The tour began long before our departure date of Thursday, January 31st 2019. It began when we conceptualized the idea of traveling to select destinations for the purpose of learning, documenting, building new relationships, spreading brand awareness, having fun, and of course fishing. This first of many fishing tours was all of that and more. I honestly don’t remember when we decided on doing this kind of thing, but I believe the idea started as a small seed that grew and developed.
A few months ago, we came into possession of a Ford E-350 4x4 Van. This vehicle was already cool when we got it… but once it was wrapped, painted, and rhino lined the personality was completely transformed. We knew that it wouldn’t nor couldn’t be much longer until our first fishing tour. We were itching to break it in. So, we started making plans.
Once we chose the desired dates, we hit up potential fishing partners hoping and praying that everything would pan out. Thank God that it did. We began in Savannah GA with our man Justin Gutting (Instagram: @capt.firstcast) and finished with Jason LaCroix and Will Swint in New Smyrna Beach FL. Drew and I (Keaton) rolled out of town at 7 AM Thursday morning.
The WTF Adventure Van was packed full of gear; paddle board and kayak on top, fishing rods, coolers, boxes of WTF gear, our luggage bags, and one more unexpected item… a full-sized mattress. We designed this trip on a budget and that meant no hotels. Since the inside of the van was not yet upfitted, we removed the back few rows of seats and threw a mattress down.
After we departed from our hometown of Greenville, SC we spent about 4 hours on the road until we arrived at the boat ramp in Savannah GA. Captain First Cast was waiting for us at the dock with a live well full of polywags and a bucket of fiddler crabs. A polywag is also known as a mud minnow. This is something we learned as our trip went on. Some people all them polywags and some call them mud minnows. I would bet there are also other names for those little guys as well. We will keep you updated if we ever find out.
So, with some wind and a 50 degree Fahrenheit air temperature we headed out to fish the backwater creeks of what is technically called Wilmington Island. Our goal was to target and catch redfish, trout, and sheepshead. The saltwater creeks of Savannah make up quite the system. To reach the ocean a boater will travel what feels like miles of backwater with plenty of aquatic speedbumps also known as no wake zones. On our first day here, we meandered in and out of the creeks to fish a variety of Justin’s hot spots.
We didn’t have much luck to begin with. The sheepshead we found were hanging out around a group of fallen trees and just kept taking our bait. The rig we used to fish for sheepshead consisted of an egg sinker connected to a leader by a swivel. For those who don’t know much about fishing, the hook is attached to the end of the leader. On that hook goes a fiddler crab or a polywag. To properly bait the fiddler crab, the hook is pushed through the bottom center of the crab and comes out through the top of the shell. To bait the polywag you push the hook through the bottom lip and out through the top lip without penetrating the brain. The goal here is to not kill the polywag so it will continue to swim. Live bait is significantly more attractive to predatory fish. These are the 2 bait types we used during our time in Savannah.
At times fiddler crabs can be hard to come by but we were blessed with a huge bucket full. Fiddlers crabs can sell for $20 a dozen when demand is high. I would venture to say we had a couple hundred in that bucket. A man by the name of Phil kept a tank at his house stocked with about 8000 of these crabs. Phil joined us on our second day of fishing in Savannah.
Blessed to have plenty of those crabs, we spent most of them feeding the sheepshead. I say feeding the sheepshead because once you find them, they don’t necessarily flee, they hang around and keep biting. The thing about sheepshead is the way that they bite makes it difficult to set the hook. These fish have human like teeth for crushing crustaceans and their bite is so subtle and soft. Sometimes you won’t even notice they have taken your bait until you decide to check your line. To catch these sneaky fish, you have to pay attention and be quick to react. Even when you do both of those things, more times than not those little guys will scurry off with a nice little crab snack. Then they will circle back and take your bait all over again.
