Seeing Red: Oversize Red Drum

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Seeing Red Can Be a Good Thing
By MERRY BETH RYAN,
Sun Herald – Waterline Edition

Last week, while I was out king mackerel fishing, I happened to notice a huge, surging, wake full of tails breaking the surface with a red tint to it. I shouted to the captain “Look over there at 1 o’clock is that what I think it is”? He quickly assured me it was. We had been watching the birds all day long to help us find fish.

Usually where there are birds there are fish. We also had been seeing large schools of bonito and Spanish mackerel so we knew that there was a difference between schools of those fish and what we were seeing now. The huge wake was made by a school of bronze beauties. The sight was enough to set my blood boiling. We quickly baited our rods and got our baits in the water. Within minutes we were hooked up. At this point I was comfortable with putting the kingfish on hold while we were able to land what turned out to be giant-sized redfish.

I let out a scream as I prepared for battle with this big red. Suddenly, I saw a huge coppery, torpedo break the surface. I made my way around from one side of the boat to the other as the fish made heavy runs around the boat. The line-stripping sound from the reel drag made that pleasing sound that all anglers dream of hearing. When the first run came to an end I kept a good bend in the rod and managed to retrieve most of my line. But the fish took off again.

After a 10-minute battle the red moved close enough to pose for a few pictures before we carefully revived the fish and it swam off to rejoin the rest of the school. I was lucky enough to have my camera aboard so I wanted to capture some nice pictures of this huge red to add to my fishing book of memories. It is not every day that an angler encounters these schools of bull reds. So if you have that opportunity make sure you shoot a few pictures to share with others. The redfish is as tough as, or tougher, than other fish in Southwest Florida. The aggressive, ruthless nature of the channel bass makes it a fish you will remember catching.

When it comes to bull redfish the angler is in for a fight — a real “bull fight”. Redfish are a member of the drum family. Also known as channel bass and red drum, this fish is one of Southwest Florida’s most sought after gamesters. The drum moniker is because of the drumming noise that reds make in the water. Redfish have large, powerful bodies with massive shoulders that mean an impressive girth. Redfish have earned their namesake due to a beautiful copper-red coloration. A unique characteristic is found at the base of their tail fin where they posses a black spot. This spot is an effective defense mechanism against airborne predators when the fish are young. This trait helps the redfish escape his attackers, from above, by confusing predatory birds, ospreys or eagles into attacking the wrong end of their bodies due to the resemblance of that tail spot to an eye.

Red drum grow up in shallow estuaries of the Southeastern States. They range from New York to Texas and along both coasts of Florida. In this state we manage the juveniles and allow harvest of them because all mature redfish call the gulf home. If harvest of juveniles were not allowed then no anglers would be allowed to keep reds. But this story isn’t about catching young redfish.

At about 10 years of age the channel bass leave the estuary to join the breeding population of the open gulf. There they remain except for occasional visits close to shore, often in the fall. When they show up things can get exciting fast.

Bull reds can reach into the 50-inch plus category and exceed weights of 70 pounds. Redfish are not known for their finicky eating habits, which is good news for anglers. They will usually eat just about anything you throw at them. The big bulls often surprise offshore grouper anglers who are fishing with dead squid.

They are out there right now. Fall is the best time to tangle with giant redfish in Southwest Florida. Just remember that reds over 27 inches in length must be released alive to fight another day.

And, after you catch a couple of these bruisers, you may not want to hook too many. These big boys aren’t for the faint of heart.