I was really excited to fish my first Kayak Fishing Classics event, the Johnson Outdoors 2015 World Open. I heard plenty of great things about this tournament series and was chomping at the bit to get out there and try to put some nice fish on the board. The tournament was a 3 day event, starting at 7am on Friday, and ending at 2:30pm that Sunday. The format was to catch two Redfish and two Spotted Seatrout, with your score being the combined number of inches of your four biggest fish, two of each species.
I prefished the Tuesday before the tournament with great results in the Banana River No Motor Zone, an area I am very familiar with. I caught two reds from a big school, that made 57" combined. Not a bad practice run. I saw fish in the school that were aroun the 40" mark but I chose not to continue to catch them in an effort to not burn them up before tournament day. This decision proved to make absolutely no difference. The forecast for tournament weekend was absolutely awful. North and East winds at 20-30mph for the whole tournament. This completely rules out the No Motor Zone, which is completely exposed to north and east winds.
I had to think on the fly and was discussing strategy the night before with a fellow Adventure On The Water teammate, Arron Barber. As coincidence would have it, we both had the same exact plan to launch a certain area in the Indian River on the first day of the tournament. We met there at 7am and began fishing, spreading apart a good distance. I was flipping the mangroves with a 4" Pearl White MrWiffelure with no luck at all for an hour. When I worked my way out of the wind protected cove I was fishing, the wind was absolutely screaming. I decided to head up to the Railroad Bridge Causeway which blocks a north wind nicely. It was a little over a mile away so I paddled for all I was worth against the stiff headwind.
When I reached the causeway, it was indeed slicked off, well protected from the wind. Bait was plentiful and the water was somewhat clean. I thought for sure I would at least pick off a trout from this area but 2 hours of blind casting resulted in absolutely nothing. I then made an exectutive decision to bail on this spot and move. I doubled back to the launch and loaded up, and headed north up the road. My plan was to hit a spot that I had never fished before, but found what looked to be a useable launch on google earth the night before. I lucked out and it was indeed a good launch. I put in under horrible wind conditions but determined to put some fish on the board. The move proved to be a good decision, as I caught two reds at 17" and 23.5", and two trout at 14" and 17". These were pretty small fish but they got me on the board and fulfilled my four fish requirement. At this point the wind was terrible and I threw in the towel.
I got home that afternoon and checked the leaderboard and surprisingly I was sitting in second place at 71" and change. First place had 103" so I knew the next day I had serious work to do. Arron ended up sticking it out at the first hole and got two beautiful trout at 25" and 26". We decided to fish together again the next day. The plan was to fish from Scottsmoor Landing down to Jones Road in the Indian River. Scottsmoor was 7 miles north of Jones. We met at Jones, put all our stuff on my truck and left Arron's truck there and we headed up to Scottsmoor together. This would allow us to use the north wind to drift, and then drive our kayaks back up to Scottsmoor instead of paddling back 7 miles.
We drifted for 7 miles and covered that entire flat with absolutely no fish whatsoever. This ate up about 5 hours of our day but we still had time. We decided to launch at the place I got my 4 fish at yesterday and fish down to the WSEG ramp 5 miles south. We did the same thing, leaving a car at either end, and it was equally as tough. I skunked completely, but Arron managed to get two nice reds to put him in great position to be able to possibly win the tournament! I was happy that at least one of us was able to pull some points out of that place.
At this point, when I got home and checked the leaderboard, I was shuffled all the way back to 8th place and had my work cut out for me for the final day of the tournament. I was really torn on where to go as all the areas I fished were not producing, and reports from other folks were about the same. It was tough all over. I decided to launch at Goodrich's Fish House, which is where the weigh in was taking place. This would allow me to paddle back to the weigh in without drive time, giving me an extra hour or so to fish. I had never fished this far north in the Mosquito Lagoon and was completely unfamiliar with this area. It did have plenty of islands which looked like they would offer good wind breaks so I made the decision to put it all on the line in an area that I have never fished.
When I went to launch that morning, the American Flag at the Goodrich Ramp was straightened out. The wind was absolutely insane at East 25-30mph. When I opened the truck door, the wind took the door away from me and slung it open on it's own. I got out and was instantly slapped with high and chilly wind, you could hear the whitecaps crashing in the dark. For a moment I asked myself if it was really worth launching in this mess. But I was already drove the 50 miles north to get there so I forced myself to take down the yak and get rigged up to fish. I shoved off at safe light and made the open water crossing to the first island in the ridiculous headwind.
When I finally got up to the island, it did a pretty good job of protecting me from the wind and I was actually able to fish and control the kayak. 4 casts in, I got a dinky little 15" Trout. Small, yes. But it provided a 1" upgrade from the smaller trout I scored on the first day. I'll take it. Got the photo and promptly released the fish. Not a bad start but I knew I had to pull some real miracle fish to win this thing. I worked my way back into the islands and found numerous wind protected areas. On a blind cast, I got a nice little thump and I set the hook. I could instantly tell this was a nice fish as he felt good and heavy. It turned out to be a school of over slot reds which was just what I needed. I landed him after a good tussle and he measured out to 32.2", a great upgrade to the 17" red from the first day.
I let everything settle down and worked around that island 3 times, hoping they would come back and settle down in the same spot but they never did. At this point I focused on making as many casts as possible. Worked into a nice little backwater pocket and it was full of bait and relatively wind protected. As I was blind casting I thought to myself how perfect this area is for big Gator Trout. About the time I finished that thought, my MrWiffelure got nailed. I set the hook and a damn nice Trout starts tailwalking on the surface with his mouth wide open, slinging his head back and forth. Unfortunately, when he was coming at me shaking his head he got slack and slung my jig. I was heartbroken at this point because that Trout was in the high 20" range and would have helped my score trememndously. I tried to shake it off and continue fishing but all I could think about was that monster that eluded me.
I fished hard and used about every minute availible to me. Got back to the ramp and loaded up the kayak and made my way to the weigh in. Took a seat and chatted with everyone, and everyone had the same story. Wind, wind, and more wind. It really took it's toll on everyone involved. In the end, my fish were only enough to bring me up to 4th place, but given the conditions, I was pretty proud of that effort in my first Kayak Fishing Classics event. Arron's fish ended up giving him a 3rd place finish and I was totally stoked for him. He is a great angler, worked his tail off, and really deserved the top 3 finish. I had an absolute blast other than the wind and plan to fish the next Kayak Fishing Classics event in my area! Great tournament series!