I have been called many things in my life but A Great Outdoorsman, was never a term any of my friends or family ever used to describe me. I loved sports and I loved the outdoors but hunting, fishing or camping were never on my list of things to do. I’d much rather spend my time in the lodge sipping cocktails with the ladies than guzzling brews bonding with the guys while we spent the day in the great outdoors.
That being said something happened that changed my mind about fishing. I recently got to spend some time in Crystal River on the Nature Coast while my wife was visiting relatives in Philadelphia. A friend suggested I try a Catch and Cook fishing trip run by the Plantation Resort on Crystal River and for some reason at the time it sounded like a good idea to me.
I hadn’t been on a fishing since I was a teenager and my expectations for catching a fish, let alone more than one fish were not high. My philosophy has always been that it’s easier to be successful when you don’t set the bar too high. I was going out on the gulf for a few hours of fun and sun and I do love the gulf! My friend had told me not to worry about catching fish, if nothing else I’d spend a few hours on the water enjoying the sights. That actually sounded pretty good to me. I had my camera, a bottle of sunscreen, a bottle of water and the hat I had purchased in the dive shop. I was ready for my great adventure, I was a manly man going out to sea!
As I neared the dock and the boat I was going out on was pointed out, a line from one of my favorite movie classics came to mind……. I think we need a bigger boat. But before I could say anything, my friend commented that I had a great boat to go out on. Sigh, what could I do?
My captain and fishing guide introduced himself to me and told me get comfortable as he prepared for our fishing expedition, or as I had begun to think of it ” A three hour tour”. As we pulled away from the dock I was going to mention that I couldn’t swim and ask where the life preservers were, but I though that would just be asking for trouble and I sat back and begin to take in the beautiful setting.
It was a perfect day, the sun was shining, the breezes were blowing and the water calm. I even got to see my first Manatee, swimming lazily by the dock!
I began to realize that I had gotten an exceptional guide for the day as we made our way through the channels to the gulf. My captain was a local and knew the area intimately and shared his knowledge with me on the way out to our first fishing spot. This was turning out to be quite a day and I was having fun, imagine that! As we sped across the waterways to our first destination, I felt exhilarated. This was better than any theme park ride!
We hadn’t gone very far out at that point and I was told this was a great spot for speckled sea trout. I was then handed a pole and taught how to cast. I felt pretty good about my casting abilities, even though a few went straight up into the air and came down right along side the boat. My guide was a seasoned pro, having grown up on these waters and not only knew the best fishing spots, had a hot hand when it came to catching fish. In no time at all he had hooked a beautiful speckled trout also know by fisherman as a speck. I wasn’t having any luck catching trout, but managed to catch a few sharks and had a close encounter with a Spanish mackerel.
From there we moved on to deeper waters about 6 miles out in the gulf and I was having such a good time, I never gave another thought to the fact that I couldn’t swim. I was one with nature, I was living the salt life out fishing for my dinner. My guide caught a cobia, but it was too small and had to be thrown back. I was impressed with my guides knowledge and integrity, even though he was getting paid to find me fish, he wasn’t bending the rules. He respected and loved the waters we were fishing in, he was doing his part to make sure this fishing paradise would be here for generations.
I did manage to catch a grouper, which I thought was the highlight of the trip. It was a good size fish and put up a pretty good struggle getting him on board. It was a proud moment in my life, I had caught dinner and I knew that grouper was going to be the sweetest fish I’d ever had. As far as I was concerned the fishing trip had been a success! I had become the sport fisherman that my father had always hoped I would be and best of all I loved every minute of it. As we started our journey back to the docks, my guide could see how much fun I was having and asked me if I wanted to see if we could catch a redfish. Of course by this time the testosterone was flowing and I didn’t have to think about it one little bit as I answered Absolutely!
As we went into the marshy area of the channel my guide explained how inexperienced fisherman could get lost easily in the mangrove marshes before the advent of google earth and GPS devices. And how you could also get stuck in low water. This is when having an experienced guide really pays off. Not only do they know where the fish are biting, they know how to handle their boats in every situation they encounter.
What I didn’t know when we went out, was that real fisherman not only use different bait for different fish, they also use different poles. It seems that different poles add to the sport and catching a redfish was quite an experience and one I’m glad I got to enjoy. It took a good 5 minutes to bring the fish in, which seemed like an eternity to me at the time. The lightweight pole and line made me really work to bring the fish in, with my guide shouting instructions and moving out of the way as I went from one side of the boat to the other. As I finally brought the fish up to the boat, my guide got the net and placed that beautiful redfish on the deck, it was a sight to behold. It was a beauty and unfortunately proved to be 1/4 of an inch to big and after a few pictures we released the redfish back into the waters to live another day.
Remember the part earlier about integrity? At first I was a little upset, but then thankful that men like my guide were on the waters. The larger fish are breeders and to keep the species going they have to be spared. It’s important to respect nature and keep this part of the Nature Coast alive and well for all those that come after us.
I feel very fortunate to have had this experience and can’t wait to bring my friends out to go fishing on the gulf. After all I’m a true outdoorsman now, living the sea life and enjoying the Nature Coast in Florida!
If you’d like to experience an amazing day of fishing in Citrus County and in the Gulf I can highly recommend my guide and captain. Click on the link to email or phone Capt. Shawn Walker of Salt River Outfitters to set up your fishing trip!