I was at the Chamber checking the display, the club newsletters were disappearing
fast, I needed to replenish the stack. As I was stuffing the pocket, Nancy at the
desk asked about the fishing. We also talked about the weather and local goings
on. The ladies at the front desk are all volunteers. They are the stewards of our
beachside community and provide a grand welcome for visitors. I nodded to them
and waved hello to Jill in the office. I liked coming here because these folks are
kind of my extended family and brightened my day.
Somewhere in the background I could here two people talking. "Can you believe
some guy caught and killed that fish," one lady said to her friend. They were talking
about my fish on the wall. The plaque said, 44-inch Redfish, 38 lbs. 4 oz near Eldora
Flats. Actually, I was fly-fishing the surf and landed this beauty. I call her Reba. Everyone
in the Chamber knows the name of this fish. She is one gorgeous lady, wearing her coat
of copper, with big piercing eyes and stout fins. Her full body adorns the left wall of cypress,
opposite the Rooster Fish on the right wall, which is the real McCoy.
Jill looked over to me and smiled. It was more a grin, one corner of her lips raised like
someone was pulling on the side of her cheek. Her brother is a guide in the lagoon.
Dennis has a couple of cute nicknames I can't repeat. But he would understand what
I was thinking. There was no point explaining to the ladies the fish on the wall was a
fiberglass replica. Taking a fish that size is a crime. There is no way I would have
taken it. It took me twenty minutes to revive her and get her back into the surf. I'm
sure Reba was a world record but I didn't have a scale or ruler with me. I wasn't really
expecting to catch a red that size especially in the surf. I was just trying out a new fly and
the eleven-weight monocore line.
Reba was caught on October 5, 1996 east of Watts Drive off the beach about 6:30 am.
I used to fish there a lot with John Sullivan, the 'Angler' as we called him. John would
come by the house each morning about 5:30 and walk to the beach, fish for about 30 minutes,
go home, clean his fish, cook breakfast, shower, shave and go to work. Not a bad schedule
to get in some fishing. That's how good he was. I joined him many times. That day I
got there before he did.
He was a real character, looked like the guy on the cover of Mr. Fisherman. Rods tucked
under his arms, holding a bucket filled with a cutting board and fillet knife. His vest that was
as old as me, loaded with forceps, zingers, zippers, pockets filled with tippet, leaders and
flies. Picture this guy with big puffy cheeks, blue eyes, gray beard, a Lefty Kreh hat and a
cigar held in his teeth with one of those yellow plastic holders. He looked like Chris Kringle
out for a day on the water.
It was a clear morning in early October, touted to be a warm day. The surf was flat, a few
ripples but hardly any noticeable surf. You had to wait for your eyes to adjust to the light.
It was still dark out, except for reflections from the street lamps and security lights around
some of the houses. I looked for the tell-tail signs of a hole, this was possible from the top
of the dune walkover. You could stand, look up and down the beach, watching for the rip
or surface current. Once found this is a dead giveaway to the areas where predator fish
hang in wait for bait. Usually the holes didn't change much during a week. We would
usually sight them by how far they were from the county trash cans. Letters marked them.
The nearest one was 50 yards north of the 'D' trash receptacle. The technique is great
when learned because you can get your bait to game fish quicker. John was a master at
reading water and taught me well.
The day before, we had caught and released a 22- and 25-inch redfish and took five 16-18
inch bluefish. You have to bleed the bluefish right away or they taste like freeze-dried
Michelin tires. I was surprised John wasn't on the beach. I looked for his sand stakes,
but they weren't there. So I got myself setup with a large wool head mullet on a 3/0 hook.
I was using 11-wt monocore fly line and 16-pound tippet with a 40-pound wire shock tippet.
Bluefish have a set of razor sharp teeth and will bite through 25-pound leader. I actually
had my mind on catching the hammerhead shark we had seen cruising the surf line the day
before. I had caught them before on the mullet fly, it looks like an inverted muddler. It's
a big fly, about 6 inches long. I tie it with lead wire on a 340011stainless steel hook so
it will sink. The fly has the same weight as a fly with 1/50th oz. Barbell eyes but is more
streamlined for casting into the waves. I use the biggest red eyes, super-glued to the head.
