Contributing writer Darin O’Brien brings us a tale of returning to where it all began. Taking the opportunity to return to his kayak fishing roots, playing the role of time traveler, Darin reminisces on his youth and returning to long lost waters in search of kayak fishing paradise.
So if you are anywhere near my age you have at some point dreamed of traveling back to your childhood or young adulthood days to re-live some of the glory of your youth. While current scientists have proven that time travel is possible the technology to do so is not. It surely won’t be before I see my last sunrise either. Unless, of course, Marty McFly and Doc send me a flux capacitor.
That being said I managed to find my own form of a worm hole to squeeze through. And not an easy task given the difference in size. Those younger years were full of outdoor adventures on the central west coast of Florida. Pond hopping for bass from the banana seat of my bike to family camping trips several times a year on the Withlacoochee River. As I got a bit older I beat the flats from Tampa Bay to Yankee Town.
My recent retirement was followed by a move from south Florida back to central Florida (just outside of Ocala) bringing me back to my roots. Twenty five to thirty years have passed since sampling Adam’s Ale where my life time addiction began.
Using the Wilderness Systems Tarpon 130X with my wife, Jodi, in her trusted Tarpon 120 as our time machines, we made the first jump in hyper-drive landing us on the Withlacoochee River near Lake Panasoffkee. This is the upper reaches of the river. Although not the area I am most familiar with, it is closer to what I recall of the wildness of the river. We used to camp about 10 miles upriver from the Dunnellon launch right off of US 41. That whole area over the past quarter century has blown up with housing. The first paddle (and first time on a kayak on the river) was simply breath taking. The memory and sensory overload was incredible. Smell has the strongest links to your memories and was certainly what caught me first. The rich vegetation and tannin stained water have such an earthy smell that put a jaw cracking smile on me. The sights and sounds of all the wildlife were next. A symphony of birds, gators, insects, and frogs all singing their sweet sweet music. AHHH paradise! And for my wife it was love at first sight.
We had instant success fishing as the water conditions are almost exactly the same as many of the canal systems in south Florida. Bass and mudfish are everywhere the only thing missing are my beloved Snakeheads. Weapons of choice are St. Croix Mojo Bass rods paired with Penn Battle 3000 reels, and 20 lb. PowerPro braid. Hands down best lures have been the Strike King Rage Tail Craws and their newest addition Space Monkey. Both rigged weed less with Gamakatsu 4/0 and 5/0 G-Lock worm hooks. They are then worked across the surface as frog baits. So far we have caught bass up to 6lbs and mudfish just over 10lbs. You can’t go wrong with stunning scenery and great fishing. Our favorite stretch so far has been between the Wysong Dam and Rutland Park on SR44. This is about a 3.5 mile stretch with a nice current to carry you along. Perfect distance for being able to fish hard all day on a one way drift. At the half way point on the east bank there is a natural spring called Nichols Spring. Great spot to pull out and cool off during the summer heat. Both the launch and take out are very nice boat ramps. The launch at the damn is on the top side of the damn. This is not a problem as you simply paddle over to the west bank and use the airboat crossover to get past the damn. You do have to be careful in this area due to airboat traffic especially on the weekends. During the week I have fished all day and never seen another soul.
The second step between space and time has been more like the first time the 1.21 gigawatts punched the forever famous DeLorean back to 1955 crashing through a barn. So far with four trips to four different locations on the gulf marsh the total fish count is 12. Six of those have been trout and one redfish. The rest were needle and lizard fish. The locations have been Cedar Key, Kings Bay, Fort Island Beach, and the south side of Ozello. Don’t get me wrong I’m still dancing down memory lane here as I love flats fishing. Since 1992 I have been fishing the flats of the inter-coastal waters from West Palm Beach to Ft. Pierce. Those waters are completely different with stronger tides and heavy mangroves. The gulf coast is dominated with slow tides, marsh grass, and scattered mangroves. Can you say learning curve? But that is a curve that I have the right math for and will quickly straighten out. It’s just putting the time on the water along with making some new contacts. On contacts I started at Riversports Kayaks in Homosassa where I met native Capt. Mitch Deardorff. He has been a wealth of local knowledge. This is my new home for my kayaking needs in a shop that has been here for 13 years. If you’re in the area they have a fantastic inventory, with matching service, tours, charters, and a full rental lineup. They also have a carpeted launch right on the river which you can use even if you are not using a rental. You can find them at http://riversportkayaks.com/
The best day so far was at Fort Island Beach. This spot is just south of the mouth of the Crystal River. It does have some nice amenities with full restrooms, a pier, and a boat ramp. Unfortunately the boat ramp has been closed due to damages from hurricane Hermine. This leaves a very easy beach launch. I was solo on this trip and back to using the Wilderness Systems ATAK 140. Now the wind forecast was set for 10-12 out of the N.E. which was not a problem because my target area would be protected. That lasted for about an hour then the wind picked up and switched to due west. GRRRRR! All was not lost on this tale of the fateful trip. I picked off five trout between 18-21 inches. They came on two options a Live Target Twitch Bait in Ghost Amber #946 using my G-Loomis GLX matched to an ABU Garcia Revo Ora. The more productive set up for the day was Unfair Lures Shrimp bait under a popping cork. I saw a post from Jared Esley, Pro Staffer for Wilderness Systems, showing him using the combo on Texas marsh. He is killing the reds with it out there. What makes this combo so effective is the super natural action of a fleeing shrimp. Twice I had trout swirl on the lure and miss just twitched it again and they crushed it.
While warping back to my adolescence and twenties continues to be an ongoing endeavor. The road back is really not traveling back. It is instead forging new paths from my favorite water craft in some of my oldest haunts. I am sure to knock off more cobwebs while crystallizing forever memories into the last sunset. So although time travel can be a bit Rocky, Let’s do the Time Warp AGAIN!!!!
About the Author
The author Darin O’Brien is a retired Deputy Sheriff from Palm Beach County Florida who currently resides in Belleview, FL. A lifetime angler having fished in three different countries and fishing out of kayaks for the past 12 years. He loves to share his experiences and wisdom through the written word and his photography.