This first day in Savannah we had no luck with the sheepshead. We tried a few others spots for trout and redfish but still had no luck. Captain First Cast refused to allow us to get skunked for the day so he took us to this super-secret spot where trout and redfish were literally trapped. All we had to do was entice them to bite. We fished using a popping cork set up and a polywag for bait. Not too long after our lines hit the water, I caught my first trout and drew caught a redfish. The fish were not very interested in our polywags and poppers after that. From that spot we called it a day and headed for Justin’s house.
Justin and his wife opened up their home to us, fed us, and gave us a place to sleep. They did this for us both nights we were in Savannah and for that we are very grateful. One of the absolute best parts about running this company is the incredibly good people we have the privilege to meet. Good people were a running theme throughout this whole fishing tour.
After a good night’s rest we were up early and straight to the Keurig as day 2 kicked off. Considering it was quite frigid the day before we made the intelligent decision to wear extra layers that day. We loaded up the van with the intent of following Justin to the boat ramp. Only problem was that the van would not crank up. We were so focused on fishing that we didn’t even try to figure out why, so we hopped in Justin’s truck and left.
Justin’s plan for day 2 was to take us offshore a little ways to fish a shipwreck for considerably large sheepshead. The weather had other plans for us. The waves were too big for Justin’s 18-foot boat to get through. So, Justin and Phil maneuvered us through swirling currents and waves to a jetty where we would fish for sheepshead. We had a couple of bites but caught nothing. All the while Justin and Phil are working the boat and the anchors to keep us from being pushed onto the rocks. Eventually the decision was made to go elsewhere. We found a cool spot near where the cargo ships travel in and out of. It was a calm and fishy spot but once again we only fed the fish. Once the bite had considerably slowed down (I guess they \had their fill) we moved back up into the creeks.
Come afternoon we found a hotbed of sheepshead. For a good while they kept stealing our bait but never stopped biting. Boom, I can’t remember who it was, but someone hooked into our first sheepshead of the trip. Not much longer went by when Drew, Phil, and Justin kept landing fish left and right. We were all pumped, and we captured some great photos. As for me, I continued to feed the fish. I had so many bites, but I just could not set the hook. I honestly was not even frustrated, after all its called fishing not catching. I was just happy to be out there on the water with good people getting after it. It did help that everyone else was catching fish.
As we neared the end of our day Phil hooked into something a little bit bigger. We thought by the fight of it that it was just a big Sheepshead, but it turned out to be a black drum. I had never seen a black drum in person before. To me, a black drum looks like a cross between a sheepshead and a redfish. A sheepshead because of its stripes and a redfish because of its face and body shape. It was a very cool fish as was every other fish we caught. That concluded day 2 of our fishing in Savannah.
So, after 2 days in we were 4 species deep; trout, redfish, sheepshead, and black drum. We arrived back at Justin’s house and his wife named Savannah had tacos cooked for us and wow was that some dank food. For all of those who don’t know what dank means, it means awesome, tasty, and of high quality. We fell asleep on the couch that night watching Jeremy Wade, River Monsters.
After another good night’s rest, we woke up at 5ish in the morning, found the coffee and hit the road. We were headed for Jacksonville FL. For everyone who wondered what happened to the van; we thought it was a bad battery, so Justin and I jumped it. It worked and the van cranked up, but I didn’t let it charge long enough before I turned it off the see if it would crank up without a jump. Well, no it did not crank up. Drew who knows way more about cars than I do figured out that the negative battery terminal was loose. He grabbed his fishing pliers, tightened it and we were good to go.
It took about two and a half hours to get to our destination in Jacksonville. At a place called Kayak Amelia, we met a guy by the name of Nick Odle. It was about 5 seconds after meeting him that we knew we would be good friends. This man let Drew borrow his foot peddle kayak and came bearing a bucket of mud minnows for bait. If you remember, this is the same bait that Justin called a polywag in Savannah. Same bait fish just a different name.
