I’ll get to the whole photo thing in a bit. For my 2nd Anniversary I took the wife down to Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge in the Lower Keys of Florida. It feels like I was there yesterday but it was actually July. Too soon? Might as well been yesterday. BPKFL is a great place and I wanted to show her. Our agenda? Not much. The only thing that was on the schedule in stone was a surprise trip on Monday. I checked in on the weather earlier in the week and it was blowing hard and was expected to continue to blow. The thought to leave the kayaks behind was weighing heavy on me but it’s the Keys and wind or no wind, they needed to come.
Sunrise over the Atlantic.
The campsite was quiet, very quiet. We only had a few neighbors in the primitive camping area and the rest of the park was practically empty. July was a full blown zoo compared to October. We quickly became friends with the neighbors. Two sites down was Eberly and Dave, two friends that liked to travel with Dave’s black cat, Bob. Bob and Dave have been traveling together for 26 years. Between them and us was the “Clown Car Crew”. They got that name from Steph after they all piled out of the car on arrival. They were a bunch of free spirited college kids out for some fun. On our other side was Will and Veronica. It was like Melrose Place but without all the drama.
Water toys come in all shapes and sizes.
The week had been rough on both the wife and me. A crazy three day case of hiccups had left my body sore by Thursday and Steph came down with a major head cold on Wednesday. Somehow we pushed through it and made it to the Keys in time to paddle a bit on Saturday. It brought both our spirits up. We went into a nice cove (Coupon Bight) I knew of where we could hide from the 15mph sustained winds. Water still held a bit of wind current but not nearly as bad as open water. We had a packed lunch and enjoyed exploring and trying to catch small snapper.
Nurse shark relaxing in the sun.
Sunday was the day we would split up. I would leave Steph solo at the camp to enjoy the activities and I would fish with friend and Lower Keys Kayak Fishing guide, Randy Morrow. Plans would quickly change because of the wind. A 6:00am Sunday permit hunt quickly changed into sleeping in. Mother Nature blew all night and sight fishing was not on the menu. After sleeping in, one of the Clown Car Crew asked to use the OK Caper and I gladly said, OK. He just wanted to spend some time on the water and paddle around. Will on the other hand was an angler. He was coming off a few day skunk on shore fishing and I couldn’t help but notice how he kept talking about some kayaking guy on YouTube that was awesome. I checked out what he was talking about and it was fellow Johnson Outdoors teammate, Leandro Pera and his YouTube channel, Kayak Fishing Zone. After filling Will in on the world of kayak fishing, I told him he was welcome to take my OK Big Game II out. He took advantage of my offer and pushed the kayak out and got wet. The boat, Extrasport PFD and paddle was all he had. The wife and I left him to play while we went off to the local flea market. We returned two hours later and he was still out but with the addition of a rod and tackle.
Clown Car Crew enjoying the water.
The flea market had me spent as it was all gravel but I decided to push the Caper out and check on him. As I sat on the shore I pondered for a second about what to bring. It was only a 200 yard paddle so I left the camera and other miscellaneous gear on shore. However, I grabbed a rod and some tackle. This was a wise choice because when I got to Will, he rambled off a list of fish he already caught and had two nice snapper he was going to cook for dinner. Along with his words was a giant smile. Another victim of the kayak fishing bug was born. Ear to ear his smile shined as he whistled every few casts that he was hooked up. I knew it, I knew I should have brought the camera. It was only a short paddle back but I was living in the moment, both of ours for that matter. Will was using a pearl/chartreuse scented shrimp and I figured I’d use one because it was obviously working. I paired it with a heavy TommyHead Jig, chucked it in the water and pulled up a snapper. Of course I didn’t even get this far before Will had a nice tarpon aired out about 20’ from me. Fishing was hot, really hot.
The wife was lurking from the shore with the 300.
