Thursday, May 30, 2013

Sand fleas

A month ago, I spent five days on the sand in Navarre Beach, Fla., with four of my buddies in our second annual surf-fishing extravaganza. With an embarrassing number of surf-rods deployed and deposited in sand spikes each day, Fred, Steve, Joe, Barry and I were able to cull the greenish-brown waters of late April for several keeper pompano, a good bull red and a couple coolers full of some of the biggest whiting any of us had ever seen. We had a blast on both the beach and the pier, and certainly got our fill of fishing.
Rods are deployed. Day One. 
By the numbers, here’s how it went.

One – As in the number of sharks caught on this trip. This was about 50 less than we caught in Cape San Blas a few years prior.
10 – As in the number of species of fish we caught. Redfish, pompano, Southern kingfish, Gulf kingfish, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, spiny puffer, Southern stingray, catfish, blacktip shark.

10 again – As in the length (in feet) of Steve’s brand-new kayak, which he toted to the beach via the top of his SUV and successfully christened and launched on his first attempt, at night, into a rough surf, carrying a bloody shark bait. Onions!
The arsenal.
25 – The unofficial count of the number of rods brought by five guys to the beach. Fred won top honors with nine rods, while Steve toted eight, I lugged five, Barry brought two and Joe only had one with him.
50 – The estimated number of fish Joe caught. He easily out-fished us all.
Pompano Joe

Showing off with nearly a 3-pound whiting.
11.15 – The official poundage of the largest fish caught on the trip, Fred’s redfish, which I weighed on my trusty digital scale.
267 – The number of times that weight was disputed by Fred.
13 – The age in years of the crusty nine-volt battery that powered my trusty 13-year old digital scale.
24 – The estimated, unofficial, actual weight of the redfish.
Officially, 11.15 pounds.
1545 – The length, in feet, of the nearby Navarre pier, the longest pier in the Gulf.
Two – The number of badly sunburned feet. Unfortunately, Barry owned both of ‘em.
Four – How many times we ate at Stinky’s Fish Camp. Thanks Dennis the Manager, for supplying us with a nightly dose of grilled fish and vegetables. And ice cold Hoptical Illusion.
Seven – The length in inches of Steve’s fillet knife, which fell out of his kayak and is presumably hidden in the sand at the edge of the first trough. Be careful out there, conchologists.
12 – The preferred age of MacMartin’s Macallan.
Fred heaves one towards a cobia boat.
7234.56 – The estimated volume of the seafood nachos Steve ordered at Flounders in Pensacola for our lone lunch outing of the week. It was man vs. food and food easily won. 
.5 – The seconds needed for Fred to nickname Barry, after watching him try to clean/mangle a whiting with a dull fillet knife he brought from home. All of us have nicknames (some more than others), but the newest member of our crew is henceforth known as “Butter Knife Barry.”
BK Barry
3.6 – The average number of times each of us got up to pee each night.
87 – Our average diastolic reading.
17 – The average number of times “We’re getting old” was muttered by the collective group each day.

Taking a kayak break.
11:30 p.m. – When I finally returned home on the last day, after Barry and I prolonged our visit with a final stop at the pier, a late lunch at The Fish House in Pensacola and a shrimp run to JoePatti’s.
First fish of the morning.
Last cast of the day.
Obviously, it wasn’t all just fishing. On the second night on the beach, we caught a full moon, which rose crimson over the indigo Gulf just after sundown, causing each of us to neglect our rods and reels in favor of our cameras and cell phones, which we used to snap terrible, out-of-focus shots of the giant glowing orb as it peaked over the southeastern horizon and climbed into the skies and slowly turned bright white and hummed like a gazillion-watt spotlight that glistened on the rolling waves of the outgoing tide while flooding the sand with the shadows of weary fishermen hoping for one last bite.

While many of the catches will be remembered – mainly, Fred’s big redfish, Joe’s near-Florida-record Gulf whiting – the stories from the overall experience will sustain … and most likely be retold yearly when we get together once again on a salty piece of land somewhere down south.