Fishing Missions in Florida and Life Lessons
I attended ICast recently for work. It was a great opportunity to see new products in the kayak fishing world and the wider sport-fishing world. But it also gave me the chance to fish some new waters. I headed down to Florida a day early so I could fish in the morning, before the New Product Showcase at ICast. I arrived in Titusville, FL on Monday evening and crashed out, eager to explore the expansive Indian River Lagoon.
I had researched a bunch of different areas and even gotten some great tips from one of Central Florida's most prolific kayak anglers, Dee Kaminski, a Native Watercraft and Astral angler. Dee runs her own guide service and always seems to find the fish. Check her out at Reel Kayak Fishing Charters if you are ever in that beautiful section of the country.
I awoke too late to hit any of the spots I'd researched, so I headed to the closest boat ramp.
I put in and paddled out into the Indian River around Cocoa. I spotted some spoil islands and headed over. It was amazing to paddle alongside manatees and dolphins in this shallow water. I found some bait fish busting the surface and started fishing the drop off points around the islands.
I scored a bunch of small speckled trout, which were fun on light tackle, but nothing with size. I did have a couple of topwater blow-ups and a few tails ripped off my paddletails.
As I pedaled back in, my mind drifted to a recent tragedy in WV. I spent close to ten years in and around Fayetteville, WV, a small town in the mountains. I met my wife there, got married and we had our first child all while embraced by that community. Fayetteville is an amazing place, with world-class whitewater, rock climbing, trail running and mountain biking. The community in the New River Gorge is very tight knit. Everyone knows everyone. Recently, one of those great folks, Brian Jennings, found out he had cancer. A rallying cry went up and gathered steam through the social media network. New River Gorge ex-pats and members of the community banded together to raise funds to aid in his recovery. Surgery had gone well, chemo was scheduled to start and everyone felt pretty good about the prospects.
Brian passed away suddenly, in the days following his surgery. Shock-waves of grief rippled through a nationwide paddling community. I didn't know Brian very well, not in the way many in the paddling community did, as I mainly rock climbed in WV, but his death still stung. It seemed he always wore a smile and was easy to laugh. He was a very cherished member of the whitewater community and his influence stretched far. When Brian closed his initial 'I have cancer" message on Facebook, he concluded with "time to charge! #outlivingit"
I thought a lot about those words while paddling back to the ramp that first day in Florida. Tears started streaming down my face. I thought, here I am in the middle of Florida, kayak fishing, with tears flowing, for a family I'd never met and a man I hardly knew. But that is the power of a good soul in this world. I didn't know Brian well, but I recognized that he lived in the way I aspired to, and it brought great sadness to my heart to know such a good soul had passed.
As I looked around, trying to shake the melancholy that had overtaken me, a pair of dolphins cruised up and started playing off the bow of my kayak.
Instantly I thought of those words, "time to charge! #outlivingit" and I started to feel better. I thought about how sad it is in this world when we lose such a bright light, but how important it is that when a candle is extinguished, the rest of us endeavor to burn a little brighter in their memory. I promised myself and the memory of that man I hardly knew, that I would strive to bring more happiness into this world, and that i would charge ahead with that goal steadfast in my heart.
The evening following my 3 days at ICast I ventured out into the No-Motor-Zone in the Banana River. It was a beautiful evening. Once again I caught trout and nothing else. I saw a snook, cast to it and had it rip right through my leader. It was a little disappointing, but I didn't let that ruin the sunset.
The following morning I took some great info from Scott Jontes, who does some work with Fisherman's Journal and has been slaying it with a fly rod, and I headed to the Mosquito Lagoon before packing it in for home. I got up late and almost called it off, but I thought about "charging it" and headed out. When would I have this chance again to see one of the countries greatest estuaries? So I hit the dirt roads of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.
I paddled out after cursing the notorious mosquitoes of the Mosquito Lagoon and immediately started coming across bait fish busting the surface. Drop-offs found more trout, but little else.
At one point I came around the corner of an island and spotted tailing reds. It was my first time seeing this heart pounding site. My pulse raced and I totaling bungled the presentation. After the initial spooking of the reds, I couldn't get them to eat anything I threw at them. It was a little frustrating. At some point I looked at my phone and realized I need to get on the road for home. My wife was waiting for me to get back and move furniture from our old house to our new house and I had a 12 hour drive ahead of me.
As I loaded up my kayak I felt the familiar tinge of frustration that follows an unsuccessful fishing day. But I quickly reminded myself of the fortune I had, to paddle in such amazing places. The Indian River Lagoon system is a biologically rich environment and I had charged it, despite the limited time at my disposal. All told I had 14 hours of paddling/fishing during my ICast trip and I had hit three different sections of the Central Florida mecca, the Indian River, the Banana River and the Mosquito Lagoon. I probably would have done better had I stuck to one, but I wanted to experience them all. "#outlivingit"
I drove home and thought about how often the memory of Brian Jennings came up over my 3 days at ICast. The paddling community is a tight bunch and many folks at ICast, for various companies, had been involved in the whitewater scene before fishing. Brian was well known in that community and his memory permeated my conversations with people. Many folks knew my connection to WV and came up to me wanting to talk about it. I didn't know him as well as most of them, but we all talked of his warm presence and his infectious attitude. That is the impact a good soul can have on this world.
I hustled home, getting in around 2:30am and waking at 8am to start moving furniture. We got mostly moved in that day and I commenced hanging with my family, who I had missed immensely while on the ICast trip.
I've got two young daughters and I think often about "moments" in life. I try to be perfectly present in moments with them, and my wife, everyday. The world is a big rolling ball of beautiful chaos and tragedy, and there are so many moments to be had, stolen moments, taken from the hustle of life. Our days are filled with these moments. Moments when we are alone. Moments we share with loved ones. Moments with friends. Moments at work and moments at play. Â We must remember to drink fully from these moments and taste every drop of life in them. Brian was one of those people who seemed to get it. We've all lost people who've graced this place with an abundance of compassion and enthusiasm. For each of them, I say we make a simple promise, to live each moment.
There is a big campaign going on right now with Cliff Bar. For the month of July, every time you hash-tag your adventures with one key phrase, Cliff Bar will donate $1 to American Whitewater. It seems a good tribute to all those who have been lost. There are only a few more days left, so get out there and charge it!
For Brian Jennings, and all the other beautiful candles that have been extinguished too soon, let's all burn a little brighter and promise to #MeetTheMoment.