The transformation

Seeing the speckled light

I used to worship the mighty redfish. It’s what you do when you grow up along coastal Florida.

I remember fishing the Banana River years ago with a couple friends, entertaining visions of jumbo reds peeling drag. We’d loaded up the boat with an assortment of $10 rods with faded monofilament on rusty reels and had a bucket with a Bubble Box and a few dozen shrimp inside. I don’t recall what we paid for them, but it was certainly king’s ransom (last month they were 30 cents apiece at Bridge Side Marina in Grand Isle). The tide was right and we just knew we’d crush ‘em. The reds, that is. But it wasn’t to be; we didn’t see anything copper that day.

“$#!@, another trout. What a waste of a shrimp,” was the refrain as a smattering of trout was boated.

On another occasion, I’d loaded up my Old Town canoe — my faithful but less-than-seaworthy fishing vessel ­— and hauled it to the coast for another shot at striking red gold. The Old Town was powered by a Shakespeare trolling motor that lacked any paint or even a skeg and crackled and smoked when you flipped the switch to reverse. Again, I had shrimp in tow. It took several hours and killed my battery, but I managed to land two fish, which represents 40% of a Florida limit of reds, and I could not have been more pleased with the day. I was in love with redfish and their seemingly endless strength that was matched only by their wariness and cunning. Well, at least that’s the case in Florida.

Fast forward to this past March, when a horde of yellow-mouthed, speckled meat nuggets made me feel like a fool for ever spending a day on the water trying to do anything except fill a box with their tasty flesh.

When a trout bite is on fire, it’s bliss and mayhem at the same time. The situation is hysteria on a boat; fish beat themselves senseless on the deck as you unhook, fix your bait and frantically make another cast, hoping the school is still there. As a tip, crimp the barbs on your hooks so when you sling a trout over the gunnel and onto the deck, it takes just a flip or two to unhook itself. Sure, you’ll lose some when they jump, but you’ll gain time casting that would otherwise be spent unhooking the slimy bastards.

One morning of bearing witness to a 75-trout beatdown was all it took for me to see the speckled light. Successfully pounding a school of trout for 25 fish per man is an unforgettable experience, something that’s unique to Louisiana, and is another reason why our state is so special. And as you know, trout take a back seat to no fish when they hit the grease.

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