A Piscatorial Play on Pensacola Bay
On The Fly Saltwater
By Ed Masburn
Captain Josh Lim and I were fishing on a warm April night, which I enjoy because I don’t have to wear hats or shades or struggle with hot conditions, and I can enjoy the cooler temperatures. I value my comfort when fishing, you see.
And here’s how this night’s play went. I enjoyed it a lot, by the way.
After the bridge lights came on, the big reds started their nocturnal patrols up and down the Three Mile Bridge across Pensacola Bay. The reds went cruising and looking for shrimp and other tasty morsels.
The author with a big nocturnal red from Pensacola Bay. Photo by Capt. Josh Lim.
So, I got ready. Let’s go through the checklist: pull out enough fly line to make the cast. Get the line ready to run free, make a couple of false casts, and then make the cast.
Right on cue, a large shadow charged the fly; we could see the flash of the fish’s mouth opening, and then my line came tight. No. It came really tight. I got the line on the reel, my rod bent over, my reel’s drag made the right kind of noises, and my first bull red of the night started to stress me.
I must say, it appeared I did everything right. I was happy to know that I was going to catch this big fish. Over-confidence and self-pride will get you every time. The Greeks called it hubris, and hubris jumped up and bit me.
As I was working the big red in, the hook pulled. Just like that and gone.
Hubris is hell.
Josh said, “That looks like fun,” and then he added, “Could I try?” I must explain that Josh doesn’t do much fly fishing. He used the fly rod like a cane pole. He didn’t add any line, and he didn’t make a back cast. He just flipped the fly into the lighted patch, and at a distance of perhaps 12 feet, a big redfish exploded on the fly.
Capt. Lim “cane-poling” for a redfish. Photo by Ed Mashburn.
The fly rod bent way over, the reel drag made more noises, and the big red chose to run hard away from the bridge, which was just fine with us. After about five minutes of some serious combat, Josh had to hold the rod with his left hand so he could flex and uncramp his right arm, which had been doing the heavy lifting.
After ten minutes, he had to switch hands again. After 15 minutes, he had the big red at boat side, I managed to get the landing net under it and lift it aboard. It was a load. Josh smiled and said, “That’s my first redfish on a fly rod.”
Capt. Lim’s first redfish on a fly. Photo by Ed Mashburn.
I cut off the fly that the captain had used to catch his fish and handed it to him. Keep that to remember this night by, I told him, and he again smiled. He placed it in a position of honor on his fishing hat.
Over the past year I have constructed poppers for use with slot reds. These poppers I made with flashy tail fibers and big googly eyes. Truth be told, the bull reds loved these poppers. I would cast one out over active fish, there would come that rush, with a tremendous smash and bubbling take of a hungry redfish. I do so love the way reds destroy a topwater flies.
But destroy they did. Every single popper I threw over the bull reds came back fishless – eyeless, too. The plastic bodies looked like someone had taken a hammer to them. The hooks were straightened out. These bull reds were just too big and too mean for my poppers.
So, I switched to a weighted Clouser/Deceiver copy that has lots of flash, and it sinks fairly fast. I tie them on considerably heavier hooks than I use for slot red poppers.
Captain Josh is very good at spotting fish and calling location. We’d cruise and ease our way up and down the bridge, and Josh would say,” Fish at 12 o’clock. Thirty feet. Coming this way. Cast. Now strip, strip’ strip!”
Perhaps Josh said something else, but I don’t recall it. The big redfish charged my fly and devoured it. It’s hard to recall in detail a great fight with a fish, really. But I remember a number of long runs. I remember the power of that fish when it would shake its head. I remember working line in and then having the line pulled back out a lot faster than it came in. I remember in the lighted water I could see the golden sides of the big fish as it rolled on the surface. I remember that my arm was getting tired and sore. Then I remember the big fish swimming into the landing net, Josh lifting the fish into the boat, removing the hook and sliding the fish into the warm water of Pensacola Bay.
Long fights are rough on redfish. Reds are strong, tough fish. They are great catch and release fish – if they are not totally exhausted by an extended fight.
I use my 12-weight rig because I know that even on the biggest reds, I can get the fish in and released in a shorter period of time. You see, I want these big, strong, golden fish to be waiting for me when I come back to the water with my fly rod.