The weather was overcast with a slight wind at our backs to begin with. Nick and Drew paddled out in their kayaks and I followed on my paddle board. As we made our way down the creek, we stopped along the banks to get our hooks wet. We mainly used mud minnows, but we also used soft plastic paddle tails on a jig head. The mud minnows were pesky little creatures in the area we were fishing. The reason being that the backwater creeks of Jacksonville are saturated with oyster beds. The mud minnows would dive and bury themselves in the mud between the oysters and if your line got snagged on one of these oysters there was a good chance it would break off. Meaning you would have to tie a new rig before you could fish again. This can be frustrating when it happens over and over but if you really want to catch fish you have to be persistent. The morning went by and Nick was the only one on the board with a single trout.
After working our way around a bend in the creek we found some fish. Drew began hooking into redfish, Nick kept hooking into trout, and eventually we were all hooking into flounders. Because of the wind I had to stick my sand spear into the mud to fish without being blown all over the creek. Drew and Nick were more mobile with their, peddle-driven kayaks. That was the main difference in fishing tactics when it came to paddle board verses kayak.
The fish kept biting, so we kept fishing. Drew ended up with 3 inshore grand slams which means he caught each of these species 3 separate times; redfish, trout, and flounder. Nick continued to catch trout after trout using both mud minnows and soft plastic paddle tails. He also caught redfish and flounder. From the spot I chose to post up at I caught multiple redfish and what seemed to be the biggest flounder of the day. I dropped a mud minnow a mere five feet from my paddle board and wham, fish on. Although that flounder wasn’t big enough to take home it was a good catch.
From there on the day got tougher than I would have ever imagined. We packed up and headed back up the creek. We attempted to fish different spots since the tides had changed but no luck. The part that made everything so tough was that we were paddling straight into the wind and straight into the current. When paddling in 6 feet deep water you can’t push paddle which means you can’t use the bottom to propel yourself forward. The forces of the wind and current were so strong that no matter how hard I tried I wasn’t gaining any ground. I think per paddle stroke I was moving one singular inch forward at a time.
I was working my paddle so hard that I lost focus on my balance and rolled the entire board. All of my gear fell out into the 50-degree water. I was neck deep standing in the middle of the creek with my phone in my pocket and gear floating everywhere. I honestly was not worried about my phone because Drew and Nick had taken most of the photos that day. I was most worried about my GoPro which I had on a GoPole sitting in one of my rod holders. Blessedly, once I flipped my board upright both of my fishing rods and the GoPro were wedged in the rod holders. Drew and Nick helped me gather the rest of my gear which included a tacklebox, a bait bucket, a cooler, a water bottle, and a life jacket.
I got back on the paddle board soaking wet and resumed the battle with a paddle. Drew and Nick went ahead of me so far that I could barely see them. Next thing I know paddling got even harder! I couldn’t believe it and didn’t understand it because I was already not moving much at all. I looked down and realized I was paddling straight through a thick layer of pluff mud. As I learned here, pluff mud is no joke. Pluff mud comes from dead and decaying marsh grasses. The consistency of this mud is so gooey and sticky that it creates a suction cup like vacuum. It might look solid on the top, but it acts like quick sand. I knew this was no ordinary mud when I plunged my paddle into it to test the depth and the whole paddle up to the handle was swallowed.
I literally could not find the bottom. I tried profusely to paddle and push my wait out of it but with every stroke my board became more and more suction cupped to the mud. As I realized how stuck I was, Drew and Nick slipped out of sight. I hadn’t eaten but 2 granola bars and only drank 1 bottle of water all day. That in itself wasn’t smart. Regardless I was exhausted, wet, cold, and stuck. I really had no options. My body was so cold and tired that it was actually trembling. I had no clue if the tide was coming in or going out, but I did know that I was praying. I wanted to call Drew, but I wasn’t expecting my phone to work since it was in the water for atleast three minutes when I flipped the board and joined the upside-down club. I gave it a shot anyway and it worked but Drew did not answer. I tried again and he answered.
