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For a second year, a group of us traveled down to the small town of Panacea, along Florida’s Forgotten Coast, to fish the Rock the Dock tournament. The tournament really has just become a reason for us freshwater guys to get together and go spend a few days on the saltwater. The game plan was to arrive a couple of days early and get in some pre-fishing, then spend as much time on the water as possible during the tournament. Mother Nature had plans of her own though.

Aside from some breezy conditions, the two days of pre-fishing went very well. The first day we fished grass flats in a shallow bay. The day was very productive with a few redfish and a lot of spotted seatrout being boated. Our confidence was pretty high for this location so we called it a day and headed back to the launch.

On the second day the group fanned out over several areas focusing on oyster bars. The fishing was a little slower then the previous day; however, the group did land redfish, trout, and flounder. Later in the afternoon we happened on several tailing reds in the back of a marsh. Try as we may, we could not even get a look from them. Talking to a veteran angler later that afternoon, I received some advice about tailing fish that would prove to be spot on.

On day one of the tournament, we headed back to the first spot we pre-fished. The conditions were the same as the days prior with a steady southerly wind. The bite was not as good as before, but a few fish were being caught. The wind began to pick up speed so the decision was made to start making our way back to the launch. This would prove to be one of the hardest paddles I have ever made.

As it seems to go with kayak fishing, there is always a head wind when you are trying to get back to the launch. The bay had begun to whitecap and the wind grew stronger. By this time the group had made it to the protection of a peninsula for a much needed rest. But coming around the point we were fighting the wind head on. It proved easier to just walk the kayaks back along the beach. After arriving at the launch, we were a tired and beaten bunch.

After lunch, we decided to try another location that was more protected from the wind. Soon after arriving, the wind laid down and the action began. The tailing reds were showing again. It started with one tail popping up near a grass island. I made my way to where we had seen the bigger fish the day before. Sure enough, they were there and the visible tails were wider then my paddle blade. It was now time to try the advice I received earlier.

I flipped my bait in front of the fish and waited. The tail changed direction and my line went tight. I was now hooked up with the biggest fish I have ever tangled with. The fish’s initial run almost stripped all the line from my reel before I could get caught up. The power of this fish was phenomenal, it was taking my Big Rig on its first true sleigh ride.

My heart was pounding out of my chest. I would gain ground on the fish and get it to surface, only to have it dive like a submarine and start stripping line again. Once the other guys saw it, they knew it was a beast. We decided to try and land the fish on the beach. My buddy grabbed my kayak’s pull strap and guided us to the shore.

By now the fish seemed to have tired some and was no longer making big runs. About ten feet from the shore I hopped out of my Big Rig and started leading the fish to the beach. Without even so much as a tug, I felt a tick and my line went slack. At that moment all the excitement and exhilaration turned into a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. There are not many times in my life that I have felt as defeated and heartbroken as I did standing in the water at that moment. After a few minutes, I regained my composure and headed back to the launch. The sun was quickly setting and it was time to get off the water.

We woke up the second tournament day with winds gusting around twenty miles an hour. Most of the group made the call to pack up and head back home. The rest of us grabbed some breakfast and rehashed the previous days. Once we left the restaurant, we checked a couple of launch points and then decided the day would be a bust.

Overall, the trip was a great one. I got to spend time with family and friends. We didn’t weigh in any fish for the tournament, but there were several first time fish and new personal best caught. I am Already counting down the days till I can return to the Forgotten Coast.

– Robert Brown