This past Sunday, I took my friend Deran out to see if we could find any hungry fish that wanted to play. We launched from the Ozello Community Park boat/kayak launch around 8:30am…only because its hard to get him there any sooner and he takes forever to get loaded up to fish! (Don’t tell him I said that! Haha!) The temperature was already in the 80’s by the time we launched, and the water temperatures were about the same. It has definitely been hot out there! We started out mid incoming tide and fished through to the mid outgoing tide.
Since Hurricane Elsa graced our shorelines a few weeks ago, live shrimp has been hard to come by, and when it is available, its pretty small. I grabbed a little stash of frozen shrimp from my freezer and we used it to catch pinfish to use for bait.
Initially, we headed off in the direction of one of our old fishing holes from years ago. My idea, as I wanted to check on one particular point that I used to have a lot of success on a good incoming tide. While in route, I noticed a lack of pinfish in the grass. I was out the day before, although I went the opposite direction, and the baitfish was like glitter in the grass. I began second guessing my decision, though we decided to check it out anyway since we were already almost there. There wasn’t a baitfish in sight, so it didn’t take long for me to decide that it was time to pull up and head the other way.
I threw a few casts with artificials at a couple of points along the way, but without any success. I knew that I had a very slim chance, if any at all, to hook a redfish, as I was trolling and wouldn’t be able to slow the bait down enough for the conditions I was fishing, but thought maybe I could snatch a snook from its resting place. That didn’t happen, as I said.
We moved along, heading to an out of the way area. On the way, we passed by a juvenile manatee who’s interest was peaked by our presence, and he decided to follow us for a moment. I stopped to let him check out my kayak until his heart was content, and then went about my day.
Arriving to an area where we could catch some pinfish, we anchored up and began doing just that. A lot of people ask me how I catch my pinfish, whether I use a castnet or a sabiki rig. I use neither. I have never been able to successfully open a castnet while on the water, and sabikis just get too tangled up for my liking, so I use a small bait rod ( currently, a tiny little Ugly Stik from Walmart) with a tiny #12 hook. I put a small split shot approximately 4-6″ above the hook, and sometimes use a little bobber, sometime not. I usually use a small piece of shrimp for bait, but have used the FishBites strips cut into small pieces, as well. I prefer shrimp, but it isn’t always accessible. It can be super frustrating at times, as the little bitty pinfish are quick to steal the bait, but as with catching predator fish, I’ve found that the bigger pieces of bait will usually catch bigger pinfish.
The first pinfish I caught was a nice 4-5″er, but he was greedy and swallowed the hook. I’ve learned not to put the bleeders into my bait bucket, because it will spoil the water and kill the other bait, so I immediately cut off the head and tail, put it on a jighead, then cast it along the mangrove line to sit while I continued catching more pins.
Within about 5 minutes, my rod jerked hard in the rod holder, but instantly went slack again. I reeled in a little bit, hoping to feel tension on the other end, but there was none. I began to reel in to check the bait and make another cast. As I was reeling, the bait came to the surface, and behind it, I saw the beautiful bronze flash of what was likely the cause of the commotion moments ago. I stopped reeling and let the bait fall. Suddenly, I see the redfish swimming along the bottom. She swam all the way to my kayak before turning around. I reeled the bait in the rest of the way as fast as I could, then I tossed it 10 feet past the redfish & let it fall.
Yes, I was telling her it was there and coaching her to pick it up. I felt a slight tug on the line and immediately started shaking. I’d already seen the fish and was quite certain it was an overslot, if not close to it. From past experience, I highly doubted she would pick it up, fearing my kayak would have spooked her, but boy was I wrong. She nudged it once, then she hit it hard! I was so stoked! The fight was on!
She took off like a shot in the dark, pulling drag, bending my rod, and spinning my kayak in circles. I had to stand up to be able to get full control as she kept going under my kayak and anchor line. I was able to keep her from tangling in the anchor line and from breaking the rod each time she darted under the kayak. It felt like an eternity went by as I fought her, but I’m not one to prolong a fight, especially in warm water, and I got her netted as quickly as I could. I was shaking like a leaf and so giggling like a little girl. Upon removing the jighead, I realized just how lucky I was to have landed her, as only about an 1/8″ of the hook was in the top front of her mouth. Thank goodness for strong hooks!
Planning a quick measurement, photo & release, I was only able to accomplish the first two successfully. She came in at 31″ and was too tired to fight the photo shoot. Although I landed her within minutes, she fought hard and was wore out. Its difficult to release a fish quickly in this situation. She tried to take off and slipped from my hand, but ended up swimming straight down into the grass and went belly up. I reached in with the net, re-netted her, and spent the next 30 minutes reviving her. I held her tail and put her nose first into the current. I put the fish grips on her and trolled in circles with my kayak. I was unhappy with using the fish grips, so I removed them and held her toothy bottom jaw with my fingers and continued trolling around in circles. I could feel her trying to kick, but she wasn’t gaining the strength to be able to survive if I let her go. I decided to troll off towards a deeper area, feeling the water temperature drop as I approached. She noticed it, too, and her actions started coming back. Still holding her bottom jaw, I spent several minutes going in circles, holding her as far down as my arm would let me. I could feel her kicking more and more, and then she started closing her mouth on my thumb, as if she was chewing on it. I had a brief moment where I was concerned about sharks, as we’d already seen two bull sharks swimming in shallow water before we’d stopped to catch bait, but I was determined that I could not…would not… let her become shark bait. I kept circling, and her movements became stronger and more vivacious as we went. When she started getting too much for me to hold by the jaw, I turned off the trolling motor and grabbed her by the tail. I wanted to make sure she was fully revived and able to swim away strong before I let her go. I knew she was ready when she shook her head hard a few times and kicked her tail free from my hand, splashing me with water as she swam away. I even followed her for a moment to make sure she didn’t head down into the grass and go belly up again. She was good. She was strong, and she will survive!
Please, when you are releasing a fish, no matter what size or what kind of fish it is, make sure they are ready to swim away strong before letting them go. They may act like they are ready, but many times, that is just them being scared and wanting to get away from you. They will do just what this beautiful redfish did, and swim to the bottom before going belly up. That is a death sentence. I see so many people just toss their fish back into the water with the mindset that if it swims, it will be fine. THIS IS NOT TRUE! The warmer the water is, the longer it will take to revive a fish. Please, don’t kill our fish.
This isn’t the end of the story, as there were more fish caught that I hope to tell you about soon, but I didn’t want this to be a book. I also wanted to make it a point to focus on the release. Stay tuned for the rest of the days kayak fishing adventures, & Thanks for joining me this far!