Iffy conditions didn't stop us from having a great time in Rockport, Texas with home state retailer Academy Sports + Outdoors.
I knew this was the case based on my colleague's attendance at two previous Cast 'N Blast trips hosted by the retail giant, and I was ready to head to Rockport, Texas for an outdoor adventure with the kind of folks who know how to have a good time.
The basis for this year's Cast 'N Blast trip with Academy was a little different; we'd be saltwater fishing for redfish during the prime of the season, and dove hunting in some fields known to produce great opportunities. What we didn't anticipate was the dicey weather we'd encounter, but it didn't put too much of a damper on things. The group of media members, Academy-endorsed influencers, and dedicated employees made sure of that.
Off and Running
Having lived in Texas as long as I have, I was more than familiar with Academy. It's where I regularly pick up my annual hunting and fishing license, where I stop to gear up my kids for youth sports or tennis shoes, and where I grab refills of outdoor cooking and grilling supplies. Since the hunting and fishing sections are regular stops for me anyway, I was eager to get some extra insight as to what Academy had been working on lately.
After arriving and joining several other attendees, we set out for the Portland, Texas Academy store to get a firsthand look at some of the newest gear being offered by the in-house brands that have helped make the retailer so successful. Among the most popular is Magellan Outdoors, the hunting, fishing, and outdoor apparel label, which has become a staple in the Texas community. We saw everything from Magellan Outdoors fishing shirts to camo boots to camping coolers, and even got an insider's view of the latest iteration, Magellan Pro.
Magellan Outdoors Pro takes things up a notch, with more premium materials, features, and attributes without a terribly increased price point. For the same sort of quality and efficacy as high-end. brand name gear, you'd expect to pay almost twice as much as the Magellan Outdoors Pro gear costs. It's a serious upgrade to an already-reliable brand, and it puts Magellan OutdoorsPro next to any other line of established camo, fishing clothes, or footwear.
While we toured the Academy store, we also zoomed in on the H2O Xpress line of fishing gear. The fishing rods and reels were designed with input from Academy's sponsored pro anglers, and again help prices that were competitive among the high-end items you can find down any angling aisle in any other sporting goods store. The idea that Academy is able to exclusively produce and sell such impressive stuff is huge.
We wouldn't leave the store without getting a heads up on the shotguns we'd be putting to use, and that gave us a chance to take a close look at the Yildiz line, another Academy exclusive. It's the only American store where you'll find firearms from the Turkish gunmaker, and the level of quality in these shotguns is the sort you'd only expect from a $1,000-or-more item.
The Turkish walnut stocks are beautiful, the blued barrels and receivers adds a nice touch, and the engraving on several models is second to none. Academy did a great job of capturing scenes that embody the Texan hunting heritage, including dove and quail, and etching them into the receivers. Some of the newer models come with a steel receiver option, and they all come with a selection of useful chokes.
On top of all that, we got the inside scoop on Academy's recent acquisition of the Redfield line of optics, formerly owned by Leupold. Everything from rifle scopes to red dots to binoculars from Redfield are now available exclusively at Academy, which is maintaining the legacy built by the brand, with an intention of increasing product availability and versatility. If you're at all familiar with Redfield optics, it's nice to know they'll be continuing on with a trusted owner behind them.
The main takeaway from our store tour and brand familiarization circulated around one thing: value. The prices were extremely competitive and it was no wonder Academy saw serious potential in creating and offering more great gear. We were all eager to put it to work, and we'd get our chance the following day.
That work, however, would be slightly delayed. Our group was up and at 'em in the wee hours of the morning, but the thunderstorm outside kept us from keeping our schedule. The late start was tough to accept, but the forecast called for clearer skies and a break in the bad weather mid-morning, so we waited it out.
It gave us a chance to learn more about the squad of Academy influencers who were along for the trip, including pro anglers Greg Hackney and Stetson Blaylock, Galveston fishing guide Michael "Sharky" Marquez, and chef extraordinaire Jess Pryles. It was great to know Academy was aligning themselves with such cool people who were not only personable, but knew their stuff when it comes to the outdoor lifestyle.
