contact us
4th July Texas Oil Rig kayak fishing with Tod Johnson
6:12PM 7th Jul 14

July 4th Weekend – How Offshore Kayakers Celebrate Independence day

To most of us in the United States and specifically Texas, the 4th of July Holiday is synonymous with Bar-B-Que, Beer, beaches, and fireworks displays.  The Texas offshore crowd sees the 4th as an opportunity to hit the Texas coast in search of adventure.  With time off from work and school, we look to the surf for our relaxation.  Summer months here on the Coastal bend of Texas bring us more predictable calm weather windows to make the 3 or more mile trip to the rig structures offshore.  Weather reports had a perfect window coinciding with the 4th.  For once the forecasters nailed it, and we had exceptional conditions.

Day 1

A plan was hatched a mere day or so before the trip, which is common here due to the shifting weather patterns.  A handful of us made the call to make a mad dash from all across Texas to meet late the night before the 4th, and camp in the Padre Island National Seashore, known by us as PINS.  The initial group consisted of myself, YakFishTV’s Robert “Bobby” Field, David Dunham, and Tino Mendietta.  A few other guys would arrive with Tino the morning of our first day on the water.  For those who do not know Bobby is from Dallas, TX, which is about 7 hours from PINS.  We arrived at the PINS gates at about 11pm and headed down 10 or so miles of park roads to the beach.  We then worked our way slowly down the sandy beach path to the start of the 4wd only part of the beach located at the 5 mile marker.  All said and done we made camp at about midnight, quickly crashing in our respective vehicles and trailer hammock.

I didn’t sleep well, I am sure it had something to do with all of the awesome species I might by chance catch the next day haunting my dreams.  The coastal Bend of Texas offers a variety of target species and sport fish which can be pursued from the surf to the rigs.  These can include but are definitely not limited to; Sharks of all species and sizes, Mature Red Drum known as Bull Reds, Bonita, Spanish Mackerel, Tarpon, King Mackerel, Cobia, Snapper, Grouper, Mahi-Mahi also known as Dolphin or Dorado, and occasionally tropical pelagics such as sailfish. 

I awoke restlessly at about 0430 am and began my routine of organizing and checking equipment.  I was followed in suit by Bobby and David about 20 minutes later.  We were ready to unload the boats and hit the surf by the time Tino and the others arrived.  As is tradition we all unloaded and began lining up on the beach.  As always we break out a few cameras and take advantage of the serene sunrise.  It is here that most of us are most at home.  We find peace beyond the surf. 

It began, I headed out first, punching smoothly through the short period, high rolling surf.  We each went out at our own rate taking it all in.  For me, this was a new experience, as it was the maiden voyage with my long awaited Storm Blue Reload.  She did not disappoint as she cut straight through two walls of crashing surf like a hot knife through butter.  Once through the breakers I began to smoothly climb ad descend the incoming breakers like it was nothing.  This was similar to my Profish 400 but much more efficient and responsive.  This was not the last time during the weekend that I noted exceptional traits exhibited by this hull, but that is a separate story in itself. 

I began the day by trolling a Rat-L-Trap lure and a Ribbon fish rig in search of any hungry takers between the surf and the rigs.  I was quickly rewarded on my Rat-L-Trap with a large Spanish Mackerel which I photographed on my bump board and stowed in my fish bag.  Doh, I forgot to turn on the go pro again.  This is by far one of my worst habits and happened numerous times during the day.  The early Smack as they are often called was the start to what would become a tremendous day.

I cast back out and began a leisurely cadence out to my target rig, roughly 3 ~ 3.5 miles to the South West of our launch location.  I turned to realize that I was alone, everyone else had headed to large rig directly out from our campsite.  No worries, it would be a peaceful trip, and my first solo on a rig. 

