We’d already made plans to meet some friends in Mobile, Alabama for dinner that evening. Of course, we meticulously planned our trip and timed it out perfect…or so we thought. We expected to meet our friends and fellow Pro Staff members, Brian Gartman and Brianna Davis, for a late dinner around 7 or 8PM that first night. We arrived in Mobile at 4PM! And, no, we weren’t driving like Mario Andretti. Of course, we needed to kill time so we could allow our friends time to get off work, and to our luck, there happened to be a Bass Pro Shops close to where we were meeting for dinner. Yeah, I’m sure you saying to yourself, poor guys… hard way to spend your time, having to walk through the fishing aisles of a Bass Pro Shops store. We persevered and made the best of it, I assure you. We also assisted in the purchase of a Stealth 12 while there. You can imagine the look on the face of the customer and the BPS associate when there was a group of Pro Staff there telling them all the little ins and outs of the kayak.
Most kayak anglers like to fish tournaments, and will fish them in their local areas or within a couple hour’s drive. It would, however, be a little hard to believe that driving halfway across the country to fish a kayak tournament is a sane act, right? What would make driving that far, whist cramped inside a mini-van, worth it? The prizes? The raffles? The camaraderie? Couldn’t simply be because you’d want to just go meet and subsequently hang out with a lot of new people, could it? Could it be that all of those reasons, and many more, would be worth the drive from Jacksonville, Florida to Corpus Christi, Texas? Yes, yes, yes, yes, and a resounding yes! On June 6th at noon, 5 brave souls set out in a Dodge mini-van, embarking on a kayaking adventure that most would find insane, at best. Jason Zug, Charlie Ganoe and Melita, Mike Eady, and myself were ready to tackle the infamous road trip. Jason, Charlie, Mike and myself are all members of the Malibu Kayaks Pro Staff, and Melita had become the unofficial mascot of the MK Pro Staff. Of course, Melita makes the best cupcakes and almond joy cookies in the world, so yeah, she was coming whether she wanted to or not!
When asked why it is that we undertake these adventures, the answer is rather simple. Kayak anglers are normally a very tight-knit group of people. They enjoy each other’s company whilst immersed in the sport of kayak fishing, and truly enjoy sharing their love of kayak fishing with like-minded people. For the 5 of us, we wanted the opportunity to fish an area that none of us had ever fished before. We all enjoyed each other’s company, and we were stoked to get the chance to share this great experience together. But why were we driving over 2200 miles round trip to simply go fish a kayak tournament? We had many reasons amongst ourselves. The camaraderie was one factor. None of us had ever fished the Texas Gulf Coast, and we were all jumping at the chance to try it. We knew the tournament’s main charities were the National MS Society and Heroes on the Water, so obviously those are two great organizations to support. We all had friends and colleagues fishing the tournament that we’d met through social media and were looking forward to meeting in person. We were all members of the Malibu Kayaks Pro Staff, and Malibu Kayaks was one of the sponsors of the tournament. As part of the Pro Staff duties, we were representing the company, and donating 2 kayaks to be raffled off to help raise funds for the charities. The cool part of the kayaks was that one of them was a first ever made patriotic Stealth 12. This kayak was going to be raffled off to one of the wounded veterans in the Heroes on the Water program.
Once we all met up for dinner, the laughs were non-stop. Of course, the conversation mostly involved fishing stories discussions of how different the fishing is in differing areas across the Southeast. Best quote I’ve ever heard in my life was shared while at dinner. One of our hosts, Alabama native, Brian Gartman, was asked if his wife liked to share in his passion for kayak fishing. His answer was simple enough, but his way of answering it had everyone in tears. “Man, I couldn’t get my wife in a kayak, even if I melted her and poured her in it!” Gotta love southern humor!
We ended up spending 3 hours in Mobile and were afraid that we’d show up late and cut short our “nap time” upon arriving at the hotel. We were we wrong. As we were coming through and leaving Mobile, we all held our breath while going through the tunnel under the bay. Still don’t know who’s bright idea that was. We continued on through Alabama and Mississippi pretty quickly, and made it into Louisiana. Aaahhh, Louisiana, a redfish fanatic’s Mecca. Obviously, anyone who fishes has fishing Louisiana redfish as an item on their “Bucket List.” We were no different, but we had one slight problem that halted our knocking that off the list. Well, actually 2 small problems. First, it was the middle of the night and rainy. Second, in our search for a rental vehicle, we discovered (much to our chagrin) that rental companies frown on towing kayak trailers behind their rentals. Yeah, I know! Weird, right? So, yes, the five of us traveled from Jacksonville, Florida to Corpus Christi, Texas to fish a kayak tournament, without any kayaks! Now, that’s dedication at its finest. Fret not, we’d carefully planned our trip, and with the help of a couple of friends and a local kayak dealer, Yak Shack, we were gonna be okay.
