Bound for Key West

My daughter Alexis and I will soon be driving to Key West for our third annual family vacation there. We’ll leave on a Wednesday and spend a few days fishing together. Lexi is a sophomore at Polk State in Winter Haven, Fla., where she’s studying occupational therapy. I couldn’t be more proud of her.

My younger two kids, Bobby and Amberley, have already started school. Madeline will bring them down Friday evening so we can be together over the weekend.

Lexi and I plan to be wading and casting for tarpon Wednesday evening. When we see one rolling on the surface, we’ll cast a jig dressed with a nuclear chicken Berkley Gulp! Saltwater Shrimp to it.

The tarpon we catch typically run 10 to 25 pounds. If they were much bigger than that they’d be too much for our spinning tackle. Our Abu reels hold 200 yards of 10-pound Berkley Spiderwire Dura Braid that we tie to a 20-pound 100% Berkley Fluorocarbon leader.

When we hook one of those silvery beasts, it explodes out of water and strips 100 yards of line off the reel. You only land maybe one out of every five you hook. Even when one gets off, it’s a thrill just to see it go airborne.

Lexi and I have fished a lot of local and charity tournaments together. After our vacation, she’ll be participating in a benefit tournament called Kick Cancer in the Bass. It’s for Madeline’s aunt who’s battling cancer.

Now that Lexi is fishing tournaments with her boyfriend, “Big Fish” Kenny Garand, I don’t get in a boat with her as often as I used to. He’s a good kid, and he’ll be with us this weekend.

Lexi and I will probably wade for tarpon again Thursday morning and then go jump in the swimming pool. In the evening we might go permit fishing from a boat. We like to drift over a reef in the evening and tempt bites with live blue crabs.

Lexi, Kenny G and I were the only ones who fished for permit last year. The heaviest permit Lexi and Kenny caught weighed 25 and 29 pounds. My biggest went 45 pounds.

We’ll be staying on an island in a home owned by Greg Dornau and his father, Peter, who co-founded the Star brite company in 1973. They’ll be there too.

When the rest of our family arrives, we’ll be doing a lot of other fun stuff. We’ll probably go snorkeling again at Alligator Reef where you can see bull sharks, barracuda, snapper, tarpon and many other saltwater fish in their natural environment.

Bully netting for lobster is also loads of fun. We arm ourselves with flashlights and a bully net and sneak around over shallow flats in a boat. When you shine a light on a lobster, it freezes like a deer in the headlights. That gives you a chance to sneak the net behind it. When the lobster spooks, it darts backward into the net.

Last year we also went down to Big Pine Key to the National Key Deer Refuge. It’s the only place in the world you can see endangered Key deer. Their average weight is about 65 pounds.

It’s going to be a great weekend where we can all have a good family break, kick back and relax.

When I return home I’ll get ready for back-to-back the Bassmaster Opens Elite Qualifying tournaments at Watts Bar and Lake of the Ozarks. Two weeks after that I’ll be home to compete in the final EQ at Lake Harris.