THE ROAD to Sandbridge winds through swampy forest before opening to a small, oceanfront community. Turn right and drive past miles of vacation homes until you come to the end of the road. Pull into the Little Island State Park before 8 a.m. to avoid the $3 parking fee.
Load the boat with heavy rods and a day’s worth of food and water. Use a beach cart to roll over the dunes and down to the water’s edge. Pray for no surf. While waiting for a lull in the waves, take in the rising sun, glassy, clear green water and white sand beach.
At the first pause in the breakers, rush into the shore break and paddle like hell for the outer bar. Once in the clear, the kayak rises and falls on the rollers, porpoise breach close enough to look deep into their black eyes, a table-sized sea turtle lifts its bucket head then spooks and dives.
Where we fish is more important than what we catch
The kayak moves silently with the rhythm of the paddle. Listen for a fish to splash. A sweet, oily scent signals bait nearby. Wind sings through the braided line. Blue skies, blazing sun, emerald warm water.
Notice I never mentioned the fish?
My favorite fishing spot is not the best catching spot. Since I spend more time paddling around than reeling in, the place I fish is more important than the fish I catch. I often choose where to wet a line based on the location, not the catch.
I used to fish the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel. Field and Stream editor Ken Schultz called it the noisiest fishing spot in America. Four lanes of heavy traffic roar a couple feet overhead. Blackhawk helicopters thump, thump, thump in and out of the nearby naval base. The rocks are infested with a colony of sea gulls—the place smells like shit.
Sure, the fishing is great. Striped bass jump out of the water, speckled trout flash below, flounder blanket the bottom. I’ve had 50-fish days, but I haven’t fished The Tunnel in years. The noise and smell are bad, but it was the crowd that eventually drove me out.
A place is most beautiful when few people have enjoyed it. I go to great ends to get away from the crowd. Traveling adds adventure to beauty. Discovering unfamiliar water, learning the fish and absorbing a new vibe drives me to discover new places to love. This summer, I let my old buddy Kayak Kevin Whitley talk me into driving hours inland to fish rocky rivers for smallmouth bass.
Whitley chooses fishing spots protected from other anglers by raging whitewater. I needed a helmet to enter this playground. I’d never caught a smallmouth bass. I’d never plunged down a waterfall in a fishing kayak, either. I was nervous and excited.
The narrow, rocky river pulsed with clean, cool water shaded by great trees, a welcome relief from the blazing sun and pounding surf off Sandbridge. I let the current carry me through thrilling rapids to undisturbed honey holes. Casting a small wakebait to the bank, watching it wiggle across the water, my first smallmouth explosion. The swift river is a waterpark for fishermen.
Fishing gives anglers an excuse to go places few have gone before
See things the guys at the office never get to see. We have a reason to wake up early and stay out late, experiencing all the moods of a place and milking them for our entertainment. Some anglers follow the crowds to find fish. Instead, try searching out new water and fresh experiences. If the fish don’t bite, I won’t be disappointed.
On a late summer afternoon a mile off Sandbridge beach, the sea breeze kicked up and I stopped paddling to take in the scene. Hanging my feet over the side, the boat drifted in the building white caps. Grey thunderheads blotted out the sun turning the water a dark emerald green. Light rain spit in my face.
Absorbed in the tension of sky and sea, the landscape was disrupted when my reel erupted. Line screamed off the spool so fast, by the time I pulled the rod from the holder and turned the bow towards the fish the reel was almost empty. To slow the chaos, I pushed the drag forward until the fish was pulling the boat through the waves, spray blowing off the bow.
The monster stopped and turned towards me. I frantically cranked the handle to regain line, arms burning with lactic acid, until a long, silver king mackerel circled below. I swung the gaff and pulled the exhausted fish into my kayak. My primordial victory scream sounded out over the waves, but no one heard it.