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Have kayak will travel

Dan was already setting up for fishing when I got there, busying himself with attaching his rod and bait and other accoutrements for an ocean kayak fishing foray.  Tenacious and in great physical shape, Dan attacked the better formed waves with a vengeance, and after a few touch and go breakers almost sent him backwards he was able to pull through and use the momentum of the big red battleship to launch over the biggest wave in the back set, yielding access to the open ocean.  Dan was pumped and kept right on paddling until he turned into a small red interruption in a vast backdrop of the brownish green Atlantic.

It was Rob’s turn now and he hopped aboard the yak surfer and made it outside himself in a single focused push.  Rob sat in front of the last set of rollers a long time before deciding to commit to one of the liquid monsters but was pleasantly surprised to find himself surfing well and in control as he headed towards the beach.  A pod of porpoise swam by and gave him a show and Rob chased them down for a little mammal-to-mammal communion. 

Altogether, things were shaping up nicely, but we still needed to catch some fish, and I was worried that with the lack of visibility in the water it would take either very shiny or very smelly bait for any fish to take an interest. We had some local cut up mullet and frozen squid that we bought in town and I tied some on the Dan’s three hooked ganglion and waded out into the surf up to my chest.  Throwing the weighted meat smorgasbord as far as the 13 foot surf rod would let me, I waded back and put it into the sand driven rod holder and sat down in a beach chair to crack a cold one.  This east coast surf fishing is OK I thought, remembering throwing giant plugs in crashing surf in front of the Sol Mar Hotel in Cabo San Lucas Mexico, and seeing 50 lb roosterfish chase down a fast retrieve. No contact surf fishing vs. full contact surf fishing, what the hell, the sun is out, the beer is cold and I have absolutely nowhere to be or go today.

Dan returned from the open sea after making a good effort of it but with no fish.  Likewise, the surf rig failed to produce anything and we ended up back in the hot tub that afternoon, where we could be closer to the bottle of Corelejo I had brought along, for just such an occasion.  My theory was that it was still too kicked up from the storm to catch any fish yet, and if you looked out at the open sea, you cold see a definite line of demarcation where the relatively shallower brownish cloudy water turned much more green and clear a few miles out.  “That’s where we’ll catch some fish” I announced, “after all, the further out you go, the bigger the fish are, right?”  Not that scientific I know, but all the biggest fish I had ever caught were miles from shore I rationalized.

As the tequila and beer gradually took effect and we extricated ourselves from getting boiled in the hot tub, the conversation predictably drifted to rock climbing and tales of big wall adventures in the valley and who lead what pitch on the lotus flower tower back in ninety three.  Soon the three of us were working on the barefoot boulder problem of pulling an overhang over one of the roof gables with some very committing moves.  We each cranked it and ended up on the crown of the three-story roof, barefoot in bathing suits looking at the vast Atlantic on a beautiful outer banks twighlight. Our neighbors in the beach house next door kind of kept their distance after seeing us hooting and hollering up on our roof.   My kind of vacation.

The next day dawned beautiful and despite discussing many possible field trips after a big breakfast, we seemed to develop the consensus that there was just no good reason to go anywhere else but this beautiful spot and besides, we still had plenty left to drink in the cooler.  I resolved myself that today was the day I was going to go out there and catch something, knowing that even though the little blue surf yak would float with me and my fishing rod, if I wanted to cover ground, I would have to take out big red.

Big red didn’t bother me so much since it was already on the beach and would be a comfortable touring boat, as long as I could get outside with no trouble, and the ocean had definitely calmed down a bit by now.  That afternoon I loaded up my open faced Shimano 5:2:1 and a stout tuna rod I had brought on the plane, my condensed and organized tackle kit, and donned my full wetsuit.  I tied on a realistic looking plastic swimmy and rigged a good way to tie the rod to the boat.  “OK you big red bitch, time to turn the engines on”. (I believe in always referring to boats in the feminine gender).  I humped and pumped and got her moving through the waves and was pleased to be moving a lot faster than the little blue surf unit would go.  Before long I had paddled past all of the swells and was heading up current and out to sea, resolving not to stop for anything until I got to the clear water. 

