Redemption Red

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I had never fished the Mosquito Lagoon but have had dreams of the monster reds that cruise those shallows for my whole life. I loaded up the truck and my Jackson Big Tuna and headed South well before sunrise with high hopes of tight lines.I arrived and set up camp before launching the Big Tuna and paddling across the bay. It was a beautiful evening and within a few minutes I had found my first fish of the trip, a small speckled trout. After a few trout, a puffer fish and a monster sail cat, I decided to pack it in for the evening. I noticed the wind pick up as I made my way across the bay and by the time I made landfall it was whipping the bay to whitecaps all the way across.

Overnight a powerful cold front with strong winds ripped through the area and it would stay for the next three days. Wind is bad for kayak fishing and a cold front is bad for fishing in general but together they are devastating. Mother Nature had delivered the weather equivalent of a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

For three days I battled the wind and waves trying spot after spot desperately looking for a redfish willing to eat. I paddled until my arms ached and my hands looked like salted peanut hulls. I cast so many times with many different lures just hoping for one solitary redfish to join me. By the afternoon of my last day I was mentally and physically whipped. I had almost given up hope of catching a red but the wind was dwindling and the water temperature was increasing. A few fish were starting to push around me and I saw one tailing in the small calm window between wind gusts.

The night before a gentleman I met in the area had given me a package of Slayer inc. Sinister Stick Baits and instructed me to put them to good use. As I was drifting back toward the launch working the bait he had given me, an explosion knocked me back to reality. It had been so many casts since I had felt anything other than the weight of the lure I nearly missed the fish. The fish turned and ripped off a long stretch of line before turning and blazing at an angle across the front of my bow. In the froth of weeds and water I could see the bronze skin of a monster redfish and the black beauty marks on its tail. I thought I was on the upper hand of the fight after two more incredibly powerful runs. With less than 20 feet of line to go, the hook popped free and flew by my head. All I was left with was foam on the water, the sound of breeze singing across my braided line and an empty feeling in my chest.

How could I have been so close and come up empty handed? I drifted a little bit and then picked the rod back up to start all over again. After a few dozen casts I noticed a swirl about twenty feet from my bow. I thought it may have been a mullet but softly presented the stick bait just to check. After a couple of twitches the head wake of a predator came toward my lure and I prayed for enough control to not pull it away when the fish hit. The red was so close to my kayak when it hit I saw the white lips open as it grabbed the lure.

This fish was nowhere near the size of the one I lost and after one good run I had it ready to land. When I picked up that beautiful fish, all the frustration of the wind and cold just washed away. I had done what I set out to do and was now admiring my first Mosquito Lagoon redfish. After a prayer of thanks and a couple of photos I gingerly released the fish to the grassy shallows. At 24 inches, it was no trophy class redfish, but it was trophy enough to redeem an entire trip of tough conditions for me. I have caught a few reds in the past and hope to catch many in the future but this redemption red will always have a special place in my heart.

Text and photo Chris Funk