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Family Vacations and the best 20 bucks Iíve ever spentÖ.

By Jim Stuard


Family vacations are just that; opportunities to get out and have fun with the wife and kids. On our recent vacation to St. Simons Island, GA, I didnít expect to be able to do a whole lot of fishing but some very interesting opportunities arose that made the whole experience very enjoyable.


 I wonít bore you with the details of traveling 750 miles with the wife, two special needs kids, and a care giver. Needless to say, the bigger the van you rent the better. It was hot when we left.  It was hot when we got there.  Even hotter and more humid, if that's possible. I donít understand people who like that weather, but most people think Iím freakiní nuts when I espouse my utter delight at wading in freezing steelhead streams in the middle of winter. Different strokes for different folks, I guess. My wife has an old college buddy who lives on the island and operates a printing business in the town of Brunswick. Her friendís hubby, Bob, said he wanted to do some open water fishing.  I couldnít think of a better way of spending a day. Iíve never really done a lot of offshore fishing and I wanted to give it an honest shot. Bob knew of some artificial, man-made reefs 12 miles offshore.  My only preparation was to borrow a light surf casting outfit and bring my Temple Fork, 9.5 ft 8-wt fly rod. My plan was to use the spin rod to determine if anything was in the area, and then use the fly rod.


That was all before the white-knuckled, bucking-bronco ride out to the reef. Let me preface this by saying in my 44 years in this world, I have never been truly seasick. That all changed on the ride out. We had some really strong winds coming towards shore and it was pushing a good chop. For me a good chop was 2-4 foot swells. Bob's boat, a 20í Key Largo center console, with a 130hp motor, has a really huge bow that lets you bust through heavy seas.  The expense is your spinal column may be seriously compressed. The boat fights the wind, riding to the top of every swell and then crashing to the bottom of each trough, sometimes, with a resounding smack. I began the trip out sitting near the front of the boat on a padded seat. Halfway through, Bob suggested that the smoothest ride was near the console.  I stood up for the remainder of the ride, much to the gratitude of my back.


Thereís a buoy that marks the reef and, after we got out that far, I found that the journey wasnít what was going to make me nauseous. It was stopping. Once we lost headway we were not only rocking back and forth, we were rocking side to side. In about five minutes I couldnít think straight.  Dwelling on it was the last thing I wanted to do. I mentioned my discomfort to Bob and he told me he never gets seasick. Well bully for Bob. I was feeling it, yet I really wanted to do some fishing out there. We anchored on the top of an old Navy troop carrier which was sunk to form the foundation of the reef.


Bob's favorite method of fishing is to curl up a shrimp on a hook and drop it down on a 2- foot heavy-wire leader. That should have told me what was down there.  It didnít take more than a couple of minutes for Bob to hook his first shark. They werenít big sharks but Bob had some serious telephone poles on the boat for his fishing gear. It made the surf rig Joe lent me look demure in comparison.


My outfit was a Cabelas 7í, light saltwater, spinning rig set up with 10 lb. line. I tied on the heavy wire leader and about an ounce of weight to get it to the bottom. It didnít take long before I had my first ever shark, on the line. A 3í reef shark feels like a freight train on that rig and after some really nice runs, weíd eventually pull them to the surface.


Then, came the fun part. Do you really want that hook back or are you willing to let bygones be bygones?  After watching Bob release his first shark I forced my nausea racked body to do the same with the shark on my line. The trick is to pull them up to the gunwale of the boat and pull them against the side so their belly faces out to the ocean. That effectively shades their eyes so they donít get enough of a view to snap at you. If they see you coming at them with a pair of what seemed like really short pliers they'll start thrashing.  That makes things really difficult.  The upside of that situation was that the seriously stout 3/0 jig hooks I was using, designed for freshwater soft plastics, only lasted for one shark. These were some bruiser jig hooks and they straightened every hook I used!    The suspended shark would thrash and snap and, after a few seconds, the hook would straighten out and the fish would fall off. Easy peasy, Non?


One calming factor was that these 100 million year-old garbage disposals kept me from thinking about being sick to my stomach. I never hurled, but it sure seemed like a good idea. After two hours, five pissed-off sharks, and a few undersized rock bass and jacks we decided to hump it back to shore. The ride back was far more enjoyable.  We had the wind to our backs and the waves were all going the right direction. That cut our travel time in half. Much to my stomach's surprise, the ride back actually made me feel better!  There were other opportunities to fish but we just couldnít stay anchored properly with the wind pushing us around so much. The highlight back was seeing a pod of porpoises breaking the surface.


