hook and pulling them from whatever structure they call home can take some finesse. Luckily for me, this pair was caught in open water. The bait was my new go-to red head MirroLure with single VMC inline hooks picked up at Harry Goode's Outdoors. Only one of the double inline hooks were set in both fish and when I had full control of the fish, the hook was removed effortlessly. In 2014 I started removing all treble hooks from hardbaits and could not be happier. It not only reduces the amount of small fish caught but it reduces the fish handling time. In the long run, reduced fish handling time results in more fish caught. My stock treble hook collection continues to grow.

I fish saltwater because bass don't get this big.
Thanks for the fun afternoon, Mother Nature.
Tampa Bay was once healthy enough to provide for the community because it produced more than the demands would meet. It fell over time because of the uncontrollable growth of Forida. The clear water that was once littered with life and color became murky and littered with pollutants. Humans are the only ones to blame for its decline and I’m happy to say the same humans are responsible for it bouncing back with all of its power over recent decades. Efforts were made and the relationship between humans and environment on the west coast of Florida do their best to find that happy medium. I have grown up on the east coast of Florida on the Indian River Lagoon and we are at a pinnacle point of human and environment conflict. My weekend trip to Tampa Bay was much more than an adventure with friends. It put things into perspective and sent a message of hope that if we work hard enough, we can restore the environment. It’s because of our environment that we can continue building great memories such as the ones I made over the weekend.

If you find yourself in the Tampa Bay area and in need of a great fishing guide, look up my buddy Derick at www.phatfishkayakcharters.com. He will be happy to show you around while you soak up the health of Tampa Bay that once had no hope.

Kayaks Used