Third Times a Charm - IFA Kayak Tour Titusville Recap
There was a breeze causing a slight chop on the water as I casually worked a topwater along a very active shoreline. The clouds were still low as the fog had rolled through just an hour before; and although it was a cooler morning, the warmth of spring was well on its way as the sun slowly began to break through the stratus clouds. A LOUD explosion quickly turned my attention away from the weather, and back to my mission for the day: finding big gator trout for that weekend’s IFA Kayak Tour Event. Something I had very little luck with the past few trips. No more than a few casts later, I was hooked up into what looked to be a large snook! After multiple long runs, I landed my largest measured Trout to date. At just a hair under 30”, it was no wonder I thought this big girl was a snook! Two casts later I’m hooked into another behemoth, yellow mouthed, snaggle touthed monster. “It’s gonna be a good weekend,” I thought to myself.
As I rolled into the IFA Captains Meeting just a few days later, I was quite aware that conditions had drastically changed. I walked around and talked to many familiar faces as well as a few new ones, and it became apparent I wasn’t going to be the only one struggling with the cold front that had hit East Central Florida just one night before. After all, during tournament day every one of us has to deal with the same conditions. Fortunately, I had gotten quite used to fishing in the wind and cold after having a very long winter here in Florida.
Mid 50s might not sound too bad to a Minnesotan boy, but to a Florida boy it makes for a very slow morning. Thankfully I set my alarm half an hour early, and booked it to the coast after double checking that I had all of my gear. In the past, I’ve forgotten key items and showed up late to launch. The more experience I’ve gained, the more I’ve come to realize that timing and preparation are everything. As Flats Class Host Captain C.A. Richardson would say, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail!”
6:45 AM hit, and I had my Jackson Cuda 14 in the water, Micro Power-Pole attached, rods in the rod storage, tackle bag, camera, and measuring device in the rear storage, and IFA token around my neck. I was ready to slay some fish. I waited for the 7 AM launch time, and snapped some sunrise pics. Wanting to get a different angle on the shot, I hopped on the bed of my truck. Thankfully at that moment I caught a glimpse of my net hiding in the bed, and quickly tossed it in the yak.
Ready. Set. Go. I was the only person at the launch I had chosen, but I felt like I was in a race as I paddled towards the shoreline where I had caught those gator, or should I say dinosaur, trout just a few days before. The wind was already kickin’ 10 MPH as I set down my Micro Power-Pole, and began working what was left of the shoreline I had fished just days before. It didn’t take me long to realize the nearly 12” drop in water levels due to the strong north winds had completely changed up the fish's patterns. Not wanting to waste much time on a lifeless shoreline, I decided to switch gears for redfish on the flats.
I bumped along a nearby grass flat with my Micro, and began fan casting a Slayer Inc. Sinister Swim Tail in Camo. With such a sharp drop in temps, I figured the fish would be sluggish so I started off very slowly working my bait in. To my surprise, the redfish were fired up and began chasing down my SST much like a hunting dog chasing down a hog. Within an hour, I picked up some dink reds and a 19 incher that was barely measurable. Not exactly what I was hoping for, but I at least had a fish on the board!
With a couple of small reds in the boat, I decided it was time to make a move. With plans to fish for some BIG redfish in the afternoon, I decided it would be best to hit up another trout hole about 15 minutes down the road. After quickly loading my yak, driving down a beautiful old Florida road, and unloading my yak; I was back on the water. Not to my surprise, this area had also completely changed in about 24 hours. Hundreds of birds were now working the small back bay that was covered with fish exploding on the surface just days before; the matted grass where predatory fish were ambushing baits had been blown out by the wind, and the large numbers of bait was no where to be found. I was a bit discouraged to say the least, but I was going to stick with my plan.
Again I utilized the Micro Power-Pole as I bumped along the shoreline with the wind at my back. Long casts with slow retrieves was the plan. Each cast I’d reel slower and slower and slower with the hopes that I’d find a particular pace these fish wouldn’t mind eating at. Almost as soon as I was ready to give up, I saw a huge boil behind my bait to give me some faith to continue down the shoreline. Four or five casts later I felt a slight bump and set the hook hard. Immediately I saw a large boil, and thought to myself “black drum”.
After about 5 minutes of fighting this fish, I was sure it had some size to it. This area was known for black drum, so I figured it was just a big ugly. Finally, I caught a glimpse and shout: “BIG REDFISH”!
“Nope. It’s a HUGE trout!?”
“Nope. It’s definitely a black drum.”
