Written by, Eddie McRae
For months, I had been waiting in anticipation for the season-opening Super-Regional tournament of the RiverBassin Tournament Trail (RBTT), on March 7th in Crawfordville, FL. The RBTT is a tournament series that is specifically oriented and created with the river-fisherman/kayak angler in mind. Crawfordville is located in an area known for its beautifully wild rivers that boast some great fishing as well as breathtaking scenery and amazing wildlife.
The plan was to drive down on the previous Thursday afternoon and spend Friday doing some scouting and pre-fishing to get prepared for the Saturday tournament. As much as I hate it, the results…Epic Fail. But, even though we didn’t fair well in the tournament itself, it was a great experience and I saw some absolutely beautiful rivers with magnificent scenery and wildlife. What follows is my story.
I had done quite a bit of research on the local rivers near The Wilderness Way, and decided that the St. Marks River would be our choice. My teammate, Nick Dyer, and I headed out late Thursday afternoon, drove down to Crawfordville, and set-up camp late that night at Shell Island campground. We awoke the following morning and headed to the Hwy 98 launch access on the St. Marks. Upon arriving, we immediately noticed that the river had an extremely strong current, something we were not expecting. Our plan had been to put in and fish our way up river and then drift-fish our way back down. But after seeing how strong the current was, I knew this was going to be a battle. And after doing some quick research on the iPhone, we realized that these conditions were the result of tidal changes. It hadn’t occurred to either of us that the St. Marks would be so affected by the tide. Those of you that know me or are familiar with my methods know that I am primarily a wade-fisherman. My kayak normally only serves the purpose of getting me from Point-A to Point-B. I rarely fish from it. When strong current presents a problem with getting upriver, I normally just wade my way up. However, since we were in Florida, and I suffer from a personal health condition commonly known as “ I’mNotGatorProof”, wading was DEFINITELY OUT of the question. Getting upriver was not going to be easy.
At any rate, we decided to go ahead and give it a try. We were in the water and fishing by 7:30 a.m. By 9:30, the tide had ripped a tremendous amount of water out of the river, leaving us with nothing to fish but a mud-bottomed center canal. The waterline had recessed at least 60’ from the banks which left no fishable habitat or structure in play. We had each caught a few small fish but nothing larger than 13”, and it was at this point that I decided that this was definitely NOT the river for us. Nick, however, disagreed. It took some persuading to finally talk him into leaving to go check out another local river, the Wacissa. I was immediately impressed when we reached the boat launch at the head springs of the Wacissa. It was absolutely beautiful, and looked to be prime habitat for some big bass. I realized that I was correct because, within 2 minutes of hitting the water, I looked down to see a nice 20” plus largemouth hovering below me. Within an hour, I’d seen at least 5 additional big river bass, and had missed one big bite and lost another. These fish were definitely wary and spooky because of the crystal clear water. As a general rule, you can bet that if they’ve seen you first, there’s no way in the world to get them to bite. It was going to take some tactical finesse to catch these fish, but in my mind, it was definitely doable and I was happy to risk my tournament on it. Nick however wasn’t so enthused and was still convinced that the St. Marks would produce. So, after much debate, and against my better judgment, we decided to fish the St. Marks on tournament day.
Daybreak of tournament day found us, once again, entering into the extreme tidal current of the St. Marks. To shorten this longer story, the results were no different than those of the previous day. By 9:30 a.m., the tide had stolen all of our fishable water and had left me feeling like I’d just been street-mugged. Nick had only caught one small fish, and I had not received one single bite. Conditions were so bad that at 10:30 a.m., I suggested that we needed to get our butts and boats out of that river and head back to the Wacissa while we still had a little bit of time left to save grace. By that time, Nick had managed to boat a second small fish and was still firmly convinced that the river could pay off. Again, against my better judgment, we opted to stay and grind it out, but it was a futile effort. At the end of the day, I still had not gotten one single bite. Nick had managed to boat 5 small largemouth and Suwannee bass, and not one of them was larger than 13”.
We both knew that our chances of finishing well had disappeared as quickly as all the water with the tide. To make matters worse, this would mark the first tournament in the history of my entire life that I finished with a big ZERO! Skunked! Oh the shame!
I was extremely disappointed and disheartened. I had high hopes of finishing well, but instead, finished the exact opposite. BUT, I can say this…..all was not lost! I learned some valuable lessons that, I promise, will never be forgotten and will certainly help me to finish better in the future. I learned that accurate pre-tournament research is crucial. I also learned that I need to trust my gut-feelings and intuition more. Plus, I saw some of the most amazing waters that I’ve ever seen, and I met some great and friendly people.
At one point, I met a young guy, Cole Landry, from the LSU College Kayak Fishing team. As he and I sat floating and talking side by side in the river, we witnessed a small red-shouldered hawk wage war and wreak havoc on a huge bald eagle that was circling above us. What a sight! We could only wonder what in the world that hawk must have been thinking!
I saw everything from river otters, to alligators, to herons. The experiences alone were well worth the trip.
If you, like me, love to visit new places and fish new waters, then you should definitely check out the River Bassin Tournament Trail. It’s a great series that will give you the opportunity to experience some marvelous places, fish some magnificent rivers, and meet some wonderful people.
Eddie McRae is an avid wade-fisherman and kayak angler from Woodbury, GA. Born and raised on the Flint River, Eddie has spent most of his life chasing the legendary shoal bass on both the Flint and the Chattahoochee. While being a member of Feelfree Kayak’s pro-staff and fishing team Eddie also represents Optrix, Culprit Fishing, Flying Fisherman Sunglasses, Throwback Fishing, YakAddicts, and Team Manley Rods. Eddie spends over 100 days a year on riversthroughout the southeast. Additionally Eddie also enjoys hunting and outdoor photography.