A strange vibe, alligators, shell crackers and MORE!
As we were driving to the address where we were going to be meeting our fishing guide for the morning, Captain Debbie Hanson, I immediately felt something was odd. "We" being my wife Dana and our two dogs Sophie & Squirty. (Debbie was kind enough to allow them to tag along after I explained the dogs love being on the boat but have absolutely no interest in jumping in. This was important as on occasion a gator might be sighted in the area.)
Having never been where we were headed before I couldn't believe how big Punta Gorda, FL is. We were planning on meeting some old friends of Dana's near Fisherman's Village in Punta Gorda after our fishing outing and assumed it was going to be close. Turns out it was over a 30-minute drive away!
As soon as we neared Babcock Ranch, the vibe felt different. I felt like we were driving into a scene of the Stepford Wives or The Truman Show. Something just wasn't normal.
It got stranger and stranger the closer we got. BUT, we were going fishing with none other than Debbie Hanson, so we went with it. You see, Debbie's been a bit of a mentor of mine ever since the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation recommended I reach out to her to get advice about producing some content for their Takemefishing.org YouTube Channel. I looked up the content she's provided for them in the past and was immediately impressed by her professionalism. I phoned her for advice. Between both of us traveling, Debbie down in the Keys and myself in the midwest with a poor service provider, it took a while for us to finally connect. But when we did, I couldn't believe what an open book of advice she was. Debbie is the real deal.
She's been supporting and encouraging kids, beginning anglers and women for some time now through her blog at SheFishes2. And now she's doing it hands-on as a USCG Licensed Captain. Not only that, she's learned to be a great fly angler as well.
Ever since our initial introduction and conversation, our paths have crossed and her name has come up many times. Between Barb being a judge with her at last year's IBEX Innovation Awards in Jacksonville and an avid fly angler showing me she was using one of Debbie's fly rods at a community casting event on the Redfish Rodie Roadtrip, I knew we had to have her as a guest on our show.
What I didn't know was that one day in the very near future I'd be interviewing her in person after having the opportunity to fish with her on Babcock Lake which is in Babcock Ranch- the United States' only solar-powered, self-sustained community...
Ahh. That explains why it felt so strange. It was definitely a different experience than one I've ever had before. Different especially than any of my previous Florida fishing adventures which have all been either on the Gulf or inshore.
First of all, this was a lake. An old aggregate mine in fact. Full of many species including Black Crappie, Largemouth Bass, Florida Gar, Blue Tilapia, Spotted Bass and more! Oh and there just happened to be an alligator hanging out there that morning too which totally freaked Dana out. Ummm...where'd it go???
Lake Babcock is not a big lake by any means. It's a mere 300 acres. In fact, you're not allowed to use a gas-powered motor. Debbie had an electric trolling motor and oars to get us from one tried and true spot to the next.
The bite was tough. A cold snap had just moved through. Even the gators were lethargic. We were using my favorite baits that I use back home in Nashville on Percy Priest when the bite is tough- a Yamamoto Senko and the trusty Ned Rig. (Quick side note about the Senko I learned from Jen Ripple of DUN Magazine one night over dinner...it was inspired by an ink pen! Mr. Yamamoto looked at this pen, thought this would make a great bait and used it as the mold! Look at the Senko next time- it looks just like an ink pen!).
Our last stop was a spot we'd tried earlier where Debbie knew a couple big bass like to hang out. It was near one of the floating docks. You had to get the bait in just the right spot...after a couple of casts BOOM! I was lucky enough to catch a beautiful Redear Sunfish a.k.a. Shell Cracker on our trip! I haven't caught one of those since I was fishing Marrowbone Lake in Joelton, TN years ago! They're beautiful fish, and this was a good-sized one too. Hard fighter. Super exciting!
Unfortunately, we were on a bit of a timeline due to the lunch date so we had to end our fishing adventure a bit short in order to have enough time to record our conversation for the show and still make it in time for our lunch date all the way in Punta Gorda...ha! Captain Debbie was extremely accommodating and we had a great conversation that I think you all are going to really enjoy!
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