Back to Louisiana – remember how we thought we were gonna be running late getting into Corpus Christi? Yeah, not so much. We noticed that we were making extremely good time on our trip and started to realize that we’d better take it down a notch and slow down. We’d stop for gas, get out and stretch our legs, and hang out for a little bit in hopes of not getting there too early. See, getting there too early would mean that we’d be stuck in that transitional period where it’s too early to check in and too late to simply pay for the extra night. So we persevered on, and tried our best at slowing things down. We’d even go so far as trying to strike up conversation with the local population at the gas station. People have a tendency to give you funny looks at the gas station, though. We did get a chance to meet someone who, I swear, was Steve Urkle’s long lost father. He’d been out fishing, so obviously that gave us the opening to ask how he’d done, and what he’d caught. A few catfish I think it was; maybe bass.
We trekked on through Louisiana and made it into Texas. I’d finally tired myself out enough to get a couple hours sleep, which isn’t easy when you’re 6’1” and trying to sleep in a middle seat of a mini-van. I could go on for days explaining how hard it is to sleep in a mini-van with 4 other people in the vehicle! Funny thing is that time wasn’t a friend that night/early morning. Even with all our cajoling and goofing off, we were still WAY ahead of schedule. We came into Corpus Christi at 5:30AM. Ugh! We decided that we’d just go to the hotel, to see exactly where it was, and to try our luck at getting in early. I think we were all delusional with high hopes of being able to check in, shower, and sleep for a few hours. We met Jim Dolan, Director and Founder of Heroes on the Water, in the lobby. Jim had initially informed me about the tournament and spoke highly of it. I’m sure he thought we looked like cast members from AMC’s “Walking Dead” television series! Of course, we chatted a few minutes with Jim and a couple others, and attempted to look as sad and pitiful as possible when asking if we could check in early (trust me, it wasn’t a stretch), but struck out. Check-in time for the hotel was 2PM! We decided to find ourselves a place for some much needed breakfast and thankfully found an IHOP. Much coffee was ordered, but it didn’t help much.
We called the hotel again from an Academy Sports store (needed fishing licenses), and we were lucky in that they might be able to check us in at 10AM. Whew! Of course, our being camped out and sprawled out all over the couches with our bags might have aided us. We slept for a couple hours to regain our strength, and headed back out to meet some friends, old and new, for lunch. A close and personal pal of mine still lived in Texas, so he made the drive from Austin to come hang out. JJ and I served in the military together some 16 years ago, and hadn’t seen each other since. It felt like old times being able to hang out and catch up on each other’s lives. We met at Snoopy’s, a cool little restaurant right on the waterfront, and I had the best cheeseburger I’ve ever had in my life. After lunch, we went back to the hotel to get ready for the Captain’s meeting for the tournament.
Arriving at the captain’s meeting, we didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t know many people, and weren’t sure how the event was planned. Boy, were we in for one hell of a surprise! We had never before met so many friendly people. The atmosphere was one of a family reunion more than a tournament. My arm got tired from all the handshaking. Of course, there was the questions of how crazy it seemed to drive from Florida to fish a tournament in Texas, but everyone was very gracious of our coming out to fish and hang out with them. They’d made a low-country boil for dinner that night, and there was a ton of crawfish. There weren’t any rules to go over, it seemed everyone knew the set up of the tournament, and we were given our instructions for meeting up in the morning to fish. Now, I have to admit that after driving over 1100 miles, then having to get up at 4 in the morning to go fish is a tough cookie to swallow. But we were there to fish, so we manned up!
