The area that planned to pre-fish was the Sherman Creek near Mayport Naval Station. This area offers the opportunity to catch a variety of fish, and is a very popular area for all anglers in the search for an inshore slam. Since the Jacksonville Kayak Fishing Classic is a slam tournament, participants needed to catch a trout, a flounder, and a redfish that were at least the minimum length requirements for the state of Florida. The tournament also recognized the largest trout, flounder, and redfish caught. My kayak of choice for this trip was the Jackson Kayak "Cuda 14".
I noted earlier that I planned to minimize the amount of equipment for this trip because there were three guys and three kayaks for one truck. The decision for me to go with the Cuda was based on available storage. The center hatch with the insert is where I keep my JK Cooler/Fish Bag with my ice-cold water. My tackle trays are under the Elite Seat, and my plastics are stored in the Elite Seat Pouch. The FishPond landing net is stored in one of the flush rod holders. A fishing rod goes in the other flush rod holder, two other fishing rods are stored in the molded rod stagers with the rod tips protected in the rod tip cover on the bow, and the fourth rod is at the ready.
Conditions for the slam tournament started at high tide. This scenario was outstanding for tournament fishing. With these conditions I planned to launch the Jackson Cuda and have the tide carry me along to the various creek mouths, oyster beds, and flats. I started out by drifting behind me a mudminnow on a 3/0 circle hook as I casted a 1/8 oz jig head with a chicken off the chain Slayer “SST” towards the various structures. Drifting past the first creek mouth and oyster rake, the rod with the live bait had had a hard hook up. After a great battle, the fish made it to the deck of the Cuda - a small crevalle jack.
After a photo session with the jack, I released the hard-fighting fish back to his environment. I continued with my float plan, concentrating on the small creek mouths, oyster beds, and small flats. I let the mudminnow swim about as I drifted, and fan-cast the SST in from of my drift and parallel to the grass line.
When pre-fishing was done, all I had for my drift plan were two crevalle jacks. Lewis had four or five jacks and a small trout, and Jon had a small trout for his efforts. We loaded the gear up and headed back to the hotel to clean up before the captains meeting at Ramallah Club of Jacksonville.
We checked in and received our captain’s bags and the 321Fishmeasuring board. A new approach to tokens for catch-photo-release was a rubber bracelet instead of the poker chips of the past. We also learned about the great kayaks for the raffles, and prizes for the slam winner and biggest fish: the Slam Sponsor was Old Town Canoes/Kayaks with a “Predator 13”; Largest Redfish was Jackson Kayak with a “Big Rig”; Biggest Trout was Wilderness Systems with a “Ride 115X Angler”; and the biggest doormat (flounder) was Malibu Kayaks with an “X-Caliber Fish & Dive”. There were eight other kayaks given away in the raffles or playing Rock-Paper-Scissors. I got lucky and won an Old Town “Predator MX” in the playing deck raffle. I had a great problem to solve, but figured I’d worry about that issue after the tournament.
At 5am we found ourselves waiting in line to launch from the area that we pre-fished. At 6:15, the first group took their photos. They launched, the next group followed, and then it was our turn. As I watched the anglers in front of me, it was very evident that a couple of them had the same plan as I did. No problem - maybe I had the secret lures that would produce a winning fish.
I drifted and waited for my competitors to move from the various stops along the way so I could try my magic lures. When it was my turn at the first creek mouth, I cast into the area with a topwater lure several times, but no action. I worked my way along the grass, which I knew had a steep cut of about 4’ – 5’ towards a bigger creek across the way. No action on the top water lure. I crossed Sherman Creek into Pablo Creek, and then drifted in front of several oyster beds. At this location, I was finally getting some topwater action from trout. Unfortunately I did not manage any hookups, but the rod that was soaking a mudminnow had a hit. I managed to land a small, foot-long flounder for one-third of my slam. I made the drift a couple more times, but the topwater action was done. I decided to head along Pablo Creek towards a big flat adjacent to the ICW and Chicopit Bay.
I changed over to a 1/4oz jig head with a chartreuse Gulp® “Swimming Mullet”. I was still soaking bait as I drifed along, hoping for a doormat to cancel out the small flounder. About my third cast with the Gulp®, I had a hard strike. I set the hook, and the battle was on. Whatever this was, it just kept to the bottom. Eventually I had a nice 21.5”redfish in the Cuda -two-thirds of the slam complete. Now all I had to do was to find a 15”spotted trout to round it out.
The remaining part of the plan only had a few remaining trout holes and an area for some big redfish. First I had to get a legal trout. Changing over to a 1/8 oz jig head with a chicken off the chain Slayer SST, I started working holes next to the oyster beds. The first trout measured 13”. I managed to catch a second, but he was too small to even measure. I missed several hits and finally had another hook-up. This time the trout was slightly bigger at 14”. The bite seemed to end on the trout, so I decided to work the trout holes backwards as time was running out.
I noticed that my fishing buddies were heading back to the launch, which was a strong hint it was time to head in for the weigh-in. I thought to myself that this was not a bad performance for the event. I had a slam - not a legal one, but my second slam in five years of inshore kayak fishing.
The weigh-in was great. Congratulations to Drew Mixon for a slam that measured nearly 74”.The biggest redfish was caught by DJ Cabler. The largest trout, measuring 24.75”,was caught by Alfie Nazario. The biggest flounder measured 19.5” and was caught by Brianna Bellinghausen. The best part of the Jacksonville Classis was that nearly 400 yak anglers fished, raising nearly $36,000 for the Down’s Syndrome Association of Jacksonville and Heroes on the Water.
If you have never been to the Jacksonville Classic, I would encourage you to attend. Not only is this event a great time meeting old and new friends, but the fishing is super. See you in Jacksonville!