The wait also gave me time to think about something I was reminded of. There's a quirk among anglers in this area of the Texas coast, commonly referred to as the Coastal Bend. While most other inshore and offshore saltwater fishermen employ a spinning reel or large open face reel, it's the baitcaster that wins the day around these parts, especially for wade fishing. Something about the control and precision a baitcaster allows caters to this style. I was ready to follow the "When in Rome" strategy, but the stormy winds would convince me otherwise.
When we finally got to the docks and loaded up the boats, I opted for the H2O Xpress Saltwater Spinning Combo and some plastic swimbaits. There were several local guides there to help us along, and everyone was happy to finally get to test out some gear. Even though we were provided with an exceptional pair of Magellan Outdoors Pro Waders, the water was warm enough to hop in wearing only the Pro Angler Technical Pants, Fishing Shoes, and Gaiter Hoodie. The perks of fishing in this spot in late September are many, including overall water temps.
The morning would prove a little difficult, and include a little more rain, but I managed to pull one keeper-sized redfish to the H2O Xpress Floating Net that was attached to my Quick Draw Wading Belt. It was one of the few caught by the whole crew that morning.
A few more more fish, including speckled trout and flounder, were landed but the angling never materialized into as great of an experience as anticipated. Oh well, that's fishing for you.
Our morning wrapped up and we pointed ourselves towards the dove fields. Luckily, the hot South Texas afternoon that developed after the storm was no match for the Magellan Outdoors Pro camo we were supplied with. The folks at Academy know full well that hunting in Texas kicks off well before the temperatures drop, and that's especially true for dove hunting. Whereas most other deer and bird hunting brands anticipate cold fall and winter temps when designing their apparel, the minds behind Magellan Outdoors know shooting dove when it's 90 degrees out is almost a guarantee.
The moisture wicking, ventilated, UPF protective Eagle Pass Short Sleeve Button Down Shirt was ideal for this scenario, and the Landman 3.0 Hunting Boots provided the snake protection needed for these sorts of warm weather hunts.
I wish I could say I pitched in more on the dove hunt than I did the fishing, but only three birds fell to the shots from my Yildiz. The more seasoned and skilled wingshooters in the group came through, and we had a slew of doves to breast out and prepare for cooking.
That's where things got especially interesting, because the meal we had prepared for us by Pryles would basically steal the show.
Eating With a Hardcore Carnivore
Even though the fishing wasn't spectacular and the dove hunting had diminished statewide since the season opened a month prior, we still had an excellent time testing out new Academy gear and enjoying ourselves amongst like-minded outdoorsmen and women.
But perhaps the highlight of the whole trip involved a different kind of testing: taste testing.
Chef Jess Pryles, originally from Australia and now living in Austin, Texas, has a knack for creating amazing meals using her signature line of spice blends and seasonings aptly named Hardcore Carnivore. It isn't meant strictly for wild game, but Pryles is a huge venison fan and accomplished hunter herself. She joined us at the dove field and prepared what was easily the best meal I've had in months.
It put a smile on everyone's face, a great taste in everyone's mouth, and served as an ideal cap to a great trip.
Ultimately, this was the kind of experience I loved to have in Texas. Fish for something unique in a setting unlike any other, hunt for a migratory game bird in a style that's quintessentially Texan, and grub down with a bunch of awesome people who share your passions. There's nothing quite like an Academy hunting and fishing trip.
It culminated in one of the coolest recap videos I've ever seen, and a perfect way to set this trip to memory for years to come.
To find out more about all the outdoor gear available from Academy Sports + Outdoors, head to their website or stop into one of their 259 stores in the South, Southeast and Midwest. You don't have to be a Texan to love Academy, just an outdoor enthusiast who appreciates great gear for a very reasonable price.
I've now got a Cast 'N Blast trip to measure all others against, and it'll be dang tough to beat.
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