Sea Trials Part Two: In Through the Out Door

A Led Zeppelin-fueled fervor overcame us. Thirteen miles off the coast of Virginia, we had navigated to a place that an 18-foot bay boat shouldn’t be. After all, it’s not an adventure until you do something that you probably shouldn’t do.

Of course the inshore plan went awry. It was always doomed. Six hours earlier, Yeoman First Class Nolen and I ditched the marshes. Oh, there were fish there … and plenty of them … but no reds; no sign of what we came for. The sea was too tempting. Its vast expanse of open blue water with gentle, two-foot waves beckoned like a siren. Heeding the siren’s call, we crashed through the rocky inlet and into the rolling waves of Big Blue on our own Odyssey.

The wild Atlantic. This was no bay, but only a hundred yards off the coast of Virginia Beach, 200-foot bait balls were swarming. They were full of false albacore, bonito and black tip sharks. Still close to shore, our tiny crew bristled with pride.

The gamble paid off.

A fly fisherman in a 14-foot johnboat cast gently into one of the spiraling dark swarms underwater. Clearly, he was the true warrior.

Nonetheless, we had arrived at the promised land. Like Viking conquerers, we would pillage this shoreline. “Saddle up Avid Inshore,” I thought, as we picked up a pair of the elegant ICAST Best of Show winners from St. Croix. “It’s time for war.”

When you find the bait ball…

Posted by Fishing Tackle Retailer on Monday, July 27, 2015

Hey—if this rod can handle a shark, it can handle a redfish or a tarpon or a snook. Right? The green rod shimmered in my hands as Nolen and I focused our attack on a buoy.

The fight was fierce, but not only between angler and fish. These fish had placed themselves (wisely?) amidst roaming packs of an angler’s worse enemy—tourists on jet skis.

“One. Two. Three! Bait ball!,” they screamed as jet ski after jet ski flew near our lines and over the best fishing we had seen in days. What madness propelled them to anger the sharks, I will never know. But it caused another kind of madness to overcome our little bay boat: the kind of madness that will even drive desperate men to leave swarming schools of fish.

This was a critical error. It was also the beginning of the true adventure. You know, the part where you do something you probably shouldn’t do….

But without any catch larger than a stingray, Nolen and I found ourselves in need of epic product shots. And there are few places on the Eastern Seaboard more epic than Chesapeake Light, a half century old, 120-foot-tall relic of the Cold War era. From our location near shore, we couldn’t see the light. But we guessed it was somewhere in that direction. Getting there would mean a 13-mile voyage off shore—through the international shipping lanes.

“I’ve seen it from the ship,” Nolen said. So, it was possible to reach the light—on a 500-foot long destroyer. Give or take 480 feet of steel, the world’s most advanced navigation system and a few Tomahawk cruise missiles, we would be fine.

We headed in roughly that direction. Cue Zeppelin.

[divider]Ramble On[/divider]

Thirteen miles is a long way on the water. Though we started the day with smooth seas, Big Blue was waking up. The two foot seas near the jet skis were picking up as we inched closer to the continental shelf. We counted the passing buoys one by one as Yeoman First Class Captain Nolen kept the little white Mako’s bow aimed in roughly that direction.

The ride was frantic and wet. We were running fast. A half hour passed as several container ships made their presence known in the shipping lanes they called home. Each of them were longer than an aircraft carrier. But we didn’t need tonnage or fog horns or Tomahawk cruise missiles to pass their channel, we had a map.

And … it was waterproof.

Suddenly, as we cleared a section of the map curiously labeled “Danger Area,” a tower appeared on the horizon. The tower was dingy, barnacle-crusted and caked with rust. A sort of control room clung to its side; an array of solar panels hinted that this relic was not quite abandoned, yet.

We had arrived at Chesapeake Light.

Product shots wait for no shipping lane.

(Click to enlarge. No, seriously…these were a bear to snap.)

What the product shots reveal are the fruits of ICAST. Out here, far away from the show floor, a new rod and reel combo really shines. This is where products are meant to be judged, it’s where the real voting will occur year-round by fishermen and guides and the tackle store owners who fuel their passions. Out here, the PENN Clash, St. Croix Avid Inshore and Costa Rooster live up to the hype.

There’s something to be said for a set of shades that help highlight bait balls like a pair of night vision goggles, and for a smooth new reel whose drag system seems ready for whatever the salty depths can toss its way. As for the rod? Even in an environment far from the inshore waters it will probably call home, the Avid Inshore stole the show.

The best saltwater gear of ICAST? Yea, it passes the test. But this was only the first. The true test will be the feedback tackle retailers get from the anglers who are out there everyday.

No, Yeoman First Class Nolen and I didn’t land any sharks or redfish or really anything more than a stingray and some false albacore.

But hey, we got some great product shots—and we didn’t get killed by SEALS.

Editor's note: FTR would like to thank LIVETARGET Lures, St. Croix Rods, PENN, Spiderwire, Yo-Zuri America, Costa and Incite Performance Wear for donating the gear and tackle from this story to sailors aboard the USS Nitze.