The Gulf Coast Kayak Fishing Association’s annual spring tournament was the first big tournament that I’d had ever entered. I had been planning for this tournament for weeks on end. I scouted new honey holes, talked with local charter captains, and had all my gear serviced in my preparations. Then a week out from the tournament it rained…
For anyone who’s fished a tournament, we all know that you can pretty much expect some rough and inclement weather. Yeah, it will probably be a little windy and probably a little rainy. What we got instead was beyond belief. It didn’t rain just a little bit. We had 25 inches dumped on the Florida Panhandle! Our water looked exactly like a glass of sweet tea, and this completely changed my whole game plan.
It all started the night before with the captain’s meeting which was held at Red Fish Blue Fish on Pensacola beach. My teammates from Yangler Kayak Fishing and I met up to discuss our game plan. Once we had come up with what we thought was a solid plan, we moved on to chow down on some fish tacos and cold beer. I had planned on leaving around 9pm and getting a good night of sleep, but fishing stories and tequila shots got in the way. We all were a little bitter about the amount of rain we had and the way the winds were going to be blowing in the morning. Jokingly, I brought up that there should have been a catfish division since the conditions were going to be rough. A few more beers and a catfish Calcutta had been agreed on. Everyone brings a six pack and biggest cat of the day took home the beer.
I barely slept the night before the tournament. Broxson Outdoors in Navarre had agreed to open an hour early for my teammates and I to pick up bait. We met up at 5a.m., grabbed our bait and divided it all up amongst our group. Dustin Woodring and I were going to be fishing all day together, while Justen Kofer, Matthew Pitt and Louis Anderson would be the other team. Due to the fact that we had a strong winds that morning, we decided to fish the south side of the sound. We arrived at our first spot to discover the parking lot was closed so we decided to just drag the yaks to the launch. After about an hour of being pushed down the beach by the wind and a couple of cats, we loaded back up and moved on to the next location. Our next spot had been producing large trout and a few flounder, but it was a bit of a paddle. The great thing about it is it’s a cove and protected by the winds and currents. We arrived about 10a.m. and the trout were busting top water. I went straight to my lucky spot and casted out a live shrimp. Within 10 seconds I had a big hit, but it spit the hook within seconds. I baited back up and right when I was about to cast back out, flipper popped up next to my kayak. This dolphin was making a beeline to my spot, and apparently it was her lucky spot too! That dolphin hung around the cove for about an hour destroying all the docks. By now things weren’t looking so great. Two of my honey holes hadn’t produced a single quality fish.
We went back to the dock and discussed what was our next move. The next spot on our list was the north side of the sound, which was the rougher side. It has 2-3 foot white caps, but we had heard it had been producing all day. After a short drive, we were back on the water. The target area was some docks by a sandy point, and they were in deeper was just past a drop off. Well, apparently about 5 other kayakers had decided the rough water was worth the risk and the point was covered up. I picked a dock that no one was on, peddled out in front of it and tossed out my Grappler Anchor. I knew it would be able to hold my Hobie Pro Angler even in the rough water. Dustin, though, was having a hard time staying out in front of the docks. After about 30 minutes of fighting the waves, we decided to move to one last spot. The weigh-in for the tournament was closing at 6p.m., and it was almost 4p.m. We were low on bait, hadn’t caught a keeper fish, and water was getting on the inside of Dustin’s kayak. It was time for our Hail Mary.
The last spot we decided to go to was completely new to us both, but a local charter captain had told me about it. We launched, peddled through some canals, and came up on some really calm water with some deep grass flats. Dustin went for the deeper grass and I went for the docks. I tossed a free line shrimp out the back and began to work the docks in hopes of a flounder. Within 5 minutes, my free line was screaming out drag and my Bull Bay rod was bowing over. I popped my anchor line and off I went for a ride. A few minutes later, I had a fat redfish yak side. I put my Fish Grip on him and pulled him up on my lap. I sat there for a minute, let out a big sigh of relief, and prayed that he was under 27 inches as Florida’s redfish slot is 18-27 inches. I laid the redfish on my measuring board and it was 26.75inches long. I yelled out in excitement as this was a perfect tournament fish. Not only did I have the length, but this was a fat redfish. I called my teammate, Matthew Pitt, because he was at the weigh-in and had him tell me the redfish board. Top spot for redfish so far was a 6.7lb. redfish. I knew mine would be close. Instead of rushing off to the weigh-in, I decided to go find a trout and flounder. I managed to catch a 20 inch trout, but couldn’t find a flounder. We peddled back to the launch and we had about 40 minutess to make it back to the weigh-in. When I got there I immediately checked the redfish board, and 6.7lbs. was still at the top spot. I handed the weigh master my redfish, and it read 7.1lbs. I jumped up in celebration, then nervously waited around for more redfish to be weighed in. One guy standing in line had a redfish that was exactly 27 inches, but it only weighed 6lbs. Time had expired and my redfish had held strong. Out of the 4 categories of the tournament, Team Yangler took biggest Redfish (7.1) and biggest flounder (1.9). The day started off rough and the conditions were less than ideal, but at the end of the day I did exactly what I wanted to do.
Overall, it was a great experience and I had a great time. It was an amazing sense of accomplish and I was overcome with joy at doing so well in my first big tournament. My teammates and I persevered through some tough conditions, and we had to truly work for everything that day, but it in the end, it was all worth it. We’re already looking forward to next year’s tournament. As far as the “Catfish Calcutta”, Craig “Red” Shelton took home the prize; enough beers to last a few weekends.
For more information on the Gulf Coast Kayak Fishing Association, visit their website at: http://www.gulfcoastkayakfishing.com/