Drove 800+ miles through Florida for KOTI 2019
Written By: Michael Ponce
Date: October 13, 2019
Things happened quickly after Keith Morrison and I agreed to give away a trip to Los Buzos Resort in Cambutal Panama. A few social posts later I was on a plane from Los Angeles to Orlando where I would meet up with our good friend and partner Ivy Harris aka Urban Legend.
Ivy known for his logistics did not disappoint as he had everything lined up including a great dinner at a Columbian/Peruvian restaurant. Without skipping a beat I was resting in my hotel for the night thinking about the next few days in the Panhandle. The next morning we got on the road and started the 400+ mile journey to Navarre with a few stops to meet our friend Jose, grab lunch and and gear up at Half Hitch in Destin.
Once we finally made it to Destin we stopped at Half Hitch to meet Barrett Fine. First thing out of his mouth was do I need a kayak and who is tying my rigs... Let me start by saying I already like this guy. I don't even know him and he was quick to help a fellow traveling kayaker, it says something about our industry. The guys loaded up on sabikis and then we made the final push to Derrick Benton's kayak fishing hostel in Navarre Florida. Upon arrival we are greeted with cold beers and hot spaghetti (score another win for the kayak fishing industry and the South)
As if we weren't tired, we stayed up late, prepped gear, put back a few beers and talked a healthy amount of shit until we called it around 1:00 AM. We had to be up in a few hours to fish with Ed Hornsby, Fred Lavid, Barrett Fine, Derrick Benton and our crew from Orlando. That alarm came early and we quickly left Derrick's house for Santa Rosa Island where we would meet our crew.
After an easy launch in great conditions we picked off bait and loaded the tanks. This was about as easy as it gets... put your sabiki in and wait 4 seconds. No one struggled to make bait, including this Florida rookie. After the tanks were topped off, we charged to the fishing grounds; a series of artificial reefs recently built for the kayak fishing industry. The grounds were relatively close and easy to get to with little wind and a slight current.
I hooked a few snapper, but ultimately lost them. I did however land a good sized trigger fish and got smoked by a cobia or a king. The action was there, but the experience was lacking on my part. I learned a lot and know what I need to do next time. I also look forward to using my own gear (I decided to travel light). Round two will be different as I will be better prepared and know what I am dealing with now. I look forward to it. Fred, Derrick, Ed, Jose, Barrett and Ivy did just fine. Look at the grip and grin (Ivy with a nice snapper) and yes, it was released.
After a painful landing (for some of us, and surprisingly not me) we licked our wounds, washed our gear at the nicest ocean kayak fishing launch I have ever used and loaded our gear back up. Our "quick" fishing session ended up being an 8 hour outing which meant we were STARVING. We stopped for some Whoppers and played 'let's hide the hamburger'. It was a photo finish, but you know this beef cake finished strong.
Onto the Captain's meeting where we met the anglers and I got to finally meet some of our southeast US followers and some people that I have been personally following since my early days of kayak fishing. It was nice to finally meet Brandon Barton, Benton Parrot and John McKroid Jr. Anglers were fired up to get out and fish the next morning with some people even heading to 3 Mile Bridge to catch huge bull reds. The southeast US kayak fishing community is hard core - dedicated to get the most out of every day and night.
Once again that alarm came early for the guys as they wanted to be on the water by 6:00 AM. The guys struggled to find the fish they needed, however fish were brought in to be weighed (Jose, the quietest guy had the magic touch and weighed a Spanish mackerel). I haven't mentioned how freaking hot it was, 90+ and humid... nothing for the southeast US natives, but for this guy... it was damn hot.
The moment of truth was finally here as we gathered at Jelly's Beach BBQ in Pensacola for the weigh-in, raffle and awards. Piles of fish were brought in indicating that the field had a good day of fishing. There were a lot of rumors going around that a 40 lb. Kingfish was landed. It turned out that those rumors were true!
Offshore Slam - Billy Centrone
Billy is heading to Los Buzos Resort courtesy of KOTI 2019 and Fish Village. His massive Kingfish scored him an all-inclusive trip to Los Buzos in Cambutal Panama. He will have 5 epic days of fishing with Adam Fisk and team. Congrats Billy - we are fired up for you!
Fish Village guide Brandon Barton won the Reef division with an impressive black snapper... congrats again Brandon, you make it look so damn easy.
I had a great time at this event as it provided me with an opportunity to connect with kayak anglers and learn about a new fishery. As a result of the time spent with Derrick Benton and his compadres, we now have something special to offer you all in June 2020. Stay tuned for our announcement this coming this Tuesday 10/15.
Thank you Keith Morrison, Derrick Benton, Barrett Fine, Fred Lavid, Ed Hornsby, Benton Parrot, Brandon Barton, Jose Gonzales and Ivy Harris for taking care of this SoCal dude. You were all fine hosts and I appreciate everything from the airport transfers, hotel stays, house stays, kayaks, gear borrowed, food, beer and introductions. I can't say enough!