Upon arriving at the rig, I knew that I had made the right choice to head to the rig crested with seabirds.  As I looked down into the water I could see hundreds if not thousands of Spade fish circling the rig legs below.  Clarity of this quality is almost nonexistent along the Texas coast. This was by far the clearest I had ever seen it.  Mixed amongst the Spade fish were schools of large Jack Crevalle, large Cobia and even a lone Mahi-Mahi. 

Mahi are extremely rare in shallow coastal waters.  Excitedly I called out Dorado over the radio.  There was no reply; they must have been busy already.  I immediately went to work swapping my Rat-L-Trap for a small ¼ oz. chartreuse bucktail jig which might entice a bite from the mahi.  I hadn’t thought to bring squid to tip the jig so I searched my tackle for the next best thing.  Ahah! Gulp Mantis in new penny and chartreuse, if I were a mahi, I would eat that.  I might even be able to catch a spade fish or two for fun.  At the very least it could not hurt my chances.  I cast the small jig toward the Helipad rig legs and let it drift down slowly.  I went to work reeling in and rebaiting my ribbon fish rig.  I was about to launch the ribbon out to troll slowly around the rig, but before I could get it in the water my tiny little jig was slammed by a very aggressive, angry fish. 

This fish was much larger than a mahi or spadefish.  I immediately thought it might be a large cobia as it darted toward the rig legs.  The down side to rig fishing is the rusty barnacle encrusted rig itself.  The fish know this and use the rig as a defensive tactic.  After a few tense minutes, I was able to steer my unknown friend away from the rig legs.  This is an art form where where we horse the fish into turning away from the legs and then let them run with light drag or free spool away from the structure.  We then re-engage the fish at a safer distance from the rig. 

It took a few turns with this fish before he decided the rig was not an easy place to go.  Doh, I forgot the GoPro again!  As the fish began to wear out, he gave away his identity by making wide slow circles about the boat.  My suspicions were confirmed when I saw the brilliant silver flash 30 feet below.  It was a solid King Mackerel with a very bad attitude.  A he came up I was able to catch a bit of up close footage.  I quickly set the camera down as he presented himself perfectly for a gaff shot.  He was boated, billied, and bump boarded for Kayak Wars points. 

After a quick photo shoot he was stuffed into my fish bag.  The fish was a solid 44” stud and would make great steaks for the neighborhood.  Back to work, I baited and dropped the jig again quickly only to stick another small King Mackerel in the 30” range.  This time I was so excited with all of the action that I completely forgot the video and photos.  He was quickly released in pursuit of a larger prize.  I took a moment compose and think to myself, “hey goofball, slow down and quit forgetting to use your cameras!” 

Both baits were rigged and dropped.  Again as the little jig fell, I felt a thump and a tug at the line.  I quickly reeled up a small pretty little fish, an under size Gag Grouper had swallowed the jig whole.  I photographed him on the bump board and released him to catch another day.  I moved back to the South West side of the rig and dropped both rigs where I had seen all of the spades and caught both King Mackerel.  To my amusement it was only a few minutes before I watched a very large spadefish tear into my large ribbon fish.  I was hooked up again with this fella.  We had ourselves a quick photo shoot and he went back in the drink. 

At this rate I did not want to use the little bag space I had left on a little spadefish when there are excellent eating fish swimming all around.  It was back to work yet again.  Both lines were rigged and dropped again in the same general area 30 yards from the rig.  They were free lined like before and floated slowly downward to 25 ~30 ft.  BAM the right side ribbon rig went ballistic tearing off half of the spool in what felt like seconds rocking the reload strongly to my right.  I grabbed the rod and the fight was on.  As I thumbed the spool to slow the fish down the other rod went off with an equally violent strike.  What the hell did I just get into? 

There was no turning the boat to take a ride, both reels were screaming like pissed off banshees!!!

One was running 90 degrees to my right, the other 90 degrees to my left. This was a tenuous situation to say the least.  I recovered a bit of line bouncing from rod to rod before reaching for my camera.  Even at this point moments into the fight I am at over ½ a spool out on both reels.  With the camera on and the fish on the right side at a manageable distance, I swapped to the stronger fish on my left.  I thumbed the spool to slow her down and slowly began making up ground.  Yes, that is correct; I call the larger meaner fish on my left rod a she for a mean crazy woman I once knew.  The smaller fish on the right is a he. 

