Categorized | Opinion

Heartlander Abroad

By Josh Gowan

Justin Berry from East Prairie poses with a big, blue catfish and a group of helpers.

Justin Berry from East Prairie poses with a big, blue catfish and a group of helpers.

Getting back home after a week in paradise is bittersweet, while I dearly missed my bed and recliner, not having coffee on the beach while the sun rose over the gulf was disheartening. I believe my family would move down to the gulf if I’d let them, but I’d miss the heartland too much. The natives took me in as one of their own by the end of the week and renamed me Karumchu, which translates to – he who catches much fish and crabs, and has many band aids on his fingers! The blue crab is the porcupine of the ocean!
Mexico Beach, Florida is a small stretch of white-sand beach 30 minutes on the other side of Panama City. Most people have never heard of it, and the locals would prefer to keep it that way, and I can’t really blame them.
There are no high rises, no racing out to the beach to claim your spot, and no crowded tourist traps. We never had to wait at a restaurant and had as much ocean and beach front to ourselves as we wanted. We were blessed with perfect weather the entire week, and have already booked the same house for next year!
Wednesday I had a trip booked with Captain Chip Bailey of Peregrine Charters in Apalachicola Bay. This was the highlight of my vacation. Apalachicola Bay is a very unique body of water, stretching for miles and blocked from the gulf by a long stretch of islands, and fed freshwater from the Apalachicola River, it has a blend of saltwater, freshwater, and ideal climate to produce its’ world renowned oysters, which are primarily still harvested manually with huge tongs. As an in-lander, the bay was huge, and the fact that we were running 40+ mph in a 23 foot boat in five to six foot of water was wild.
The first order of business was catching bait, and to watch Captain Chip use a throw-net nearly made me want to give mine away! It didn’t take long, and we had a couple hundred pogy, which looked a lot like the saltwater version of a shad. We rode to one of the many oyster beds, which resembled long, twisting levee’s beneath the water’s surface, and cast out just on the up-current side of them. The set-up was fairly simple but precise, medium-heavy spinning rods with medium Penn spinning reels armed with 17 pound monofilament ran through a ¾ ounce egg sinker, tied to a barrel swivel, with 50 pound mono on an 18 inch leader with a 3/0 stainless steel hook. The pogy was hooked under the chin and up between his eyes, and cast out. The idea was to keep a tight line and wait on a nibble, tug, or slam, depending on the fish. I’m not sure how many fish we caught, but there was never a dull moment! Captain Chip was intent on putting me on a keeper redfish, even though the bite had been tough to nil lately, so we moved a lot. We caught a ton of sharks, ladyfish, trout, one enormous sting-ray, and a small redfish before the prized 20 incher finally bit. It was a heck of a fight, and the double-spotted red, along with our speckled trout, was taken back to Boss Oyster restaurant on the bay (Chip’s boat is parked in the dock behind the restaurant) and they blackened the red and fried the trout. As if the fish wasn’t good enough, this was the first day oyster fishing was reopened and I got to eat some of the best, freshest oysters on the planet! It was an amazing trip, and I’ll be going again next year!
Captain Chip is a marine biologist, a USGC licensed boat pilot, and a guide with 25 years of experience. Most importantly, he’s a blast to fish with, and was adamant about the fact that he doesn’t work alone, and the other Captains that work out of Boss Oyster are a team. Peregrine Charters, Boss Charters, and Woodduck’s Guide Service all work together. Captains Chip Bailey, Rex Phipps, and Dennis offer everything a fisherman could ask for. You can contact them at 850-653-2204 or 850-653-8055.
I’ll finish the story next week, but for now I’ve got to get ready for the Blocking on the River tourney!
Josh M. Gowan, Outdoors Writer, Crappie Angler Magazine, www.joshgowanoutdoors.com

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