As they came back around the corner, they knew there was nothing they could do, or they would get stuck too. I was only 100 yards from the landing, but I was unable to move 1 foot to get there. Drew described the scene to me afterwards like “watching a puppy drown that you can’t get to.” Wow. Pretty pitiful if you ask me. Well, I was still stuck, still cold and still trembling. I prayed so hard. Looking back, I think of the song “Oceans” by Hillsong United. The lyrics say
“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders, let me walk upon the waters wherever you would call me, take me deeper than my feet could ever wander, and my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Savior”
“You call me out upon the waters, the great unknown where feet may fail, and there I find you in the mystery, In oceans deep, my faith will stand”
Well, that song got literal, very literal. I knew if I got off the board and tried to walk or swim that I would be stuck in the mud myself with no way out. So, I stayed on the board and began to wonder how long I might be stuck for. It was getting dark and I was hungry and thirsty and tired and wet, and my body was still trembling. I kept praying and realized the only way I would get out was if the tide rose, so I started praying and begging God to make the tide rise. Within a few minutes the tide came in and my board was slowly lifted out of the mud. I paddle to the landing and was free.
I don’t know if you know what this is like, but this is experience for me was physically, mentally, and spiritually testing and strengthening. I will never forget that day. Once again, we were blessed by incredibly good people. Nick who we just met opened his home to us and gave us a place to take a much-needed hot shower.
After a day like that we felt as if we earned a steak, so we went to Texas Roadhouse and feasted on honey butter rolls and steak. That same night we drove to Daytona and fished the bridge we parked the van under until 3:00 AM. Prior to fishing the bridge we made a midnight Walmart run. We bought some braided line, a bucket, frozen mullet, and some other fishing gear to fill in the gaps of what we didn’t already have.
Drew and I were exhausted, but we were on a fishing tour and just had to get our hooks in the water. The only thing we caught all night was a saltwater catfish. There are 2 types of saltwater catfish, the gaftop sail catfish and the hard head catfish. We caught a hard head catfish. That being said we did not get skunked. For those who don’t know what “getting skunked” means, it means that no fish were caught. Without thinking about the smell, we stored our bait in a cooler inside the van. We also slept on a mattress in the van. It did not take very long for that fishy smell to seep out of the cooler into the van. That smell was then mixed with the salty wet smell of the clothes I wore when I fell off the paddle board. We were honestly too tired to care.
We had slept a whopping three and a half hours when I received a phone call. It was our friend Carly who had just arrived. She woke up about the same time we went to sleep to drive across the state of Florida to fish with us. Like I said before incredible, good people were a major theme on this fishing tour. So, Drew and I slid open the van door and there was Carly fishing under the bridge already. As we began to wake up and gather our thoughts, Jamie who runs Yellow Dawg Fishing Charters pulled up to the dock.
We loaded up and set out seeking sheepshead and redfish. Sheepshead are also called convicts because of their distinct black and white vertical stripes and because they are always stealing your bait. Makes sense to me. The temperature was about 60 degrees, there was a slight wind, and it was overcast. Jamie and his first mate for the day, Marty, and Jamie’s mascot took us to a particular jetty to start with. The mascot I mentioned was Jamie’s yellow lab golden retriever mix who goes by the name of Bay like Old Bay. She was a sweet girl and love being on the boat.
We dropped anchor and used the same rig set up as we did in Savannah. It wasn’t long after dropping anchor that Carly hooked into the first fish of the day. It was a small convict, too small to eat so she released the little guy. Either that spot was known to be good or the fishermen of the area all think exactly the same way because there were plenty of boats fishing around that jetty.
If you don’t remember, up until now the sheepshead have evaded me. I had never caught one before but that was about to change. We had sand fleas and live shrimp for bait, and I was using live shrimp at the time. I kept using large shrimp, but the fish kept tearing them to shreds without getting hooked. Marty tossed me a smaller shrimp after losing one and for whatever reason I felt extra good about that smaller shrimp. I cast my line and let the sinker do its job. Focused and patient I feel that subtle bump, bump, bump. I pulled up on the rod and boom, fish on. Immediately we knew it was a decent sized fish because of the way that guy was fighting. As I reeled him closer to the surface, we could see those black and white stripes. He never gave up, he kept diving and fighting until the end when Jamie scooped him up in the net. Once we got that fish into the boat, we knew we were eating good come the end of the day. That was my first sheepshead ever and also the biggest of our fishing tour.