But there was a hidden battle going that was not just the fish against us. It was the fact that I had no camera and would never be able to document this great time with a new friend. I knew leaving the shore without it would be a mistake but deep down inside, I was testing myself. The time I spend behind a lens takes up a lot of life and while it makes for great memories, I’m not living in the moment. The countless hours and days I’ve spent behind a lens takes away from being right in the situation. I let it all go and hooked up fish after fish with my new buddy from Central Florida. Mangrove snapper, sailors choice, blues, multiple jack species, gag grouper, needle fish, tarpon, cuda, snook, they were all coming to the boat. My shrimp was beat and Will had a headache coming on, most likely due to lack of water. One of the biggest things we forget to do when we are living in that moment. Tired from his first ever slaying session on a kayak, he headed back to camp.
I had a sea grape leaf that this Key Deer thought was food.
I was as jacked up as my single jacked up soft plastic shrimp so I stayed right where I was. I tried a few different lures but the fish magically stopped. I resorted back to my box of tricks and went with a D.O.A. shrimp paired with another TommyHead Jig and as magic turns off, it turns back on. I fished these rigs for a while and to be totally honest, the colors are nothing I’d ever fish. My color variations were pitiful but it’s what I had and it was working. Feeling bad that Steph and I were going out to dinner and Will had two nice snapper he wanted to cook, I made an immediate change of plans. I would work the snapper hard and find some chunky ones to make a meal for all four of us. I ended bringing three to the boat ranging from 12”-16”, one being a chunker. I took them back to the camp and the wife put them on ice. My drive was still very alive so I went back for more. The rest of the eve would be strictly catch and release because there was no need to keep more than what we were going to eat that night. A fried snapper and dirty rice meal sent us to sleep on a well-lit night.
A very clear night was above us.
Our trip was only half over but so much had happened in this short afternoon. One thing I realized is introducing someone to kayaking or kayak fishing never gets old. I continuously thank my friend Jason for introducing me to kayak fishing. Paddling alone has changed my life in so many ways. The other thing I realized is that I don’t always need to bring the cameras with me. I’m on the water because of me and because I’m passionate about the water. The colors on some of the fish I caught on this afternoon were beautiful and nobody will ever know except me and I’m 100% content with that because I know it happened.
White egret is a stealthy angler.
The next day was intended to be a surprise for the wife and it went off as smooth as possible. We left Big Pine Key at 6:00am and headed for Key West. It wasn’t until we arrived at the check-in counter where we were greeted by a big Dry Tortugas banner. I looked at Steph and simply said, “This is where we’re going today”. We stepped onto the ferry after a briefing and headed south and it was a most excellent adventure. The ferry arrived back to port right around 5:30pm and it just so happened that Randy was playing with his band at the Ocean Key House on Sunset Pier so we walked around the corner to check out the tunes. Part time fishing guide, part time drummer, full time Keys living. Good vibes, good tunes, good food and one stunning sunset. Another great trip was coming to an end just as fast as it started. The constant wind was no match for us. Steph and I set forth to have a great 2nd Anniversary and it could not have gone any better.
Fort Jefferson from the bottom.
Fort Jefferson from the top.
Fort Jefferson from the inside.
Writing about this trip was never intended, until I fished with my new friend. Thoughts circled my brain while fishing about how far the industry has come. Contrary to what some may believe, the fishing industry hasn't always existed. We once fished because we had to, to hunt and gather, to provide for our family. From fisherman to angler, we have adapted this thing into a major sport. Bigger and better gear, bigger and better fish. Push, push, push. I do my best to never forget just why I’m on the water. Fishing is a privilege and we are all so fortunate not to have to do it strictly because we have to. Some countries fish to feed a village while we do it simply to feed pleasure. Camera or no camera, what happened Sunday was a gift for me and a big reminder of just why I am on the water to begin with.
Will didn't wait long to purchase his new OK Big Game II. Congrats, buddy.
P.S. I’ll be bringing my kayaks to the Dry Tortugas next time.