I registered for the Boondoggle on April 25th, just one month after I started kayak fishing. It was being held in Perdido Key, Florida, a short distance from where I was born, deep in south Alabama. I was psyched to go back, having not been in that part of the country since I was a young boy.
The Boondoggle is a twice annual gathering of kayak anglers, vendors, industry pros, etc. While the event location changes, the camaraderie and purpose stays the same. The idea is for a bunch of kayak anglers to get together, hang out, and fish.
My wife thought I was crazy. " You're still new to this. What if you don't end up liking kayak fishing?" she asked.
It was too late. I was hooked. The months that followed were full of fish and new friends as I kept an anxious eye on the calendar. My addiction grew.
Along the way I met Bob and Katie of Powerteam Lures. We hit it off, and a friendship was quickly struck. Bob and I talked about driving to the TKAA Tournament together and then the Boondoggle a couple weeks later. Luther of Yak Attack was originally going to ride with us to Florida, making for a trifecta of Central Virginia businesses, but he had to bail at the last minute. He did, however, let us borrow a couple of rigged up, Hobie Pro Angler 14 Kayaks for the trip! And while we were sad he wouldn't be joining us, Bob and I swore to honor the Yak Attack spirit by catching big fish.
After a night of minimal sleep (too amped up!), we left Farmville at 3:30am and drove 13 hours to Pensacola, checked into a hotel and slept for a couple hours. We woke up at 5-5:30pm, loaded up and went to meet Matthew Vann, of Hobie Fishing and Sails and Tails Kayak Charters, for some nighttime, 3 Mile Bridge action. We arrived in time to watch the sunset over the Pensacola Bay.
Bob and I were pretty new to the saltwater thing, but Matthew Vann had agreed to show us around for the weekend and put us on fish. We hit the water in the dark and pedaled out. It started slow, dropping bait fish on circle hooks, then BOOM!! My rod bent and I felt a power on the other end unlike any I'd experienced!
"Uh-oh, uh-oh, whoa!!" I shouted. The Pro Angler 14 spun like a quarter on a bar-top. Pop, and it was gone! Holy crap! I lost it! But I felt the tug, and I definitely wanted more of that drug. Bob and I lost several fish, getting used to the circle hooks and this new fishing style.
After an hour of frustration, Bob paddled past me, looked me in the eye and in that intense voice I've become accustomed to, said, "Let's do this. No more messing around, catch a big one."
I felt myself stiffen, much like I had as a youth when my football coach told me to get in there and start sticking people. It was game time!
I leapfrogged Bob and studied the water. I saw something, not sure what it was, but my gut told me it was time. I always trust my gut. I dropped my line. Bump, bump, BAM! It was on! Then I heard Bob yelling, "Get it up, get it up! Oh, wait, I got one, I got one!"
My 1st Redfish, ever, came in at 34.25 in. Psyched.
Bob's 1st Redfish was a little bigger.
This time Bob had hooked a pig! It came in a hedge shy of 40" and was fat.
Bob and I headed back to the hotel, buzzing on adrenaline. We were going back the next night.
Once again the fishing started slow.
The tide changed, the sky darkened and the action picked up. Bob and I were determined to show that, armed with the knowledge given to us by Matthew, we could do this on our own. We did, but first I had a battle with this fella. My 1st shark, a black tip. Bob was like a kid in a candy store, almost jumping in the water. He was so excited to wrestle the little predator. So I caught it, brought it to boat, but Bob wrestled it into the kayak.
The next day we met up with Matthew, Brandon Barton, also of Hobie Fishing (who offered up a ton of great tips and info), and Josh Slager of 42 Tackle Co. and headed to Navarre Beach. What a beautiful place! It was breathtaking. The line up of Hobie Pro Angler 14 Kayaks.
Then Josh and Matthew hooked up. I was still waiting for that first strike, then click, click, bam!! It was on! What a fighter! I got my 1st Snapper to the kayak. It came in at 23" and the largest of the day, so far...
We moved to some different spots, getting closer to our 5 man limit for the day. Luther's, Yak Attack rigged Pro Angler, had a Lowrance depth finder on it. I had no idea how to read it. As I was zeroing in on understanding it, my wife called me on Facetime with my 2yr. old daughter. I hadn't seen their faces in days, so I answered. While obnoxiously talking to them, I drifted back. It was great to see my family and it recharged me. Technology can be cool.
After hanging up, I pedaled and looked at the Lowrance. I thought I understood it. I saw something, and got that gut feeling again. I dropped my line. BBOOOOMMMMMMM!!! It was a big hit.
I remembered Matthew telling me, "Reel fast, reel hard and get them up 10 feet in 10 seconds, and keep them out of the structure."
I jammed the rod in my crotch, sacrificing comfort and fought hard. I had lost two big ones earlier in the day, but this thing felt bigger, and I was NOT going to lose it. Bob said he watched that fish drag me for 40-50 yards in seconds. Just as he got to me, I pulled the Snapper up and everybody went nuts!
It measured around 29.75" and left me shaking with excitement! What a ride! I'll never forget the feeling.
We rolled back to the beach with a full 5 man limit on Red Snapper. When we hit the sand, people came running. I felt like a rock star. Cameras and smart phones were snapping pictures left and right.
Our haul was impressive. Boondoggle Snapper-doggle!
What an amazing day! We all headed back to camp and joined the Boondoggle party. Standing around swapping fish stories and laughing with new and old friends is what makes the Boondoggle such a blast and Saturday night sealed the deal. It was a great time.
Yes, the Vendor Village and the Clinics are cool, but the real draw is the friends and fish. That is what I celebrated at this event. Bob and I rode home Sunday, anxious to see our wives, but super stoked on the new friends we'd made and the new fish we'd caught. It fueled our conversation for the 14 hours home, well, that and planning for future saltwater missions. Psyched!
I got home with an Engel cooler full of Snapper. I gave the 23" to Bob and kept the 29+" for myself.Â Before I left, my mother-in-law told me to bring her some Snapper back, so she could make her Ceviche.
She got a 3lb. fillet.
It was a trip I'll always remember. Thanks to Bob of Powerteam Lures for continuing to be a great fishing partner and friend. Thanks to Luther of Yak Attack for the Hobie loaners. Thanks to Matthew Vann of Hobie and Sails and Tails Kayak Charters for hosting us all weekend, and putting us on big fish, you the man! Thanks to the BoonDoggle Crew for all you do putting on this event. And thank you to my Appomattox River Company family for all the well wishes and love, it has been a great year and a half in the ARC fold.
Let's go fishing.