Along The Trail 1-15-15

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Editor’s Note: This is a column written by Switzerland County’s David Hewitt. The articles center on all things ‘outdoors’, from hunting and fishing to woodsmanship.

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Winter, real winter has finally arrived.

A skiff of snow, a stiff arctic wind and near zero temperatures have me wishing for warmer climes. As I gaze out my office window at the frozen ground, dry leaves whipping across the street caught up in a vortex, I drift into a trance and day dream about the Gulf, sunshine, and steamed oysters.

The ‘Forgotten Coast’ is rural, more country than most folks think when Florida comes to mind.

Huge tracts of pine forest, palmettos and rolling hills and oak hummocks. Wetlands, rivers and saltwater marshes. Thousands of acres of unspoiled wilderness, full of whitetails, black bear, wild hogs and turkeys. Rivers and creeks full of bream and bass, the Gulf and its brackish waters stirring with untold numbers of salt water species. A true sportsman’s paradise: The deer, bear and boars are all tempting for a bowhunter, but they’ll have to wait for another day. This trip is about rest, relaxation and redfish.

Late afternoon, mid-70’s as the November clouds and breeze roll in along the beach signaling a change in the weather. The afternoon tide inches its way up the shore and its white sands. A patch of grass reaches out onto a shallow point while the water creeps higher and higher. A likely looking spot to toss my bait.

I wade into the Gulf’s cool autumn water. The rush feels good to my sunburned feet and shins. I slip out further, knee deep in order to get the most from my cast. Schools of minnows burst to the surface, chased by an unseen predator. I double check my lure’s knot and pull the string taught with my teeth and a tug. Small breakers are crashing further beyond, but the little jut of slack water is my target.

I flip the spinning rig’s bail , flick my wrist as line spools off and the jig makes a quiet splash down at the point. A couple of quick jerks and a slight twitch on the other end of the line. I set the hook, but nothing there, a short strike!

I grin with optimism at my chances.

Reel back in, check the knot and heave it forward again. This time past the grass point. 10 o’clock, 2 o’clock, I bounce the jig along the sandy bottom, working closer to the hiding spot. The rod tip up and down – tap, tap on the opposite end. I yank back and feel weight. The fish speeds away and leaps from the surface. My reel’s drag screams as the fish takes line and heads for deeper water.

I finesse the fish as best I can, my lightweight bass rig, not ideally suited for saltwater. A few more jumps and the red tires out and comes to rest at my ankles. Not a monster by any stretch, but a fine catch non the less. His red, pink and white colors glisten in the evening light. A solid 3-pounder, starting to thicken and show some shoulders, a fighter for sure. I hoist the redfish up and snap a photo and then slide him back into the shallow gulf waters and watch him swim away to fight again.

My gal and I continue to cast as the tide rises higher into the grass. A few more redfish fall prey to our baits and she manages to beach a flounder and an angry stingray to add to our numbers. The sun finally sinks below the horizon, back lighting the breakers far off the beach crashing on a hidden reef, announcing our departure. We hike down the beach, feeling the wet sand on our feet and inhaling the salty air, knowing we’ll be back again – but not soon enough!

– David Hewitt