The morning sun burst over the North Peninsula with a roar.
As I paddled the Green Peanut over to the spoil islands, there was not a cloud in the sky. I knew this was not going to be a pink and blue pastel morning. No, on this day the sunrise was like a white hot blowtorch that had been adjusted too far toward lean. Once I had cleared the main boat channel, I could see that the tide was flat. No current moving at all.
Couple that with the fact there was not a breath of air stirring and the place was like a giant gymnasium with the ceiling fans turned off. Stillness everywhere. No bait moving, no fish feeding -- nothing.
Whenever I am in a place that quiet, I want to be the one making the disturbance so I began looking for a Zara Spook. That old top water lure creates a lot of motion.
On this day, I had forgotten to pack one and was forced to substitute my reliable red and white MirrOlure. The plug cut the still surface like a tiny motorboat sending ripples for yards. On the third cast, a small sea trout hit hard and came to the kayak to be released. Soon after, a big jack followed the plug back to the boat and splashed on it without hooking up.
After 50 casts or so, I switched to the Grandslam Lite Beer Shrimp tail jig and landed two more undersized trout. An hour later I would hook two flounder in rapid succession only to have both escape.
By 10 a.m. the sun had climbed and it was getting hot -- really hot. I had probably made two hundred casts and had nothing on the stringer.
The sun glinted off the glassy water and baked my face, sending stinging sweat into my eyes. I had begun that morning with the intention of taking home a fish dinner, but I was done. I headed home. As I reached the marked channel between the second and third spoil island some minor movement to the south caught my attention. I put the paddle down to watch.
The ripples on the water were at least a hundred yards away and I couldn't tell what was causing it. Tired and all, I decided to move closer. As I drew near, the thought crossed my mind that 20 years ago the scene before me would have been an indication of a school of big reds, but I hadn't seen many reds in that area in recent years. It had to be a manatee. I whipped the limber little rod forward and made a pretty good cast and as soon as the Lite Beer Shrimp hit the water it began to slowly move off at a right angle.
Oh man, I have hooked a manatee I thought. When I pulled back hard my foe went nuts and I knew it was a big red. Just then about a dozen more began to churn up the mud and water on the shallow flat. In the early going, the redfish took off against the tide that by then was running out strong. That made more of a drag as it towed the Peanut. Soon it turned and headed south with the current and I began losing line. I know every oyster in that area and, for a while, I could only try to guide the big fish away from the sharp shells. Any nick in my 10 pound mono and I would be finished. Moving at a fast clip the kayak passed the engine block and then we cleared the big submerged reef and we were in open water.
Now I was feeling better about my chances. All in all I suppose the battle only lasted about 15 minutes, but it seemed to be an hour. When the red finally lay up alongside the boat, we were both spent. As I hoisted it into the boat, the hook fell out. Many times when you play a fish that long, the lip hole rounds out and the hook can just fall right out. My red was a 26-incher. I suppose I could have pinched its tail to the 27 inch maximum, but it was a legal fish and would make a nice dinner.
It was a good end to a hot day and one I will never forget.
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.