I enjoyed spending a little time with the kids at the Donald's Bait and Tackle fishing tournament.
Around 40 showed up, most with their parents or grandparents in tow, to fish the boards below the Dunlawton Bridge in Port Orange. The kids brought in a wide variety of saltwater species and each catch was accompanied by a chorus of squeals.
The morning began with sea robins and, of course, those homely and prickly bottom feeders inspired a lot of questions about the name. Except for the wing like fins, I had little to offer by way of explanation. Spots, croakers, silver perch, sailor's choice, mangrove snapper, bluefish, grunts and flounder also came up. I had a great time at the free tournament and congratulate Donald's for providing the bait, tackle and prizes to get the youngsters out fishing. Good Job!
You know one of the things that makes fishing fun is the fact you never know what you may catch. While I was under the bridge with the kids, I couldn't help but gaze out at nearby Pelican Island where Al Houser caught a giant barracuda a few years back. That catch was totally unexpected. Not long ago a fellow managed to land a big goliath grouper that had been busting tackle under the bridge for months -- a rare catch, indeed.
Recently I had another strange experience while wading the Tomoka Basin area. As usual I was out at dawn in the Green Peanut. Once at the park, I beached it and began to wade. Early on I caught and released a pair of small trout. The aggressiveness shown by those two 12-inch fish when they hit my jig made me smile. Next I caught a flounder that was also too small. I was beginning to see a trend. It looked like this was to be a throwback morning.
Just then at the end of a long cast I felt a solid hit and set the hook hard. Right away I could tell I was hooked up to something heavy and strong. All right! This had to be a big redfish. As soon as I set the hook, the redfish shot away eastward at a speed I have seldom seen. I applied pressure and watched my spool empty as the drag on my little #25 Okuma reel hummed. That spool does not hold much line and soon I knew I had to make a move to try and stop the run. Taking a chance on breaking off, I pulled back hard. With that my adversary made a quick u-turn and came right back at me so fast I couldn't reel fast enough to take up the slack. Man, I thought, this thing is a rocket. I was standing in a couple feet of water and working hard to try and keep up but could not.
Just then I saw my foe -- a big green sea turtle zooming right at me. Before I could blink, it crashed into my legs sending me into a pretty snappy version of the Tennessee clog as I hopped around from one foot to the other. What a mess. The loose line had the thing tangled and I could see my jig in its left front flipper. I pounced on it in about eight inches of water and pressed it to the bottom. I looked about hopelessly for help but I was alone with the thing.
Now, as you know, a turtle has a long neck and a pretty impressive beak of a mouth and this fellow would probably weigh in at around 12 pounds. No small creature. As I worked to reel up my line and try and get the jig from its flipper I had to be aware of the big mouth at all times. Just as I got all of the line back onto my reel it popped right at the jig and the turtle shot away. I was sorry about that, but I can tell you the jig was not hampering the turtle's movement. My gosh, that thing was fast. You know when they say "as slow as a turtle" they were surely not talking about sea turtles.
I am pretty sure the barb would rust off my small hook in a short time and the jig would fall out. I hope it did not cause the turtle too much distress. In the meantime if you see a big green sea turtle with a Grandslam Bait Peppermint Crunch jig in its left front flipper please remove it and get it back to me. Much obliged.
Dan Smith has fished the waters of Volusia County for more than 40 years. E-mail questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, "I Swear the Snook Drowned," is available for $10.95 at (386) 441-7793.