Now after paddling for many years, being offshore a ways doesn’t bother me a bit and I estimated the current angle which seemed to be coming in from the southeast today, so I paddled directly into it .  I planned to  just drift and fish my all the way back to the beach when I figured that I’d  had enough. I kept my eyes out for birds schooling and actually had a fish jump right next to me.  “Now this is what I’m talking about” I reassured myself as I paddled further towards three or four birds that were obviously following something in the water.  They lead me here and there and still further out as I marathon paddled out to about eight miles.  I switched to a Grande sized crocodile and tagged on a full squid and gave it a healthy toss.  The water was still only about 50 feet deep here so after casting about in all four cardinal points of the compass, letting it sink, bouncing off the bottom and doing a fast retrieve on the surface I resolved to paddle on, this time trolling the big shiny lure and squid combination about 50 yards behind me in case the fish were squeamish about big red.

Another hour of hard fishing and I switched to a ganglion rig with eight ounces of lead and three 1/0 hooks gorged with meat and squid.  “If there’s anybody home on the bottom, this should be irresistible” , I reasoned.  A few tiny nibbles by little stinkers with mouths too small to put the hook in and I was getting depressed.  The day was getting late and I still had not caught even one fish.  I questioned my techniques and rationalized that maybe this strange ocean might be immune to my Pacific Ocean tactics or maybe it was just a shitty time of year for fishing.  Maybe there was some magic smelt egg concoction with orange beaded hooks that the east coast fish just went nuts for.  Naw- I was putting some quality stuff out there- I’ve caught everything with these simple techniques- it must be the planetary alignment. 

As the time of long shadows approached, disgusted I turned big red around and started to half paddle and half drift my way in, bouncing my meat presentation off the ocean floor the whole way.  “Maybe if they can’t see it or smell it, at least I can knock one over the head with it”, not willing to give up the hunt while I was still out in the big water.  Despite all of my efforts I was not going to catch a fish today and my secret Ego gratifying hopes of bringing in an impressive dinner for the team were gone. 

As I finally approached the back of the outside set and secured my rod for the inevitable big boat surfing challenge I strained to locate the point on the beach where I had started from.  The setting sun, in the wrong side of the sky for an ocean, silhouetted the rows of houses and I could not for the life of me figure out where I was through my salt speckled sunglasses.  I burned a lot of extra calories as I paddled north and noticed the pattern of vertical posts blocking the beach to the north, marking the North Carolina-Virginia line.  “Holy Crap! What am I doing this far north?”  I was sure that I was paddling Southeast the whole time I was heading out to sea.

I looked for the characteristic third floor gables on our beach house roof line where our barefoot bouldering problem was located the day before.  All of the architecture on the beach looked way to similar.  “Damn these conservative east coasters- If this was a beach in Mexico I’d have some other kinds of distinctive landmarks like a bright pink house or something”.  Not wanting to have to go in through the surf more than once with Big Red because I knew there was a better than average chance that I would dump, I searched up and down the beach.  My companions had taken the truck off the beach and were, I was sure, sequestered in the hot tub back at the house.  I probably disappeared from sight so long ago they would surely have given up looking out to see me on the water.   I was really feeling stupid as I could not believe that I had drifted so far in the opposite direction from where I was going.  I was developing new respect for the Atlantic currents of the outer bank as I studied the shoreline as best I could in the failing sunlight and felt the first chilly wind of  early darkness sweep across me. I was tired and a little panicked now- not in the ‘stuck on the side of a big wall hanging from a single bolt all alone 2000 feet up’ sort of way, but more in the irritating knowledge that I would still have to paddle a lot further this afternoon and I was tired and it was getting cold and dark. 

