As often happens, my eyes came open well before dawn. Lying there in bed I could hear the low rumble of a big diesel engine somewhere off in the distance. With my bedroom just a few hundred yards from the beach, I can often hear the shrimp trawlers when they get in close to shore. Now I began to wonder if that meant there could soon be a shrimp run in the inshore? That would be nice.
Next my mind wandered to the school of big red drum that had taken up residence behind the spoil islands in the Halifax River. For most of the winter they had not taken a bait but in the last two trips I had caught one and missed two others. As I thought about that, my mind's eye pictured the water movement as the big fish pushed about the flats. Once I have a thought like that, it is nearly impossible to shake, so I eased out of bed so as not to wake my still sleeping wife, Lana.
Once turned on, the Darth Vader helmet of a coffee maker began to chug. The odor of a rich Columbian brew filled the little house. "Going fishing?" Lana asked. I told her that I was and apologized for waking her. She knows I can't help myself. Sometimes I just have to fish. As quietly as possible, I slid my little kayak atop the Ford and drove down to the dock only a couple blocks away.
As I climbed into the Green Peanut, the first rays of morning peaked over the peninsula. It was only a short paddle across the channel and to where the school had been holding in a tight pattern. There were other wakes and movement on the water, but I did not waste time casting. Single minded, I aimed for the place I had last found them. My bait was a pinkish, soft shrimp tail the folks at Grandslam Baits call "Hot Apple Cider."
The first couple casts yielded nothing and the surface was still. As I drew back to let fly once more, a quartet of big redfish began pushing water directly in front of my kayak. The fish were swimming away from me, but did not seem to be aware of my presence. I hoped they were only foraging for a morning snack. Quickly they were leaving me behind and I knew I had to cast. My position was bad for it was very possible my line would land on the fish and spook them. My longest toss went right over their heads and splashed down lightly six feet in front of the moving fish.
Too close, I thought, but almost immediately a big red rolled up on my lure. No hook up, but the bronze colored bruiser had caught the morning sun causing my heart to race. Now it turned in a tight circle and was coming back for a second look. At just the right time, I gave the jig a very small tug that signaled the red to hit. Bam! Swirl! A hard run and I was on. My willowy seven foot graphite rod arched in a semi circle and the little #25 Okuma reel growled in protest. The 10 pound mono line was instantly strained to the limit. The big bull red rolled once more and then streaked north pulling the Peanut along at a good clip. In that area there are few obstacles and I knew that all I need do was hang on. The drag and the weight of the boat would do the trick, but I also knew that this bull ride would have no 8-second buzzer.
Now the fish raced back toward me and circled the kayak. At one point it raised its massive head and tried to shake the bait with no luck. The battle lasted a good 15 minutes before it laid up alongside the boat totally spent. I pulled it to the measured marks I have on the kayak and saw it was 30 inches long. My grippers told me it was over 12 pounds in weight, but perhaps the smaller of the four. As I released it, I hoped the others were not too disturbed by the action. I would be back for them soon.
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.