At that moment I was quite sure that I was very unsure of what I had been seeing! It fought like a black drum staying just 20 feet off the bow of my kayak making large boils without taking any long runs for at least 10 minutes. Yet it looked like a redfish with one tail flick on the surface, and then took on the form of gator trout after the next tail flick on the surface.
At this point, I was quite determined to land this fish. I grabbed my net from behind me, and really started working the fish towards the boat. Next thing you know I’m netting this big yellow blob (mind you it’s milk chocolate colored water), and then comes the excitement...BIG REDFISH! Where’s the camera? Where’s my token? Where’s the ruler? How to I get a picture of this thing. It’s BIG! I had no doubt in my mind that this would be the big redfish for the tournament if I could figure out a way to get a picture, so I decided to do what any crazy tournament angler would do. I hopped into the almost chest deep, gator infested waters with DSLR camera in hand and snapped the best pic I could take.
By this time it was 11:15 AM, and I had a good shot at winning this thing if I could get a trout to the boat. I had a 32.5” redfish, over 3 hours to fish, and was in an area where I caught multiple trout just two days before, so I went back to fishing. 20 minutes flew by without even a hint of life other than the flock of White Pelicans making a ruckus on the surface. It was time to make another move.
I again loaded up my gear, drove to a gas station (of course I was low on gas), and booked it to a launch about 20 minutes away. Winds had picked up to 15 MPH with gusts to 25 MPH coming from the Northeast by the time I made it to the launch. Water height was very low, temps were still 15 degrees less than what they were just days before, and every one I talked to hadn’t even seen a trout. Not the best situation, but words a wise man told me the night before came to mind...
“It’s not about winning or losing, it’s about all of this as he pointed to the crowd of anglers sharing stories, smiling, and laughing at one another. You’re a great angler, just go out there and catch fish!”
I took his advice and just went out onto the flat and fished! Sure no one I had talked to along the way had even seen a trout, but that didn’t mean they weren’t there. It just meant they weren’t looking in the right places! I quickly paddled a mile or so into that strong northeast wind, and made it to my flat of choice with about two hours before I needed to be back at weigh in. I immediately began covering as much water as I possibly could with my Camo SST. After 20 minutes of fan casting, I realized the fish weren’t in shallow water so I worked towards deeper water.
Eventually I found matted up grass patches with about 2 foot sand holes off the edges, and I was certain I was heading in the right direction. I even said to myself that these grass mats would be trouble if I hooked a fish down wind of them. Not more than a few seconds later, BOOM, I’m hooked into a solid trout. Without a doubt a tournament contender if I could land this fish. I grab my net and horrible thoughts of losing this fish begin flashing into my mind. I don’t know why I do this to myself, but in situations like these I think about Murphy’s Law: anything that can happen, will happen. Sure enough the trout spits the hook 10 feet from the yak, and is sitting motionless on top of the grass mat just downwind from my yak. Swiftly I hop out with net in hand and begin swiping at this trout like a house wife swatting at a rat with a broom. The fish shoots out of the grass into the sand and is gone in an instant. I couldn’t help but laugh at my own misfortune.
With little time left I went right back to fishing. Ten minutes of fan casting these grass mats fo by and then BOOM, I’m hooked into another solid fish. Yellow mouth thrashing on the surface, I am determined to getthis trout to the boat. After a couple close calls at the surface, I sling this fish into the yak. Who needs a net, right? At that very moment, my watch breaks and hits the deck. No time to deal with that, so I hop into the water with camera in hand to take my pic. Where is my ruler? WHERE IS MY RULER!
There is an hour left to make it to weigh in with a possible tournament winning fish in the yak, all of my buddies are long gone, and I have no ruler. I look to the other side of the river and see a couple kayakers working their way back to the ramp. They must have a ruler. I quickly approach one of them from a distance and ask if I could borrow a ruler. Thankfully, Matt was also an IFA angler who had been in a similar situation before and willingly let me borrow his ruler. I took a quick shot, and to my relief released the trout still strong! He recommended after my ill luck that I book it back to the ramp, and so I did.
After heading to multiple launches to find my trout, the third time was the charm as I caught the tournament winning fish with half an hour left to fish. All in all it was a very tough day of fishing, but persistence and a little bit of luck pays! Thanks to the IFA for putting on such an awesome event, and to all who participate for making this tournament such a pleasure and certainly a challenge to fish!
Interested in the Inshore Fishing Association (IFA)? Check out their website: http://www.ifatours.com/