Mike Conneen and I just wrapped up a seven day, 60 mile paddle along Florida’s Gulf coast, from the Aucilla River to Steinhatchee. So this is a Big Bend paddle fishing report.
This was the most physically demanding trip I’ve taken in at least 30 years. Generally when taking an extended trip you want to take it easy the first day, to shake out the kinks and settle in. The wind punched us in the mouth from the start. We had two relatively easy days (one because we took it off) and fought the wind every other one.
This is what I looked like when we started.
This is what I looked like when we finished!
In spite of that we caught some fish, including redfish, seatrout, flounder, bluefish, ladyfish, and even the coveted lizardfish (sorry, no photo).
A brief rundown-
We left home Sunday morning and drove to Sea Hag Marina http://seahag.com in Steinhatchee, where we spent the night in a charming little fishing cabin. We even got to watch some football.
Russ McAllister of Suwanee Guides http://suwanneeguides.com picked us up Monday morning and gave us a shuttle to the boat ramp on the Aucilla River. Shortly after launching Mike caught the trip’s first fish.
First fish of the trip, a ladyfish. He got two in a row here, then no more for the duration.
We paddled against the current (incoming tide) to the Gulf and against the wind to the Econfina River, where we camped at a FWC campsite.
On the Econfina River.
Tuesday we again fought the wind all day as we paddled south to the FWC campsite on Rock Island.
This is what we dealt with most days.
You need a permit to camp here.
At sunset Mike went fishing…
…and got a couple handfuls of bluefish.
Since the wind was still howling out of the south on Wednesday, and since we were basically spent from fighting it the first two days, we spent Wednesday night here too. It was quite a lovely place, remote enough we did not see another human for two days.
Campfire on Rock Island
Thursday we had the best weather and best fishing day of the trip, going from Rock Island to Spring Warrior Creek. We hit reds most of the way on a variety of lures. We camped at the FWC campsite on the creek.
Typical of the reds we got.
Again, a typical redfish.
The trout likewise were nice, but not large.
Another Big Bend redfish.
Friday we had a 13 mile day. While windy, it was coming off the shore instead of up the coast, so it was not as rigorous as the first couple days. However, the distance involved meant we had very little fishing time. I got two reds by dragging a DOA CAL shad behind the kayak as I paddled. We camped on Sponge Point, another great site.
Mike caught this trout with his hands. The fish had been dragging the float around for a while.
Saturday the wind blew again off the shoreline. Much of our paddle was on a low tide. When the tide goes out along this coast it goes WAY out. I had to drag my boat for a ways, an option not available to Mike. We found a fish-filled hole in an otherwise almost waterless flat, where we caught all of our fish for the day. Our campsite this night was at Dallus Creek, where the feral pigs roam. Fortunately my yelling at them scared them off.
Sunday we had nine miles to go to reach Steinhatchee. The first seven were gorgeous, with light south winds and steady progress. When we stopped for a break I said, “This weather couldn’t be any nicer.” As soon as we started paddling again, BAM! Fifteen to 20, right in our faces, the waves coming over the bow of the boat, and miserably tough, slow going. Mother Nature just kicked our butts one last time before we finished.
The crew, tired but happy, back at Sea Hag Marina.
This was not a fishing trip where we paddled. It was a paddle trip where we fished as time allowed. I brought a fly rod and used it about 15 minutes over the course of a week, blind casting without success. Many of the fish I caught came by trolling the shad as I paddled.
Having said that, the habitat here is probably the best remaining in the state- lots of oysters, the thickest seagrasses I’ve seen in a long time, and nice clear water (Fenholloway River mouth excepted). The fish did not run large but there were plenty of them- when we were able to fish.