I’ve been using DOA lures for many years, but only recently have I spent time in Stuart and learned about the company and the people behind it. Mark Nichols, the developer of the first artificial shrimp, is a study in persistence, ingenuity and dedication. From very humble beginnings (whittling artificial shrimp out of wood and pouring plastics on his kitchen table), Mark has built one of the country’s most successful lure companies. And one of the most aspects of the business that makes him the proudest is that his is one of the only, if not the only, lure maker that manufactures every product in the U.S., using only U.S. made components. On a personal level, I have heard many people make the same comment that was one of my first impressions of Mark….in spite of his legendary status as a businessman, he is one of the most approachable people around. His dry sense of humor and accessibility makes him a great spokesman for his company.
Mark’s dedicated staff in Stuart are committed to customer service. Jerry McBride, DOA’s “director of fishing”, is an incredibly talented addition to the staff. Jerry spent many years as an editor at Florida Sportsman magazine, and is one of the finest kayak fisherman in the world. I consider him a good friend, so clearly he has poor taste in friends, but other than that, he is an accomplished chef, organizer, writer, and social media guru (I know that title will make him smile). Jerry and Mark travel all over the country giving talks about their lures, fishing in general, and kayak fishing. Jerry came up this past year to do a kayak presentation at the Gainesville Offshore Fishing Club that was the best presentation of the year. Jerry’s daughter Jenny (who can fish with the best of them) started at UF this year, and I have offered to be available to be available for questions from her in exchange for some favors, and the main favor was the chance to come down and spend some time in Stuart with the DOA folks and fish. So the day after the Reeling for Kids tournament, I headed down to River Palms Cottages, owned by another character who could merit an entire book, Rufus Wakeman. I’ve been down there several times in the past with Tommy Thompson, most recently last year during the CCA Interchapter Challenge tournament. The cottages are amazing, right on the water and in a tropical setting with fruit trees of all kinds on the grounds available for picking….everything from mangoes to lychees. A large thatched tiki hut is fishing central, and I had the opportunity to fish with several excellent local guides. Here are a few pictures of the weekend, which had some of the state’s finest fishermen, writers, photographers and hangers-on like me in for several days. And not just the state….we had people from North Carolina, South Carolina and California thrown in as well. Here are a few pics of the festivities….Mark and Blair Wiggins holding forth in the hut, and the view of the Indian River Lagoon from my cottage.
But the highlight of the trip was fishing. Jerry had asked me what I wanted to fish for, and given that I fish for redfish and trout almost every weekend, and that I grew up fishing for snook in south Florida, not far from River Palm, I wanted snook. The first day I had the great pleasure of fishing with Capt. Greg Snyder, a fantastic guide, and David Brown, a writer and photographer for Florida Sportsman magazine from Tampa. We ran out the St. Lucie inlet to fish the jetties, and within 30 minutes had three snook to the boat, including this fine 37 incher that Greg is holding. We were fishing 4 inch DOA shrimp on 40 pound leader and I was using my trusty Van Staal reel with 10 pound PowerPro braid, casting the shrimp alongside the jetties and letting them drift. Most of the battle was keeping the fish away from the rocks and it was exciting fishing.
After three fish, we had some live-baiters show up and the bite dropped off so we went into the river on some shallow flats to wadefish. Mullet were streaming from the deeper cuts onto and off of the flats and being hammered by snook everywhere we looked. Many just swam by our feet as we waded. We scored several more nice fish casting smaller shrimp and working them through the maze of baitfish.
The bite dropped off with the slack tide and we waded some of the flats to the east. We saw some large trout but never managed to get them to bite. David spent much of his time taking photos (he has some that he thinks will make some great Florida Sportsman shots) and really wanted to get a picture of a lookdown, a small but distinctive looking member of the jack family. We stopped at a shoreline that Greg knew held trout, and we caught a few small trout when I managed to actually get a nice lookdown to the boat, which made David’s day.
Day two I got to fish with Fred Caimotto, a young guide and manager of the Snook Nook, a Jensen Beach landmark that has been in the same location for at least 50 years…I remember going there as a kid. Fred and I fished the inlet early, and spent a few hours fishing docks in the St. Lucie River, just inland from the ICW. We saw fish but had little action except for a few small snook and some mangrove snapper. Finally I hooked a solid 27 inch snook right under a dock, which led to a frantic close encounter battle, with the fish wrapping around pilings, the trolling motor, and finally sawing through the light leader. We headed back for a lunch and I headed for my cabin for a rest. There was more to come on the final day…a kayaking day with the Hobie team.