I began my paddle into the High Bridge swamp before daybreak.
The calendar told me the giant octopus-like tentacles of the sub-tropical sun that had been strangling Central Florida for the past five months was ready to loosen its grip. Not so. Each breath warmed my nostrils and heated my lungs as would a blast from a furnace.
As I paddled the Green Peanut past the dark silhouettes of stunted trees, I had to smile. Only years of ocean winds and salt can twist the forest in that manner. The tree stands looked as though they could have been part of an Asian bonsai garden. Stillness was all around me and only the ripple of my boat broke the morning silence. Nothing moving; nothing feeding.
The tide was beginning its six-hour incoming cycle and the drift gave me a respite as the kayak moved deeper into the swamp. Although there were no game fish feeding, the first light revealed lots of mullet and shrimp riding the current. I made cast after cast with nothing happening. Oh sure, I had a couple hits, but the fish that did bite did not have their hearts in it.
Finally I felt the telltale thump of a flounder. As I reeled the nice 18-inch fish to the boat, my thoughts wandered to the blue crab stuffing that would soon adorn the flatfish. But, once the fish saw the boat, it made a flip and I was left to watch it swim away. There goes my stuffing, I thought.
A while later I had allowed the Peanut to bottom out on a sand bar in what looked like a good spot. The tide was flowing around the point of a slender island and I was able to toss the chartreuse jig upstream and wait for it to wash back to me. After doing that about 20 times with no results, I was preparing to leave when I heard a big fish feeding.
At the point of the island, a red drum was rooting the shoreline with that blunt nose they are famous for. The back of the fish was out of the water and I could tell it was going to be at least 30 inches in length. The wrong size to keep, but the perfect size for a lot of fun. The big guy was intent with what he was doing and totally oblivious to me. The red was perpendicular to the bank as it worked the shore for a tasty blue crab breakfast.
I was a ways off, but I summoned up all my talent and let loose with a horrible cast. My plan was to drop the bait a couple feet down the shore where the fish would soon be, but instead I hit it on the tail. The big fish was startled and jumped straight up before zooming into the depths. Hitting a fish with a lead head jig is not the way to catch it. The red thought it was under attack and made a hasty exit. Good job, Dan!
On a slow morning, I had blown my only chance for a bit of fun. As the morning wore on with nothing happening, I replayed that cast over and over in my mind. Sure a breeze had kicked up, but that was no excuse. Perhaps I shoulda moved a little closer. The fish hadn’t seen me. Maybe if I had waited for the big fish to move a few more yards it woulda been an easier cast. Oh well, I coulda just stayed home.
Nope, not an option. If I had done that, I wouldn’t have hooked a flounder and seen a big red feeding. You can’t experience that at the house.
Dan Smith has fished the waters of Volusia County for more than 40 years. Email questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, “I Swear the Snook Drowned,” is available for purchase for $10.95 at (386) 441-7793.