A certain sign of retirement is noticing that you have forgotten how to set your alarm clock. Equally telling is the fact that my bedside clock continues to display daylight savings time, never readjusted as the seasons changed. An inaccuracy of an hour seemed too small a motivation to bother fiddling with the buttons. Soon enough, DST will return, so was my logic. It had been over a year since I last set mine for my regular wakeup time of 5:15 AM. Despite many, many years of early rising, and an equal number of years of dealing with the all hours phone calls and nocturnal trips to the emergency room that are part of a practicing surgeon’s life, I adjusted with an amazing ease to remaining in bed long past that early hour. So, when my friend Steve so very kindly invited me and our mutual friend, and erstwhile fisherman, Jay for a day of redfishing, I was forced to relearn that basic task of setting the alarm, this time for the unspeakably early hour of 4 AM. After my usual evening glass of cabernet, or was it Malbec?, I consumed my sleeping medication and retired. It turned out that I had been unnecessarily concerned about the details of the alarm, as my internal circadian mechanism jolted me from a deep sleep to a state of full wakefulness at 3:45 AM. I was able to arise, disarm the clock, and quietly dress without disturbing my silently slumbering wife.
I had attached the boat, loaded the rods and the remainder of my gear the previous evening, so I was quickly on my way to the rendezvous point where I was to meet Jay. I stopped off for a cup of my favorite coffee, but arrived with military precision at exactly 0530 hours, to the astonishment of my friend. He joined me in the Tahoe and we were off to points south on our quest for redfish.
Steve joined us at rendezvous number two just as dawn broke red against the eastern sky. “Red dawn- maybe a good omen for redfish,” I thought as we slipped the Hewes into the water. As we were venturing into territory unknown to me, I relinquished the helm to Steve, who is intimately familiar with the area. He pointed us away from the ramp and set a course for redfish. We were glad that we had all selected a couple of layers of warm clothing, as the early morning air blasting into our faces and bodies seemed to have been funneled directly from Antarctica. After a few minutes and some cunning conning by our captain, we lay to at a redfish port, ready to take on cargo. Steve had brought along some mud minnows, those hardy small fish that redfish usually hold high on their culinary lists. He rigged one for himself and one for Jay. I had brought along my baitcaster rig, one I had purchased for a trip to the Amazon a few years ago for peacock bass. It had been difficult for me to master. Master is actually much too strong a word, as my personal definition of that term had been to catch at least one peacock for every two hundred bird nest tangles I created in the spool. Through persistence, and a high quality reel, I was able to land a number of those magnificently colored and aggressive fish. I threw a very large lure measuring some seven inches in length called a “Woodchopper”. It is an intimidating piece of hardware featuring large aggressive props on each end and bearing three 3-0 treble hooks. It makes an impressive ripping sound as it is pulled through the water, and the large peacocks love them.
I thought it might be fun to catch a redfish here at home on the same rod. As my friends were using mud minnows, I opted for an alternative dining choice for the reds, a Gulp! Shrimp. While Steve and Jay casted their baits on modified Carolina rigs, letting them sit quietly at rest on the bottom, I rigged a Gulp! onto a smallish jighead. They had had no luck as I struggled to rig, then adjust the reel spool’s antibacklash knob for the weight of this particular setup. They tried a couple of different spots, but to no avail. Once I finally felt ready to venture a cast, I was, to my complete amazement, able to put together an initial cast of some 25 feet, free of the dreaded bird nest. The Gulp! splashed down in what I fervently hoped to be the redfish zone, and settled to the bottom of the shallow, opaque, frigid water. It lay there perhaps thirty seconds before my rod signalled a bite and soon had a the familiar bend of a fish at its business end. The degree of bend was nowhere near that I had enjoyed when attached to a fifteen pound peacock, but satisfying nonetheless.In short order, I released a nice slot sized redfish.
As we fished, motion in the sky overhead caught our attention. Wheeling above us were three great Bald Eagles, in pursuit of breakfast. It is not often that one is treated to the sight of one of these magnificent birds, let alone three at once. Not to be outdone, a mother Atlantic Bottle Nosed Dolphin was seen a short distance from our position, giving instruction to her calf in the fine art of locating and catching a dolphin’s staple food, the redfish. I take great delight in such opportunities to observe nature at work. It is an amazing world in which we live. I feel so very privileged to be able to live so near the coastal waters of our state.
