“Screw these redfish, I don’t even think they exist.”
We never would have imagined uttering these words after having such high hopes for this trip. The Fish Hippie crew had the whole thing planned out to a T. We would begin our trip the minute we wrapped things up at the ICAST show in Florida. The goal of our expedition was to target six of the most sought-after species of fish that swim in the waters around Florida — tarpon, snook, redfish, sea trout, bonefish and permit. We had five days set aside to search for these fish and target them with a fly rod. With the Fish Hippie skiff in tow, we hightailed it out of Orlando like bandits and headed east.
Although we had the Fish Hippie skiff for our adventure in Florida, on our first day of fishing, we were able to get the first species off the list without even having to put the skiff in the water. We knew the tarpon could pose a bit of a challenge, so we decided to follow a tip we were given by the one and only Flip Pallot on where to target them. He directed us to a few “sure thing” spots where tarpon live in ditches off the side of the road. Just as we had hoped, the first spot we hit was literally boiling with juvenile tarpon that acted like they had never seen a fly before. The problem with ditch fishing for tarpon is the high numbers of mosquitoes that live in the same areas, but with our new Performance Hoodies, we were able to keep the majority of our body blocked from the swarms of mosquitos that called these ditches home.
Having crossed off a species we thought was going to be the most challenging on the very first day, we woke up on the morning of day two with a little jump in our step. Our plan on day two was simple — we decided that our best option to get shots at snook, redfish and trout was to pole a flat we had fished the year prior. After about two hours of poling and casting to rolling tarpon that seemed to be thirstier than they were hungry, we found a small creek that fed the flat. We decided that we’d had enough of the refusals from the tarpon and would try our luck in the back of the creek. At the end of the creek, we found hungrier juvenile tarpon and even came across a few juvenile snook. Now that we had two species crossed off the list, we shifted our focus from tarpon and snook to trout and redfish. We poled for the majority of the afternoon, but to our surprise we were unable to convince a trout or a redfish to eat. With the excitement of crossing yet another species off of our list and the feeling of failure after not being able to catch a redfish or trout, we headed back to the hotel to make a plan for day three.
Our adventure on day three began late the night before, as we decided to take the Fish Hippie skiff up the East Coast to Mosquito Lagoon. Word on the street was that the redfish had been more willing to eat, and that’s all we needed to hear. With luck not being on our side as we were skunked the day before, we were hoping our luck would change fishing in a new area. If you’ve ever fished the lagoon, you probably know it can be one of the best places around to sight fish for reds. There is also a pretty steep learning curve, and the fish in the lagoon did not want to play by our rules. After poling for hours on end, one thing we can say is that the new Fish Hippie performance gear is the only thing that kept us cool in the 90-degree Florida heat with no fish to divert our attention from the hot sun. The new hoodies allowed us to fish hard without having to worry about getting sunburned. Day three ended with no more species crossed off the list, but having seen quite a few tailing fish in the early morning, we decided to stay and fish the lagoon again.
On the morning of day 4, we made a long run in our Fish Hippie skiff to a spot we had fished the year before and had some luck. With spirits high and hopes of perfect conditions, we thought there was no way we would get skunked again. However, Mother Nature threw us for a loop and a massive lightning storm snuck up on us. Before the storm hit, we were able to get on a large school of baitfish and catch a few snook. While fishing in the massive bait ball, we were surprised by a 50-pound tarpon that decided he was hungry for feathers. We were only using 12-pound tippet, so the tarpon chewed through it quicker than we could get the motor on and chase him down. Although we wanted to stay and fish the bait ball more, we had to make the game-time decision to get off the water as fast as we could, so we hauled ass back to the marina where we were staying. As we got off the boat and onto the dock, the storm hit — and man, was it a big one. Lighting was so close, it would make the hair on the back of your neck stand up! When we got back to the dock, we checked the forecast for the next day in southern Florida and decided that the weather was telling us to head north. After exploring our options for catching redfish and trout in northern Florida, we decided that the only option was a bit of a Hail Mary and chose to head up to South Carolina, where we had a little more experience targeting redfish on the fly.
As you know if you follow Fish Hippie, we love to fish flood tides for tailing reds. The fish move into areas of flooded grass chasing the shrimp and crabs that seek the grass for cover. While fly-fishing for these fish, it’s very similar to hunting — slowly searching the flats and looking for every little ripple in the water, hoping for it to be a tail. We pushed multiple flats for the last two days of our trip, but we could not get the redfish monkey off our back. It was time to get back to our lives, and the fishing trip had to end.
Although we wish we could have been successful in catching a redfish on this epic adventure across multiple states, sometimes the fish just don’t want to play along. The majority of our adventure was a great learning process — we covered miles and miles of flats and backcountry from Florida up to South Carolina and put countless pieces of the new Fish Hippie performance gear to the absolute test. One of the most important lessons we will take away from this trip is as applicable to fishing as it is to everyday life: Sometimes the best-laid plans can go awry, and you just have to go with the flow.