It's been an incredible month. In a mere 30 days, I've experienced some profound "firsts." I've listened to wise words from sport-fishing legends and experienced angling adventures in places I've never before visited - what more could a chap ask for?
The ride began in Fort Lauderdale and ended in Venice, Louisiana (with a pit stop between in Puerto Rico), but I'll start with the most recent first. For those of you who love redfishing and have not visited the little town of Venice, take my advice: Go there. Quickly.
I cannot begin to adequately describe the abundance of big red drum in these beautiful, muddy waters where the Mississippi spills out into the Gulf of Mexico. Quite simply, it's staggering. Along with a few others, I was lucky enough to join Dr. Keith Jones and Eric Naig of Berkley for two days of fishing and product research at Capt. Mike Frenette's Redfish Lodge (www.venicefishing.net; 504-341-4245) in Venice Marina. As director of fish research, Jones is the man behind the science of Berkley's Gulp! products, while Naig is the company's marketing director. (Frenette, meanwhile, is one of the first men who put Venice on the sport-fishing map 25 years ago).
My lasting memory from the weekend: seriously sore arms! Even I managed to catch seven redfish between 23 and 35 pounds - and I was taking pictures, for crying out loud! Head on down to Venice with two things: a healthy appetite and plenty of Gulp! baits. The redfish eat those Gulps! (and many other offerings, by the way) with the same ferocity you'll be shoveling down the jambalaya with hot sauce. Both are experiences worth undertaking.
Sport Fishing's Mike Mazur (left) gets a helping hand with an estimated
35-pounder from redfish pro Capt. Brian Watts.
Watts and Berkley's Dr. Keith Jones flash a pair of beefy Venice redfish,
caught within minutes of each other.
Prior to traveling to Venice, I embarked on a much-anticipated trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where Capt. Omar Oracca (www.fishinginpuertorico.com; 787-396-8346) introduced me to the finer points of tarpon "feeding frenzies" in San Jose Lagoon. These fish are wild. They go absolutely crazy on the last of an incoming tide, balling anchovies and glass minnows and then exploding into them with reckless abandon. They're small for the most part, but we found some decent fish too, including some in the triple-digit range - San Jose Lagoon would make an ideal introduction to tarpon for a novice fly fisher.
The area is only a short distance from the offshore grounds, as well, where all sorts of pelagics play. And you don't even need a passport to enter Puerto Rico! San Juan is a modern, safe city, just a short flight from Florida airports. Give Capt. Omar a call. He will put you on PLENTY of tarpon.
Capt. Omar Oracca (center) hoists a nice tarpon for a group of happy anglers.
Yet another tarpon goes airborne in the waters of Puerto Rico's San Jose Lagoon.
Finally, I attended my first IGFA Hall of Fame ceremony in October, and boy, was it a treat. The inductees included Capt. Peter B. Wright, a Marlin Magazine contributor and the man who has caught more granders than anyone in history; Dr. Ruben Jaen, an eloquent Venezuelan cardiologist and noted big-game authority; fly-fishing legend Joan Salvato Wulff; rod-building pioneer Gary Loomis; and Homer Circle, one of the most prolific outdoor writers of the last 50 years.
All these dignitaries' speeches were fabulous. One of the more memorable moments was the standing ovation Jaen provoked when he ended his speech by expressing his "love and admiration for America," noting that 84 percent of Venezuelans feel positively about Americans. "Please," Jaen remarked, "make your own conclusions."
Wulff also stirred emotions, speaking of the wonder she always feels when taking to a trout stream or drifting silently over a bonefish flat. A true class act, Wulff recognized each and every member of her family (and there were quite a few) who was present at the ceremony.
Unfortunately, "Uncle" Homer Circle wasn't able to attend, but in a video, the 93-year-old expressed his fondness for the simple pleasures of fishing. He talked about the importance of "fishing buddies" in one's life. And he noted that being able to write about fishing for a living made him the luckiest guy he knew.
I couldn't possibly disagree with Homer. And so I offer the following advice: Get on the water and catch a fish. But most of all, enjoy your time in nature. Suck it all in - the air, the sun, the salt and the companionship. Then hold it there for a good, long moment?
See you out there,
Associate Editor, Sport Fishing Magazine
The IGFA's 2007 Hall of Fame inductees (left-to-right): Capt. Peter B. Wright,
JoAnn Wulff, Dr. Ruben Jaen and Gary Loomis (absent: Homer Circle).
Billfish legends Dr. Ruben Jaen (left) and Peter B. Wright share a congratulatory
handshake prior to induction into the IGFA Hall of Fame.