by Gritter Griffin
The water is completely calm mirroring the grass of the shoreline. The soft light of early dawn gives the water a look of depth that belies the shallowness of the flats upon which the boat is floating. The only sound is the faint call of distant gulls and the hum of insects.
Just around that small point, a ripple on the surface, followed by a red-hued spotted tail identifying an early morning appetite in action. The cast lands perfectly just beyond and in front of the exposed tail. A short retrieve, a jerk or two, a huge swirl, a wrist-shocking jolt, and it’s on!
The best part is that this whole scenario gets repeated about thirty times in the next 90 minutes. And, it’s not over yet. The rest of the day is spent casting into a school of reds or ‘blind-casting’ along the base of grass/brush/oyster-lined shores where the reds wait in abundant ambush. The sheer numbers of fish caught and the incredible fighting prowess of these fish is awe-inspiring. It is something that redfishermen have known for a very long time. And, finally, it has become inspiring to those that bring sport fishing to the American public.
The following is an excerpt from a short article I wrote a couple of years ago noting that fishing has not only become America’s favorite pastime but makes up some of our favorite memories. What follows that excerpt is a bit of a reverie about how I became a “redfisherman” and where I think we, as redfish ambassadors, are now.
You doze in the warmth of April sunshine. A soft breeze carries the scents of late spring and the promise of summer to come. The sounds of insects and children and muted conversation buzz in the distance. It is late afternoon in the south and you are fishing! It really doesn’t get any better than this whether you catch any fish or not. Time spent on days like this is invested in memories that pay dividends for the rest of your life.
There are no special requirements for fishing. All you need is a little time, a pole, some bait and a creek, pond, lake or river. There may be no other “game” in which everybody, including kids, can “compete” on an equal level all the while enjoying true family time together. These are times that will be brought up at family gatherings for many, many years to come. “Remember when Jimmy caught that big ol’ catfish?”. “Remember when Angie fell in the pond but didn’t let go of the pole?”. “Remember when...”. Everybody at every family gathering has a fishing story.
Do you remember your first fish? Almost everyone does. Mine was with my grandfather at a small creek in Wicksburg, Alabama. I was five years old. A thin cane pole with a red and white cork attached to the line. A redworm on the hook and I was in the business of fishing.
The creek was slow-moving brown water holding all the mysteries of the world for me back then. Beaver tracks were in the mud beside me. A hornet’s nest was across the creek in a stubby tree. There was a stump sticking up right in the middle of the creek with a big green turtle sunning on top. My grandpa put the line right next to the stump, handed me the pole, and told me to watch the cork real close. I was supposed to snatch the pole hard if the cork disappeared. When the cork went under I snatched that fish out of the water so hard it went clear over my head and landed on the sandy bank behind me. It was just a medium sized bluegill but to me it was the world record of everything!
I can still remember the red-gold, blue, and amber jewel-like colors gleaming in the light of the morning sun. I can still feel the gritty sand and the slimy goo clinging to the sides of the fish with it’s scaly-ridged skin rough to the touch. There was flopping and wiggling and a sharp sticking sensation of the fins in my hands as I got him off the hook “by myself”. We put it on the stringer to bring home. I also learned to bait my own hook that day.
We caught more fish that afternoon and had a fish fry at grandpa’s that very night with fish that “I caught”. In all my young life I had never been more proud than that night when I heard my grandpa regale everyone with stories of my fishing prowess. It is a fine memory worth holding on to.
Fishing has been enjoyed for centuries as a way of relaxing and relieving the stresses of everyday life. Initially employed as a means of feeding the family, fishing has become “America’s pastime”. More people go fishing each year than play golf, tennis, and baseball combined with more than 975 million dollars generated annually on fishing gear, lures, and paraphernalia.
Some people fish from the banks of the rivers, creeks, lakes, and ponds. Some float lazily about in small boats of every description. Others speed along the waterways in stiletto-like boats looking for that new world record bass. Some are offshore buffs needing the fierce pull of the amberjack, cobia, grouper, marlin, or tuna to complete their fishing experience.
Others are addicted to catching redfish!
I made the “mistake” of going redfishing many years ago. It was all over with the first bite. A 34-inch bull that burned the drag right off my reel. Before I landed that fish, I was ‘holding drag’ with my hand like a fly fisherman. That red was hooked and so was I. And, I never dreamed where that first redfish hook-up would lead me.
