On the kind of chilly morning that passes for winter here in Volusia County, I towed my 16-foot Carolina Skiff down to Haulover Canal.
It's a long way from Ormond-by-the-Sea where I live to the canal near the Brevard County line and I don't make the trip very often.
In Florida, there are many places bearing the name "haulover." That arose from the early settlers who had to carry their boats overland to get from one waterway to the next. Back before our Haulover was dug, the waterway north of there was called the Hillsboro River. Once the canal was in use, that name was dropped and it all became The Indian River.
On this day, I was heading there to look for the big red drum that are sometimes caught in those murky depths. Years ago a cousin of mine who is not much of a fisherman landed a 30- pound red from the bank. I have never caught one so big and don't expect to with the 10-pound mono I use, but I was hoping to do battle with one in my size range.
Once the boat was in the water, I began casting my Mirro Lure around the edges of the canal hoping to catch a ladyfish. Fresh cut ladyfish is prime bait for big reds. I didn't find any ladies, but on the east end of the canal I did get into a school of small bluefish. Not as good for bait, but that would have to do.
With chunks of bluefish, I slow drifted the entire canal twice before I finally had a hookup. Right away, I could tell it was a good-sized fish, but I was disappointed when it turned out to be a catfish.
Now the morning was beginning to get away from me, so I moved north to the first clinker island. There the tide was rushing through the pass and small sea trout began to take my jigs. That was fine, for I had brought along some new soft baits from the Grandslam Bait Co. that I wanted to test. Still thinking about reds, I moved north between the next two islands and found more small trout and a couple blues.
With the tide dropping, I used the trolling motor to move onto the big flat that lies between the islands and the woods to the west. Pretty soon I could see a large fish pushing water a couple hundred yards north of me. That sight is always good to get my heart pumping and I began to use the push pole in hopes of getting into casting range. I didn't want to chance the electric motor for fear of spooking the fish.
As I pushed, I could tell my quarry was oblivious to my presence, but I was not making much headway as it continued to cruise north. Just as I was about to give up, it began working back toward me. Soon I was ready to make a cast, but I was just a bit too anxious and the bait fell way short.
I was now using the Mirro Lure mostly for more distance. Finally I landed the top water plug within about 10 feet of where I thought the fish might be and decided to just let it lay in hopes that the lunker might come to it. When I thought the time was right I gave it a small twitch and then another and then it happened. The fish didn't hit with a pop but instead just rolled up on the lure. I knew I had it.
Right away, it took off on a run of about 50 feet before I pulled back hard. Now, the big tail slapped the water's surface and the nickel-sized spot told me it was a big red. Hold on Danny boy, I thought!
The drag on my little reel squealed as the powerful fish darted first one way and then the other. At one point I had to run to the stern of the boat in order to keep it out of the engine. Finally it was over. The red and me were both played out and the fish laid up alongside the skiff. For a few seconds I just kneeled there to admire it. It was my first big red in a long time. I never measured it, but I know it was just over 30 inches long.
The last hook on the plug was in the rubbery upper lip, but came out pretty easy and the redfish slowly moved off in the clear water. I could see it for about 30 feet as it left.
On the long ride home I replayed that fight over and over. I probably will never forget it.
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 $10.95 at (386) 441-7793.