We eventually went back to the mouth of a brackish river where some bait sized fish were busting the surface and I decided to break out the 8wt. Bob was happy to throw a bobber and shrimp to whatever was bringing the fish to the surface, but I wanted to challenge the sea with the fly rod. I strung up and, after building a 10í tapered leader out of fluorocarbon line, I began casting small Clousers to the jumping fish. Nothing but my casting stroke was getting a workout that afternoon!  All I'd accomplished was to ensure Iíd be completely unspooling my line and washing the salt off of it when I got back. That might be one of the bigger reasons I donít appreciate salt water fishing. The conditions are absolute hell on your gear. After this adventure I can truly say Iíve been offshore fishing, but my gut is telling me Iím not sure Iíll ever go again.


The one true joy of the vacation for me (apart from all the great food I was going to regret eating) was fishing the drainage pond behind the condo where we stayed. Iíd scoped it out from the minute I arrived. I asked around and no one professed any knowledge of its contents or whether or not theyíd ever caught anything. After seeing some bruiser largemouth cruise the shallows near one side, I decided this pond would get my undivided attention.


I really didnít bring any light tackle for fishing like this but I was determined. I had some buzz baits and rooster tails in my tackle box, which had inadvertently made the trip with me. I hadnít intended on fishing them.  That turned out to be okay as nothing was interested in them, anyway.  I was getting desperate.


When we went on a supply trip to a Wal-Mart I picked up a 5í Shakespeare micro spinning outfit. Hey, rod, reel and line for 19.95?  How can a guy resist? I figured Iíd at least give the fish a chance. This thing looked more like a childís toy than a serious angling tool. I also picked up a bunch of little jigs with rubber wiggle worms in a variety of colors. But the brightly colored lures, which would have brought murderous strikes from bluegill farther north, did absolutely nothing for these fish. I was skunked until I tied on a black wiggle jig.


The little fish near the shore were snapping at everything I cast but none of them could get it in their mouths. I should have known that in the tannic water of this pond, bright colors only aroused bemusement from the fish, not hunger. I decided to cast out a little farther and let the jig sink for a good 15-20 seconds before retrieving. On the second cast, I got a thunderous strike. After about a minute of hearing the toy-like drag on this micro-spin outfit actually wear a fish out, I brought up the biggest pan fish Iíd ever caught, to the surface. Iíd caught a lot of pissed off 5-6Ē Ďgills up north and some really nice red ears up in Michigan on a trip a couple of years ago but this was a true beast. Dinner plate sized at every bit of 10Ē. It looked like the long-ears we catch up north with a distinct dark, ear shaped gill plate behind the eye. This was a beautiful, wide, deep-bodied fish that had likely never seen a hook. It was a shame I didnít have my camera.  Things had just gotten interesting.


My next discovery was that fire ants had made it to St. Simons Island. The damn things are really tiny but once they latch on and start injecting venom into your foot you'll understand the Ďfireí in a fire ant. My foot burned for a couple hours and itched for days afterwards!  I still wear the scars of six bites three weeks later. I was told you can kill the little buggers by swirling their mounds with a stick to piss them off, then drop unprepared hominy grits onto the ants running around. They take this back to their nests where they are rumored to blow up from the grits expanding inside of them. It seems cruel but if youíve ever been bitten by one youíll say it's a just and fitting end for such a nasty creature.


I spent the rest of the week prowling the edge of the pond and hitting every nook and cranny with my micro-spin outfit and black wiggle-worm jig. That little rig pulled up quite a few 12Ē largemouth, but I never saw another long-ear. In Dixie pan fish are called Ďbreamí. To hear it pronounced locally the word sounded like Ďbriyumí. It took me a while for my Yankee ears to adjust, but I managed. And while exploring that little pond youíd have thought Iíd discovered fresh water fishing on the island. Every interested passerby stopped to ask if there were actually any fish in that pond. Lucky for me I actually caught a couple during one of these brief conversations and I was able to prove my point. While I donít advise ignoring the family during an actual family vacation, my off-duty time was completely absorbed by that little micro-spin outfit.  It was truly the best twenty dollars Iíve ever spent on vacation.

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