From the day I began fishing these waters nearly 45 years ago, the maze of oysters and mangroves at Spruce Creek has tantalized me.
That area between U.S. 1 and the Halifax River provided a constant draw. In the early days, I would take either my outboard or rowboat and dead shrimp bait into that puzzle. There I could always turn the shrimp into a string of nice mangrove snapper, grunts, and rat reds with an occasional sheep's head thrown in for good measure.
With no rules on red drum I could take home a half dozen fish in the 16- to 18- inch range and as everyone knows those are the tastiest.
Of course those days are long gone and now we can only keep one 18 inches or over.
No matter, the fishing has drastically changed. The snapper and sheep's head have all but disappeared and the grunts and reds are scarce. Still, every now and again I am compelled to go there and try my luck.
On a cool spring morning I took my kayak to the natural boat ramp that has sprung up just south of the three bridges of Port Orange. With the tide coming in about halfway in advance of high I felt pretty confident the fish would be on the bite.
On this morning I was throwing the new Grandslam Bait Co. Light Beer shrimp tail. This lure just about perfectly duplicates the color of the red shrimp you find in the Mosquito Lagoon area. This would be a good experiment to see if a more natural looking bait could out fish my usual wildly colored chartreuse green.
Through the years it has been my experience that a "photo lure" that exactly duplicates the bait it is meant to represent seldom works. It has always seemed to me that fish like to hit something that is very different than their usual prey. Witness my favorite Mirro Lure that wears a clown suit of red and white. For many years that color combo has caught an array of fine fish for me and I suppose it is not for me to understand. I just fish 'em. As I rounded the first oyster bar and headed through a mangrove passage I could see bait moving. Certainly a good sign.
Soon I came to a place where the tide was flowing swiftly between two bars and I dropped the light beer lure into the current. As I allowed it to wash back toward me a small fish picked it up. What I at first believed to be a small trout turned out to be a good-sized sailor's choice.
As I let that little scrapper go I smiled at the thought of how many pinfish I had eaten over the years when nothing else came in. Not bad on the plate, the sailor's choice. A little further along I found a deeper pool and after a few casts I yanked out a small flounder to keep.
Next, I felt the power of what I knew was a red fish, but once I had the fish played down it was a fat black grouper of 16 inches. My first in a long time, but my neighbor Dave Byrd had caught one at the end of my street a couple weeks before. Wow, wouldn't it be great if the grouper rebounded in our inshore? It was becoming clear fish would eat the new bait. Turning out to the main creek channel I allowed the Peanut to wash to a stop on the oysters and tossed into the current. A hard hit and I reeled back half of a light beer tail.
Right away I knew that meant blue fish. Within a few minutes I had a nice blue of nearly two pounds that would be a good smoker. God bless the blue fish for their fighting ability and willingness to hit most anything. After another light beer lure was chopped in half I switched to the chartreuse. That brought in a small jack; also a good smoker. Paddling back into the bush and heading toward Sleepy Hollow Park, I found a calm spot that held a school of small reds. After catching two with the chartreuse I went back to the light beer and easily landed a 17-inch fish. Now it was clear to me the new bait was a success and I knew then it would forever be a part of my fishing plans. Congratulations to Rick Kayholm for coming up with it.
To finish out my morning I went back to the main creek channel and caught another pair of blues. That would be enough to fire up my Little Chief electric smoker. My afternoon would be smoked fish, cold beer, hot sauce and a NASCAR race. Life is good.
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.