By Rusty Chinnis
sun staff writer
Being an outdoor writer won’t make you wealthy, but it does put you in touch with some of nature’s finest moments. The fishing motivates, the travel inspires and the camaraderie creates lasting memories. Combining all of these into a three-day adventure is priceless! On July 22 through 24, I attended the annual DOA Outdoor Writers/Guides Outing at River Palms Cottages and Fish Camp in Jensen Beach near Stuart. Without a doubt, Stuart has many of the state’s saltwater sport fishing opportunities. Add some of the state’s best guides, first class accommodations, fishing’s preeminent lure company and a host of outdoor writers from around the country and you have an event that ranks with the very best.
I made the trip across the state on July 22 with my friend Captain Rick Grassett. This is an event we have attended almost every year since it has been held (6 of 8) and one we eagerly anticipate. The area, including the southern Indian River Lagoon and the St. Lucie River, has a tremendous inshore fishery that includes large trout to 10 pounds plus, tarpon, redfish, pompano and huge snook. The ocean also offers a chance at false albacore (bonito), sailfish, permit, tripletail and a host of other species.
On the first day of fishing, I was paired with Captain Greg Snyder, a veteran local guide, and Paul Hetherington, of Oakley Sunglasses. Snyder picked Paul and me up at the River Palms dock at 5:30 am and we took a 30-minute ride in total darkness to a jetty in the St. Lucie Inlet. Snyder knew the importance of arriving early to avoid the noise and traffic of this popular inlet, and he proved it when he landed a 41-inch snook with a DOA Nite Glow Shrimp on his third cast.
After landing another 10-pound snook, we left the fish biting to make a run up the north fork of the St. Lucie River for tarpon. Tarpon are one of my favorite species, and the Stuart area has tarpon fishing in spades. The numbers of fish to be found in the ocean and inshore waters rate the area as one of the world’s top tarpon fisheries. Snyder and his friend, Captain John Meskauskas, had found a number of willing tarpon and snook in the upper reaches of the river the previous day. When we arrived the tarpon were there, but weren’t biting. Snyder theorized that it might be the bright sky. The day before under a cloudy sky, the tarpon had been feeding and action was consistent. But tarpon are tarpon, so we settled for some consistent snook action along the mangroves. Later that morning, we did find some willing tarpon at an area known as Five Fingers where I landed two on a DOA TerrorEyz.
Hetherington and I then got to experience some of the area’s fabulous ocean action when Snyder took us to a local landmark known as the House of Refuge. Built in 1875, the House of Refuge is the oldest structure in Martin County. It served as a rescue center for shipwrecked sailors and now houses a museum. This historic structure, perched about 10 feet off the water on the edge of an ancient reef, created a dramatic backdrop as waves crashed against the reef sending white spray into the clear summer sky. Most dramatic of all though was the huge tightly-packed school of glass minnows that schools of tarpon, mackerel, Jacks and blue runners had pined against the reef. The tarpon once again proved finicky, but the other species eagerly attacked our DOA lures.
After getting our fill catching and releasing fish on the beach, Snyder took us offshore to a navigation buoy that was teeming with bait and false albacore. These hard fighting members of the tuna family were crashing baits all around the boat, and I had a feisty 12-pound fish attack a silver DOA TerrorEyz. After a brief visit to the beach, we headed back through St. Lucie Inlet and back to the River Palms for a cold shower and a barbeque.
River Palms Fish Camp is the perfect location for this fantastic event. A collection of renovated, old Florida cottages are positioned on a bluff landscaped with 80 varieties of edible plants, fruits and medicinal herbs, palms and spreading live oaks. An authentic Florida Seminole chickee hut sits next to a sand beach on the lagoon adjacent to the resort’s docks.
On the second day, I fished with DOA Founder and President Mark Nichols and Houston Chronicle Outdoors Editor Doug Pike. Although we had to be back at the dock at 11 a.m. for Pike to catch a flight, we managed to catch several redfish, a 5-pound trout, a couple of small snook and jumped several tarpon. Many quality fish were caught during the two-day event, all on a variety of DOA Lures. These artificial lures are so good at catching fish that they have catapulted Nichol’s Company from a backyard garage operation to one of the world’s most popular brands.
To experience this terrific fishery, contact Captain Greg Snyder at (772) 201-8501. Check out his Web site at www.riverhawkcharters.com. For accommodations that will provide you with an experience that you’ll keep you coming back for, call River Palms at 1-800-305-0511. Check out their Web site at www.riverpalmcottages.com. To see the complete line of DOA Lures visit their site at www.doalures.com.