CHASING MONSTERS – REDZILLA AND BIG UGLY

Allen gliding in his Kilroy

It had been far too long. Yes, I had a fantastic trip to Loz Buzos, Panama and got some epic fishing in, but the marsh was still calling my name. I haven’t been this excited about a local trip in a long time, and the anticipation level was high as I made the drive down towards Grand Isle, Louisiana with my good friend Allen Dejan. Despite it being early January, temperatures were fairly mild, it was sunny, and the wind forecast was pretty good. Sliding into the water in the Kilroy felt like coming home, and with a nice tidal current to ride, we were doing almost 5mph headed to the fishing grounds. Yep, all signs pointed to a great day of fishing, except, well, there was practically no water whatsoever in the marsh.

Uh, yeah. This is typically a fishable bayou…

Uh, yeah. This is typically a fishable bayou…

Now, when I say there was practically no water in the marsh, I’m not exaggerating. Bayous and flats that I normally fish weren’t even remotely accessible. Normally in the marsh, oyster beds and crab traps are a good visual clue to the relative water level – if you see exposed oysters and crab traps, the water is on the low side of where it usually is. In this case, the water wasn’t even close to covering any oysters, and I saw more than a few crab traps that were almost fully out of the water. Strong winds in the days leading up to our trip had blown the water right out of the marsh. My concern about the possibilities for the day was mounting, but the tide was forecast to come in, and with little to no North or West wind, I hoped the water would come back up. I also figured that I would find redfish sneaking into the flats to chase small shrimp as the day warmed up and the water temperature rose. My predictions would eventually come true, but we put in a lot of miles and grinding before it finally happened. For hours, we poled slowly through shallow but skinny water, seeing very little evidence of any redfish whatsoever. Eventually, I pulled out one of my “hail mary” moves, and started dragging a chatterbait behind me as I moved around the marsh. Redfish #1 came in an incredibly shallow pond, and hit the chatterbait as it was either sitting totally still or barely moving. Skunk avoided, I started feeling a little more positive about things.

I’ll take any technique that avoids a skunk - in this case dragging a chatterbait

I’ll take any technique that avoids a skunk – in this case dragging a chatterbait

Redfish #2 came on the same bait, this time in an open bay, and was a bruiser of a fish that made some incredible runs in the open water. That fish really put some hurt on my hands, which were starting to cramp up by the time I got him onboard. No ruler, but I guessed at mid to upper 30”s.

Photo: Allen Dejan

Photo: Allen Dejan

Photo: Allen Dejan

Photo: Allen Dejan

After running into my pal Ben Roussel of Mountains to Marsh (who happened to sell me my first Jackson Kayak a few years back), and sharing some observations and a delicious beverage, Allen and I continued our search for fish, still sticking with our belief that the fish would become more active as the water warmed up and filtered back in the marsh. Although it took a lot of patience and grinding, eventually we finally found some more protected areas that were a little cleaner, and started seeing and catching fish. All the rest of my fish of the day would come on the same Buggs lure – a Beastie Bugg in a natural color LINK When I first started using Buggs lures, I went through a period of not totally having confidence in them, but as I’ve learned how well they work in shallow situations like we were experiencing, my confidence in them has soared. They land softly, cast well, and most importantly, have subtle action even with tiny pops, allowing you to subtly get the fish’s attention without spooking it.

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The first fish I caught on the Buggs was another bull redfish, coming in around 29”, and was a satisfying first chance at sight casting for the day. That was followed up pretty quickly with two slot redfish, and I was starting to feel that magic working in the marsh. Things were happening. Meanwhile, Allen had himself two nice slot redfish, and we drifted apart just a bit as I explored down a tiny, winding bayou that fed into a somewhat enclosed flat. There are times when I poke my nose into the strangest, tiniest little bodies of water, just because I’ve found redfish in the damndest places in the past, and lo and behold: Redzilla. An absolutely massive fish that showed itself about 3’ in front of my kayak. One thing I love about the bigger fish is that they don’t seem to spook as easily, or as thoroughly, and it kind of just turned away from my kayak instead of truly taking off. Cast #1 just barely missed the perfect strike zone in the dirty water, but cast #2 was golden, and thus started an epic battle. I can most definitely say that I have never done battle with a redfish of that size in such close quarters, with very little room for the fish to maneuver or run. It was thrilling, intense, and nerve wracking, not to mention eventually painful as the fish wore me down. With the narrow constraints of the bayou, the fish made multiple dives under the front of the boat, making me scramble to keep the rod tip on the right side of the boat. As I radioed a mayday in to Allen and requested assistance, I tried my best to let the fish rest and not get played out. We eventually came to a bit of an understanding – I kept the drag light and let it run up and down the bayou, but didn’t let it out of the small channel, and it gave me a much needed chance to let the cramps in my forearms unkink. Once Allen made it over, I went ahead and landed it, took some quick photos, and towed it out to deeper water, where it made a strong kick and took off. It was one of the most memorable catches I’ve had in the marsh over the years. A fish of that size, caught within feet of the kayak, and in such close quarters, was a real adrenaline kick. Shout out to Zook rods – my custom Bayou Chronicles redfish rod made it through a real test with flying colors, not to mention landing a couple other bull reds and a big black drum.

By the time Redzilla was safely released, the afternoon was growing long, and it was essentially time to start heading back towards the launch, which was miles away by this point. It was painful to make that call with the fishing heating up, but neither of us was prepared with enough lights for our kayaks to be out after dark, so we made the safe call and started heading back. Of course, I’m easily distracted, and as we eased closer to the launch, I spotted some commotion in a familiar spot where fish congregate around an oyster bed. Thinking I might round out my haul of slot redfish, I made a cast, and was immediately chagrined when a massive black drum surfaced on the other end of my line. As Allen silently cursed my lack of self control, I battled, landed and released a sizable black drum, which appeared barely fazed at having been put through that hassle, and swam off calmly. With dusk just around the corner, Allen politely requested I refrain from any more poor decisions, and we scooted back to the launch in the last remaining sliver of light.

Photo: Allen Dejan

Photo: Allen Dejan

Photo: Allen Dejan

Photo: Allen Dejan

Exhausted but satisfied after a day that stretched from sunrise to sunset, we piled back in Allen’s truck and hit the road. Some trips are average or forgettable, but this one surely was not. In a tough fishing month, we managed to bring home a couple of slot fish for dinner, as well as find some of the monsters that roam the shallows this time of year. Just waiting for the weather to cooperate to take another shot at it, this time with a measuring board in hand…

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