One of the locals, Paul Martinez, had graciously offered to play the part of guide for us. We all load up and head to the launch spot. It was still dark out, but Paul assured us, we were heading to a great spot. Jason Paul (Stinky), Adrian Gaona (MK Pro Staff) and his wife and cousin, and Rob Guerra were there to greet us. We arrive and unloaded our gear, put PFDs on, and pushed off. We had a 3.5-mile paddle to get to “the spot.” The paddle wasn’t that bad, but when we came up on the area, Paul suddenly says, “This ain’t good.” Great, now what? Paul stated that it was too quiet and there was too much water. Too much water?!?! We were sitting in maybe 8 inches of water and it was around high tide! We figured that we’d already come this far so we branched out looking for redfish and trout. We strolled around the area looking for redfish, but they weren’t busting bait as normal. We passed the time with idle chitchat, and talk about the differences of fishing Texas and Northeast Florida. We Floridians did get a kick out of Paul, though. We explained the tidal differences we experience in Jacksonville, and Paul was amazed that there could be a 3-5 foot change in the water levels.
It was a great experience, and almost everyone caught fish. Great thing was that it was a team event of 2 members, and out of our group, we took 3 of the top 5 finishes, including 1st place! We headed back to the weigh in and ceremony to measure fish and take part in the festivities. Raffles were called out, and I had the pleasure of awarding Travis from the San Antonio Chapter of HOW with the patriotic red, white, and blue Stealth 12. The smile on his face alone was worth the trip! We enjoyed the rest of the raffles and spent the rest of the day with all our new friends. The highlight of the other raffles was when Charlie had his number called. We all had no idea of what he won, until he came back to the table with a huge grin across his face! All he could say was, “it’s manly!” Charlie wheeled up this huge Bud Light cooler and stand. Of course all the guys were laughing pretty hard, but Melita yells, “how are we going to fit that into a mini-van?!?!?!” Never question a man’s ingenuity when it comes to bringing home manly things.
With the tournament now over, it seemed like all our activities and the trip had finally taken it’s toll on us. We traveled back to the hotel to shower, change, and head out to meet some of our new friends for dinner. At a local Mexican restaurant, we hooked up with Donald Drabek and his wife Kerry. To be honest with ya, I know I ate, but it all seems a blur. I think I’d finally succumbed to the exhaustion! We headed back to the hotel, thinking it’s gonna be great to be able to get a full night’s sleep. We’d all decided that we weren’t going to get up too early in the morning to head back to Florida. I’m pretty sure that none of us had any problems falling asleep that night!
Saturday morning was great… even though we had ourselves one helluva trip in front of us, we were all refreshed from finally getting some sleep. We ate some breakfast in the hotel lobby, and loaded up the van (that in itself was a feat!), and headed eastbound for Florida. The trip was pretty mild heading back… and we cut it up as best we could. Everything was going great until we hit some rainy weather in Louisiana, where traffic came to a screeching halt. We were able to make good use of the bumper to bumper traffic on I-10. We’d finally took the opportunity to test Jason’s theory of the white lines on the highway actually being 10 feet long. We’d conned Mike into jumping out of the van to pace off the lines. You can imagine the funny looks we were all getting from the other vehicles around us. One guy next to us in a moving truck even asked what the heck we were doing. Of course, we tested his guess of the length of the lines, and like the rest of us, guessed wrong. To Jason’s credit, the lines are, in fact, 10 feet long.
We finally made it through the traffic jam on I-10 in Louisiana, getting ever so close to being back home. It’s funny the anticipation of a road trip on the initial leg of it, but once you’re heading home, it seems like it can’t get there fast enough! We stopped in Alabama to grab some dinner, and found ourselves a steak house. I believe we were all a little tired of hotel and fast food. We hung out there for a little while, trying to rejuvenate ourselves. After a nice steak and a couple of cold, adult beverages, I was finally able to sleep in the mini-van! I gotta be honest, it was actually a pretty good nap that I was getting. Well, that was until Charlie woke me up. I’m a pretty hard sleeper, and have been described as a bit of a smartass at times. I was awoken to Charlie telling me that we needed gas, so what should he do… my response was simple, “stop & get gas.” Of course, in my sleepy state, I didn’t realize that we were in basically what could be described as “BFE.” For any of you who are curious as to what the scenery is on I-10 across the wonderful state of Florida, well, let’s simply put it as boring. Pine trees, pine trees, and yep, more pine trees! That explains Charlie asking such a simple question. We finally found a gas station off the interstate, but of course, it was closed. Weird that there isn’t much open at 3-4AM, huh? We finally make it to another gas station a few miles up the road and I’m sure we were on fumes as we pulled in. It was in Havana, Florida, and let me tell ya… scenes from “Deliverance” were running through my head the whole time we were fueling back up. Needless to say, we didn’t hang around long. We jumped back on I-10 eastbound, and finally pulled into Jacksonville around 6AM. Home sweet home!