The Southern Outer Banks is a quieter version of it's rowdy northern neighbor. The Crystal Coast and the Atlantic Beach, North Carolina area provide a beautiful environment to recreate in. We make regular trips down to this region every summer. Usually I just load one kayak, and hit the area solo for fishing missions. On these trips I've caught speckled trout and flounder, but never a NC redfish. But this trip I decided to load an additional tandem kayak, the Wilderness Systems Tarpon 135T, so that the whole family could go paddling together. The first paddling trip we drove over to Beaufort to check out the Rachel Carson Reserve. My wife asked if I could score her a temp fishing license. A smile broke my face.
The first paddle proved a bad fishing mission, with one croaker caught, but we did have dinner with an amazing sunset.
But that one redfish hunt was enough to hook my wife. She wanted to go again. So, the next night we packed up another water picnic and headed out into the Bogue Sound, armed with some intel I'd culled from Top Spot maps, and a good boat ramp conversation from a few days prior.
We were fishing my 13 Fishing Omen rods, with Shimano Sahara 2500-3000 reels with 1/4oz jigheads and 3"Gulp shrimp in New Penny that I scooped up from Chasin Tails Outdoors ( the best). It didn't take long after explaining how to fish for and fight a red, that my wife was yelling, "Honey, I have a fish!"
I paddled over and netted her first redfish with my Leverage Landing net. It was such a cool moment! Every angler probably remembers their first redfish. It's a truly exhilarating thing. It was official, my wife had discovered the addiction, "the tug is the drug."
After releasing her first red, it wasn't long before she was calling me again, "Honey, I have another one!"
Yep,.....and then not long after that release, she was calling me over AGAIN.
While my wife caught her first two redfish I maintained my psyche and enthusiasm about her good fortune. But by the third, I was starting to feel that familiar feeling all anglers get as they watch someone slay'em.
So, when my wife took a bathroom break, I immediately cast over her kayak and into the hot spot. Boom! Success!
My tactics did not go unnoticed, but I was forgiven the trespass. Our girls enjoyed being out there and being able to touch their first redfish. It was a great family experience out on the water.
Everyone agreed that we needed one more trip out in the Sound. So the next night we packed another sunset dinner picnic and hit the water.
And once again, my wife struck first.
I feel like this photo perfectly illustrates how much she was taunting me.
"Oh honey, does this make you feel bad?" she asked with a wry smile.
But it wasn't long before my popping cork rod doubled over and I had a fun slot size speckled trout on the line.
During this last sunset paddle I had my 5yr old riding on the bow of the Jackson Mayfly. I was teaching her to read the water and find fish. As the sun sank below the horizon she called out, "Dad! I think I see the redfish over there."
She was right. A school of reds were blitzing some baitfish. So I paddled within 10ft and told her to cast past them and then bounce her jig in their face. She executed perfectly. Her rod doubled over with a violent hit and she looked back at me with mouth agape. I had just graduated her up from her Lil Anglers toddler style rod to a big kid Zebco, and now she was perched on the bow of my kayak, fighting an upper slot redfish in the waning light of the sunset. It was awesome! But it soon turned to heartbreak when the red broke the hook off the cheap jighead I'd bought her.
Lesson: don't buy cheap jigheads for your kids.
Lesson #2 : Sometimes you don't live up to your own advice.
I often talk about how important it is to focus on your kid's experience when you are out exposing them to fishing. This night though, after asking my daughter if she wanted me to lace her back up and get her in the game, I ignored my own advice. She said no and I obliged. Instead of focusing on her, I repositioned us and cast into the school and got my fish on.
I kicked myself for that move all the way back to the boat ramp. It kept me awake that night. It seems absurd, and I can be hard on myself, but I felt like I'd failed.
My daughter thought it was an awesome experience. But I knew what it could have been.
It wasn't a total loss. The girls had a blast in the marsh at night. Our 3 yr old was just happy to hang out and sing Taylor Swift songs, and our 5yr old is always psyched.
My family and I got to experience three sunsets on the water. The girls had three sunset kayak picnics. They also got to see a lot of fish. Nature's glorious touch tank was on fire.
Playing outside always lends itself to reflection and these trips with my family were no different.
The amazing resources this world has to offer, for grin inducing outdoor fun, are our birthright and our children's inheritance. This great planet, this country, all our individual states, have been blessed with a playground that regularly delights the old, the young, and everyone in between.
Relish it. Protect it. Share it with all the people you love. And then share it with those you don't. Because sometimes, the greatest gift of outdoor recreation is in the unlikely friendships born of adventurous play.
I've got friends from all avenues of life. Some of us argue tooth and nail about politics. Some of us ardently debate theology. Some of us kick back and talk smack about sports. Some of us are anglers. Some are hunters. Some are both. Some hike, or paddle but wince at the thought of guns or hooking fish. But all of us enjoy spending time outdoors, and we enjoy spending time out there together.
My wife and I often joke that whitewater is "her world" and kayak fishing is mine. When we met, rock climbing and trail running were my world. But once again, the commonality is that desire to spend time in the out of doors.
There is no "her world" or "my world."
It's OUR world, collectively. We're all in this together.
Let's start focusing more on what we have in common and a little less on what we do not. Maybe then we'll have more meaningful dialogue. And we know the perfect places to host those peace summits, away from our screens, out there on public lands, or floating healthy public waterways. Let's cultivate that common goodwill found in the companionship of outdoor adventure.
Much love to you all.