We continued to fish that spot for a little while longer and caught a few more. Only one other was big enough to eat. After that we moved on to mangroves where we caught a few more convict and then we did some dock fishing before calling it a day. Upon arrival at DJ’s Deck, Jamie filleted our fish and the restaurant fried our catch right there. That was the first time Drew and I had eaten sheepshead and boy was it good. It pretty much melted in your mouth. There is absolutely nothing like eating freshly caught fish.
Thanks to Jamie and Marty for spending their time and efforts on us. If your ever in Daytona and are looking for someone to take you fishing, please give Jamie a shout (Instagram: @yellowdawg_fishing). Jamie invited Drew and I to his house to watch the Super Bowl and hang out, but we were so wiped out we went straight to the van and slept. When Super Bowl time came around Drew streamed the game from the van. As soon as it was over, we went into downtown Daytona and ate chicken parm subs.
Once we had some food in us, we drove thirty minutes down the road to New Smyrna Beach and parked the van in a WaWa gas station parking lot to sleep for the night. We settled on WaWa because that is where we would meet Jason LaCroix (Instagram: @ReelAnglerEastCoast) from the Florida Fishing Paddlers group the next morning.
He knocked on our van at 5:15 in the morning… we were so zombified asleep that we tried to ignore it and go back to sleep. At the same time our conscience kicked in and reminded us that people have gone out of their way for us to have this opportunity. Will Swint (Instagram: @Will.Swint) had already picked up bait and was on the way to our fishing destination. So, we got up, changed, and waked inside WaWa for coffee and breakfast. That was the best part about spending the night in a WaWa parking lot.
We rolled out about 6 am and followed Jason. We were back into the paddle board game on this last day of fishing. I was still sore from the day in Jacksonville. In this location there was no pluff mud and the water was no deeper than a couple of feet. The shallow water made it possible to push paddle which allows you to cover more ground.
Since Jason and Will were more seasoned paddle board fishermen then us, they showed us the proper way to set up our paddle boards. Jason kindly hooked Drew up with a paddle board for him to use since we only had one. Within the first five minutes of paddling Drew flipped his paddle board and lost the anchor which he was given. It only took one trip for the both of us to join the upside down club. After Drew recovered we paddled off ready to fish with our bait buckets full of live shrimp and mud minnows. We also used different kinds of artificials throughout the day. We fished the banks and the narrow shallow passages of the backwaters.
Will and Jason fish this spot often and tend to catch multiple 18-30 inch redfish. We fished all morning until mid-afternoon, but we had no luck at all. The thing about fishing is that it’s called fishing not catching. Every time you set out seeking fish you have to know and accept the fact that you may catch nothing. Even the most experienced and knowledgeable fishermen get skunked occasionally. Obviously the more you learn and apply what you learn your odds of catching fish increase. Then again you can never control the conditions. The weather does what it does, and you have to adjust.
The weather just happened to be against us that day in New Smyrna Beach. It was very cloudy and colder than usual. Having been the only day of the tour that we got skunked as a team, it was still a success. Every day on the water is always a better day than a day in the office. In addition to enjoying the great outdoors, we met and began building friendships with some phenomenal people.
I said it before and I’ll say it again, this first fishing tour was marked by incredibly good people. After we packed up the vehicles Will and his girlfriend Natalie opened up their home to us and gave us a place to shower. Once we showered Drew and I hit the road and headed for home.
Thank you to every individual who made this trip incredible.
Thank you to God for being with us every step of the way.
Thank you to all of #WTFNATION for joining us on our journey.
Keep “Soaking Up The Good Life.”
Until next time,
What The Fin Apparel