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Redfish I have known

Richard Outdoor Editor Simms and his wife Barbara have long been addicted to occasional saltwater excursions to pursue red fish. Richard recently caught his "personal best" redfish (top left) fishing near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. (Photos courtesy Richard Simms)

"If I lived near redfish I would be divorced and broke."

That's what I tell my fishing partners anytime the subject of catching redfish (also known as red drum) comes up. In my lifetime, there are not too many freshwater or saltwater inshore species of fish I haven't had on the end of my line. None can compare to the awe-inspiring and never-ending ferocity of a redfish hell-bent on breaking your line.

Sure there are big game fish - marlin, tuna, sailfish, etc. - that wage incredible battles for hours. But in many of those situations the fisherman is strapped into a chair with the fishing rod locked into vice-like holder. In my humble opinion it just cannot compare to going one-on-one with a powerful fishing on a light weight spinning rod.

Last week I began to wonder, however, as my trembling fingers struggled to maintain their grip and my entire arm and shoulder quaked and quivered. For 15 minutes I had struggled to reel the big bull of redfish near the boat, only to watch as the beast turned tail, literally, and ripped 50 yards of line off the screaming reel again.

This time I prayed under my breath the fish would come to the net held by Capt. Tom Cushman. I almost sobbed when once again, the drag on my fishing reel screamed a sad song as the fish headed again for the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. I've caught lots of redfish before, but I'd never hooked into a so-called "bull red" - a somewhat arbitrary definition of a redfish that exceeds 30 inches long.

Three months ago I went toe-to-toe with a 140-pound tarpon in Boca Grande, Florida. I totally spent when that battle was done. Using proportionately lighter tackle, I felt the same way on my first-ever "bull red."

My first redfish came from Apalachicola Bay in Florida seventeen years ago. Since that day very few years pass that I don't find my way to redfish waters. For several years that was Florida, until I made my first trip to Louisiana and felt as if I'd found manna from heaven.

With strict creel and size limits Florida redfish are making a strong comeback but it will never compare to the incredibly productive waters of Cajun Country.

My first trip there was with Capt. Anthony Kyzar on a "cast & blast" trip - duck hunt in the morning and redfish in the afternoon.

On our first day fishing we put no less than 50 or 60 redfish from three to 15 pounds in the boat.

"It’s like fishing a bluegill bed on Chickamauga Lake except the fish are huge,” exclaimed Ross Malone as a redfish peeled line off his reel.

In Louisiana the daily limit on “reds” is five per person (more than 16 inches), with only one fish per person over 27 inches long. Capt. Kyzar said he can’t remember many, if any days, that he and his customers made it back to the truck without limits.

On another Louisiana excursion with Capt. Wendy Billiot my wife, Barbara, got her taste of reds. When Barbara fishes with me she usually carries a book to read when things slow down. I couldn't help but grin watching her battle a monster redfish as Capt. Billiot asked, "Where's that book you brought?"

Barbara groaned as the redfish made a drag-screaming run and exclaimed, "There will be no reading as long as I'm doing this!"

Back at the jetty near Myrtle Beach I once again had my personal-best redfish moving toward the boat. I held a finger on the reel spool, "braking" the drag as I tried to coax the stubborn monster toward us.

"Don't brake that reel too much in case he's got another run in him," said Capt. Cushman.

Thank goodness he did not. After a few quick pictures that thankfully did not reveal my trembling arms, the 42-inch bull red swam free. It was another "Bucket List" fish for me and, so far, the highlight of redfish I have known.

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