By Frank Steinmann
Photos: Frank Steinmann, Daniel Göz
The silent path of the Hobie-ist
While the sun slowly climbs up on the horizon and the sky stages a splendid colour spectacle, I feel enveloped by silence, which is only interrupted by the slight splash of ocean waves against the hull of my kayak. Herons, pelicans and spoonbills glide schematically through the twilight like ghosts and soon disappear between the mangroves. It is still pleasantly cool and I greedily suck in the warm, tropical air, with all its smells of life and growth, knowing full well that at home in Germany after my return the rotten breath of autumn with all its November decay awaits me.
All of a sudden the silence is interrupted as a sport boat races past with a howling engine. Illuminated like a kitschy window in housing estate in the run up to Christmas, it screams and spits a cacophony of noise and stench out into the twilight. I can see some pensioners on board with beer cans in their hands flying past me gesticulating at the top of their armpits. Their fishing rods are ready for battle and erect at the railing. They storm through the inlet towards the open sea to cause even more unrest among the silvery glittering sea creatures. Herons screeching angrily, startled by the roar, take flight. I turn my kayak and follow them quietly into the thicket of the mangrove, where aerial roots and foliage dampen the noise and where I find silence again.
Basecamp, Editorial Staff and Strawberry Grouper
We are located in Florida, more precisely on the Gulf Coast in the east of the state near Punta Gorda. Englewood Beach, is the name of the palm-fringed little village with its colorful wooden houses, the countless docks and endlessly wide sandy beaches, which are littered with all kinds of finds from the house of the sea snail, to filigree mussel shells to archaic, petrified shark teeth. A paradise for every child who can indulge all his charms by digging in the sand. Hobie invited us journalists to the annual “Writer’s Conference”, an event that gives us the opportunity to fish from a kayak for a week, get to know Hobie’s innovations and strive for international journalistic exchange. I will be accompanied by Gero Priebe, who represents Hobies in Europe, and my friend Daniel Göz, who is himself a gifted photographer and will certainly promote the synergies of image acquisition. It’s nice to see a handful of editors and authors from renowned US print magazines again after our last meeting in Florida more than three years ago.
On the eve of the actual event we dine together in a nice fish restaurant, which is located close to the dock and allows some first glimpses of big Snook and Redfish lurking in the light of the underwater lights, while we wait for sautéed strawberry groupers, Creole Hogfish, Mahi Mahi Tacos and Coconut Shrimp.
A condo just a stone’s throw from the sea is our home for the coming week. Late in the evening we equip ourselves with all kinds of lures, outdoor gadgets and other useful utensils that are provided by the generous sponsors of the event. It looks like a tackle shop, lots of soft- and hardbaits, leader spools, jigheads and balanced hooks wander into our bags. The air-conditioned sleep, accompanied by the rush of the Gulf of Mexico does not last long. We will start at dawn.
360° through the mangroves
There I am now on my 14 foot long kayak, the steering is similar to cycling, once learned, never forgotten. I enjoy the agility and ease with which I can move around. With the constant development of his high-end kayaks, Hobie has created another milestone that enables me to turn my “Pro Angler” kayak on the spot in a full 360 degree movement. The maneuverability is hard to beat and together with the option to change from forward to reverse, the control leaves nothing to be desired.
We start as a small group that soon disperses into tiny coloured dots in the vastness of the mangrove-lined canals. Out aim is to catch Redfish and Snook. Fresh seawater constantly washes into that zone through the inlet when the tides change, bringing with it food and life. The average water depth here is less than one meter. The sandy, sometimes muddy bottom is covered with sea grass. In the maze of mangrove roots there are myriads of young fish, which grow up here protected before they venture into the open sea. A short time ago there was an ecological desaster when the “Red Tide”, a toxic algae bloom that was washed away by over-fertilised water from the sugar cane plantations in the north of the country and destroyed many living creatures. It is amazing to see how quickly an ecosystem can recover. How life is in search of a new path.
I glide silently a few meters away from the shore and throw my softjerk, which I fish on a balanced hook weedless between the bizarre roots of the mangrove. I almost forgot how incredibly strong saltwater fish can be when a little Crevalle Jack grabs my bait, angrily beats the water to a froth and growls at me using his teeth and swim bladder to make that sound, while I carefully unhook him. Daniel and Gero also catch some lovely Snapper, Redfish and Snook lurking between the mangrove roots.
