Family Vacation – Under the Sea

If it were up to me, all family vacations would – by default – center around some type of hunting or fishing adventure. Well, as a trade off for staying married, it isn’t often that it is “up to me” to plan these family trips… but I am typically allotted a wee bit of wiggle room to explore whatever outdoor pursuits our destination might provide – around the family vacation agenda, of course.

Florida would be our target this year, with half the week in Orlando doing the Disney thing, and the second half of the week on the gulf coast in Clearwater Beach, getting our beach “on”. My hopes would be that the latter half might provide me an opportunity here and/or there to sneak in some time chasing fin…

While there are endless opportunities in the area, ranging from guided tarpon, red fish, snook, sea trout, and more, my wife, in an effort to keep me close & accessible (read: NOT gone all day on an expensive charter) booked us at the Hilton – which pretty much opens up to the beach and Pier 60 – a fairly renowned fishing pier. A read over their occasional fishing reports and pictures made me think this could be a decent opportunity to have little fun chasing some exotic fin, and without investing sums of time and money that might be utilized in a more diplomatic manner elsewhere on a family vacation.

My opportunity would materialize the morning following our July 4th arrival. I was at the bait and tackle shop, located on the pier, before 6 am to gear up. For $19 I was armed with a rental outfit – nothing too fancy, but workable – a 6-7′ spinning combo, 20lb mono with a steel leader, a carton of frozen squid, and a bait knife. Feeling close enough to dangerous, I trekked on, headed for a quiet corner of the pier where I might watch the sunrise from the east over Tampa Bay whilst dunking some squid in hopes of a tug from who-knows-what might be lurking below in the Gulf of Mexico…

From what I had been reading, I have to say I had higher expectations. The bite was quite slow. I wanted it to be me, my gear, something that might allow me to watch the locals, learn, adapt, correct… but with no one really having any luck, it was hard to adjust. In my four hours, I saw two very nice black drum hooked and fought for a spell, but neither landed, using casting spoons on passing schools. They were not interested in my dangling squid.

However, the screaming hordes of tiny pinfish were quite interested; in fact, it was a chore getting my bait through them. Once I did, I managed a couple of tiny sharks for my efforts. While not exactly what I had expected, it certainly felt good to shirk the skunk tag… and when it comes down to it, what’s NOT sexy about walking back into the hotel and telling your wife and kids, “yeah, bummer, it was slow, nothing but sharks today” – certainly not going to find THAT trolling Hillsdale point…

With a 24hr rental on the gear, and enough squid to fish for a week at my morning pace, I came back in the evening with hopes of a better night bite. After I watched a couple short spotted sea trout caught and released, a small ladyfish, and little else, I made an executive decision to simply consider it a valiant effort and call it done, remaining ever thankful for the opportunity.  The perfect white powder-like sand and the lure of beachy cocktails were starting to appeal to the vacationer mode I had been forced into – against my will, of course – and the thought of not smelling like recently thawed squid anymore provided any additional incentive I might have needed at that point.

I never quite pinpointed what might have been the issue. My knowledge and experience does not include understanding the tides and such – it was a full moon the night before, and locals mentioned unusually cloudy waters, maybe still from last week’s hurricane/storms, etc. Overhearing a table of vacationers at a restaurant discussing a very tough day on the water with a guide made me feel even better about not spending a bunch of money on that as well. If you are reading this, you probably know what I know, and that is that sometimes, well, it’s just slow. This was one of those times.

Vacationing in an area as rich and diverse as this fishery and not being able to really get after it in hardcore, Kansas Outdoorsman fashion can be frustrating, but I kept the perspective that I was on a family vacation – fishing, on this trip, was a tiny side excursion, and I was grateful for the opportunity to wet a line in a new place and experience something totally new to me. After all, I’d never caught a hammerhead shark.

Oh, and I failed to mention… my time at Disney was not entirely unproductive. Ever in search of what lies beneath the surface, I was able to net a gem while at Epcot – my biggest catch from “under the sea” all week came when I landed “Ariel” from The Little Mermaid. Now if I could only pull one of these out of the brush piles at Hillsdale… I think there would be a few more “family vacations” happening – and we wouldn’t need to fly to Florida to get there…

~ benton

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