Behind the Scenes Part I: Hooked on Wild Waters, St. Marks River

Drone shot of me in my Coosa HD on the St. Marks River. Wakulla County, Florida

I had the huge honor to be invited by Drew Gregory to be his show guest and to fish and be filmed with him for episodes of his “Hooked on Wild Waters”. The filming took place in early March, 2019 in my backyard of Wakulla County, in the panhandle of north Florida. The two resulting episodes will include both saltwater and freshwater locations and they will air later this spring. 

Drew Gregory’s RV at The Wilderness Way, Crawfordville, Florida.

It was quite an eye-opening experience into what makes his show so beautiful and fun to watch. The process entailed long days with lots of prep and shuttling and rigging and logistics and waiting and a bit of fishing and tricky camera work out of our Jackson Kayaks and boats and little sleep and doing it all over again for multiple days. Really tiring but so worth it! 

Robert Baker guiding the RV and trailer of Jackson Kayaks down to the launch.

As a bit of background, I’ve been following Drew Gregory’s kayak fishing journey for years. We first met in 2013 at the KBF Invitational at Santee Cooper, then in 2015 and 2016 at the RiverBassin Tournament Trail events held in Crawfordville, Florida. We became Jackson Kayak family when I joined the JK Fishing Team in 2017. I’ve been fishing out of the Coosa HD that Drew designed and I  watch his amazing adventures as he travels the country to fish with folks in their unique wild waters. And Drew kept track of me and the big bass I was catching through the RiverBassin online tournaments. With a shared love for the beautifully diverse and wild waters in my area of Florida and with the hopes of catching some of its nice fish together the decision for the location was made! 

Getting prepped for the day’s river float and filming.

Drew had coordinated the film-shoot dates and the community support to help fund the project through my local Jackson Kayak dealer, Robert Baker, of The Wilderness Way and Reel Fin Addict Fishing. Robert was lined up as the show guest for the saltwater episode and was also the main force behind arranging the shuttles with his staff, securing other community resources, people to help and expertly commandeering the camera kayak for the river shoot.The day before filming began Drew and his wife, Cristina and 10 month old son, Theo arrived by RV from Charlotte, NC. His photographer, Brandon Kennedy, also arrived. While the rest of us were filming the episodes, Cristina and Theo were exploring the St Marks Wildlife Refuge where Cristina photographed amazing wildlife encounters. 

Getting some rigging shots before we hit the water.

Our first destination for filming and fishing was the St. Marks River in Wakulla County. We would be doing a nine mile float down to the takeout at Newport from our launch at St. Marks Rise. This is where the spring-fed river comes up in a 40 foot deep “boil” (rise) after traveling underground at nearby Natural Bridge, a perfect moniker. The Rise area holds significance for both Drew and for me. We each have vivid memories of experiences here from years ago. 

An honor to be Drew’s show guest! We did an opening segment to introduce the episode.

As a child, this was a place that I spent many happy hours exploring at my family friend’s house on the river. Us kids would swim close to the safety of the dock that had been cleared of some of the scary eel grass that tickled our legs. When we paddled up to The Rise in canoes I would try to be brave and not show my fear of the deep spring water or let the other kids know that I was terrified of the free-ranging cracker cattle that munched grass along the banks. My imagination had them stampeding into the water on top of us!

Drew and Robert set up the equipment.

I described this and other thoughts of being a scaredy-cat kid in this recent blog: 

https://www.jacksonkayak.com/blog/2018/12/15/kayak-angling-confidence-confessions-scaredy-cat-kid/

This area also happened to be the site of Drew’s 2010 famous goose attack that was captured on video and soon went viral. An amorous goose that had been following alongside the kayak saw its opportunity and with great beating of wings caused Drew to fall out of his kayak into the water. In case you’ve never seen the spectacle here is a video link: 

Our whole crew met early for a hearty breakfast at Savannah’s Restaurant. We shuttled the pick up vehicle to the take out and then all rode over to our launch in Drew’s RV where we unloaded all the gear. Bill Goodroe then drove the RV back to The Wilderness Way in time to open up the shop and work while we played. Thank you, Fishbaitbilly!

Getting some drone footage.

After rigging up our kayaks with fishing and camera gear and getting prep footage and drone shots of the river, Drew and I got filmed doing an opening spot for the show. Then it was time to launch for the nine mile float down to the Newport ramp. Drew and I were fishing in great all round river kayaks, identical Coosa HDs, while Robert and Brandon’s camera boat was a Big Tuna, perfect for handling two people and all the photography gear. 

Lots of nice bass on the beautiful St. Marks River.

We started catching fish right away by dropping creature baits by trees and overhangs along the bank and running baits on topwater. Our camera crew did its best to get footage of all the action but what they missed was picked up by the multiple GoPros we had staged on our kayaks. The top of the river by our launch was full of eel grass and other vegetation, very similar to another spring-fed river that I fish, and we all felt that we could have just stayed there to fish the entire day. But we needed to move downstream and fish to our destination. 

Some very pretty shoals.

As we made our way down the river the thick beds of eel grass thinned out and areas of limestone rock formed beautiful shoals. Many of the bass we caught were hitting lures that we flipped into clumps of vegetation. The others were coming out from the banks to smash topwater offerings. I picked some bass up by throwing paddletail swimbaits into pools right outside creek mouths. 

Camera crew in the Big Tuna!
Awesome job, Robert and Brandon!

The flow of the river was just right for moving us forward as we fished under the tree-lined shade. 

Filming Drew’s catch and release.

At the takeout at dusk we loaded up and did a quick on-camera interview before calling it a day to prep for tomorrow’s saltwater trip. What an insightful experience and a great time on the river! I looked forward to what the next day would bring! 

Flipping into the vegetation was productive!

The St. Marks River episode should air later this spring and can be seen on YouTube and on Waypoint TV. 

Check out Part Two of the adventure in my next article! It details our hunt in saltwater for redfish and trout the next day with a trip to the coast at Panacea, Florida and a fun family float down the Wakulla River.  

~Jean Wilson

Jackson Kayak Fishing Team

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