Over the next several years, I spent time learning about the redfish, it’s lifestyle, and its habitat. I learned of the devastation of the redfish population by offshore netting operations that destroyed millions upon millions of these wonderful fish. I learned about the restoration efforts begun by fishermen along the coastal areas of America. I learned how politicians, uneducated in the ways of the outdoors, nearly ruined that effort. I learned about how we, as fishermen, are paying the price for that restoration. Most importantly, I learned that our efforts have been successful beyond expectation.
And now, befitting the return of a hero to the ranks, we honor the redfish by showcasing it as one of the most prized sport fish ever. And, competitive angling events were certain to follow. Begun by the Inshore Fishing Association (IFA), and followed up by many others, the idea of holding and showcasing redfish tournaments has come of age.
The rest of America’s anglers are just now finding out what those of us who love these brawling, spotted-tailed fish already know; there is more excitement, more thrills, and more pure pandemonium with competitive fishing for reds than with any other type fishing. There is a personality and a “filmability” to this kind of fishing that has never been seen before. Part of it is the very nature of the folks who fish nearly exclusively for redfish. We are an independent-minded, free-spirited bunch who generally don’t take much guff from anyone.
We have, for many years, been content to lie along the bottom tier of the fishing world, ignored by most and reviled by others of the “elite” fishing world of marlin and tuna, tarpon and trout, bass and boners.
But, we were proud to be ‘redfishermen’.
We have persevered through the hard times of the restoration of the decimated fisheries. We have formed a thickening of the skin that comes from years of being sneered at and told that we were fishing for “bottom-sucking trash fish”. Forever labeled as such by people who had never seen a big red blow a topwater two feet high, make a mad leap over a piling to get at a spinner, or run in voracious schools of thousands that literally make the water red for a hundred yards.
These “redfish guys” are a hard-scrabble bunch whose love of the redfish kept them plugging away in the basement of the fishing world. For years these tenacious souls were barely able to eke out a living and constantly struggled to attract an uninterested fishing industry. Far from becoming disenchanted, they persevered, competed with each other, and formed clannish rivalries to spice up the action. And today, it is these same unheralded redfishermen of yesteryear that are emerging as the unrivaled professionals of today’s Redfish Tournament events.
Now, we are suddenly thrust into the limelight. And a bright limelight it is. In the many years since the IFA first began The Redfish Tour, a new public awareness of just how exciting these competitive angling events are has been steadily growing.
Televised events showcased these renegade fishermen and their “rivalries with an attitude” along with unbelievably hot fishing action. It was a mix destined for success and ready-made for TV! Never before had the viewing audience been treated to as many hook-ups, as many boated fish, as much personality, and as much fishing excitement as they have since the redfishing events have hit the televised market. And, now that thousands upon thousands of anglers have learned just how exciting this sport is, more anglers than ever before have come out to the coastal fisheries to enjoy some of that action for themselves.
The mystery and beauty of the redfish, it’s extraordinary fighting strength, and the numbers of fish caught have combined with the “renegade” personality of the professional redfisherman to create a whole new genre of fishing action. Folks just aren’t accustomed to seeing 20-30 fish boated during a televised show and they love it! The excitement, and heartache, of those fish that are just over the limit being released coupled with the pressure of needing that upper limit slot fish for the big bucks is unavoidably addicting.
Competititve fishing for slot-sized fish is, without a doubt, the most pressure packed, fun-filled, and exciting thing to happen to tournament fishing in a very long time. And, we need to be aware of it right now. Those of us that have been fortunate enough to enjoy these early stages of development are truly the leaders of our new industry. Our decorum and our actions while in the public eye will forever guide the growth of this sport. We should be mindful of the young people we influence and the impressions we make when we visit a new community. We need to maintain the independence of spirit that got us here and that keeps the rivalries fresh and alive but we need to do those things in a professional way that will speak volumes about our character.
The manufacturing world has also taken notice of this fledgling industry and is casting a sharp and discerning eye on these tours (and us) for new opportunities to promote their products. Those of us that have been the bulwark for the development of this industry will be the ones that reap the rewards of its success in the years to come. It is time to persevere with class. It has been a long ride to get to where we are now. It will be an even longer one into the future. Let’s do it right.