Numb Legs

I climbed down the ladder and stuck my toes in the water and let out a barely audible groan, the waters in the Choctawhatchee Bay had started dipping into their fall temperatures. It’s the temperature right between being unbearably cold and your body adapting to the shock after a few minutes. The afternoon sun during this time of the year isn’t just hot on the back of your neck, it also warms up the grass flats where the redfish and gator-sized speckled trout like to frolic while picking off unsuspecting bait fish.

Ten feet into my wade I had a small nibble on my soft plastic and hooked into the first speckled trout of the day. It was a tiny one, but got the day started well nonetheless. The three things I love about this time of the year are:

1.     The water is crystal clear

2.     Glassy afternoon conditions; and

3.     When you catch one fish there’s guaranteed to be more around 

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After this first fish, I hadn’t even made it 10 more yards down the flat when I noticed a massive school of mullet coming my way like a parade of ants jumping happily along. I made 6 or 7 casts into the school with hopes that there were some redfish following the horse mullet around. Smaller redfish in the 18in range will “adopt” the school of mullet as their own, for reasons that I do not know. I would speculate that they like the security of being in the school, or they use it to ambush unsuspecting bait fish passing by.

I went 30 minutes without a bite and then froze right in my tracks. I saw the unmistakable red ironclad scales of a redfish about 12 yards to my left. It stood out in stark contrast to the dark grass patch it was hiding in. My blood pressure started to rise as I took my lure and tossed it a few feet past the fish and bounced it along the sandy bottom outside the grass patch. In a swift moment, the fish bolted from the patch and inhaled the lure like a bull charging in the streets of Pamplona. After a few minutes fight and a couple pictures, the fish was released back into the water to ambush some more unsuspecting baitfish.

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The rest of the day brought in a few more redfish and the sun started setting, which dropped the air temperature a bit. I could feel the chill run down my spine as I made my way back to the dock. I got a few feet from the dock and turned around to make a hail mary cast before I called it quits for the day. I ripped my soft plastic through the water and it was absolutely slammed by a freight train. The freight train then came up to the surface and started doing the unmistakable headshakes of a speckled trout, but at a distance I couldn’t tell how big it was. It peeled some drag for a few seconds, which then made me think it could be a redfish that just got hooked the wrong way. I got the fish a rods-length away and the biggest speckled trout I have ever seen graced my eyes. This was the kind of fish that you go all your life trying to catch, only to have the big girl do a last ditch headshake and spit the hooks.

I stood there in disbelief after witnessing what had just happened. After picking my jaw back up out of the water, I turned around, bowed my head and inched my cold-numbed legs back to the dock only to be left with a memory.

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Steven Vanden Heuvel