Paddle along with us as we return to the Chaz and Jodi finds her long awaited redemption with Part 2 of our return to the Chaz.
Part 2 Return to the Chaz
And now for the rest of the story. Part one took place exactly two weeks ago with the fabulous discovery of the Chassahowitzka River. In the time between then and now the Greek god of wind Aeolus has had his way. Winds have stayed between 15-20 on average and out of the west for the most part. Our original plans to get out by the Barge canal were out the window with the muddy flats. This also pushes the pre-spawn snook off of their usual haunts. According to my favorite wind app called WindAlert, Aeolus was going to take a break Tuesday into Thursday. I have been using this app for about 4-5 years now and it has always been dead on. WindAlert was calling for early morning winds at 2-5 mph out of the west then picking back up around noon to 15 mph from the same heading. Wind conditions check, now time to check NOAA Buoy Data app for the tides. Outgoing until about 10 AM for Thursday at the Chaz. Game plan in play.
Plan of attack is as follows, arrive at the launch at 0630, paddle the outgoing tide to the marsh about three plus miles. We will keep to the north side creeks which run north and south to stay out of the wind. Then let the incoming tide and wind carry us back in. Now we live about an hour and fifteen minutes worth of driving from the launch. So by our math to allow for adequate coffee absorption prior to safe driving means a 0330 wake up.
Arriving on time at the launch we watch a beautiful golden sunrise break over the trees. Vehicle parked with parking pass on the dash, we head down river. Paddling doesn’t stop until we notice fish breaking ahead of us just past the mouth of Potter Creek.
We start slinging our Live Target Sardine swimbaits at the rolling fish. Jodi gets a bit closer and realizes they are very large(4-6 ft) gar. Not what we are looking for so we head towards the downed tree line on the north shore. I veer to the right more towards the mouth of the creek and Jodi heads down stream. A few minutes later I her yell “Fish on”. I turn towards her and see lots of surface action in front of her Tarpon 120.
Now this is when a very quick calculation flies through my head. Time of year, water temp, and salinity equal that it is not going to be a trout. Water depth about 2-3 feet with that much surface action also means it’s probably not a redfish either. That means most likely a snook and I start paddling hard towards my better half.
And we hit the pause button here followed by a long rewind. Starting play at the summer of 1999. It’s night time on an outgoing tide at the Palm Beach inlet. We are anchored by the Coast Guard dock on Peanut Island in my best friends 15 ft flats boat. This was Jodi’s first time snook fishing and would be the tale of a fateful trip. This area during the height of the snook spawn will hold some true monsters at forty pounds or larger, with twenty plus pounds being the average fish. We are live bait fishing sardines on knocker rigs. Right near the end of the tide Jodi hooks into a really good fish. The fight lasted about ten minutes. Finally surfacing boat side it is the first good look we have of her and she looks to be between 25-30 pounds. As Jodi eases her alongside she makes one final head shake cutting the leader waving goodbye. Jodi was heartbroken and desperate to try again. Problem was it was now slack tide and the bite was done. But she didn’t want to give up so we continued to fish only catching catfish.
Jodi and I dated for two years back then before traveling separate paths for another 13 years. We got back together in 2013. She has since had a few shots at her old nemesis over the past four years. Mangroves, docks, and jump offs have been the only results. It has been a running joke that she would never catch one. Well that was about to change. With all that in mind I hurry to help her land this one. As I am still about 100 feet away she yells out with a very gleeful but guarded voice “It’s a snook”. At the same time a flats boat on its way out with two gentlemen aboard pulls up to watch.
As I close the distance I already have the net ready to go. The snook is on the surface looking done. I am gliding in 15 ft out with the net extended, 10 ft oh so close, 5 ft as I say to myself over and over “Stay on, stay on,…” BINGO Houston we have touchdown!!!!!!! And the curse at long last is finally lifted. Lots of high fives, fist pumps, and a few tears on both sides are had. The guys in the boat congratulate her before traveling on. Jodi’s smile out shines the twenty four inch prize before it swims off. As we watch the long awaited fish slip out of site I tell Jodi “Now for the upgrade”. With a quizzical look on her face she ask what do I mean? My reply “A bigger one”. Little did I know it would happen so soon.
