Nature Coast Redfish
The wind was howling already
as we stepped from the truck into the chilly morning air. The coffee had gone
cold, our noses were running and we hadn't even left the protection of the boat
ramp. We were determined to throw comfort to the wind (literally), brave the arctic
air and catch some redfish.
by Mike Thomas
began the slow idle out the Salt River on the south side of the widely recognized
Crystal River area. Once past the idle zone, we quickly jumped on a plane a picked
our way through numerous oyster bars and mud shoals. At times, it felt like a
carnival ride in a wind tunnel. The boat would slide left and catch, slide right
and catch, then hunker down and skate gracefully over the bottom scarcely a foot
below. One thing was for sure; the guy at the helm had better know where he was
Capt. Greg Martin has nearly
15 years experience fishing the badlands of the Nature Coast. So much experience
in fact he thought it against his better judgment to even bother sight fishing
on a cold blustery morning. However, my persistence is legendary.
Once out in the bay, we
cut south across the chop and shot into a one of thousands of creeks that wind
their way through the salt marsh. Our only chance was to get back out of the wind
on the leeward side of anything! As he came off of a plane and cut the engine
we started spotting redfish. They were schooled up in less than a foot of water
making them quite sensitive of our approach. The northwest wind was easily 20-25
knots and we drifted on them too quickly for a cast. Greg spun the boat around
and poled back upwind several hundred feet and staked out. "We'll wait a few minutes
for them to calm back down," he said with confidence.
Fifteen minutes later, we
eased the pole out of the bottom and positioned ourselves for a drift just off
the shallow area where the reds were sunning. Fifty feet passed, a hundred feet
passed...no reds? They had moved off, our tactic had failed. "This won't be easy,"
Greg commented dryly as our first opportunity was lost. We started the motor and
ran deeper into the heart of the sawgrass.
We ran through a small cut
between the sawgrass islands towards a junction of creeks. Greg killed the engine
and hopped to the platform. "From here on in we pole," he said. "You could get
lost out here." I said, mostly to myself. Greg answered quickly, "yes."
Putting thoughts of impending
doom from my mind, I focused on the shoreline as we slid in a creek closest to
our right. Instantly I began to see lines of redfish sliding down the shoreline
towards the creek mouth we just entered. With my spinning gear, I had difficulty
placing a cast sideways into the 20-knot wind. After several failed attempts,
Greg said "I'll pole us up and we'll fish back out, you'll be casting a little
more with the wind." As if I had a choice, I obliged.
After a few minutes of poling,
we reached the head of the creek. It narrowed into a thin finger that wound deeper
into the sawgrass. Crystal clear water was pushing out, and schools of pinfish
darted in and out of the mouth. Suddenly, Greg spun the boat and stopped. "Break
out that fly rod, quick!" he ordered. I removed the fly rod from its holder and
stripped out a few yards. Knowing that I couldn't possibly pull of a cast in the
wind, I salvaged my pride by handing the rod to Greg. As I held the boat in place
with the pole, he hopped up front and began making false casts toward the shore
(nearly upwind). I struggled to see what he was targeting but could not. Then,
as the fly landed softly, inches from the bank, I saw it! A nice redfish was moving
slowly towards the mouth nearly hidden in the grass. The fly landed just in front
of his nose. The fish never changed pace; it simply slid over and engulfed the
fly. Ten minutes later, we photographed and release a 26" redfish.
The drift down the creek
proved equally eventful. We landed two more in the 26" range before relocating
to another creek. At the head of the second creek, we were treated to a slalom
of sorts. The creek wound its way in a series of 'S' shapes and narrowed to slightly
wider than our skiff. At one point, the creek made a 180-degree turn and then
opened into a pool. Greg let me climb on the platform to take a look. On the other
side of the strip of land was a school of 4 redfish!
Stupidly, I whipped out
a cast with my 8lb. Spinning rig. Almost as the jerk bait hit the water the reds
pushed towards it. One twitch and it was engulfed! Now attached to a hefty redfish,
I began to wonder how I was going to land it. The redfish took agonizing minutes
to tire, as the small pool only allowed restricted runs. Nearly 15 minutes later,
he began to tire. I moved towards the bow and prayed I could coax him down the
creek run towards the boat. With almost no pressure on the line, I led him like
a horse on a lead. Moments later I photographed and released the 33" red.
The rest of the redfish
in the pool had vanished into the muddy depths after my extended battle stirred
up the bottom. We let ourselves drift back out the creek. The redfish we spotted
on the drift out were quite skittish. "This creek is a lot smaller, they can feel
us in it due to the pressure change," Greg commented. They did seem more nervous.
Having caught more redfish
in one morning than most of my days on the water, I was pleased. The wind had
picked up, which made the temperature feel like it had dropped. At my request,
Greg poled out and headed towards home. Our total for a blustery morning was four
reds, 5 cups of coffee, and two runny noses.
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