My buddy and I had a plan: Get out ugly early and get after Snook on Sand Key Beach. My initial plan called for us to pull our kayaks on wheels out to the beach, fish for Snook and if there wasn’t anything going on, we could just launch and fish the east side of Sand Key. My buddy thought that the access to the beach would be fenced off, so we ditched that plan and decided to just paddle out through the inlet, go around the rock jetty, and make a beach landing and fish right there. We’d be in position by first light. The weather forecast was favorable – only a light breeze under 5 knots all night, so the surf and waves were sure to be low. Low tide at 4am and high tide at 11am, so we’d have moving water the entire time.
That was the plan, of course.
When we arrived at East Sand Key, I soon discovered one of my rods had busted. No biggie. I’d just fish with one. We were in the water and headed for the inlet by 5:30. The wind from the south was a bit strange, but we were fairly sheltered by the island once we made it into the pass. Keith made a few comments about me getting a faster kayak and how we’d already be there, etc.
You have to understand that Keith USED to have a Cobra Fish -N- Dive kayak, which is a big, stable, lumbering barge of a kayak (key phrase USED to have) but he sold it and got a smaller, lighter, easier to haul around sit inside kayak….but the last time we traversed Sand Key Jetty, he was in the Cobra.
The beach was on the other side of the 8 feet high rock jetty in 20 feet of water. I could hear some light roaring from the surf coming ashore in the darkness. I was thinking that I have never done a surf re-entry and I didn’t want to try it today since the Snook probably weren’t going to be there due to the rough seas anyway. I mentioned this to Keith but he said that he could make it.
We were about 100 feet from the end of the jetty when we started riding swells of 6 feet or so. Not rolling breakers, just swells. I was going up high enough to see over the rocks. I mentioned turning around again but Keith wanted to press on; this wasn’t at all what the wind projections and forecast had been.
When we reached the end of the jetty, the current turned me sideways and I was hit by a breaker. No biggie! Just got a bit wet and some water in my center console. I was at the top of the next wave when I saw Keith, who was about 20 feet in front of me get absolutely pummeled by the wave that broke right over him. His kayak didn’t flip…it was just instantly filled up with water and foundered.
His kayak sank like a stone and he bobbed up in the middle of where it used to be coughing, and asking for my help. I was trying to paddle over to him but I had to manage the waves and current. What felt like an hour was really about 15 seconds. He was flailing about and panicking. I was worried that he might, in his frantic state, flip me over too.
He held on to the bow of my kayak with one arm and was holding on to his paddle, which was still attached to his kayak by paddle leash, with the other. His kayak, which was just underneath the waters surface, was being pulled by the current which acted like a drift anchor. I was freaking out inside but spoke in soothing tones telling Keith “You’ll be ok” and “just relax…I’ve got you.”
Now what? Here we are….in the dark…500 yards from the beach, crashing surf, wrong side of the jetty, panicky guy hanging on my kayak and a giant sunken Tupperware bowl full of water dragging me the opposite way that I need to go. I paddled as hard and fast as I could toward the closest thing: The Jetty. It was inch by inch, speaking in low tones all the while, telling Keith to relax.
We were about 25 feet from the rocks. I was afraid the waves might smash hard into the jetty and wedge Keith between my kayak and the rock wall, so I told him to get on the other side so that my kayak would take the bump and not him. It took me around 10 minutes to paddle that 25 feet with his derelict kayak in tow….hoping there were no sharks on the prowl.
When we approached the rocks he swam the last 3 feet, but dropped his paddle. I grabbed it quick while he pulled himself to safety. He’d lost his shoes in all the panic and the rocks were slippery but, I think those were the first objects I’ve ever seen that spend a lot of time in the water and weren’t crusted with barnacles.
I tossed him his paddle and he attempted to pull his water logged kayak up and dump the water out of it. Yeah…that’s not happening. His kayak weighs 38 pounds on dry land but fill it up with water and I’ll bet it’s close to 400 lbs. He was already exhausted, and when he’d get it pulled up a little, a wave would crash and fill it back up again. There was no way for me to get out of my kayak and onto the jetty safely in order to help him….I was fairly frustrated at the situation and the thoughts of what was to come.
I decided that the best thing to do was to give him my shoes and have him walk back and I’d tow his sunken hunk of plastic back for him. This jetty is pretty long and rugged, but it was the only way. Luckily, the current was pushing me towards where I needed to go, but it was going to be a long haul back half of the south side of Clearwater Pass is rock jetty and the other half is seawall. There was no way we were getting it up and over anything except a beach. If you care to have a look at Bing Maps to see where I had to go, Clearwater Pass is located on the south side of Sand Key Park. We were at the west end of the jetty when his kayak sank. I had to paddle an inch at a time all the way to the east side of Sand Key all the while, bait fish were scattering, fish were feeding and leaving tell tale swirls and boils, taunting me.
After I had passed under the bridge and almost to the beach, the protection of the island was no longer there. The wind hit me square in the face and almost pushed me and my kayak backward. Needless to say, it was a hard final 100 yard paddle to the beach.
After we got the water drained out of his kayak, we called it a day. We were down to one fishing rod, and I was in no mood to fish. We loaded up our gear and headed home.
Even though we didn’t even get to take one cast before our trip was ruined, I’m glad my friend didn’t drown. Who knows what would have happened if I wasn’t there. I’m not so happy about the fact that his kayak was saved though.
About the Author: Rob DeVore is a Pro Staff Member at Yakangler.com and an outdoor writer from the Tampa Bay area. He writes for various fishing publications and is the host of BadBackcast Live Show at 8pm E on the Kayak Fishing Radio Network. Rob also is the author of ABadBackcast.com