by Gritter Griffin
Long, long ago on waters far. far away a middle-aged outdoorsman named Gritter Griffin was introduced to the world of competitive redfishing. He had never seen a redfish much less been compelled to fish for them. And, in the beginning, he was pretty terrible at it. He simply didn’t know what he didn’t know.
BUT – Ol’ Gritter is an intelligent fella and was already pretty well known in his home state of Alabama as one of the best deer and turkey hunters in the state. Hell, once he even took a deer from a ground stalk with a hand thrown spear. He was also cursed with a highly competitive nature and a don’t quit attitude.
He set about learning everything he could about the redfish. He knew that if he could learn the critter’s life cycle - where it mated, ate, swam, traveled, slept, rested, and the “why’s” of all those – that he could always find them and catch them.
Over many years I traveled with the ever-changing pack of renegades that called themselves redfish anglers. It was a different breed of competitive angler – singular, independent, a little rough around the edges -but loyal, dependable, and fiercely competitive. These coastal boys could hold their own with anybody, anywhere. And I became one of them.
My independent nature led me to compete in the truly old school manner of searching for and finding the fish completely on my own. I eschewed partnering with anyone because that would, in my mind, blunt any success I might have. I wanted to be solely responsible for everything that happened to me on the water and in competition, good and bad. I was almost always “in the mix” but never quite reached that pinnacle of success called winning. A perennial top 10, top 20 guy, I was uncompromising in my belief that I would one day achieve that difficult task of winning. But I would do it my way.
I watched as groups of anglers teamed up to take advantage of their numbers and ability to cover more water in a shorter period of time. I watched as winning became the all-consuming mantra of many of these competitors. I watched as the prize purses continued to rise. I watched as organizations rose up to take advantage of the frenzy and make money off the backs of this rough and ready crowd. I watched as America slowly took notice of this new brand of fishing and companies began to realize that there was a new arena to market their goods and services. And, I watched as ethics gave way to ego and cheating to gain an advantage became rampant.
The ways that unethical people have devised to cheat in a tournament are truly legion. Forcing weights down fish throats, trimming tails, injecting water into fish bodies, penning fish in cages, penning fish in tiny lagoons with blocked entrances, forcing mullet and/or shrimp down fish gullets, having allies hand off fish out on the water, non-competitors blocking entrances to small bays, and more, much more. There is no limit to the devious methods to which unethical anglers will stoop for that moment of false glory when all will regale them as the “Winner”.
I watched as the equipment changed too. The gear, lures, and boats all became more specialized to specifically target redfish.
Enter the tower boat.
The advent of pursuing redfish from a tower on a boat specifically designed to go into, and run in, extremely shallow waters was probably the most significant event in the history of competitive redfishing. This type of boat and equipment allowed anglers to cover vast areas of water in a very short time by simply running the boat along the shorelines – burning banks – looking for numbers of the right size redfish. The ability to find, and then catch, quality redfish was magnified hundreds of times over the “old school” way of researching, methodically planning, and slowly working your way through a system of water. Tower boat captains were soon winning nine out of every ten events.
The tower boat became the very lifeblood of competitive redfishing.
It may also soon become the death knell.
Not so much the boat itself. Boats don’t pilot themselves. Boats have no intent. A boat is an inanimate object that requires human intellect to perform its duties. It is those humans that have pushed the envelope too far. A boat, tower or not, is just another tool in the arsenal of the competitive angler. How it is used is the source of a growing consensus of concern and an increasing volume of outcries that the boat itself be banned from the marshlands and fragile estuaries of the coast.
There is growing concern by those in charge of maintaining the integrity of the coastal waters and lands that the practice of running shallow draft boats very close to shorelines is damaging to the already fragile ecosystem. There is a growing voice condemning the practice of using tower boats to find fish in this manner. And, there is a growing voice to simply ban redfish competition altogether as a means of controlling the havoc.
I have noted many changes in the sport over the past twenty years but one of the most significant differences I have noted has been in the “dock talk” over the past two years. Dock talk comprises everything from weather patterns, to fish patterns, to bait selection, to outboard motors, to the sly little white lies we all tell to throw our competitors the wrong bone. But, a disturbing pattern has emerged. Nearly 100% of the dock talk (and stage talk) over the past two years has now centered on the fish being “spooky” and “skittish” and “won’t eat anything”.
Redfish have exhibited more and more avoidance behavior around boats. Is this because the fish have repeatedly, and continually, been run over by legions of bank burning boats?
“Land” owners that control the marsh are suddenly, and seriously, up in arms over anglers running boats on their “property”. Is this because of the practice of burning?
Legislative action has even become a part of the controversy. Is this, too, because of the practice of burning?
There will come a time, and it is rapidly arriving, when these controversies will come to a head, decisions will be made, and consequences imposed. The end game is upon us.
There is a solution.
But we must act. We must make the right decisions - and stand by those decisions -before others do it for us
Before redfish tournaments are banned from the marshlands, before every relationship we have built over twenty years is forever changed, we should electively ban bank burning from competitive redfishing.
Not the boats – the practice.