I paddled to the ship parking lot in search of water that didn't look like chocolate milk, and when water at the first big barge only had a foot of visibility, I went to the next ...and the next ...and the next. Every ship I came to resulted in fewer and fewer paddlers following me but I soldiered on, determined to find clean water and the fish I needed to win. At the second ship, another angler and I paused as we let our baits drift deep. We were observing the marks on the ship that indicated depth. One large swell went up to the 20 foot mark, and the trough that followed went at least four feet below the "zero" mark. We looked at each other with wide eyes, knowing this was pretty crazy conditions but shore was a long ways back. I finally approached the fifth ship, but to my disappointment the visibility was still 1-1.5 feet. Fish were nowhere to be seen. I was supposed to meet my son at the truck by 1:00 (he was fishing the jetty while I was offshore), so at 10:30 I began the hard paddle back to shore. Winds had kicked up and were varying 15-20, and the clean swells that I enjoyed earlier were now chopped up with wind swells and breakers from the Northwest. Crud, this was gonna be a rough paddle home.
I kept the hammer down and took hard pulls, using my core to dig myself forward so my arms could avoid some of the work. My right elbow was beginning to ache, and it reminded me to keep proper form as I slogged toward shore. I hoped I would have plenty of time left so I could fish around the end of the jetty and at least pick up a few Spanish Macks, but by the time I got within a mile of shore I knew there would be no time to spare. I know very well to pack more water and Gatorade than I anticipate needing, and it came in handy. What seemed like current pouring out of the jetty was actually the shore rip sweeping around the jetties and shoving me away from shore. I finally realized what the water was doing and turned south to work my way out of the worst of it. At Horace Caldwell pier I finally escaped the strong current and enjoyed the slower 1-1.5 mph battle and headwind to get back to the jetty for the protection it offered from the surf. Thirty minutes later I was able to slip to shore, and only had to deal with two breakers that were average size. At the shore I was wiped out, but gathered by gear and loaded up. My buddy who needed a ride back to the weigh-in was nowhere to be seen. I began making calls and he turned up a mile or so down the beach. Surf down there was running 6 foot or larger - he turtled but managed to get ashore missing only his borrowed VHF radio ...but Davey Jones was not paying attention and the radio washed up on the beach a few minutes later.
There were lots of struggles, lots of yard sales, and turtles were a dime a dozen. Everyone was sore and tired, and only one small fish made it to the weigh-in. A 3.5 lb Spanish took the win (the first event required over 70 lbs to take first). That's why we call it fishing.
These were the largest swells I have ever paddled through, but they wouldn't have been bad if that unrelenting current hadn't been so fast. The surf was big, but not big enough to discourage a few hardy souls from getting through. Most of us discovered the jetty and its protection, but many were unable to get back to that pocket on the return trip, so they were forced to run the unforgiving surf. Thank goodness everyone was wearing a quality pfd, as I believe they made the difference for a few anglers.
Paddling a kayak offshore is not something that every person should consider, especially in conditions like we had Saturday. I was glad to hear that many had the presence of mind to consider the surf carefully, then to change game plans and hit the bay instead. Tournament officials were gracious enough to create a slot redfish division, so those folks had a shot at competing without the challenges waiting offshore. I was happy to see that.
Today my soreness is better, and the blisters are beginning to harden and add a new layer to the callouses that were already well established across my palms. I made some great memories and will remember this tournament for a long time. Y'all know I enjoy a challenge. I even enjoy big swells as long as the surf is workable. Still, I'm not sure I'd do that again given the same conditions. It was tough!