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  • Rob Baker

Fishing on hells bay with a waterman


I was lucky the other day, and had a chance to spend some time on a boat in Mosquito Lagoon with a good friend and experienced angler. It was windy and the water was quite choppy, and at running speed the waves came overtop the bow and smacked us pretty hard. In my kayak it would have been "hell" on the bay, but we had nothing but fun!

Sam's boat was a Hell's Bay Boatworks 18 foot Waterman. The Waterman is a flats boat and technical poling skiff and floats in 4.5 inches. It's a fishing machine for skinny water that my kayak won't float in (with me in it). The actual Hell's Bay is a region of backwater in the Florida Everglades, and I assume that the Hell's Bay Boatworks name was based on that area where poling skiffs are the best fishing vessels on the water. Air boats can get around in Hell's Bay, but the fish won't be unaware of you.

Everglades backwater where flats boats rule the seas

I've been known to pine away staring at the websites of my favorite boat builders. Hell's Bay Boatworks is now my new favorite, and the model I like best is the 25 foot Estero bay boat. The Estero is a hybrid that can fish a lot of places.

Sam and I left the Haulover Canal ramp and headed north in the lagoon channel into a stiff 18-20 mph wind. The plan was to go up to marker 22 just north of Tiger Shoals and head east. The strength of the wind coming from the N-NW made that turn too wet, especially for me sitting on the port side. Instead we opted to turn west and find some protection from the wind, and fish around the spoil islands on the west side of the channel.

Sam had the right touch and caught a couple of small seatrout, and an unwary baitfish that went back out on the next cast (it wiggled off eventually). I had one strike from what was likely a seatrout, but it didn't stay on the hook (sounding familiar isn't it). Lunch was magnificent - chicken salad sandwiches, chips and a cookie with Pelegrino to wash it down.

The ride back south in the channel was wet. Standing waves from the tide change working against the wind were spaced pretty close together. Hitting one and bouncing up meant diving down into the next. I rescued the GoPro from it's perch early on before things got wild. The bilge pump was running like a finely tuned top. I had to remember to keep my mouth closed, as 20 mph saltwater goes in a long way unhindered.

We splashed our way to a point south of the canal boat ramp to a sheltered stretch of the western shoreline that should have been good for fishing. Neither of us was lucky in the second half of the day, with the exception of my little Berkley Gulp 6 inch shad being masticated by a puffer. Google "puffer fish teeth" and you'll understand.

The ride back was rather pleasant. I had a lot of fun just riding in the boat. Sam is an experienced waterman (are you piecing together the word play?), and gave me a few easily digested pointers on how to increase my odds of catching rather than just fishing. My angling is, as ever, an ongoing work in progress.

Areas of improvement include casting farther, jigging more effectively to simulate a wounded fish, and using more stealth on the approach. Hell's Bay boats are known for their soundless capabilities - something purposefully designed into the hull and components. Kayaks are pretty stealthy too (see my manatee post from Aug 6, 2017!), but I know I won't get the same casting distance from a sitting position as I would standing on a deck. Casting far simply allows you to reach fish that might not be wary of you or already spooked.

Sam felt that our limited success that day was largely due to the cold front that was pushing through Florida. The air temperature change combined with a few lingering effects from Irma likely made the fish a bit more shy and hard to find. The water was cloudy, so sight fishing was almost impossible. We tried to clue-in to the possible presence of predator fish based on baitfish actions. The water level in the lagoon had been elevated above norms since Irma, which means there was still a lingering surficial layer of relatively fresher water that probably pushed larger fish deep. The lagoon is tidal, but it mixes poorly with the Atlantic through a very tight northern opening at Ponce Inlet and with the Indian River through the Haulover canal. Evaporation and tidal mixing will sort the salinity out soon enough, and hopefully the extensive oyster beds can clarify the water a bit.

Anybody wanting to contribute to my Hell's Bay boat fund should send me an email! As a token of appreciation, I'll send you small to large things my wife would like removed from the storage unit.

#seatrout #redfish #hellsbayboatworks #mosquitolagoon #polingskiff #flatsboat #technicalpolingskiff

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