Kansan’s lone catch turns into $4,000 fish at wild kayak fishing tournament

Anglers fight to survive Gulf of Mexico riptides in wake of Hurricane Harvey

Ozawkie residents Isaac Jaap, 35, and Cody Simecka, 36, took off on the journey of a lifetime earlier this fall, a 12-day fishing trip spanning more than 3,000 miles that included a pair of saltwater kayak fishing tournaments.

 

The two are trying to get an outdoors YouTube channel started to capture their hunting and fishing trips. They hoped to link that to a GoFundMe page to help pay for their trips. As part of that effort, they were using GoPro action cameras to film their adventure.

The Texas Bluewater Kayak Classic at Port Aransas near Corpus Christi, Texas, had been rescheduled to Oct. 7 because of Hurricane Harvey, so they planned to first drive to Pensacola, Fla., for another kayak fishing tournament on Sept. 30 called King of the Island, then head to Texas for the Bluewater Classic.

They didn’t do so well in the first tournament, but Simecka said he ended up landing a 4-foot, 35- to 40-pound blacktip shark while fishing the surf before the tournament, so it was still a success. He said they knocked off a bunch of species from their bucket list, including mangrove snapper and red drum.

When they made it to the second tournament after an 11-hour drive to Port Aransas, Texas, they were told the riptides were terribly strong and they shouldn’t go anywhere near the water.

“They opened up a special category they’ve never done before to take people to go bayside instead of going to the ocean, because it was pretty gnarly,” Simecka said. “A lot of beaches closed down and they had the storm surge going on with the tides, and a super tide is what they called it at that point. Then you had like the super riptides that were going out.”

The following day, however, the waters looked fine, and they started paddling out toward some oil tankers in deeper waters.

“We get out there and like I noticed the current right off. I figured it was like a river coming out of the canal. Boy, was I wrong,” Jaap said. “It was just brutal. It took us, there were these big, anchored ships way out there, and it was about an hour and a half to get out to these ships where everybody was talking about catching these king mackerel and Spanish Mahi-Mahi and this and that.

“So we’re gung-ho, man, we’re rowing and fishing, dragging baits behind us, and I get some seaweed and I’m like ‘Oh man!’ because I’m thinking I caught my first pelagic fish ever, and pull it in and it’s like a big chunk of moss, basically, but leathery. So I’m kind of disappointed, whatever, throw out another ribbon fish — I’m fishing with ribbon fish — and I (also) had a big ol’ glass minnow or basically a long crankbait or something.”

He said they got within about 60 yards of a ship when he looked back. He thought his bait was caught on moss again, so he grabbed it and yanked it.

“Those ribbon fish, they’ve got three treble hooks in them, so they’re not gonna get yanked off that easy. Well, it didn’t come off, so I reeled it in and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t a 25-inch, 3.5-pound Spanish mackerel,” Jaap said. “It’s my first pelagic fish, I’m taking it. I hear they’re pretty good eating.

“So Cody, he’s got the fish bag, so I put it in there with ice and everything, and by this time the currents are so crazy. By the time I reeled that fish in and rebaited, we’re three or four hundred yards south of that barge. Never even got up to it. We were so far off I said, ‘Cody, we better go, this doesn’t seem right.’ ”

Jaap said the waves in the distance looked like the Rocky Mountains.

“They were every bit of 15 feet high, 40 feet long, just big ol’ rollers,” Jaap said. “So one minute you’re up in the sky and you can see these all those kayakers around you, the next minute all you see is just blue, man, it was nuts. You couldn’t really see land. You could see like a water tower and maybe one of the hotels.”

A riptide swept Simecka clear out of Jaap’s line of sight, and pretty soon he lost radio communication with him. The last thing he remembered telling Simecka was to make sure he didn’t go past the pier. Jaap said if he did, he’d probably die.

$4,000 fish

Jaap managed his way back to shore and started talking to some of the people at the weigh-in spot.

“These guys had already came in way earlier, and they talked to me like ‘How’d you do?’ and I said ‘I caught one Spanish,’ and they said, ‘No way, you have to get that in the weigh-in quick!’ At this point, it’s like 2:30, and you have to be at weigh-in at 3:59 and 59 seconds or you’re disqualified.

“So I’m like dude, the last time I saw my buddy, he was heading for the pier. And everybody’s looking at the pier and going, ‘Oh ****!’ So then a guy came up and said, ‘Hey, did you say you were missing your buddy?’ and I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said they just came over the radio and Coast Guard started a search party — not a rescue, come to find out there’s a huge difference when it comes to the Coast Guard, they already thought he was dead when they saw his kayak washing up on shore. Well, they didn’t realize he’d grabbed ahold of the kayak and just drifted in.”

In a panic now, he got on the radio and tried to contact his longtime friend.

“On the radio, I’m still calling out to him,” Jaap said. “All of a sudden, he’s like ‘Isaac, are you there?’ I call him Blondie, and I’m like ‘Blondie, are you OK?!’ He goes, ‘I lost everything, man, I lost it all.’ ”

Simecka did manage to save one important item, however. When he was scrambling to collect his gear that had come out of his overturned kayak, he reached out for what he thought was his lifejacket — it turned out to be Cody’s fish bag.

He got a ride back to the contest area, and Jaap’s first question was about the fish.

“He was mad, ’cuz I had to ask him about the fish,” Jaap said. “I was like, ‘Cody, man, please tell me you saved the fish?’ and he goes, ‘I got your mother effin’ fish!’ ”

He said they were told to get to weigh in as soon as possible, because no one had weighed in yet and half of the people weren’t even back yet, which was unusual.

“So we go to weigh in, and I walk up there and pulled this Spanish mackerel out and this guy goes, ‘That might be a $4,000 fish.’ I just kinda laughed and said, ‘Man, I drove about 3,000 miles for this tournament, so I’ll take it,’ and everybody kinda laughed.”

He said they left to get food, not expecting to do well — the winner of the first event in July had about 71 pounds, after all. When they got back, an organizer on the microphone was giving out raffle prizes.

“He just finally said, ‘Well let’s just get this over with, we’re going to go ahead and announce first place. I think he already knows who he is,’ ” Jaap said, “and I looked over at a couple guys from Texas and I asked ‘Have you guys weighed any pelagic yet?’ and they just looked at me and looked away, didn’t even talk to me.”

He was the only one to turn in a fish, though two people who showed up after the weigh in said they had caught fish. One of the anglers said he caught two king mackerel in the 30-pound range, but he also wiped his kayak out in the surf and lost his fish and equipment, so he didn’t have any proof of it.

The “Crazy Kansans,” as they were called by then, won a Jackson Kraken 15.5-foot fishing kayak, as well as a new Orion cooler, a trophy and a $2,000 check. Jaap also will get a free entry into a future tournament, which he said he’d be using to fish the Bluewater Classic again.

As for Simecka, who lost about $2,000 worth of equipment from his kayak, he was also taken care of. He got ahold of Vibe, which had used one of his photos for an advertisement, to tell them about their crazy adventure, and the company ended up sending him some replacement gear for his kayak.

As for the $4,000 fish, you better believe it’s going up on the wall.

RELATED: Read more about Cody Simecka’s fight to stay alive during the Texas Bluewater Kayak Classic

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