I recently had the pleasure of attending my first D.O.A. Outdoor Writer’s Event, an annual outing that brings together some of the country’s top outdoor writers and photographers, along with several fishing tackle manufacturers, for a couple days of camaraderie, good fishing and great food.
Headquartered at the charming River Palm Cottages and Fish Camp on the banks of the Indian River, the gathering immediately struck me as decidedly “olde Florida.” River Palm dates to the late 1940s, and we’d be fishing primarily from small boats, as well as wading; plus, our weapon of choice, the Original D.O.A. Shrimp, still ranks (and always will rank) as one of the all-time great inshore lures throughout Florida.
Everything about this outing had a feel of old-school charm.
Things began quickly. Shortly after I’d made the 2-hour drive from Orlando to Jensen Beach, I managed to sneak out for a nighttime snook-and-trout foray with some folks from Hobie Kayaks, as well as Jerry McBride, an excellent local angler and the marketing director at D.O.A.
I was lucky enough to fish aboard Hobie’s new Mirage Pro Angler 12, exploring the famous Sewall’s Point area, looking for linesiders around the many dock lights lining the shore. The boat performed excellent — despite a good chop on the river that evening, the Pro Angler cut through the mess nice and clean. And while we caught a few nice fish, I lost a snook that I’ll remember for a long time. The strike was not remarkable and I couldn’t tell the size of the fish in the initial moments of the fight. Just then, a monster of at least 20 pounds leapt from the water right in middle of the dock light. It felt like a throbbing bowling ball on the end of my light rod and my heart literally skipped a beat. The fish was so big, only three-quarters of its body cleared the surface. I knew I was in trouble — and alas, she broke off. But it was OK. I was happy just seeing that monster.
The next morning only got better. I fished with Capt. Ed Zyak, whom I’d been wanting to fish with for some time. Ed’s got a reputation for catching really big trout and snook, and sure enough, he landed a monster trout on an Original 3-inch Shrimp. We estimated the fish at between 9 to 10 pounds, a real stud. The day was also rich with many smaller trout and nice snook, and Ed lost a giant lineside he guessed at 25 pounds.
One of the neatest parts of the day is that we waded the entire time, staking out Ed’s Gheenoe LT25 with a Minn Kota Talon, and then fishing afoot. The Talon worked great — and I’d been dying to fish an LT25 for quite some time. I’ve been aboard many Gheenoes, mostly smaller, and I was amazed with how stable this particular model is — a classic old-school Florida skiff that’ll take you pretty much wherever you want to go (and is a real bargain on the pocketbook, by the way).
One final note on this area and this event — it was heartening to see how many young guides are working in this classic fishery. Yes, there are many older captains, but quite a few young up-and-comers, all with great attitudes. It gave me a good feeling that while Florida has changed much over the many years since the first D.O.A. was tossed in these waters, the future of its fisheries and the folks who work on them look bright.