Hurricane Irma was literally a beast. The scope and size of this powerful hurricane was something out of a horror movie with just how large it was, basically Hurricane Irma affected most of the state of Florida.The problem most had with hurricane Irma was the uncertainty. The “predicted” paths were a bit all over the place and no one really had any idea as to where the worst of it would be. One thing was for certain, Florida was under attack by one of the largest hurricanes in history. Like many of our fellow Floridians, we were glued to the news, internet, social media, etc. watching the predictions of where it would hit. Initially the prediction was the eye of hurricane Irma hitting Jacksonville on Florida’s most northeast portion, and we were given mandatory evacuations. We were deciding where we were going to go when a familiar name popped op on my caller ID one evening.
My longtime kayak fishing buddy, Barrett Fine, was calling to check up on us, and offered us refuge if we decided to head west. My wife and I both agreed that we’d head west to Mississippi and hang with Barrett & family. Of course, she already knew the “kayak fishing wheels” were turning in my head before I could even say anything. I’ve had this quest for a couple of years now. It’s no secret that I absolutely love catching redfish, and my quest has my catching a redfish in the 9 southern states along the Atlantic and Gulf waters. I’d accomplished part of the quest catching redfish in Florida, Virginia, Louisiana, and Texas, so escaping to Mississippi would give the perfect opportunity to get one more state out of the way.
Luckily for me my good friend Barrett runs Everything Kayak over in Gulfport, Mississippi so bringing a kayak wouldn’t be needed, and he had extra rods, so that wouldn’t be needed either. We packed up the kids and our gear and headed out super early Friday morning as the storm was predicted to hit over the weekend on Sunday. I’d thought that leaving that early would give us a fairly easy ride along I-10 westbound, but you’d swear the entire state of Florida was evacuating due to hurricane Irma. A somewhat simple 7 hour trip turned into much longer, even with the stops for bathroom breaks, fuel, and grubs. Of course, with 2 younger sons in the car we tried to break it up as much as possible. We even stopped and spent a couple of hours checking out the USS Alabama in Mobile, something both boys absolutely loved.
We arrived in Gulfport that night, and got the plan together to go fishing on that Sunday. Saturday was reserved for catching up on rest, a little shopping, and taking advantage of being able to check out Everything Kayak. I absolutely loved this store! It had kayaks, kayak accessories, and the best part is a huge pool where you can actually demo a yak in the pool… in the shop! How awesome is that?!?! I hung out catching up with Barrett, demoed a PA 12 in the pool, and even my 7 & 8yr old boys tested the PA 12 in the pool.
Sunday finally comes around and we’re stoked. I wasn’t a huge fan of getting up so early, but definitely ready to try to catch a Mississippi redfish. We loaded up the gear, swung by the shop to grab a couple of demo yaks, then stopped to pick up a fishing license, before heading out to the launch. A good friend of Barrett’s was in own as a refugee as well and would be going out with us that day. I’d never met Ivy Harris before, but that’s one thing I love about the kayak fishing community. It doesn’t matter your religious beliefs, color of your skin, or your political preferences… we’re all kayak anglers and that’s enough for us.
We get to the launch and start unloading gear. The only issue we were facing was the wind, as it was a constant 20mph. While waiting Barrett and I started pitching lures off the dock, and it wasn’t but a minute before Barrett had a blow up by a small trout. Winds be damned, fish were hungry we thought! Once Ivy arrived, we divided up some live shrimp that he’d grabbed along the way, and set off looking to catch my first Mississippi redfish. Personally, I don’t care where I’m kayak fishing, as long as I’m kayak fishing I’m happy. But today was a little extra special. It’d been a few years since Barrett and I’d had the opportunity to hang out on the water and fish together. Also add in the fact that I was fishing out of a Hobie Pro Angler 12, something I’d never done in my many years of kayak fishing, and of course knocking off an item off the old bucket list and you’ve got yourself one overly ecstatic Floridian refugee!
We started pedaling off out of this small canal and I immediately see my first Mississippi gator floating next to a bank. Truth be told, someone had the vision to tie off a pool float toy of a gator to a pole along the bank. I simply loved how hilarious the situation was. We went off a ways and Ivy told us to check all the small feeder creeks which would be protected from the high winds. I ducked into my first feeder creek and put a live shrimp on a popping cork and within minutes I had the skunk off with a small spotted seatrout. That little fish made my day to be honest, as it signified that I wouldn’t be going home skunked my first time fishing in Mississippi.
I checked out a couple other places before coming out to the main channel to catch up with Barrett & Ivy. Once I caught up to Barrett, we were drifting with the wind, casting at the bank. About the time I caught up to him, a massive alligator gar rolled across the surface right between us. This thing was huge! I tried pitching a pure at this beast, but to no avail. We fished a little bit, then decided to double back towards where Ivy was staged. Since the winds were pushing us pretty good from our backs, I decided to drift a live shrimp on a popping cork behind me along the bank. It wasn’t 5 minutes before I had a hit and fish on! Mission accomplished! I reeled in my first Mississippi redfish! I have to admit that it wasn’t a huge stud, and I laughed at the comedy of the fish gods having fun with the smaller size of this redfish. BUT, that being said, a redfish is a redfish! I followed that one up with an even smaller redfish. Regardless of the size, I was happy that we’d accomplished my number one goal.
We fished a little longer before calling it a day and heading home for some bar-b-que and Sunday afternoon football. We headed back to Florida once the hurricane passed over and the traffic from those heading home was crazy. Hurricane Irma was a horrific storm and many people were grossly affected by the damage it caused. In an effort to find some silver lining, the hurricane gave us an opportunity to catch up with old friends and knock out a state off my redfish quest.