On a chilly morning I launched my kayak near the river pier at Bicentennial Park in Ormond-by-the-Sea.
I had to proceed with caution while crossing the boat channel in order to avoid the big luxury yachts heading south this time of year. Most of those large boats must motor back north before the hurricane season begins in June. That is mandated by their insurance companies.
Each winter there is a steady parade of yachts coming to our area and many are owned by NASCAR drivers, sponsors and team owners. It is always fun to go down to the Daytona Beach yacht harbor to see them.
On this morning my plan was to fish behind the spoil islands just east of Tomoka State Park. For years I have enjoyed winter time success there. This time I quickly noticed just how quiet that area seemed to be. No birds wading; no fish feeding – nothing. It was apparent the bait was missing from these waters. No shrimp, no mullet – nothing. Without bait in the water, my chances of catching anything becomes slim.
My experience there did leave me with one ace in the hole. In cold weather there is a big black bottom mud flat south of Goat Island, the northernmost island. Over the years I have caught several large red drum there when the water temperature is down. I decided to fish slowly in that direction to allow the sun to come full up. In the shallow waters the black mud will attract a few degrees of extra warmth and the big reds love to go there to bask in the sun. At times I have encountered schools of more than 20 fish there.
I began by casting my jig around the engine block and, in a short time, landed one small keeper spotted sea trout. You know my kayak is small and I have no room for any extra equipment – not even a measuring tape. When I first bought The Green Peanut I used my pocket knife to make a notch in the plastic boat at zero inches. Next I made a cut at 15 inches, then 18 and finally a notch at 27 inches. I use those to measure my catch and now I have a notch at 19 inches to comply with the new trout rule.
Moving on, the action was dreadfully slow until I made a long cast to the shore line in one foot of water. Immediately I had a hit and something came back my way rapidly. At the boat, I netted a nice 16-inch flounder. That was a welcome, but unusual, catch for the dead of winter.
I approached the mud flat as quietly as I could while keeping vigilant for any movement on the flat. There the water is seldom over three feet deep even at high tide. In water that skinny, when big fish move, they leave a wake making them easy to spot. Most of the time the bull reds lie very quietly to catch the warmth the black mud offers. They may even be sleeping.
Once I had determined nothing was moving I began to cast. That action caused a half dozen big reds to spook and head for deeper water. That caused them to go under and around my boat and even scrape the under side. Exciting to be sure, but I knew those fish were not going to bite. If they did, it would take at least an hour for them to calm down, but more than likely they weren't in feeding mode at all. With no bait on the flats they were only there for the sun.
Oh well, I did manage to go home with two trout and a flounder. I'll take that on a cold winter day.
Dan Smith has fished the waters of Volusia County for more than 40 years. Email questions and comments to email@example.com. His book, “I Swear the Snook Drowned,” is available for purchase for $10.95 at (386) 441-7793.