It just seemed like yesterday that we were getting excited to see the relaxing tiki hut sitting in front of a beautiful view of the Indian River Lagoon. I must say that the DOA Tournament is one of the most anticipated that I look forward to now every year; there’s always a good group of guys (and gals), always a fun time with Mark Nichols, and usually a good amount of fish to be caught. This year was different for one of those last statements for many anglers – lack of fish.
In past years the morning of the tournament starts with a high, outgoing tide which usually lasts the whole morning and gives anglers a good bite. This year it started with a low stagnant tide and a tough moon phase, which meant finding those fish willing to bite would be scarce. I had pre-fished the area a week prior, finding some new locations and areas I hadn’t tried before and eventually slammed out, however that would be my only time to get on the water to pre-fish with work and being sick all week. Doctor’s orders (my friends), made me relax, kick back, and take care of myself so I could actually be able to fish the tournament. It was pretty hard to just sit on the couch, watch tv all week and just rest, but I guess that’s what was needed – I’m usually on to one project to the next, seemingly nonstop.
My friends had decided to fish in different areas, but for some reason I wasn’t feeling any of the locations although there was some good reports coming from each spot. I think it was up until the morning of the tournament that I finally decided on which area to go to…talk about procrastination! With a cooler full of Ricola cough drops and lots of water I headed out in search of a big snook after the launch time. Along the way, redfish were scattering in the skinny water and I even saw a few nice tails flutter in the air, but they were ignorant to my presentation. Nonetheless, a great sight to see to start the day!
As the heard of kayakers had caught up to me I knew it was time to push on, using as deep of water as I could for my Hobie Mirage Drive to propel me as far as I could and then switching over to my Bending Branches paddle to get through the super skinny water of the morning. My “snook” hole was quiet, not a lot of bait was present but since I was there I might at well take a few casts. I believe on my second throw I felt a nice tug with a DOA Arkansas Glow paddle tail, measuring in a 20″ trout. Decent, but not good enough. A few more casts around the same area brought in a 23″ trout, and also just a few more throws brought in my turn-in trout, a 26″ beauty. After seeing some really nice snook, working my bait across their noses and watching them peel away I knew it would be another tough year to get a turn in snook, so off to my redfish spot.
Along the way, many boats had made their way onto the skinny flats and kayakers were scattered all through the area. Hitting a few little spots and seeing many puffs in areas I had just cast into numerous times got to be a little frustrating, so the coughing and push onward to my destination continued. Upon getting in the general area I wanted to try, one kayaker was within a few hundred feet and I didn’t want to be “that guy” that got too close and get yelled at, fortunately he wasn’t having much luck and moved on down the mangroves. After subduing several coughs, hoping I didn’t spook any fish, I took a cast in an area that I had seen some nice reds in from the previous week. To my frustration, the Watermelon Shrimp, which usually is kind and releases itself from a mangrove branch, decided to hold on and test my patience. Semi-angrily I quietly paddled over to free my shrimp, when lo and behold, several redfish and mullet scatter from under the mangroves. AAAAHH!!! Don’t you hate that!? Keeping relatively cool I repositioned myself, but this time jumped out of the kayak and tethered myself to it – awaiting their return. After a few minutes of getting the right angle I made a cast back under, giving the shrimp a few twitches and hooking into my 22.5″ redfish. Several times he put his head down and made a run for cover but I was able to keep him at bay. Feeling much better I took his picture and watched him swim off. Since I was in the same spot I made another cast in the same area with the same result, another redfish, but this one at only 20″. As previous years had left me out of the top 3 because of no slot snook or bigger for turn-in, that was the only thing on my list for the rest of the day, at only 11:30.
For the next few hours and trying many other locations that had previously held snook, I couldn’t find one, as usual in my history of the DOA tournies. Plenty of snook, just not BIG snook. Previous years I had a 27.5″ and also a 27″, but nothing bigger on tournament day. Feeling nervous and thinking that many other people got into the fish, and at the very least, got a small slam, I loaded the truck back up and headed in to turn in my catches. After talking with Mark for a few minutes he let me know that I was in the lead, with only 30 minutes to go for turn in. To say the least I got a little excited!
Laying down on the picnic table through the raffle, exhausted, I tried to stay awake and keep my energy up – but I tell ya, as soon as they called me up for winner of the tournament it was as if I didn’t feel sick at all – what a feeling. These were some of the best kayak anglers from around the state, and who would have though it would be my lucky day, I couldn’t have been happier.
A big thanks to Mark Nichols, River Palm Cottages, Johnson Outdoors, South River Outfitters and all the other sponsors who had a hand in making it another successful event. Can’t wait to see everyone again next year!
1st Place: Mark Naumovitz
2nd Place: Scott Rispaud
3rd Place: John Luzi
4th Place: Frederick Rambo
Youth Division: Tristan Engskow
Junior Division: Micha Mixon
Photo help and thanks to: Jim Engskow, Jean McElroy, David Harper
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