Author: Patrick Meek
A lot of uncontrollable events has happened in the past few months that have taken me to a place that I did not want to be. I've had to deal with the new way of life like others have had to due to Covid-19, my dog / best friend passed away unexpectedly from cancer, Hurricane Sally aftermath, new work schedules, job future / stability. Some days I would wake up and not feel like getting out of bed, much less leave the house. Depression was setting in and it was obvious to anyone who knew me that I wasn't myself.
Depression (noun) - A mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed.
Hurricane Sally rolled through the NW Florida panhandle which caused a major destruction to the easiest access to the beach. Barges were left unattended and knocked out the new 3 mile bridge access from Pensacola to Pensacola Beach. My loyal friend / dog who was only 5 years old was diagnosed with cancer and passed away. I've worked in the offshore oil & gas industry for over 30 years and due to Covid-19, I'm having to go from working a 14 on - 14 off schedule to a 21 on - 21 off with an extra day of hotel quarantine before flying out to my rig. The new presidential administration has a target on the oil & gas industry's back, so it's safe to say I've been worried about job security. Building solar panels was never my retirement plan.
My "happy place" has always been the beach ever since I was a young boy. What use to take me 15 minutes to get to now takes me nearly an hour, even longer if you figure in a stop at the bait & tackle shop. When I left for work in January, I was determined to get myself back on the right track when I returned home 22 days later. It just so happened my TWIC card was about to expire in April, so that would give me a good excuse to go visit Panama City and get away from it all. When I returned home, I scheduled my appointment to have my government official TWIC renewed and my wife and I rented a small cottage in Laguna Beach where we use to go as kids.
We made the 2 hour road trip to Panama City with 4 surf rods loaded in the truck and after I finished my business at the TWIC office we made a stop at Half Hitch Bait & Tackle to pick up some live shrimp. We found an easy parking access near our cottage and tried surf fishing for a few hours until the rain started to come down. No bites, but it was good to be back on the beach doing what I love.
The next morning we were back on the beach very early and low tide had just passed. The air temperature was warm and would be in the lower 70's for that day with a lot of fog. We started fishing the incoming tide and there happened to be a break in the sandbar with a rip straight in front of our location. About an hour later, the Redfish started biting.
The day was still early and it was already a success. Surf fishing in February can be difficult due to the lower water temperature, but we had crystal clear water and kept grinding. A few hours later, the Pompano decided they wanted to come out and play.
I had found again what made me happy the most and it did not require a doctor's prescription. All it took was just being back on the beach doing what I do best.
Back at home, my whole attitude had changed. I was back to doing things I use to do. I respooled some reels with some fresh 30 lb. Bullbuster braid, I started looking (and ordering) some extra beach cart features. I was interviewed on the Northwest Florida Fishing Report podcast. Ordered some new lead weights, performed some reel maintenance, double checked all my gear and could not wait to get back to the beach even if it was an hour drive out of the way. Life was getting back to normal again.
A few days later when the weather permitted, my wife and I made the detour and took the trip over to my favorite fishing hole on Pensacola Beach. We set up 5 surf rods and fished the incoming tide for a few hours with no bites. It started getting late and my wife was getting cold, so she left to go wait for me in the truck. The sun had just set and I have always had good success no matter what the tides were doing at sunset. I knew that my wife had enough for the day and to make a marriage work there has to be a balance. Even though I could have stayed all night in the cold, I told myself that I would give it 15 more minutes and pack it up. About 10 minutes later a noticed one of my surf rods where I had tossed into the first deep trough 20 yard away from the beach get slammed! After a 7-8 minute battle, I reeled in a nice 6 spot Redfish. I brought the Redfish over to my beach cart to grab my pliers to unhook and measure it and as I'm down on one knee taking the hook out, I hear my Van Stall VR50 that I have set in the rod holder on my cart start screaming in my face! I looked up and saw my 9' rod bent over towards Cuba. I quickly grabbed my surf rod out of the beach cart holder and began another little game of "tug of war". Using the waves to my advantage, I landed a nice 26" slot Redfish. I quickly measured the other Redfish and it measured out to be 28".
I safely released the over slot Red and caught me some seawater in my 5 gal bucket. I packed up everything and made my way back to the truck where my wife was patiently waiting. She started helping me load the rods back in the truck first and when we started to load the beach cart up, she was surprised to see that we were taking groceries home. She was all smiles and so was I.
The next day, I prepped my Big Green Egg after about 3 months of nonuse and grilled the fresh Redfish straight on the half shell for a delicious evening meal.
The next week, I made it a point to make the drive back to Pensacola Beach to get in some last minute surf fishing before heading back offshore for 3 weeks. I was able to fish for half the morning and all afternoon. Each time I checked my bait, nothing had been touched. I had 5 surf rods set up. 2 were cast over the bar, 2 were cast to the inside ledge of the bar, and 1 was cast into the dark trough between the beach and the bar. I could have left and moved to another location, but I felt like where ever I moved to, it would probably be the same result. My gut told me to stay put. Again, the sunset bite doesn't usually let me down, so I stuck around and waited until the sun set. Just before the sun set, I added some fresh bait to each cast and added a glow stick to each rod. The full moon was out and the surf was rolling in. It wasn't long until my short rod cast was picked up in the first gut 15 yards from the beach. Grinding, patience, and persistence had finally paid off. Within 10 minutes and after a fun fight on 20 lb Bullbuster braid, I landed a nice 33" Black Drum which was later released.
Depression is a serious illness and when left untreated it can negatively affect how you feel, the way you think and how you act. The beach is where I go to lose myself and find myself and when Hurricane Sally took that away from me, my loved ones saw a major downhill difference in me. My dog's memory will live on forever, the new 3 mile bridge is scheduled to be repaired by the end of the month, I still have a good job even though I hate the work schedule, and I have a wife and family that love me very much. I was born to be a surf fisherman. It's what makes me who I am. I don't fish for money or fame, I fish for my health and sanity. The tug is the only drug I need.
Until next time...
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