This was the fifth Boondoggle, and the largest, with roughly 300 kayakers who camped out in trailers, campers, and tents – even on the nights that reached into the thirties. Crazy? Probably. But what kayak angler isn’t? I’m sure everyone has some great stories to be told but I can only narrow it down to the ones I know, so enjoy my short little recap of….say it with me one more time…BOONDOGGLE!
I rolled into camp after dark on Thursday with it drizzling rain, just what any camper loves to have. After parking and finding my plot, it wasn’t long before I was shaking hands and meeting some warm and hospitable people. Previously, I had seen some pictures of a huge bag of crayfish on the Boondoggle event page, not knowing that my camp was just next door to the guys who had brought it fresh from Louisiana. Within minutes of getting out of my truck I saw them splitting up multiple heads of garlic and dropping spices into the pot; my mouth started to water, even though I had never had crayfish in my life! After a short while, this huge pot was dumped over a few picnic tables put together and out poured a pile of steamy deliciousness, consisting of potatoes, corn on the cob, and of course crawdads. After an instruction of how to eat them they began to disappear one by one, I was very impressed and made a small dent to my side of the table. Meanwhile, the rain started to come down slightly more but it just added to the experience – from not knowing what to expect at a Boondoggle, to eating fresh crawdads in the rain under the stars while having some laughs – the night couldn’t get any better. Or could it?
As the alarm clock of slamming doors and kayak filled vehicles left the campground, I knew it was time to get up and start getting ready to get some lines wet – no rush, we’re on Boondoggle time. After examining the winds and weather, we decided to launch from Haulover canal, which ended up being a good call as the water was nice and manageable vs the winds on the east side. Within a few casts, Jean hooked up to a bluefish and just after I was on to my first Boondoggle trout, a small one, but nevertheless, a Boondoggle trout. After we rounded a bend Rob DeVore hooked up to one of his biggest trout on topwater but it slithered off, later redeeming himself and landing another beauty trout. As we entered a cove, a pair of dolphins had apparently found their dinners and were giving us all a show flapping and cruising the shallow water. It was one of the skinniest flats I had ever fished, and surprisingly it held fish. I ended up getting four trout (one nice 20″ on topwater), a small rat red under some mangroves, but the trophy of the day was a 28″ redfish on topwater, who sucked down the Zara Spook to his crushers, what a beauty! As the day neared the end a snorting pack of manatees drove me away from an area I started to fish, I wasn’t all about seeing how close I could get to the darn things, so back in I went.
Saturday was the day the weather was supposed to get fun, 25+ mph winds, dropping down in the 30′s in temperature later in the day, and it was scheduled to be the biggest night of the Boondoggle, yet off we go fishing in the NMZ! We launched from Kars boat ramp and headed south, trying to find any type of ground that could hold some fish. After searching and searching I finally found three nice sized trout together while seeing some wakes pushing around – I knew this was the time to get out of the kayak and wade, especially in the skinny water. After making several attempted casts my luck was just not there, as well as everyone else’s between the eight of us for the day. Well when life gives you lemons, you link up kayaks and go for a tour! As I started walking back to my kayak I noticed a train of kayaks making its way towards me, lead by tour guide, Jean. We made our way a few miles south and thought it would be a good way to find fish…wrong again, although the puffers were quite hungry!
So one of the last exciting parts of the kayak caboose was heading back in the marina area, where manatees had exited their bedding ground and put themselves on a direct collision course with our kayak train. We knew it might get bumpy very quickly, so in efforts of warding off the giant cows, we all started banging on our kayaks. It was working up until the time my MirageDrive scraped on the back of one of the passing manatees. As it started to kick to escape, I could feel the rise of my kayak out of the water and held on. Some say I screamed like a baby but I hardly doubt it. Fortunately it was below the water a few feet so it was one of the safest and driest landings I’ve had yet from a manatee. I would still want a shark around me over a big sea cow any day though!
With the door prizes and Sonny’s BBQ waiting in the pavilion, you could feel the excitement start to rise! Many vendors and companies helped make the Boondoggle another success, giving away kayaks, rods, reels, coolers, anchor sticks and the like. There was so much support for HeroesOnTheWater, that the door prize tickets had sold out! One highlight of the night came with an epic battle of paper-rock-scissors to win a new kayak! As the door prize session came to a close, it was time to start bundling up and getting ready to weather out the cold night. I’m not sure how the night went for the tents without heaters, but I was nice and toasty with the heater blowing into my sleeping bag.