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We spent our last day in Bahia Honda fishing until lunch and then shooting some other bits for the show in the afternoon. James and Jim got into fish that morning with Jim pulling in the only grouper of the trip, but I actually got skunked. I was a little disappointed to end the fishing trip on that note, but nothing was happening for me that morning.

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(photo: Will Richardson)

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There was a little section of the island James and I explored where the rocks created a narrow chute you could paddle through. If you timed it right a swell would come through and propel you through the chute without even paddling.

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At lunch we did some other pieces for the show and began the packing process. Edwin’s daughter, Daisy, brought out some of their pet birds and Abuelo came around with some hand carved wooden bowls he had made. They were beautifully crafted and looked as if he took a lathe to them, but he assured us they were all made by hand. I think we all went home with multiple pieces.

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12625499323_70ded72662_c(photo: Will Richardson)

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Once James and I were finished with what we needed to do we headed for a last little fish in the bay with fly rods in hand. We headed for the mangroves and started working the edges. I had a few follows from some small mangrove snapper and James thought he missed a snook, but we failed to bring anything to hand. Coming from an inshore background I think it would have been really fun to devote a whole day to fishing the bay, especially the area around the mangroves. It has great potential for the light tackle fisherman. The bay is completely protected and was a great place to fly fish. I blame not catching anything on the fly rod because I didn’t have my whole arsenal of flies. It wasn’t for lack of fish, that’s for sure.

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I got to say James paddled the Big Rig the whole trip and he kept up remarkably well. It may be more at home in shallow water and around the mangroves, but I was surprised at how well it handled the open water paddling and swells. It was definitely impressive and it comes with more bells and whistles than a stealth bomber.

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The next morning we loaded up the panga with our stuff, said our goodbyes to everyone, then headed back down the coast to Santa Catalina. Staying in Bahia Honda with Edwin and Rosalind was a real treat. Their hospitality is unmatched and they have an incredible set-up to host kayak fishing parties. The fishery they live on is amazing, we barely scratched the surface during our visit, so many species, so many different opportunities. I know the big fish potential is there because we saw that with Jims rooster. If you want to check it out for yourself get with Hennie at Paddle Panama. He was an excellent guide during the trip, very knowledgeable on Panamanian fishing. He took care of everything while we were there and runs a real top notch operation. The only thing we were left to worry about was catching fish.

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12625870233_e0b521968b_c(photo: Will Richardson)

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After the long taxi ride back to Panama City, we had enough time to get dinner at a restaurant that was around the corner from our hotel. It was a much more authentic experience than T.G.I. Friday’s and the food was pretty darn good too. Glad we got to experience that while we were in Panama City.┬áThe next day our flights weren’t until that afternoon, so we put on our tourist hats in the morning and went to tour one of the Panama Canal locks. The size of the ships and the amount of elevation they have to rise in order to cross the country is impressive. As well as the fact that the canal was completed 100 years ago – quite the engineering feat. To think that the Post-Panamax ships that will come through once expansion is complete will dwarf those that are going through the locks now is mind boggling.

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After the locks we had one last meal in Panama City – dim sum, on Hennies recommendation. A Sunday tradition for he and his family and I got to admit that was pretty darn good as well. I can’t say enough good things about what Hennie has to offer here in Panama. Besides the trip we went on I think he has three or four other options available that showcase what the country has to offer for the kayak fisherman. We said our goodbyes to Hennie as he dropped us off at the airport. I hope it’s not the last time I see him because it was a blast spending time with him and I’d love to get down there again. Like I said we barely scratched the surface.

There was enough time at the airport for one more beer with the guys before we parted ways. I had never met Jim or Will before the trip and getting to know them was a lot of fun. I thought the dynamic of the group was great, which made for some really entertaining conversations. I hope to fish and work with all of them again in the future. This was loads of fun and proved to be a great learning experience. I have a lot to be thankful for to have had this opportunity. Now it’s back to the real world of dirty diapers and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse for this guy.

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Saturday

Saturday’s weather forecast was a little misleading. Depending on what website you checked it was going to either be better or worse than Friday, but it wouldn’t be the same. Turns out both were right. It was better at the start and at the end, but way worse in the middle.

Jameson and I decided to hit a different spot on day two, one that gave us a better chance at catching bull reds. We got to our spot, got rigged up, and before we could even take off fish were attacking bait right next to the launch. So we tethered ourselves to the boats and made a few casts. I pulled out an 11.75″ trout, not quite eligible for the tourney. Deciding that these were all probably small trout we shoved off. On the paddle toward our first stop I commented to Jameson “I think we’re about to get rained on” and not five minutes later it started. It was a light sprinkle at first but with time it got heavier. Before it got too bad I managed to land a 17.75″ red to get on the board.

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Then all hell broke loose. It was raining sideways as the wind was ripping. Luckily the spot we fished on Saturday was full of mangroves and I was able to tuck myself right along side them and keep fishing. I made it over to a cut with some moving water and started missing a few strikes. I was finally able to land a 13″ trout. I now had two fish and was feeling pretty good because in this weather anything was possible.

