Spent the last week of June on Navarre Beach in the Florida Panhandle with my two brothers. We were staying right on the beach and fished in the surf each morning and evening. The morning fishing was primarily for schooling ladyfish and bluefish. A few days the June grass was really bad so fishing was a bust, but most mornings we caught a handful of fish on a wide variety of lures including wake baits, spoons, Got-Cha jigs, twitch baits and topwaters. The fish didn't seem too terribly picky. Other than two trips for redfish, this was my first time fishing saltwater and I had a blast catching the "poor man's tarpon," which put on tremendous aerial shows when hooked.
Here is a picture of the first ladyfish I caught, which wanted every bit of the H2O XPRESS wakebait in the pinfish pattern.
And one of my two brother's first ladyfish.
Here is a video of our surf fishing exploits shot from two GoPros, one in a chest mount and one on a headband mount.
Since I knew we might be doing some night fishing with cut bait I brought the two rods I used for channel catfish, which are 7'6" Ugly Stiks with some older Swedish-made Abu Garcias I purchased from TXCatfishGuide here on TFF. We tied on some three-hook pompano rigs with 3 ounce pyramid sinkers on the end to keep the rig stationary in the surf, and used frozen sand fleas or cut up cigar minnows. Most of what we caught at night were hardheads, including some real lunkers, but we also hooked into the occasional bluefish and sandbar shark. Having never caught a shark, it was great to catch a few of them, especially since it was during Shark Week.
Here are our three sharks. We catch too many more and you may see us on the next season of the Madfin Skark Series.
As fun as all of the above fishing was, the highlight of the week was a trip one of my brothers and myself took with Matthew Vann, owner of Sails and Tails Kayak Charters in Pensacola. First off, Matthew is the freaking man and if you want an adventure, look him up. Matthew fishes inshore and offshore and we took a trio of Hobie Outbacks out for a spin off Opal Beach.
The water was crystal clear and flat as glass, so you couldn't ask for better kayaking conditions. It was not my first time in a kayak, but it was my first time fishing from one. We launched about 6 a.m. and after Matthew caught bait, my brother Austin and myself started trolling live cigar minnows for kingfish. We would troll in large 400 or 500 yard ovals just past the second sandbar by a drop-off into about 30 feet of water. We both had fish landed within about 20 minutes, both of which Matthew estimated at 15 or so pounds. It was quite the rush having a fish make the drag absolutely scream as it went on long runs.
Here is my brother's kingfish.
After catching the two kingfish we set out for an area Matthew had seen cobia on lately. On our way there, I hooked up with another kingfish, this one going about 10 pounds. The interesting thing about this one is that it didn't fight at all when it was hooked. I reeled it in fairly quickly, but when it saw the kayaks it was crazy and the fight was on. It made several long runs before it was landed. When we landed it we noticed it was hooked in the side, but there was also a fresh hook mark in the side of the mouth, so our guess is that it threw the hook at some point but got snagged in the side immediately thereafter.
Here is that fish.
The area with cobia was a bust, but apparently a remora followed us after we left and it took my cigar minnow. I reeled it in and it was released. Didn't provide much of a fight but it was a new species for me so I can't complain.
We then began to hightail it toward the wreck was wanted to snapper fish on, hoping to beat any other boats there. Other than a medium-sized shark following us for a bit and forcing us to reel in our trolled baits, we made the trip to the snapper wreck, which was about 2.5 miles offshore in 70 feet of water, with no issues. We were the first ones to the wreck and my brother was first up. Plan A was to use chunks of kingfish to chum the snapper off the bottom and them catch them with a free-lined chunk dropped over the side of the kayaks. However, a school of dolphin (the mammals) were swimming around us and didn't allow the plan to happen. Instead, we decided to fish dead menhaden on the bottom near the wreck, which was made up of chained together chicken coops.
My brother, who had fished for snapper before, was first up. He broke off two fish in the wreck before hooking into, and eventually landing, a monster that went 31 inches and weighed just more than 15 pounds. The fight was quite amazing to watch, with my brother struggling to keep ahold of the rod and reel, which he said was quite slippery.
After about two minutes my brother landed this guy.
About this time we noticed a fairly large boat running at top speed parallel to us, but way off in the distance. They weren't heading our way so we didn't think anything about it. I briefly hooked into a fish but lost it in the wreck, when we noticed the boat had turned our way and was a few hundred yards away. While we were re-rigging the boat pulled right up to us, stopping about 30 yards away. I guess with about 1,000 horsepower and presumably modern electronics, they decided to let three guys in kayaks find their fish for them. I know we don't own the water, or the wreck, and I admit I am unfamiliar with saltwater fishing etiquette, but it seems to me if people are set up on a small wreck, you should let them fish it before you pull up.
Anyway, we gave them a bit of a show as I quickly hooked up with a snapper, which I eventually landed. The fight seemed to take forever, but the video shows it lasted less than a minute. Still, I have never felt anything pull like that fish and it was a fight I won't soon forget. The fish went 27 inches and just over 9 pounds.
With a larger boat sitting right on top of us, and storms on the horizon, we called it a day. We had about a 45-minute trip back to shore, which was uneventful and capped off and amazing day of fishing.
Here is video of the fishing. The video is fairly long, so if you want to see just the kingfish or just the snapper, go to my YouTube page where I have the videos separated out. I was using an Action Hat, which I bought especially for the trip. They are a bit pricey, but they work great and I can't think of a better way to film a kayak trip with a GoPro if you have to have the camera mounted on your person. My brother was using a headband mount for his camera.
Like I said earlier, if you want a kayak fishing adventure, Matthew Vann is your man. It was my first trip with him, but my brother's third, and all have been great. Hopefully I will be able to go out again with him again sometime.