I just returned from a nice long vacation over the holidays with my family up in Destin, Florida. Two weeks on Mom’s food has my belly bulging, and I’m surprisingly ready to put the feed bag down for awhile. The weather turned out to be unseasonably cold – even for north Florida – so I didn’t get much fishing in, much to my dismay. One afternoon I got to hang out with Capt. Randy Baker at the G&S Boats plant up in Freeport, Florida (gsboats.com). Those fellows put out some of the finest sport-fishing boats on the planet – many of which you read about in the pages of Marlin. Check out the photos I shot during the visit – I got some good shots of the plant and of their latest boat Gladius. (See gallery here)
I did, however, get out with guide Patrick Dineen on one frigid morning. The temperature hit the low 20s the previous night, so I knew I was in for a cold day as soon as I left the warmth of my bed. Somehow I had misplaced the outer shell of the multilayered cocoon that I had put together the night before and I tore the entire house apart at 5:30 a.m. – waking everyone up in the process. I finally stormed off to the truck without the missing jacket – only to find it resting safely in the passenger seat where I had put it the night before so I wouldn’t forget it.
Dineen picked me up at the park down the road, and we headed off to Panama City to see if we could catch anything that would bite in the bitter cold. Dineen recently purchased a new Beavertail Skiff and wanted to put it through some fishing action before inviting paying customers aboard. I was more than happy to oblige – even though it meant getting cold. (I don’t know if I’ve said this before, but I really hate the cold. I’m a Florida boy through and through and get ribbed all the time about what a “wussy” I am whenever the temperature drops below 68 degrees.)
When we arrived at the launch ramp, there was ice floating on the water! I was thinking that I must be the biggest idiot in the world and actually got a bit excited when the motor didn’t seem too anxious to head out in this weather either, taking several attempts to finally turn over.
Once we got out of the channel and started crossing the bay at 30 mph, the wind cut through my jeans, but it wasn’t too bad actually. We started out fishing the warm-water outflow of a power plant and the cool sight of the mist rising off the warm water and the porpoise and birds feeding on all the bait got me thinking that we might actually catch something. Dineen broke the ice with a jig, catching a small trout. I told him if he caught three before I caught one on my Chug Bug that I’d switch out – it didn’t take long for him to catch three. As soon I put the jig on, I caught my first one and we continued catching little trout until we got tired of it. Since I hadn’t expected to even get a bite, we’d made the day as far as I was concerned.
After the 20th trout or so, Dineen said let’s go and we headed off in search of some redfish. As we drifted the eastern side of West Bay, there they were. We didn’t have to look for more than five minutes. I blew the first two casts (it was cold and I had just switched baits!) so I knew Dineen was rolling his eyes behind me. I redeemed myself on the next two and then we were on our way to an eight-fish day – with several more fighting all the way to the boat before pulling off!
Every time I made a cast to a fish and it would charge up and eat, I would just start giggling and turn around to share the laugh with Dineen. It was an awesome time and I really enjoyed fishing with my good friend again.
We got a couple of doubleheaders as well, and I got one of my favorite photos of all time from the trip. No, it’s not some stellar jumping-fish shot or breathtaking scenery – it’s just one where I used the timer on the camera to take the picture. I can’t remember the last time I was so proud of myself.