ICAST 2019 in Orlando, Florida is billed as the largest sport-fishing tradeshow in the world. It happens annually in July and for us serves as a yearly reminder to how big a space the fishing industry fills in this world. The lights and glamour, the innovations, and the angling community show up and show out all week long. You can find our ICAST coverage on our blog , and see videos from the event on our Facebook page.
But when those days are over, all I want to do is go fishing. And one of the first folks I call is my buddy Bart Swab. He runs his own kayak fishing guide service called Action Kayak Adventures in St Augustine, Florida.
Bart is a really good dude, which qualifies as one of the highest accolades I give people. He's easy to hang out with and have a good time, plus he has a similar fishing motor to me. We just keep going. I've fished with Bart a number of times, and we always seem to get on some big fish. The last time we hung out, I stuck this big Black Drum:
So I was psyched to get up again. The first day Bart had a morning eco-tour charter so I started out on my own. But it wasn’t long before he paddles up and we headed out to explore. He stuck a few off a grass line he pointed out, and I quickly picked one up there as well.
We continued moving down the water, covering distance, and out paddling the rest of the folks on the saltwater lake. Eventually a pattern was figured out and we started hooking up on the regular.
I snagged more rat reds, and they all had that great blue tail glow.
Bart on the other hand hooked into a stud redfish and made the trip! He does a lot of trips in this area and puts a lot of clients on good fish, but this one was his. After an ICAST show working in the Jackson Kayak booth, as a JK Guide, the kayak fishing therapy session put a smile on his face.
Bart spent the day in his Jackson Mayfly Kayak, while I pedaled a Hobie Outback Kayak. We made in pretty far out onto the water. It was a great backwoods Florida adventure for a couple of guys coming off a few days at the tradeshow. I ended up losing a stud redfish to end the day. And while it stung to have our trip finish that way, I was psyched to be there for the quality fish that Bart brought in.
The next morning we decided to hit up the same body of water. Bart had suggested an offshore trip, but I was wary to spend a day chasing fish when we knew where some good fish were already.
On the drive to meet up, Bart called, "Hey man, I'm looking at the ocean and it looks like a good day to go out. You sure you don't want to do an Offshore Sunday?"
"Nah man. I left my big gear at the hotel. Let's stick to the plan." I replied.
Two seconds after hanging up, I pulled a quick u-turn. I punched it back to the hotel, grabbed my offshore gear and called Bart back.
"Let's go for Offshore Sunday!"
When traveling on road trips, podcasts are my go to listening. But when I pulled back on the road, I hit play on Big KRIT's newest album, and blasted 'Krit iz Here.'
"Be where I wanted to be, I came from nothing to king, king, king"
There was a big ball of bait right off the beach when we arrived. When we got past the breakers Bart threw the cast net once. That's all we needed.
I tied up a 7 circle hook on my rig and stuck a fresh pogie on it. We started trolling on the outside edge of a 50 yard bait ball. I immediately got a hit! I reeled my pogie in, he still looked good, so I threw him back in.
Side note: At ICAST the Astral crew gave me a new, not yet released, Sturgeon PFD. I told them I might go chase tarpon. Bryan Owen was psyched and asked me to get some good pics of the new PFD......
Bart yelled, "I see tarpon between us!"
So I circled back and made another sweep on the inside of the bait ball.
I heard my clicker start running. The reel was screaming!
As I reeled the circle hook into the corner of the mouth of whatever was on my line, it happened.
In the middle of that 50 yard bait ball of nervous water we saw a 150lb. tarpon breach, bait fish exploding into the air as the red gills of this prehistoric beauty flared out and he leapt sky ward, shaking his head with raw power. It was one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen. Both Bart and I yelled out in exclamation, "Oh SH*T!"
I remember thinking, "I probably only have about 90 seconds of this fight before it breaks off. Enjoy it."
That fight lasted two hours. The tarpon ran out to sea, sprinted back to shore, did circles around us, breached and jumped, dove deep, and laid on it's side 4 times, only to tail smack me and dive again. The fight went from 40 yards offshore to a couple miles, and past the shrimp boats.
It was the most intense fight I've had with a fish, and exhausting. I worked my butt off. Big shout out to my buddy Bart who was a true friend and stuck with me for the long fight, helping to coach me through the battle.
This fight had so many parallels to life. We are guaranteed nothing. Every decision we make impacts the results we reach. Bart pushed for offshore. I could have chosen a different adventure offered that day. But I chose to go back and get my gear. I chose to show up. Most of life and fishing, is just showing up, ready to do battle.
The fight involved two hours of give and take. I was certain it would end differently. I needed bigger gear than I’d brought. But I kept digging in, refusing to give up. We ended up no where near where we started. After two hours of ups and downs, I finally got that tarpon to the kayak and in my grasp.
Just like paddlesports. Just like fishing. Just like life. We don't always know the outcome of our choices. Will you know when to give? Will you know when to take? Will you know when to walk away from a plan? WIll you know when to follow a dream? Can you fight long enough to win?
And at some point if you just keep at it, you may just end up in a completely different place then you planned, with a giant, once in a lifetime, trophy size tarpon in your lap.
Smile, it's the journey.
This is a big fish story, but it’s also about fishing with friends. Shared experiences are better. Shout out to Bart!
And when in Florida, if you want to have fun with a really good dude, hook up with Action Kayak Adventures.