I began slowly working the big girl in.  Finally after the initial onslaught I felt like I had some control and was on the giving end with this fish.  I switched over and picked up more line on the smaller fish which was down to about 1/3 of a spool again. I made it to the top shot and had to go back to the big girl again who had dug into my braided backing again.  This time she came almost all the way up and made one shallow and fast pass before diving deep and hard for the bottom straightening my hook out of her mouth in the process.  She passed within 10 feet of the boat just long enough to show off her size and girth, and was gone. 

No time to curse the weak hook, as I still had a fight on my hands.  The smaller fish kept fighting for almost 10 more minutes circling and diving repeatedly.  This had my hook jewelry wrapped all up in his mouth and was not going anywhere.  That finally gave me a chance to catch some underwater footage of a big king.  As he began to circle tighter and fearing that I might attract a large tiger shark or bull I put the camera back and caught a perfect gaff shot on video.  The hooks were wrapped all into his gills and mouth so I decided I would keep him to feed the neighborhood with a big fish fry.  He was billied, bump boarded, photographed, and clumsily crammed halfway into my fish bag.  He maxed out my 48 inch bump board and was hanging halfway out of my 30 inch fish bag.  A passing power boater burned by me at this point within about 30 yards trying to catch a glimpse as he was trolling.  This burned the area for a good while. 

With three good size fish in the bag, kind of, and temperatures rising into the 90’s, I called it quits.  I packed down my boat for reentry and left my Helipad Honey hole to get my fish on ice.  I took up a steady cadence and covered the three miles quickly, enjoying every stroke with the new boat and paddle combo.  In retrospect I surfed into the beach around 11, not 10 as I had originally thought.  I hit the beach and quickly photographed and put the fish on ice. I stripped down to a swimsuit and began loading the truck; this would later prove to be a bad idea. 

Three hours later I greeted the rest of the group catching Travis and Bobby as they surfed in.  It turned out that they had mixed results at the big rig.  David picked up a limit of snapper, Travis had picked up a king, Bobby caught a single large smack and a bunch of undersize snapper, Tino and the others picked up a mixed bag of small kings and snapper throughout the day.  We loaded up and broke camp to head into town to clean fish and get food and water.  After cleaning the fish I received word that we were going to camp and fish the rigs in front of the Mayan Princess Resort South of Port Aransas, TX on Mustang Island.  I packed the fish in ice and headed that direction.

When I hit the beach on Mustang Island, it was packed with people enjoying the holiday weekend.  I was lucky enough to run into my friend Erik, who had taken up a space at our launch location in front of Mile Marker 80 in front of The Mayan Princess.  The group of rigs located straight out from the resort are referred to as the Mayan Princess Rigs.  The guys slowly trickled in to the site setting up their boats and tents as they arrived.  We watched massive bait balls get pummeled by birds and lord knows what underneath as we told fish stories and had a few beers. 

Mayan Princess Resort 

We watched the sun go down and one by one crashed.  I passed out early in my hammock from my sunburn accrued while loading the truck and waiting for the group to return earlier in the day.  David passed out in the bed of his pickup, Bobby and Erik crashed in their respective tents.  We all slept hard. 

Day 2 -  Mayan Princess Rigs

We awoke to thunder grumbling in the distance.  The sun rose behind ominous dark clouds.  As we began prepping to launch we were joined by Glenn “Prof. Salt” Madden, a local offshore kayak fishing celebrity.  He took a minute to size up the weather as he unloaded and was off like a shot into the surf.  We all followed quickly in stride.

This was a bad decision for me.  I woke with a sunburn, mild stomach pain and nausea.  I still don’t know if it was food poisoning or just a bad sun burn.  As anyone who spends a time on the water knows, open water is a catalyst for both good and bad situations.  My situation would later be magnified by the elements.  This would serve as a stark reminder that it can happen to anyone, even in good conditions.

