We walked out of the condo at 5:30 a.m. into a howling thunderstorm. I sincerely doubted we were going to get on the water, but we made our way toward Capt. Ray Markham’s house just the same. Ray’s based out of Terra Ceia, which is located on the eastern edge of Tampa Bay, close to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

After a few stops, we arrived around 6:30. To our relief, the weather bands had passed and we were able to set off. Ray lives on a canal off the bay, so he keeps his boat on the water under a boat house. Pretty cool setup, if you ask me. We squeezed through a mangrove-lined creek to make it out to the main bay. He has an 18-foot Action Craft with a carbon-fiber hull. The boat absolutely hauled tail even with the three of us riding along.

We ran to the first spot with thoughts of drifting the flats. The sunrise was beautiful. Our casts with the wind made for some nice, long arcs. We were mostly using a variety of topwater and subsurface baits by MirrOlure. We also used some Bomber plugs and D.O.A. soft baits. Ray told us what C.A.L. stands for, which I didn’t know. Officially, it stands for Catch Anything Lure, but some “salty” anglers refer to it as something else. I’ll let you figure that one out.

Captain Ray hooked the first trout right away. Then another…and another. We moved off the flat into some mangrove channels and hooked into a small snook. I’d never caught a snook until this trip.

We continued to catch trout after trout until we lost count, and hooked 2 more snook but they flipped the hook before we could land them. I was so disappointed!

We trolled around countless mangroves, looking for redfish, seatrout and snook. Cooney hooked up to the biggest trout of the day in one of these mangrove cuts. I did a horrible job of netting the fish (but the fourth swipe was a charm). The guys were making fun of me pretty hardcore for that one.

This redfish was just one of many we caught fishing the mangroves near Tampa Bay.

I absolutely loved fishing this area. I grew up fishing in the Panhandle and now live with Cooney in St. Augustine. I’m not used to seeing this kind of foliage (mangroves) in salt water. It’s so interesting. There were huge mullet everywhere we went! Fishing the different mangrove shorelines, Ray kept saying this area is redfish or snook territory, or this is trout territory.

After that last hookup, we packed up and moved to a different area, next to some stinky bird sanctuary. It sounded like we were fishing next to a jungle.

We tried multiple spots, but nothing was biting other than baby trout. Just for fun, Ray told me to pretend some of our small trout were the greatest catches ever—so I did. Sticking that seatrout out close to the camera helped.

Because we were sheltered from the wind and the weather behind the mangroves, we decided to make this a full day. But we weren’t prepared for a long day and soon got very hungry. Good thing Ray knew where we could dock the boat and get some snacks and surprises. This was the coolest place; they had everything we needed without having to lose any time on the water. The waterline came right up to the deck of the mini-grocery and bait/tackle store.

After break time, we hit some more spots and found a healthy 24-inch redfish that gave us a nice fight. That completed a boat slam, including seatrout, redfish and snook. Sometimes I fished up front and sometimes I fished off the side. I’m amazed I didn’t fall off of the gunwale.

Not long after this, Ray began taunting a blacktip shark with his MirrOlure. It was a nice size shark that provided us with a lot of entertainment for a short time.

You never know what you will run into on the water, but it’s always an adventure. Ray’s trolling motor was acting up and not responding to its controls, so we had to put it away eventually. Needless to say, no trolling motor put a damper on fishing in the wind and current. But that couldn’t stop us from catching a couple more reds.

Ray set us up on some nice drifts after that, letting the wind help us cover lots of water. We must have caught over 60 fish this day between the three of us.

But soon we got ourselves into a mess. We crossed our lines, treble hooks were involved, and some line wrapped around the prop. We had to brace for impact into the mangroves until we could clear the tangles. Ray did all the work for us throughout the day.

We had such a great time with Capt. Ray. We enjoyed his humor and his guiding knowledge. We fished from 6:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and we were beat. We rarely fish with just jigs, so our arms were sore to say the least. But it was worth it because we learned some things today.

We got back to the boat house and Ray and Cooney filleted the fish. We kept 1 red and 5 trout. Then we split up some fillets and hit the road.

Due to the condo not having water, and the fact that we had to be in Marathon the next morning, we decided to get a little closer to our final destination. We continued heading southeast. We stopped for some greasy (but delicious!) Waffle House and some seriously strong Starbucks. Then we headed to Hollywood to stay with our friends that would be accompanying us on our day in Marathon. We got there around 9:15 p.m. and enjoyed a nice shower. We had to spend a little time rigging rods and reels and a lot of time catching up.

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