I checked the tides this past Friday and saw that it would be going out all afternoon, with dead low being around sunset - a perfect opportunity to check out an old spot that used to hold tailing redfish. With the tremendous rainfall and strong winds we had from Tropical Storm Debby, I wasn’t expecting too much. Just getting out on the water would be reward enough.
I got to the launch to find calm waters and bait everywhere. “Maybe things aren’t so bad after all,” I thought as I looked out over Joe’s Island. Mullet were everywhere, and not another soul on the water - a kayak fishermen’s dream. Well. that dream was shattered quickly. Tons of floating grass made working a topwater lure nearly impossible. I did get one really nice blow up and two decent trout, but that was about it. Still, it felt good to get on the water. I haven’t been able to spend much time fishing, and the times I have gotten out have been cut short due to my increasing health problems.
As the sun was setting I saw a dolphin approaching me, and I banged the side of my kayak to get its attention. The last thing I wanted was a surprised dolphin next to my kayak, as I didn’t feel like getting wet. Normally this works and they spook and swim away. Not this one. It kept coming, and increasingly faster. It was apparent it was chasing something to eat, and I soon got a really good look at what that something was. A huge snook, my guess was easily over thirty inches, jumped clear of the water with the dolphin in hot pursuit. Next thing I saw was the dolphin breaching with that big female snook in its mouth. “Well, there goes another breeder,” I thought. With nothing else to do, I paddled into position to catch the sunset before going home.
With plans to fish the same area on Saturday evening, I packed it up and headed home.
Saturday afternoon came, and I found myself out fishing with my good friends Chris and Norm. Again we found good conditions, lite winds and plenty of mullet on the flats. We even talked with another kayaker as he was coming in that said he had done well on snook back in one of the bayous. Optimistically, we headed out and spilt up, covering more area. Not having the strength to cast lures all afternoon, I had brought along some cut bait, mostly finger mullet and pinfish, along with some whole mullet I was going to rig up on my shark rod in the hopes of hooking a nice shark that I felt should be out on the flats. As the evening was winding down, I had my shark rod out as well as another rod with some chunked finger mullet in hopes a redfish would find it. So far the evening had brought only cat fish, but that, too, was about to change. I noticed I was getting some action on the light rod, so I waded towards the front of the kayak when I saw it - a large wake coming towards my bait. My rod doubled over, and the fight was on! Whatever this was made a run towards me, so I had to reel furiously to keep up with it. I never got a good look at it as it passed me, heading for deeper water. I yelled out for Chris to come get my shark rod, as I had to jump back in the kayak, in hopes of gaining back some of my quickly disappearing line. As I did this, I nearly dumped my milk crate and everything in it. The Malibu X13 is a bit narrower than my Stealth 14, so I have to be careful with it. I quickly recovered from the near disaster and the fight continued.
Whatever this was made two or three really strong runs, the first one taking just about all of my braid, which is just a shade under 200 yards of 15 lb. Fins. Twice during the fight (which lasted about 15 minutes), I got the leader to the first guide, but I could not see what I was fighting. The fading daylight and dirty water just made it too difficult to see.
Now at this point in the fight, whatever it was seemed to just be sitting in the middle of the channel that between Joe’s Island and the Skyway Bridge rest area. I never felt any head shakes, so I ruled out shark right away. No jumps, so it wasn’t a tarpon. Could it be a big cobia? As I was right on top of it I thought I surely should be able to tell, but nothing. Then it happened. Another run, but this time the angle was bad and the drag too tight. As I desperately tried to get the kayak turned around, I felt that sickening feeling we all have felt at one time or another on the water. SNAP!! “There goes the leader!” I yelled out. And just like that, the battle was over.
What was it? Hindsight says it was a big stingray. Many times those big rays will just suck themselves to the bottom and it’s almost impossible to get them up. I like to think it was something else. Either way, it was fun, and that’s what fishing is supposed to be about, right?