It is difficult to think of the word jeopardy and not imagine Alex Trebec presenting his contestants with a board full of trivia clues. As we all know, the contestant must phrase his response in the form of a question to be awarded points. The contestant must not only know the answer, but must be first to activate his or her handheld buzzer in order to claim the points that can lead to riches. Alex then plays his role as a judge of the quick and the cerebral. Who can forget Ken Jennings, gifted with each of these attributes, who won some seventy-five games and filled his pockets with $3.2 million dollars? An amazing display of knowledge and skill I will not soon forget.
About a week ago, I played a form of this game. I received an email from my good friend, talented artist and fisherman, and just all round good guy, Steve Thomas. The clue contained in the email was “winter redfish.” My response , in the form of a question, was “When can I come?” Instead of a handheld buzzer, I had a mouse and you can believe that I hit that left button faster than our government can run up the national debt. We settled on Wednesday. I was aglow as I imagined the spotted tails, translucent blue tips rhythmically swaying starboard and port, slowly, majestically propelling the redfish through waters made air-clear by winter’s chill. Our coastal waters, normally turbid in the warmer months, turn Bahamian in their appearance after the low water temps kill off the algae, leaving water that looks like it was poured from an Evian bottle. For me, there is absolutely nothing like sight casting. Stalking, identifying, and casting to my target species is one of sporting life’s most sublime moments. Steve advised that we would be fishing an area which does not lend itself readily to the use of the fly rod, as there is structure nearby. I felt little remorse at not being able to wield the whippy stick, as I normally do. After all, were we to create a Venn Diagram of fishing. fly fisherman would clearly lie completely within the larger group known as fishermen, a complete subset, as it were.
Once hooked, redfish possess an uncanny ability to detect such objects and use them to their advantage. To me catching these fish is pure sport, and maybe a bit of a spiritual experience, but to the fish, it is life or death. Little do they know I release all redfish to fight another day. Like the famous trout fisherman Lee Wolf once said. “Trout are too precious to catch only once.” I feel the same about redfish.
This is not say that I have never eaten one. I enjoyed what is one of the most memorable meals of my life in New Orleans at K-Paul’s restaurant on Charles Street. Paul Prudhomme’s blackened redfish, though considered controversial in the past, is one of the most savory entrees I have yet been privileged to enjoy. Highly recommended. Though not worthy of a dedicated journey to the Crescent City in and of itself, a trip combining a redfishing trip to the marshes around Hopedale and Dellacroix south of the city, as well as a plate of blackened redfish, belongs on every fisherman’s life list.
Steve made the recommendation that we go to spinning gear and live bait. This concept is alien and somewhat uncomfortable to me. But, in the end, a tug by any other name would feel as sweet, to paraphrase The Bard. The gossamer strands of tippets we attach to our flies would be of little use against the oyster and barnacle coated structure we faced. Better to deploy modern braided line to rage against the wood . Thus the decision was made to go natural in our presentation technique. Steve’s previous field research determined that the lowly mud minnow to be the bait of choice on these redfish. Despite having their energy and response times sapped by the cold water, the fish proved able and willing to greedily inhale these offerings. Circle hooks with flattened barbs and a sliding weight completed our redfish stealth package.
I assumed the position in the fighting chair (a folding chair I had brought along), and Steve very graciously rigged my rod, and even added the bait by quickly inserting the hook, bottom to top, through the minnow’s lips, and handed me my weapon. He showed where to cast and I let slip my first cast into the crystal waters. Current ripped past me as the outgoing tide carried its load of millions of gallons of saltwater towards Mother Ocean. Not a cloud marred the perfection of a blue Carolina afternoon sky. Deafening silence met our ears, and I settled back, just in time to observe a harrier swing low across the marsh, searching for a midday repast. Ah, life was good.
The bite was a bit slow at the top of the tide, but Steve managed to capture two lovely reds. I simply smiled as I watched his rod bow over and saw Steve skillfully bring those fish to hand. Their coloration seemed a bit lighter than the normally deep copper color I see in warmer months. “Perhaps another example of nature at work”, I surmised. As the water clears in the colder months, the fish’s color correspondingly decreases to hide itself a bit from its primary predator, the bottlenose dolphin. Steve appeared a bit distressed that I had not yet connected, but I was at peace, enjoying a marvellous South Carolina winter afternoon deep in nature. Catching a red could only be considered a bonus.
As I sat in my camping chair, I imagined I was in the fighting chair of an offshore boat, ballyhoo trailing behind me, but sans the ceaseless droning of the engines. I could almost feel the slow, gentle motion on the ocean’s surface. That vision, along with the warm afternoon sun, nearly sent my eyelids to the fully retracted position when the rod tip began a telegraph-like tap, tap, tap. The Morse code of the taps spelled R-E-D-F-I-S-H. I let the fish the hook itself, and began to bring it in for a closer inspection. Steve helped me unhook it. Before us was a nice redfish of some 23 inches. I admired its wondrous construction, the sun glinting off its almost iridescent tail, then slipped it back into the cold water of the creek. Life was now even better.
Steve and I repeated this cycle a few times when we spied the approach of a vehicle. It bore the identifying markings of the South Carolina DNR. Of course, my initial reaction was “I hope I have my licence in my wallet!” I scrambled to pull out my wallet and discovered that indeed i did have the license tucked carefully away. I simply did not want to hear a man in a uniform and bearing a menacing looking handgun affixed to his belt utter those familiar words- “Your papers are NOT in order!” I guess I have watched too many old war movies. As it turned out, the two officers did not even inquire about paperwork, but rather how the fishing was. Just then, I had another hit. After a brief fight, the redfish was in the net. The officer came over, leaned down, and removed the hook from the fish’s mouth. He measured it and asked if I would like to keep it. I told him “No, I prefer to release them”, and he put the fish back in its home water. “Wow!” I thought to myself, ” I never thought I would live to see the day when a Game Warden would actually de-hook and release my fish for me!” What a nice guy. It is comforting to know that there are law enforcement people out there who are genuine, nice folks who are there to ensure that adequate game resources remain for everyone’s use, and to help the public, not to harass them, as many people claim. I feel certain that some may abuse their authority, but this man proves that they cannot all be lumped into the same class.
We continued to cast and catch for an hour and a half. It was great fun and fellowship. There was another angler fishing in the same spot as us, catching a few nice reds also. Suddenly, he and Steve each got bit. Each man turned the handle of his reel furiously, but each was met with stiff resistance from the foe on the other end of the line. “Wow! Looks like you guys each must a monster redfish on!” I exclaimed. Soon, the other angler succeeded in getting his fish to dry ground. It was at that moment that we realized what had occurred. The same redfish had eaten BOTH baits! This was obviously a very aggressive and hungry fish. Once in hand, it was apparent that both hooks were in the fish’s mouth. We were surprised to see this. None of us had ever seen a fish take two separate baits at once. Several years ago, while bonefishing in the Abacos, a guy at the lodge claimed to have caught the same bonefish twice. He indicated that he had broken a nice fish off in the mangroves, losing the self designed custom fly he created specifically for these fish. The following day, when he returned to the same area, he landed a fish bearing not one, but two identical flies. I cannot attest to the veracity of this tale, but I can affirm that this redfish had two hooks in its mouth. photographic evidence is provided below.
It is illegal to try a person twice for the same crime if they have been acquitted of the same crime by a jury of their peers. In legal circles, this is known as double jeopardy. In the movie by the same name, starring Ashley Judd and Tommy Lee Jones, a woman uses this legal doctrine to kill her husband after he frames her for murder. In the end she is released from responsibility for his death and set free. Just like our redfish.