On The Hook: Redfish raving

BILL WALSH

It’s been a fishing run like no other. Redfish, if not the most sought after fish in these parts, is a close second. Only challenger would be the legendary snook. The redfish have always showed here in late September and provided a show of shows all along the backwaters and even out on the nearshore reefs. It was a fun time and you’d thrill customers with their one or two catches on a typical charter.

Now fast forward to this year. For some unfathomable reason, we began to see redfish in the sweltering heat of August. And they weren’t arriving in onesies and twosies; they were arriving in mammoth schools. They came in three flavors – juvenile pups to 10-13,” takeable slot fish from 18-27” – and all of those shadowed by the bull males to as big as you can imagine. A couple of their catches here in early September exceeded 40.”

Now, redfish are a highly controlled species. They are one of the extraordinarily superb seafood delicacies imaginable. Ever here of blackened redfish popularized by New Orleans chef Paul Prudhomme? After he popularized the dish the redfish was almost fished to extinction.

They were then designated as a game fish in the late 90s. That prevented them from being sold commercially. So you won’t find this fish on the local menu. Only way to imbibe is to catch one yourself.

The rules are strict. You can keep one slot fish per day but you must carefully release all the pups and struggle to do the same for a 15-pound-plus.

It wasn’t long before charter fishing reports in the local newspapers and online fishing reports touted captains catching as many as 20 to 30 redfish on single trip. Can you imagine that? Never had anything like that before.

But, alas and alack, nobody was here – around here in mid September it looks the scene from the movie “On The Beach” – remember when the captain extends the periscope and sees zero activity ashore. Same here – hottest fishing ever but so very few here to take notice.

Well, that didn’t stop one of my long time customers. His name is Henry; he winters here; summers in Ohio but his interest is here year around. He lives to fish and being seriously computer literate he absorbs most every tad of online fishing news published here in Paradise.

He locked onto the repetitive reports of the unparalleled redfish action and reacted. First came the email, “are the reports on the redfish anywhere near true?”

“Henry, they are 100-percent accurate. Never have seen anything like it ‘round these parts” was my response. Within two hours, there was another email; curt but complete. “Martha and I will be arriving Wednesday next. Like to book first day available. Henry”

A little background. Henry was like the Orvis Man. His fishing attire was right out of a showcase – spotless with lots or pockets, loops and velcro fasteners. His tackle was over the top. Loomis was his middle name. He was an accomplished fly fisherman; loved to fish for largemouth bass and had even placed in some professional tournaments. Over the years and many charters, it was clear Henry took NO fishing suggestions. He did his thing. I just drove the boat. Period.

We set a date mid September on a day with good outgoing tides, clean water and lots of heat. Martha and he arrived right on time; Henry resplendent in his summer supplex gear and sporting two or three spinning rods and a tackle bag stuffed with artificial lures. Martha was dressed in sun cover and toting a SLR camera. Henry was fishing; Martha was the photog.

The day had all the right factors; nice weather at least for the morning with light easterly winds into a moderate outgoing tide. Perhaps the best factor was the gin clear water that allowed one to see the redfish schools especially in the shallower water. With all systems go we rode up the ICW towards Naples. We would work our way down the waterway to slack tide at Hurricane Pass mid day.

With some hesitancy en route, I mentioned to Henry that just about all the action we were getting was on live shrimp worked on the bottom. He looked at me with a stare and retorted with “That’s nice – I’m going with artificials.”

Martha had a smirk on her face – sort of saying “what else did you expect.”

I set up on the best spot I know. One where the fish hold against a drop off and beg to be fed on the bottom. Henry was tying on Mirrolure Top Dog surface lures and had an assemblage of Rapalas and Zara Spooks if the Top Dogs didn’t work. They didn’t.

For a good 30 minutes, Henry expertly cast those top waters up under docks, under mangrove tree limbs and across fish rich waters. He did have a few landings however – one an 11” snook and a couple of ladyfish. Martha was taking pictures of egrets and pelicans.

We moved on. Maybe the next spot would have a surface feeding redfish. No soap. It was an absolute repeat of spot number one. Tried to have Henry switch over to a shrimp rig and he slammed the suggestion.

Frustrated, I asked Martha if maybe she’d like to give it a try – a very sweet lady she responded “Sure” and put the SLR back in the bag. I baited up a rod with a nice big frisky shrimp and cast it just off the edge of some brush behind the boat. Henry glanced over but continued to toss his Rapala towards the edge of the waterway.

Martha yelped as the line just took off with a vengeance heading for the Capri Pass. No question she had a mega redfish heading south. As the fish tired, I helped Martha with the technique of “pull up/reel down” and she did a excellent getting a big bull redfish thrashing alongside.

We didn’t lift the fish out of the water but a quick check with the fish stick indicated over 30”. Henry just stood there with his mouth open. That is until Martha said “Get the camera, Henry, and take my picture with this fish” He complied, reluctantly.

The trip ended shortly thereafter. Zero redfish for Henry. I asked Henry on the way home if he was disappointed.

He responded with sort of a malevolent stare.

Boy, is Henry fun to fish with!

Capt. Bill Walsh owns an established Marco Island charter fishing business and holds a current U.S. Coast Guard license. Send comments or questions to dawnpatrolcharters@compuserve.com.

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Comments » 1

NavyNedSon writes:

Great story. I really like the one a couple weeks ago about shark fishing. I realize now why you always played down the idea when I brought it up as a kid.

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