Neither Steve nor Jay had had even a nibble at this point. I threw my Gulp! back after disgorging it from my fish and rewarded by an almost instantaneous second strike. I brought to hand a second nice specimen, but this time was offered no assistance by my friends. They were already much too busy removing the minnows from their lines and adding Gulp! baits. Within a couple of minutes, Jay’s rod bent, and he excitedly worked his prize to the gunnel. He lifted it into the Carolina sunshine, admiring his catch. He was animated now, finally revealing his long kept redfish secret to me and Steve. As fate would have it, this was Jay’s very first redfish! I have known Jay for well over twenty years, but never knew this hidden truth. It was widely known that he had never captured one on a fly, but we all had assumed that he had landed them using bait or hardware in the past. I suppose that reports of his redfish catches, like those of Mark Twain’s death, had been greatly exaggerated.
Jay’s catch was recorded in appropriate pixel perfection, and he released it back into the sea. Steve, by now, seemed much more interested in simply watching us land these wonderful fish, and sat back, acting as guide and redfish clairvoyant. Jay excitedly hooked another red, a nice one that fell right at the upper slot limit at 22.5 inches. We placed this one in the live well. He told us that his wife had expressed some doubts about his manliness, presumably due to his having never actually brought any fish home for the table, though I suppose there may be other reasons he declined to reveal. In any event, this was Jay’s day to play the role of hunter-gatherer, and he planned to filet and blacken this one, presenting it while bellowing loudly and beating his chest as proof of his ability to provide food to his mate. He reloaded and fired another cast with his spinning rod. Soon enough, he was fighting yet another fish.
With the newfound confidence of the suddenly successful, Jay assumed the air of a world authority of all things redfish. He went on and on about his expertise, how he had been slowly accumulating knowledge and a superior skill set over the past twenty years, just waiting on this opportunity to unleash his redfish acumen on the unsuspecting fish, as well as his fishing companions. He finally settled down when Steve and I threatened to abandon him, together with his prized redfish catch, on a nearby mud island carpeted with razor sharp oyster shells. ” Maybe with all your technical prowess, you can cobble together a boat from the oysters, and have your redfish tow you back to the ramp!” I said.
Bravado aside, it was a thrill for me to see Jay land his first redfish, even though it had been accomplished using bait. I enjoy catching fish with such tactics myself, but greatly prefer the far more aesthetic fly rod. Winter fishing, for the most part, does not lend itself readily to the use of flies, so one must remain flexible in his approach.
A number of years ago, a New Orleans chef named Paul Prudhomme had popularized his phenomenally tasty blackened redfish dish to the point that the demand for a species which previously was considered a trash fish, very nearly overwhelmed its capacity to reproduce. Irresponsible commercial fishing practices, such as gill netting, came frighteningly close to sending redfish the way of the dinosaur. Thankfully, a small group of sportsmen developed a grassroots effort to have appropriate protective legislation enacted in states whose coastal waters hold redfish. This work has resulted, over time, in the flourishing redfish population that we enjoy today. Judicious use of the resource has ensured its presence for our grandchildren and all future generations. In South Carolina, anglers are allowed to keep three fish per day that measure between fifteen and twenty-three inches. This practice protects the brood stock and gives redfish an equitable opportunity to thrive as a species.
During World War II, Hitler and his generals devised a plan to invade the island nation of Great Britain. Hitler seems to have had no sense of history, as the last successful invasion of England had been by William the Conqueror in 1066. No more recent attempt has ever proved efficacious. Even the mighty, world dominating Spanish Armada failed, defeated by a small, but resourceful British navy. The Nazi operational planners code-named the invasion “Operation Sea Lion”. The launch date for operations to commence was code-named “Alder Tag”, or “Eagle Day”. Hitler severely underestimated the resolve and courage of Britain’s tiny Royal Air Force, and his vastly numerically superior Luftwaffe was forced back to Fortress Europe by brave young men in their Spitfires and Hurricanes. Churchill summarized the Battle of Britain best when he said “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”. Perhaps the same can be said of that small band of persistent, visionary, and hard-working sportsmen who turned back the onslaught of the unrestrained commercial fishing industry in the Battle of the Redfish.