April 26, 2015
What a time and adventure! So much to talk about...
First off, if you're not familiar with the Adventure Fishing World Championship (AFWC) then you're in for a treat. I first heard about it three years ago from my friend, Vickie Sallee, who was looking for a partner to fish it with. As I have fished other kayak tournaments I said sure, why not, without much hesitation. Lo and behold, not fully knowing what I was getting into, was a full blown, twenty two mile marathon/endurance race, mixed in with navigation, planning our routes at spur of the moment, fishing in between checkpoints, and oh yes, survival.
The first AFWC competition was in Chokoloskee, Florida, 2nd in Flamingo, Florida, and this year's in Delacroix, Louisiana. Each area has had it's different terrain, water depths, current, vegetation, etc to deal with, and Delacroix showed itself to be a formidable adversary with it's own set of obstacles. We hooked up with Jay Johnson and Steve Grafton to carpool and split the costs as it is a little bit of a drive from Florida to Louisiana.
Delacroix is in the southeastern part of Louisiana, and like much of the region, was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The entire area was flooded, and the majority of buildings completely destroyed. By 2010, much of this fishing town had been reconstructed, with most new construction elevated high on piers. This was immediately evident as soon as we passed some twenty foot high concrete walls, which I liked to call, the "zombie gates", which were realistically there to help protect the lands from future flooding, not zombies. The majority, if not all houses were on stilts and elevated, certainly a different way to live vs the flatlands of south Florida! Boats seemed to be the main transportation and tools of income as one was either parked next to a house or privately docked just across the street along the bayou river. Boat trailers littered the yards. Even though a different breed of people, kindness spread amongst them as boats would slow down for us kayakers (and wave!), and doors were kept open with a local's rubber boot when entering/exiting a restaurant or bait shop.
On to the wrap-up of the AFWC!
Since there are so many good stories, I will share a select few, the rest you'll have to experience for yourself and attend the next AFWC or head to Delacroix yourself!
My first two fish on pre-fish day, believe it or not, were large mouth bass. Since the salinity is very low there, the uniqueness of the ecosystem is extreme, where bass mingle with redfish, and trout share the same pothole with gar. About an hour later I hooked up to my biggest fish of the trip, tossing a weedless rigged Logic Lure at a swirl, and coming tight to a close to thirty inch Louisiana redfish. A bass and then a redfish, it was crazy. After testing out the stability of standing and landing a larger fish in our tandem Hobie Oasis, it proved to be worthy to use for the following day's tournament journey. My teammate, Russell Loucks, tested out his drag to another redfish of similar size in the same vicinity just minutes after, throwing a DOA topwater chug-head rigged jerkbait, in which I was fortunate enough to see the whole story unfold as Russ momentarily looked away.
Nestled around banks of grass were small islands and after Russ basically threw the weedless rig on dry ground of one of them and dragged it into the water, after giving it a few pops and splashes, this redfish almost came air born out of the water, mouth wide open, giving one final powerful flick of his tail to catch up to the floating bait, inhaling, shaking his head, and seeing him hook up, was simply beautiful! Colin the AFWC cameraman, getting some pre-tournament footage, shouldn't have left us after my redfish, as that could have been some sick film! We brought in some other smaller redfish the rest of the pre-fishing day and caught a small glimpse of the shallow waters and maze-like terrain that Delacroix had to offer. Simply incredible.
Tournament day rolled around quickly and the anticipation of opening our envelope of course checkpoints just moments before the horn blew made our hearts pound. Being the most important part of the day, the planning aspect of figuring out which checkpoints to hit first and plot the course of the area will either make or break you for the twelve hour tournament marathon. We decided to hit one of the longest checkpoints first, worth double points, figuring it would be less pressured and calmer being the early part of the day, the former was only true. After working an area with the northeastern wind kicking up to 20mph and at our faces, I set the hook on our first double point redfish using an Egret Bait chartreuse wedgetail. Good plan but having an average time of over an hour to catch a fish at each checkpoint made our hopes of hitting four checkpoints less of a reality as time went on. Second fish, our first Louisiana trout, came via a Heddon Spook Jr followed by our second tournament redfish on an Aquadream blue crab spoon.
A few of the obstacle highlights of our adventure included pedaling through alligator infested waters up to a rock wall, carrying our kayak over it fully loaded, reentering and continuing on to squeeze through a broken seawall in order to save us from traveling an extra few miles, and then having to jump out and push our kayak through waste deep mud as the 20 mph winds wanted us to go in the opposite direction. At the end of our day we decided to portage our 100+ pound fully loaded kayak across a field in order to try and make it to another double checkpoint, which resulted in a dead end as another team ahead of us just did the same and said the checkpoint was in another area than where we had tried for.
Scoring a pair of redfish and a trout landed us in 23rd out of 50th place. We were pleased to even finish this journey after hearing others had given up only hours after starting due to the weather conditions and twenty other teams did not even complete the course.
Adventure is the first word in this tournament name and that's certainly what we got. Russ said it was a time he wouldn't forget and will be passing on these memories to his kids for years to come.
Special thanks to South River Outfitters for providing the tandem Hobie for the trip and Jay for staying awake and driving like a champ! Until next time!