I made a couple of false casts along the beach and then got ready to surf cast. The first
time you step in that water your legs turn blue and you feel like the winning coach with
the gator-aide dumped on your head. The water is freezing cold. I waded in up to my
thighs and then waited for the resurgent rip current to start receding. Look at the water
when you are on the beach. Here's what to look for. Find the water with foam that is
making a path back towards open water. You'll see what appears to be a foamy stretch
that is moving away and at an angle. This is the current just above the rip. The flat water
to the sides holds predator fish. They are waiting for baitfish to be sucked into the rip
current and then they pounce on it. You want your fly taken just on the edge of the rip
and the flat water. If nothing else, this will get you accustomed to finding a rip. I hope
you never have to get caught swimming in it - this is not a pleasant experience.
So here I am. The mullet fly has just entered the edge of the rip. I'm already allowing
the backing to slip out, and basically free lining the weighted mullet fly to sink. I
wait about ten seconds and start a strip. Then another. And, another. I stop and
let the fly sink again. Then start the stripping action. This time I'm holding the fly
rod and reel under my armpit and stripping with both hands, in a fast stripping motion.
WHAM! Hold! I've set the hook and more backing starts peeling off. The fish
has made a run into the rip but comes back again.
"Atta boy!" yells John, who has been watching for some time. "Keep that tip up."
"I've got him."
"Sure looks like it."
"Could be the shark."
"I hope so. Man, what a ferocious pull. Look at this rod. I'm out 200 yards."
This dog was pulling and then making runs. The line would go slack then tight. All this
was happening in a matter of seconds. Not minutes. Just seconds. Every sense in my
body said, "bluefish." What else? A shark? Sharks usually make runs for open water.
They don't hang around to tail walk. They just move out.
I didn't think this was a redfish either. It seemed too big for one thing, and redfish didn't
typically make these big swings in the rip, out of the rip, back again, or come right at you
and then turn. This had bluefish written all over it. The sun was just coming up and I had
been on this fish for almost forty minutes, I was getting tired. John wasn't even fishing.
He just coached me the whole time.
"Keep that rod tip up. See if you can move him in on the next wave."
"John, can you see what it is?"
"No, but it isn't a blue."
"John, see if you can move into the surf on the right and I'll try to
bring it over there?"
"Ok," he replied.
I tried to muscle the fish to the place where John was now standing in about waist-deep
water. The sounds of the surf were a hush with each wave rolling over to the beach, a
long swishing sound. A few people walked by us, and some stopped to watch. In the
translucent water this beautiful copper form headed towards John. The sun's rays reflected
from the most beautiful redfish I'd ever seen; big and almost to John. He was in awe.
It looked like someone had just poured molten copper on this fish. As she turned back
toward me the scales were highlighted by the sun's reflection. I thought, "This is one of
God's creatures - how perfect this fish is." In resolve, the great fish eased up to me, fly
in her mouth. It was like a sign from heaven. I was breathless, I happy, if only I had a
camera. An answer to my wish, a woman had an instant camera, took the picture, and
dropped it off at my house later that day. John and I measured the red using our hands
extended from little finger to thumb spread end-to-end. We released Reba and walked
her back and forth in the surf until she was ready to leave. There must have been an omen
in the way she swam towards me with the mullet fly still on the side of her mouth which
I removed with the greatest of care. She implanted in my mind new meaning and respect
for her species. I won't ever forget that day.
I haven't eaten redfish in almost 4 years, and probably won't for a long, long time. I'm
strictly catch and release now. I think it's important to preserve the species. I wouldn't
want redfish to become extinct like the Michigan Grayling.
Capt. Doug Sinclair has relocated from New Smyrna Beach, Florida to
Grantsboro, NC. He specializes in fly-fishing and light tackle charters.
Doug charters the Coastal Carolina area of New Bern or Oriental.
Catch him on the web at
www.flyfishacademy.net or call him at (252) 745-3500.
Doug is also a Sponsor here on FAOL.