The other challenge is finding a charter captain who is willing to haul a bunch of kayaks out in their boat. Mark was able to contact Capt. Ryan Wagner, whose 32’ Sabalos “Fish Taxi” is located behind the Salt Rock Grill in Indian Shores. This is right on the Intercostal Waterway, and a short distance from John’s Pass and the open expanses of the Gulf. With a plan set in motion, we went about trying to fill in the rest of the crew who would be joining us on this adventure. Rob Devore from Yaktastic Adventures, Edward Ratanun of Fishwraps.us, Native Watercraft Pro Staffer Rusty Driver, and Mark’s friend Tyler Peterson would round out the crew for the day’s trip.
Arriving early for our 7am departure time, we all hustled to get our gear down to the dock and loaded on the boat for our trip approximately 20mi out into the Gulf.
A short trip through the Intercoastal Waterway and a quick stop for fuel, and we were on our way. As we came out of John’s Pass, we were greeted by flat calm conditions in the Gulf. Given the weather leading up to this trip, we were certainly blessed.
Arriving at our first stop, we unloaded the kayaks and made our first drops. One of the first things I was struck by was the clarity of the water; we had passed the mark where the water turned a brilliant blue, not the lime green color we are used to seeing along the beaches. The other thing was the current, which was a lot stronger than I thought. We would quickly drift off the spots, which our captain told us was not a good thing. Seems if we had gotten on the fish and drifted off the spot, the fish tend to follow you out. Once off the rock piles, they tend to scatter and the bite dies off. We made several attempts without much success. The captain would make a small move and we would follow. I even went for a “Gulf of Mexico Sleight Ride”.
By mid-morning we made a major move out further to a larger area called “Spongy Bottom”. It’s mostly limestone outcroppings where gag and red grouper hole up. As we came on the spot, we dropped a few lines as the captain said he was marking a lot of fish on the bottom. This time we waited until the boat was anchored up on the spot before unloading the kayaks. The crew then threw over a trailing line, which we attached ourselves to in order to keep from drifting off the spot. Once in position we dropped our custom-made knocker rigs down and it was “Game On”. It wasn’t long before we had our first red grouper.
We all used The Original Carib Knockers this trip
The jigs never foul or gut hooked any of our fish
Edward fighting a nice red grouper
Rob Devore of Yaktastic Adventures
Ed with one of the many red grouper caught offshore.
Rusty Driver waiting on the bite.
Mark Watanabe and the crew of the "Fish Taxi".
Bill Howard hooked up.
Rusty Driver with a quick release.
We made several small moves once we got on the bite, and each spot was the same. As soon as our baits hit the bottom, it was “Fish on!” The bait of choice was sardines, either whole or cut into chunks, dropped to the bottom. Many times you were hooked up before the bait got there. Most of the fish we caught were just under the minimum slot length of 20”, but they fought as though they were much bigger. Several of the guys did catch some nice keepers, but somehow they missed the camera. They did, however, make the ride home with us.
Tyler Peterson with part of our haul.
Before too long it was time to head in. This was just as well; we were running out of bait, and most of us were pretty tried. Poor Rob got a little seasick or dehydrated, so he rode the boat filming us for most of the day. With this being only the second time Tyler had been out in a kayak, he chose to stay in the boat and fish. He flat wore the fish out, though. Every time we looked up he was hooked up.
Some observations made about this mothership trip.
- Getting in and out was much easier than expected. Good thing it was pretty calm - this made it much easier.
- Bring the minimum amount of gear with you, just the essentials. That will cut down on loading and unloading. Use the tackle on the boat if available. Our captain knew exactly what would work and had us rigged and ready in short time. I used the same knocker rig all day.
- A 19” grouper fights as hard as anything you will ever catch. They had my rod doubled over many times.
- Make sure you wear long fishing pants. Why I wore shorts I’ll never know, but you could have fried bacon on my knees by the end of the day.
- Drink plenty of water, and then drink even more. It was hot as crap out there and one could quickly get dehydrated.
- Definitely know how to make a deep water reentry, and practice beforehand. That way when you go for a swim (Yaksushi), you can hop back and in and continue fishing.
Would I do it again? I sure would! In fact, the ideas for another trip are already in the works. Until then…