Have you ever wished you could go back in time? To a simpler way of life. A place where the frills of the dot com world were considered science fiction. A place where the basic necessities of coffee, beer, bait and fishing, are all that you need. In the hustle and bustle of the workplace and family, I needed an escape, and I bet you do too.
Late October, I continued my fall fishing adventures in the salt flats off the Forgotten Coast in the sleepy town of Saint Marks, Florida. This trip was with my Dad, and we targeted red drum, black drum, flounder, seatrout and Spanish mackerels. Our home base was the rustic Shell Island Fish Camp, a pocket of nostalgia with clean, but simple rooms that were close to the marine garage, bait shop and dock. The bait shop, managed by Bucky, could get you a hot cup of joe, boat equipment, snacks, fishing gear and bait. They also book rental boats and charters at the shop. A piece of advice to the novice, always book a guide to learn the area from honey holes to pesky oyster bars that hide in the tide.
After we drove down rural 27 south and passed a round Tallahassee, we pulled Dad’s center console skiff into the camp. This pocket of Floridian history has not changed much with the times looking like a page out of a 1960s history book. Bucky was waiting with our key at the rustic baitshop with some friendly banter. After the pleasantries, we gotthe boat in the water and docked in front of the Tarpon infested fish cleaning area.
The majestic silver kings impatiently waiting on the next scrap of cleaned fish. Within a few minutes after a short walk from the wooden dock, we arrived in our quaint room and prepared to rest up for the night.
At first dawn, we loaded up in our skiff with the gear and headed south down the river toward the first oyster bar in the hazy fall morning. Our first stop on the way out is an oyster bar by the channel marker. With the tide at the right height and direction, we positioned in front of a hole at the edge of the bar and dropped two anchors. A few casts with a live shrimp rigged for the bottom turned up small bites and empty hooks. Eventually, on the third cast and my third shrimp, I hooked into something with a little fight. As I reeled it in, my heart raced for the first hook up of the day. The dark fish broke the surface with a feisty splash, and it was clearly a keeper black drum. I flipped it in the boat and open the cooler to ice my prize.
Dad on the other hand has casted several times and lost numerous shrimp to opportunist smaller fish. He grumbled to me to hand him a shrimp after one cast and fruitless reel-in. And in my facetious ways, I handed a shrimp the size of large mouse to my dad thinking that it would keep the fish from taking his bait and at the same time not catch anything with monstrous prawn.
He hooked the jumbo shrimp onto 1/16 oz. jighead and casted just over the hole. As he reeled in slowly, I was chattering up a storm with him. I was midsentence when interrupted me in angry outburst.
“I hooked bottom!” Dad said. He started to pull the line free and to our surprise the line began to squeal. He had a fish on.
The fish bent Dad’s rod over as it fought hard to get away from the boat. Dad kept his tip up to keep the line tight and ensure a colossal catch. Dad’s heart sunk as the rod went straight and line begin to show slack.
“Did you lose it?” I asked. Reeling in the line, Dad’s silence was my answer. “I would love to see that monster caught,” I thought to myself.
Just then, the line grew taut again. The fish must have swum directly to the boat because the fight was still on.
Dad, much like Hemingway’s Santiago, struggled with the mighty fish. He took some of the line and the fish took more. The reel screeched in agony as the drag pulled against the stubborn fish. The clever fish tried to maneuver around the motor, but Dad swiftly raised the rod high to keep the line from tangling and breaking in the outboard. Eventually, the fish breached the top of the water. It looked like a big red but faded. It was a monster Black Drum, and he ran as soon as we saw it.
Dad’s final moments of the fight were harsh, but brief. His shoulder began to throb in pain as the last few yards of line were reeled to the skiff. The fish beside the boat broke the surface.
Our guide yelped, “it won’t fit in the net!”
Dad retorted back, “it better!”
As the guide dipped the net into the water, the fish hung out from it like a grown man in a kid’s hammock. He swung the net over into the boat and the 34-inch black drum was caught.
For video of some of the fight see below.
After the photos and release of the fish, Dad took a well-deserved 10-minute break from fishing. We continued the day with a flounder, Spanish mackerel and several seatrout in the flats of the gulf. Later, back at the dock, the chatter was about the big black drum as the old men drank cold domestic beer and shared fish tales from their own adventures of the day.
For more information about Shell Island Fish Camp, click here.