Yep, once every great while, I cheat on my kayak and hop on the skiff of a friend. It's not often, but it's hard to turn down a boat ride! This was one of those days. My buddy Ashton had called me the night before to see if I wanted to go with him to look for one of our local schools of breeder Redfish. We met up at the boat ramp at 6am sharp with intentions of tugging on some monsters in the forecasted windless day ahead.
These reds are easiest to find when conditions are slicked out and there is no wind. It's not easy to miss 1000 Redfish as long as your leg in those conditions. They form huge schools during the early fall as they spawn until about November. Our population of breeder Reds are unique from any other because they spawn within the estuary and live their entire lifecycle inshore. Breeder reds in other areas live their lives off the beach in the nearshore waters when they grow to become a certain size. On the Space Coast, you can catch a 50" redfish in two feet of water on any given day. This is the main reason why I love fishing this area. Sight fishing a 30lb redfish and watching him eat your lure next to the boat is like nothing you've ever seen or done before.
Ashton and I have been on these schools before and know how much fun they can be. When they are schooled up this heavily, they are in competition with one another for food. So that translates into whatever moves is being eaten. They love to take topwater in this scenario and there is nothing like watching a dozen bull reds fight eachother to be the first one to eat your plug. We had rods rigged with both soft plastic MrWiffelures, a curly tail shad lure, and topwater plugs.
We looked in the usual areas all morning with absolutely no success. Conditions were beautiful and exactly the type of slick conditions that are the most ideal for finding these fish. But they simply were not there. We covered miles of water in search of these sometimes elusive beasts. The problem is, when they are schooled, 2000 fish may occupy an area that is only about an acre, in a portion of the river that is 7 miles up and down, and 4 miles wide. Sometimes running into them is a proposition of pure luck, as we were about to find out.
After hours of fruitless searching, we decided to run across the river to the power plant outflows to try to find some Snook instead. We sat down, and slowly idled out of the manatee zone. When we got to the sign at the end of the manatee zone, Ashton mashed the throttle and the boat hopped up on plane. As soon as we got on plane I looked to our immediate right, and saw what we were looking for all morning. A huge push formed as the school of reds were spooked off the bottom. I yelled to Ashton to throttle down, and we killed the motor and quicky deployed the trolling motor.
We had them right in our sights but we were well behind the lead fish. They weren't spooked too bad, just moving at their normal brisk pace which can be pretty fast when you are trying to catch them with the trolling motor. We began to make headway on them with the trolling motor buried to 5, as we were flanking the school. We got closer and could begin to make out individual fish. When you're on a school like this, no matter how many times you have done it, your adrenaline pumps, your hands shake.. There is nothing like seeing that many monster reds at one time. We were trying to get ahead of the lead fish while having them at our side because not only are the lead fish usually the biggest, but it is the best way to present to them and not spook the entire school. We slowly inched closer to the lead wake but you could see they were getting shifty because of our prescense. We knew we had to throw on them now.
Ashton grabbed his rod with the big topwater on it and made a long bomb cast toward the front of the school and almost made it. It landed just shy of the lead set of fish. As soon as his plug hit the water all you could see was backs of monster reds coming up and trying to destroy this plug. Ashton was rapidly bouncing it across the surface but the fish kept missing. After many misses by the fish, we saw one monster come completely out of the water with his mouth gaping, and his topwater disappeared. Ashton set the hook and line began screaming off his reel. I instantly casted in right behind him with my Pearl White MrWiffelure, smack in the middle of the school and no sooner than I shut the bail the rod was about ripped from my hands. Just like that, we had a double hookup of monster reds on board.
Both our fish were trying to stay with the school and almost crossed several times. With some quick maneuvers and heavy pressure we got the fish coming our way. As we were both latched on to two bona fide Indian River beast Redfish, all we could do was talk about how much we loved this place, and how lucky we are to be able to experience something this amazing a stone's throw from our backyard. Our reds put up a good 10 minute fight and we both landed them at about the same time. Mine was 42", and Ashton's was the big one, around 44". Quickly got the camera set up and took our pictures, getting the fish both back in the water within a minute. After a couple minutes of revival time, we watched our fish slowly swim away toward the school which was only a few hundred yards south of where we initially found them.
We contemplated going for another but opted not to. These fish get heavily pressured by anglers and guides during this vunerable time for them and we figured one was plenty, there was no need to continue to beat up fish that were spawning. We had our fun, and headed back to the ramp with ear to ear smiles as we accomplished the mission we had set out for that morning. It served a lesson that your whole day on the water can change in one instant. You never know exactly when that next school will cross your path, even if it is at the 11th hour. It was truly an Adventure On The Water that will stand out in my mind for a long time to come.