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Jameson and I stayed as close as we could tucked to the mangroves and halfheartedly fished through the storm. When we saw a flash of light in our periphery we knew it was time to get off the water. Just around the corner was a camp, we decided to paddle over and ride out the storm under the shelter of a tin roof.

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That was pretty much the only lightning we saw, but decided to let the heavy stuff pass before we headed back out. While under the shelter all I could think was what good are rain pants and a rain jacket if I’m still soaking wet underneath? Water ran out of my sleeves as I held my hands down by my side. I couldn’t think of a time when I had fished in worse conditions. We wondered if we’d get a phone call from the folks at the IFA soon telling us to head back in for safety reasons, but that call never came and I’m glad it didn’t.

Things eventually calmed down and we made it back out on the water. By this time the tide had nearly fallen all the way out and all the nearby marsh banks had exposed mangrove roots sticking out of the water. It didn’t take long to hear the redfish working. As the water fell out of smaller tidal creeks into larger channels, redfish began to stack just below the outfall. I picked up a nice upper slot red at one of these spots.

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That would have been a perfect BCKFC tournament red, but at the IFA I was looking for above slot redfish. As Jameson and I began working up a narrow bayou a redfish made some commotion along the mangroves behind us. I threw a fly in the direction of the shrimp popping out of the water and was hooked up immediately. I was a little unprepared for how big this red was though. Here I am in a bayou no wider than eight foot with razor sharp oysters exposed on the left side of a bend and a tangled mass of mangrove roots occupying a good bit of the right side and only enough room for a kayak in between and of course he wants to go downstream. I somehow avoided getting cut off by the oysters, but the redfish managed to get wrapped around the mangroves and I couldn’t pull him free without actually going in after him. So I get as close as I can to him and park my kayak with the stake out pole. I lay down on the Cuda 12 and start pulling in line with my hands right at the bow. Finally I see his head amongst the mangroves, the fly is firmly planted in his jaw, but he’s in mangrove roots like it’s a jail cell, so I finally manage to pull his head out of the water and drag him into the boat. Let me tell you hand lining a 28″ redfish is a chore. You can see the oysters and the mangroves I was working with in the pic below.

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I couldn’t believe a redfish of that size was back up in there, but I was definitely relieved to get him in the boat. Eventually that creek got too narrow and we had to turn around. When we came back out to the main channel there was all kinds of nervous water. We spotted a big redfish cruising with his back out of the water. Jameson and I were both casting to him and I managed to hook up. I could tell something was wrong though because he had a lot more leverage than is typical in a redfish fight and it wasn’t due to his size. Turns out I foul hooked him in his dorsal fin so unfortunately this fish wouldn’t count for me. It would have been an upgrade too at 29.5″.

We kept at it, having a heck of a time watching redfish crushing bait in narrow mangrove lined creeks. The oysters finally did their work and as I hooked up on another redfish right at the boat the line broke in half. Soon enough the tide switched and once water began to fill those creeks it seemed like someone turned the lights out on the activity. The water muddied up and things shut down.

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Jameson had a decent slot red and just needed a trout to finish out the day so we headed back toward the spot where I picked up mine. I let him have the hole and wouldn’t you know it he pulls a 17″ trout out of the water. With that fish he actually was an inch up on me for the day. We called it quits soon after that and headed back to the launch. With 41″ I figured I didn’t have much of a shot to make the top 15, but I still thought we made the most out of a crappy weather day.

It was a lot of fun to hear everyone recount their day at the weigh-in. Weather was the main theme among the competitors. Someone flipped their boat while a wave took them into a jetty. Another lost a paddle only to have it recovered two hours later by a friend. The IFA tournament has an accompanying television show on NBC Sports network and for the Championship a camera boat follows a different competitor each day. They didn’t get much footage on Saturday because the weather forced them off the water.

There were tough conditions for everyone and those that persevered were rewarded. Good friends and fellow BCKFC members Steve Lessard and Brendan Bayard took top honors overall.

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Steve won the tournament with around 114″ total and Brendan finished second with 105″ and was angler of the year on points. Jared Waites of Florida took third place at 104″. The rest of the results are below:

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Although I didn’t think I had much of a shot at placing I was actually able to move up from 13th to 8th and took home a check! Weather was the great equalizer and just catching four fish to put on the board over two days was challenging enough for many competitors. At 8th place I was actually the top paddler of the group – I’ll take those little victories anywhere I can get them.

The tournament as a whole was a lot of fun, the fishing ended up being pretty good despite the conditions. The conditions are what make it a challenge and I think that just adds to the fun. It was cool to meet some other Jackson teamers and spend some time fishing with Jameson, who ended up 18th, just three places out of the money. I know he wants to come back down next year for some redemption.

A tentative schedule for the IFA events in 2014 was handed out at the weigh-in and it looks like the Louisiana events are scheduled for May 18th in Empire and August 3rd in Lafitte with a potential championship Oct 17-18 in Houma again. Those dates and locations are subject to change. Hope all the kayak fishermen out there consider joining the fun next year.