Finally, I resolved to take big red in through the surf at the most likely looking spot down the miles of featureless beach in front of me.  I was able to get in between a couple of mellow waves and cheated capsizing the big red bitch.  “Ha!  I told her- see you know how to surf you long heavy bitch!”  I puller her massive weight up on the beach and started to drag her full weight up the high angled shoreline, towards the direction that looked most likely for the house to be in.  My arm and shoulder screamed at me to drop this heavy pig and drag her up onto the dry sand once and for all.  I sat down on the bitch and took a breather, not recognizing anything like where our beach house was.  “Let’s see, I don’t know the address, I don’t know where I am, and I don’t even have anybody’s phone number”.  I know this isn’t exactly a survival situation but I’d sure like to be back in that hot tub right now instead of dragging this pig down the beach.  I stopped one of the endless train of cars 4 wheel driving down the beach at top speed to get to their own beach houses.  Everyone seemed to be a one time renter who had not been there before and  no one knew where they were.  Everyone had a series of cryptic landmarks and secretive directions that directed them to their destinations.  I wasn’t quite desperate enough and still had enough pride not to ask anyone to take me up the beach to look for my house.  I reflected on the old adage of males and their willingness to ask directions- when I remembered that we were next to a pull off with a 22 mile marker.  I walked for half a mile or so and discovered that none of the pull offs had mile markers, the sand was steep , soft and hard as hell to walk on, and I had left Dan’s new boat and paddle a ways down the beach along with my fishing gear.  “Shit!”  “This isn’t working” as I saw another mile of blank and featureless, unfamiliar beach up ahead.  Damn I must have drifted miles in some kind of intensely strong current.  No wonder I wasn’t catching any fish, they were too busy trying to fight the current themselves to get something to eat- or else they’d all been pushed up to New Jersey by now. 

I resolved to walk back to big red and put her back out to sea, figuring that I could paddle a lot faster than I could walk, and covering the next mile by water wouldn’t be that bad after my little ‘rest’ on the beach.  Another successful surf foray found me outside, with a little too much intensity and a modicum of desperation.  I knew I didn’t have the energy to get flipped and have to try this again.  I made another foray into the beach about a mile later with the same results, and found my energy on reserves as I paddled through the surf with the big red battleship bitch yet again.  Finally, I resolved, this is going to be my last try to locate the house, as it is definitely getting dark and even a little bit cold even if I do have a wetsuit on.  I tried not to let any thoughts of giant east coast man eating bull sharks enter my mind, but they were back there in my brain somewhere,  reminding me that sharks fed at night.  “OK this is at least a little more populated area up ahead and I’ll just surf this bitch in one more time and that’s going to be it”.  I got all the way to the inside swells when she turned sideways despite really aggressive ruddering.  I hung onto a side brace as long as I could but went over the falls bailing out in mid-air trying to make sure I was up hill from the massive boat as it crashed down along with thousands of gallons of water.  I did a kung-fu surfer block over my head underwater as I felt the massive boat pass an inch or so right above me, on it’s own rolling trajectory as I bounced along the shallow water and sand underneath.

After catching the bitch before she was a hundred yards down the beach I drug her up onto the dry sand in a final effort and sat on top of her for a well needed breather.  “Shit”, I still didn’t recognize anything on the beach.  “Oh F___k!”  My tackle bag was gone, along with my filet knife, a good set of pliers and all the weights, lures, and jigs.  That sea kayaker bungee arrangement was no match for a post frontal Atlantic wave.  It had just ripped the tackle bag right off the boat, pulling the fairly tight bungee right off its connectors.  The rod was still attached in one place, thank god and I lamented on what my east coast Kayak fishing experience had degraded to.  I left the expensive, gadget covered, overweight Puta Rojo where she lay and took off down the beach walking with a vengeance.  “If somebody steals it and what’s left of my gear, F—k it, or maybe if I’m lucky someone will run it over in the dark.  The fat bitch would probably take out anything lighter than a Humvee though and with my luck their car would flip over and they would sue my ass.. 

After another half mile of walking, and just about the time I was about ready to swallow my pride and flag down a ride I made out some silhouetted figures on a nearby sand dune furiously waving a kayak paddle and their arms.  I recognized my erstwhile comrades and gleefully waived both arms back in their direction.  They disappeared over the backside of the dune and quickly reappeared in the truck spitting a rooster tail of sand and heading in my direction at top speed.  “Yee Ha!  I’m Saved!” We all had a good laugh as they related their growing concerns about me and I shared my harrowing exploits in Dan’s big red bitch of a kayak. 

After a thorough soaking in the hot tub and some generous muscle relaxants I cooked a full dinner for my rescuers and related a newfound humility and respect for the incredible currents of the outer banks and what I thought were my kayaking abilities.  “Of course if the airlines had allowed me to fly my own kayak out from San Diego, all this would have been different!” I insisted.  “That’s right!” agreed Rob, “It’s all Osama Bin Laden’s Fault!”. 

Bart Allen Berry is a veteran adventure guide, trainer and corporate consultant, specializing in experiential team development for the world’s finest companies for the past 23 years and has guided and trained over 200,000 people.

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