A few days ago, I drove down to Orange Avenue in Daytona Beach for a little pre-dawn fishing just as I have off and on for the past 40 years or so. Throughout all that time I have stored many great memories while fishing from the old bridge there. It was always a constant I get there well before daylight when the auto traffic is less and the boats have not yet begun to move requiring the opening of the draw.
Fishing has always been much better there in the hours just before sunup and the sea trout were almost always willing to play. On the south side of the bridge and east of the main boat channel an oyster bar runs all the way to the eastern shore. It lies just a good cast out and puts it right where the pale glow of the streetlights begins to fade. Time after time, I went there to toss my jig into the incoming tide, allowing the current to wash it back toward me. Often by the time I took up the slack, a trout would already have my lure. Sometimes the hungry bluefish would make it difficult to get the bait to the trout, but that was fun, too. Hard hitting blues provided me with lots of action on Orange Avenue.
Once in a while a surprise would be there waiting. I guess it was 15 years ago now I walked out onto the bridge one warm spring morning to find fish kissing the surface over my oyster bar. So many fish in the water, it instantly raised my heart rate. Throwing my usual chartreuse shrimp tail, I soon had a nice pair of Spanish mackerel. Not an unheard of catch, but one you seldom see. With so many fish, I soon decided the chartreuse was not doing its job, so I switched to a white minnow tail. Boy did the mack want that white bait! Each cast brought multiple hits and if I missed one, I needed but wait for the next hit. That bite yielded a bucket of tasty Spanish and a lot of fun.
One morning my insomnia sent me to Orange Avenue especially early. As I tried my oysters, it quickly became apparent that nothing was around. Not wanting to waste a morning, I decided to switch to the bridge at Main Street. As I was leaving, I spotted something big in the water below the west end of the bridge. A shark was cruising back and forth in the clear, shallow water over a shell reef. I stopped to watch the six- or seven-foot fish nose about and before long I recognized it was not a shark at all, but a huge red fish. Armed with my trout rod and 10-pound test line, it was no use trying to catch the red, but I stood there for a long while just enjoying the sight of it. The big red drum had to be nearly 70 pounds. Until this day, that is the largest red I have ever seen living or dead.
The jacks were always great fun at the bridge. Each spring and summer I could go there and just wait for the school of jacks to explode on a hapless mess of baitfish. Once they began to feed, all I had to do was drop any old lure into the mix for an instant hookup. Most of the time the strong jacks would rub me off on the pilings, but the fun made it worth losing a few plugs. That fishing always happened after the sun was full up. All would be quiet, then an explosion that would turn the water into froth, then, in a matter of seconds, quiet once more. How I loved to try and guess where the jacks would appear next.
One morning I went to the bridge and found snook popping all around. As usual it was in the pitch black of morning and there was only one other fisherman on the span. Soon I had a hook up when a big snook took my red and white Mirro-Lure. As the battle raged with me trying to keep the fish from under the bridge, the other fisherman came to cheer me on. Miracle of miracles, I was able to get the 30-inch snook up onto the concrete. Now I have to tell you I had just suffered through almost a year without catching a keeper snook and even though I knew the season had ended just a day before, I wanted to take that fish home. My new fishing buddy made that decision for me when he let me know he was a game warden. With a little groan, I tossed the fish back. A game warden out at 5 a.m.? What are the odds?
Lots of good memories there, but soon they will tear down my old bridge. I suppose we are both showing some wear these days, but I will hate to see her go. Of course, a pier will be built beneath where folks can fish, but it will never be the same. They call it progress, I guess.
On this morning I caught a couple small trout and a bluefish. Nothing spectacular, but a nice time. As I left, I paused for a moment to say goodbye to a reliable old friend.
Dan Smith has fished the waters of Volusia County for more than 40 years. Email questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, "I Swear the Snook Drowned," is available for $10.95 at (386) 441-7793.