All around me there is life: jumping mullets, herons and ospreys line my way, a big porpoise teaches its few weeks old offspring how to hunt in shallow water. I pause and watch their activity. I can clearly hear the squeaking noises of her sonar. While Mama drives the mullets into shallow water, where she picks them up lying on their side, the young remains in safe, deeper water and watches the splashing spectacle. I enjoy this spectacle, which remains hidden from the journeymen on their noisy speedboat.
Looking for a few bigger Redfish, we sail the flats that delimit the area from the open sea, with the kayaks being ideally suited to doing distance in shallow water, where no motorboat manages to float over sandy seagrass meadows fields. When the fins, which are propelling my Hobie, meet resistance, such as deadwood or larger stones, they simply fold to the side and nestle against the hull of the kayak, so I steer safely over even large obstacles.
Redfish through a lense
The Redfish feed on all kinds of animals: mussels, oysters and shrimps, crabs and fish. We find a group of larger specimens loitering in the midday sun in a bay with slightly deeper water. One of my favourite lure is a small yellow wakebait, which has seduced a lot of Redfish and Snook, with its loud rattling and wild eruptions close to the surface. I soon see a big bow wave following it, sprinting after the lure – a big Red. At the last moment he is overtaken by a smaller fellow, which snatches the lure from under his mouth. It’s a strong fish showing fierce resistance. Like a bull, impetuous and unstoppable he tries to escape into the mangrove roots. However, in the end he has little to show for against the manoeuvrability of the kayak and he soon comes to board for a quick underwater shoot. The kayak also masters the logistical challenge of storing extensive photographic equipment fantastically well! I have room for a complete photo backpack with interchangeable lenses and can even safely stow the monstrous underwater housing.
17 km ftw
Time flies in Florida, we spend sociable evenings filled with food and drink. We barbecue, celebrate the legendary “Shrimp Boil”, a dish that has evolved from the influence of the North and Creole cuisine. Corn on the cob, potatoes, shrimp and dried sausage are combined into a spicy stew. Life is beautiful in these moments of conviviality among like-minded people. We kayak an average of 17 km a day, which is sporty but not exhausting. Short drifts, which we do standing up to look for the big snook in the clear water, serve for relaxation. The aggressive predatory fish react vehemently to our topwater baits and suck them in loudly. Their hard mouths do not give the hooks much hold and the wild jumps of the animals often lead to their loss after several minutes of fight. But with hundreds of takes throughout the week, a lost fish is no problem.
I also fondly remember colourful evenings during sunset. In the fading light little Lane Snapper and Grouper snatch my baits. I have counted more than 19 species in the last week, proof of the importance of the mangrove as an ecological sanctuary. Right next to my kayak I hear a loud snort and suspect a bottlenose dolphin passing me, but it is a manatee, a manatee looking for rest in the canals, just like me. Protection from racing motorboats, party people and jet skis. She eyes me with a relaxed gaze, hardly shy and peaceful. Not quite a mermaid with her plump body, but a cute, loving creature. The last pelicans leave the open sea and fly over me to their sleeping places. I enjoy the silence and glide on through the green mangrove forest towards the dock.
Destination Punta Gorda
It was a fantastic time on the water, I was again completely thrilled by the quality and functionality of the Hobie kayaks, the new “Pro Angler 360”, but also the light and fast “Passport” are fantastic fishing kayaks. We caught a lot of fish and immersed ourselves into the nature that surrounded us. All in silence and solitude. This experience will probably always be hidden from the angler on a motorboat.
If you’d like to visit the region Punta Gorda to fish there or to combine a beautiful family vacation or ideally even both, all necessary information is provided on the website of Englewood Beach. Jennifer Huber, the acting Public Relations Manager also looked lovingly after us during our stay, and she is there to help and advise you. The nearby airport in Fort Myers is only 1.5 hours away. In addition to fishing, the region is known for golfing, the aforementioned white sandy beaches, good food and for shopaholics there is plenty to browse and buy in the malls of Fort Myers. There is also a menacing Bass Pro Shop there.
And if you are looking for silence and a way to get you and your equipment safely to the fish, you should visit the nearest dealer and schedule a test drive. Welcome to the silent path of the Hobie-ist.