I was determined and therefore I ignored the discomfort and shoved off.  I enjoyed punching the shorter rougher sets.  Once out of the surf I waited to catch Bobby on film as he launched.  While waiting I talked with Travis about things I had done to modify the reload such as sealing the tackle pod and cutting board.  As we sat and rigged outside the breakers, I took a moment to get photo and video of Travis and his new boat.  He headed on his way and again I sat bobbing in the rollers. 

Bobby sure does take his sweet time, but I guess if he keeps making great videos, who cares.  He finally came racing out of the surf, skirting a wave that had his name on it by feet.  It might make some great footage.  We took photos and joked about the dark clouds being the perfect storm as we meandered our way toward the first rig 3 miles offshore.  This was definitely not a trip for beginners with the possibility of a storm. 

About 2/3 of the way out, I dropped behind Bobby.   I began to feel much worse, not necessarily seasick, but possibly compounded by the heat and motion.  By the time I reached the first rig my body ached, my sunburn chafed, my head was pounding, and I felt nauseous throughout my body.  It clicked, I was dehydrated and overheating and may have a touch of food poisoning.  I am an idiot; I drank all of my water on the way out and had no food with me.  Dumb move Tod. 

I sat catching my breath and catching bait to free line.  I watched others around me hooking up on numerous kings but did not have the energy to do much of anything.  I paddled over and told David that something was wrong with me and I was heading in.  He offered to come in with me as we often do for safety.  I was so wiped out that I could only make short paddles of ¼ mile or so before I had to stop and rest again.  About halfway back in I cleared my stomach of everything which was next to nothing. 

David offered me a large Gatorade which helped greatly.  I took small sips after each short paddle.  As we approached the surf zone we were reminded once more of how small we are and how awesome nature is.  75yards ahead of us the largest hammerhead I have ever seen slowly finned past us.  It slowly slinked down the gut and slowly disappeared below the swells.  I won’t even try to estimate the actual size of the animal, but its dorsal fin with no back showing rose almost 11/2 ft. out of the water and the gap between the swirl of the tail and the dorsal was a big distance.  Let’s just chalk this up as a big fish. We sat in awe for a bit before continuing in. 

We both surfed in uneventfully. I finished the Gatorade, two waters, and immediately began feeling better.  A few hours later we greeted the guys catching video as they surfed in.  Stories swirled of amazing fishing, multiple species, and Professor Salt boating 13 King Mackerel.  They will tell their stories soon enough via YouTube and blogs. As for me I was envious but, I was happy to be feeling better even if it was only mildly.  Lesson learned, things can sneak up on you quickly out there and it is never worth pushing the envelope. 

We each packed up and cleaned fish.  I took a fish that had been donated to me and cleaned it for Erik who had become seasick and was forced to turn back.  He had told me before that his family loved fish.  I had enough in my cooler.  Sometimes you have to pay it forward.

In retrospect,

I had never met Travis, or many of the other guys before this weekend but I have a feeling we will all be getting together again soon.

The one thing that people do not seem to grasp about our sport, specifically this group of fishermen, is that we are a very tight knit community who watch out for each other. You could even call us a family of sorts, or a brotherhood. Regardless of all of the labels it comes down to the fact that we depend on each other for help and guidance on and off the water. This allows people of various walks of life to leave their daily problems on shore as they venture out beyond the breakers.

It is there on the swells, miles from shore that we find our peace of mind as we listen to the waves and intermittent screaming of someone’s drag. We work together and share in the rewards as well as well as the struggle and hardships that come as surely as the tides. We return exhausted, hopefully with a cooler full of fish, and sleep hard with the echo of a screaming drag taunting our dreams. Until the next adventure, Tight lines and stay safe!

Follow Tod’s adventures here on INSTAGRAM - @SAHunter_Outdoors