At this point we are by the sailboat which was as far west as we made it last time. When you round the next corner the scenery dramatically changes into a panoramic vista of classic Florida marsh. Simply breath taking and the day just keeps getting better. There are a ton of glass minnows around the few docks at the entrance to the marsh but alas no one was home. Mullet were everywhere as usual with a couple reds mixed in. We worked the edges on the way over into Stevenson Creek with no luck. As we came into Stevenson’s Creek we saw something crushing bait against the marsh grass about 400 yards away. Scattered in the shallow water between us and our quarry were three very large alligators all in the ten foot range. In deeper water large lizards don’t worry me to much but water this thin can be very hazardous. So treading lightly we head towards the white water eruptions. The prehistoric scaled dragons sink out of sight not to be seen again.
About half way back the feeding frenzy stopped. We ghost in hoping to see the action start back up. A few blind cast produce no joy. Against the outgoing tide we continue back into the narrowing waters. On both sides of the bank are lots of beaten down marsh grass alligator sunning stations. As we come around the next corner an eight foot Dino launches off of his bed and we decide to head back out to more open water. I make a cast at the same place we saw the surface action with my Live Target Sunfish. It gets blown out of the water by a 15 lb snook and that was the last of the action in this spot of water.
Making a loop through the small bay in front of Stevenson Creek a pod of manatees pay us a passing visit. Behind them a school of small jacks took a couple short strikes at the sardines. It is slack tide now with no action going on so we decide to paddle back in a bit to explore Potter creek and its head spring. The creek is the widest spring creek we have visited so far with a significant current. Getting through the downed trees was no problem for our Tarpons but would be a real issue for any kind of peddle drives at low tide. No boats are getting in there either. The same pattern existed here as with Baird Creek lots of mullet but no predator fish. The creek does have great potential for winter time fishing. The bird life and scenery were incredible. The main head spring is a good size but not an easy place to get out of your kayak. Potter Spring is further back up a vary narrow impassable creek so we turned around here.
The next stop on the itinerary is a return to Salt Creek where I got my snook last time. After going over Google maps between trips I noticed a decent sized bay at the backend of the creek which if it is a bit deeper should hold some snook at the dead low tide we had. Most of the creek after it starts to narrow is only 8-10 inches deep at low tide not a likely place to find bigger fish. As we get to the bay which is actually three different bays I find that it is two to three feet deep just what I was hoping for.
A couple big swirls in the first bay get our collective attention and I let Jodi take the lead. No sooner do we enter the second bay then I see her Sardine disappear into a bucket mouth back country linesider. Its bronze colored scales announce that we are in his house. The house’s furniture is a mass of downed timber hazards begging to help the owner escape. Jodi does her best to keep the line tight as screeching drag tells her to get staked out in open water. Slamming her salvation through the scupper hole and deep into the mud, the battle continues as planned. Mr. Bronzeback ran out of tricks after a few more tries to make it to his bark-o-lounger. At the tail end of the fight a couple in a tandem kayak wanders into the bay and can’t believe the size of the fish in such skinny water. Now I know I told Jodi to upgrade but she really upgraded with a 33” beauty in an epic backcountry brawl. So proud of you and where your skills are now. I am pretty sure my smiles were bigger than Jodi’s at this point.
After getting some victory shots and the release we continue into the third bay which is five feet deep in the middle. I manage my only fish of the day which of all things is a 1.5 lb bass very cool to see both fish in the same water.
Wanting to cool off before heading home we paddle back to a vacant riverside campsite and take a dip. AHHHHHHH now that’s the ticket. Afterwards we go check Seven Sisters Springs which is the head spring for the Chaz. If you’re brave and small enough you can dive into one spring swimming through a small cave to come out in the next spring. And no we didn’t try it. That wrapped up our second trip and made another best day ever memory for both of us. So if you want a taste of real Florida you cannot go wrong on the Chaz it will leave you wanting more.
The Chaz, Nature Coasts Hidden Jewel (Part 1 of 2) Next Post:
The 2017 Kaku Kahuna: An In-Depth Review