Warm in Winter

BY JAY POTTER

As the thick, humped, nasty-looking black drum sidled up to my kayak, I bobbed a Gulp shrimp in front of his face. He slurped it lazily and showed a similar indifference once I set the hook.

This hoss had given himself away from 30 yards by wallowing in  less than 2 feet of water, typical behavior this time of year. The entire process lacked any suddenness, atypical of redfishing in the marsh.

I spent more time working this fish (roughly 15 minutes) on my Shimano baitcaster combo than I had paddling (10 minutes) from the launch to this spot. Luckily KC Pro Staffer TJ Harris showed up in time to assist and snap some pictures. A couple more of those large drum were seen, caught and released, but honestly dealing with them got tiresome.

This mid-February afternoon the temperature rose into the high 60s, and the sky was clear with 5-10 mph winds. Sighting reds in the shallows seemed the way to go.

Standing and poling with my paddle, I had a great view of these flats. Groups of sheepshead thrashed around me and further muddied the two foot deep water, it held no reds.

Then, I drifted into a deeper cut that led out to a bigger bay, the water turned a clear green and I immediately saw a red spook off. Still standing, I flicked a Gulp! in that direction into the deep middle of the cut. A slow retrieve on the bottom was too much for a nice eater. Fish down, but I still wanted to sight fish.

Continuing down this clear deep cut, I approached some broken marsh leading into another small bay. In the K12, my standing eye-level is roughly six feet above the water, so I peered over a tall grass island to see a tail break the surface in a small pool. Paddling over to a circular series of interconnecting pools, I went into shallow water stalk mode.

The fish  had already made it a couple pools ahead of me, and I was worried that if I followed behind him, he might outpace me into open water. Quickly bending down, I exchanged my rod for my paddle. After a couple quick strokes, I spun and headed around some oysters and more grass clumps to meet this red head-on.

Again, since I could stand and see over the grass, I marked the fish from a distance and planned my assault. I angled myself parallel with the fish to my left at 15 yards and the bank 3 feet further to his left.

Some may question the maneuverability of a spacious sit-or-stand-on-top kayak like the K12, but here it was certainly no issue. I was able to sight a fish, switch from rod to paddle, turn around, visually follow the fish, paddle and re-position myself in regard to the fish, switch back to my rod and make a cast.

This all happened in a matter of a seconds while standing in a kayak and maintaining visual contact on my fish without spooking it from noise or movement.

My plastic dropped a couple feet in front of the fish, right next to the grass on the bank, but the fish stopped. I wanted to cast to where the fish would be, not where he was so he didn’t spook; and I wanted my plastic on the mud bottom, so when the fish moved over that spot, I could twitch it past his face.

Hard-wired to eat, the fish usually has little choice in the matter, even if finicky or full. Inspecting some oysters, this fish hadn’t sensed my bait, and almost made me reel in to try again. Somehow I managed to wait.

Ideally, I’ll stay behind a fish in the shallows, but I was already drifting in front of him, so a retrieve and cast might give me away.

Blood pounding in my head and my chest, I realized I wasn’t breathing as the fish started up again, right in the same direction. Just as the wind pushed me almost too far, the fish arrived in front of my bait. I twitched and he obliged, drilling the plastic. I tightened up, set the hook and we were off.

Adrenaline hits me every time I actually sight and chase a fish, but on the first one of the day, it always hits the hardest. That’s one reason I keep going back out in the K12. After that fish, I caught several more because I was comfortable and I had everything I needed to last the entire day. That’s another reason.

Stray the course.

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