This past weekend, I was lucky enough to get to fish Cedar Key, Fl with my dad. Prior to this trip, I’d only fished Cedar Key once and that was from a jon boat and I was about twelve years old. This time would be from the kayak.
After an extremely hectic Friday, I managed to escape Gainesville late and make the hour and a half drive over to Cedar Key. Upon arriving, I was reminded of something I’m personally not used to: Big tidal shifts. Back home in Pensacola, the only real difference between high and low tides is that they are on different parts of the tide table. Honestly, there’s about a 1-1.5 ft difference in the tides in Pensacola. And that’s with really strong tides.
Cedar Key (along with the rest of the Gulf Coast) has much stronger tides. Cedar Key actually has about a 5 ft. tide. So when we arrived late Friday evening, I’m not greeted with thousands of little islands, sloughs, and fishy looking spots. Instead, I see…Mud. Endless mud flats. Low tide at Cedar Key is brutal and everyone who fishes there answers to the tides first.
|Photo taken from dep.state.fl.us|
So after consulting the almighty tide table, we realized that low tide was at 7:30am the next morning and high tide wasn’t until 1:00pm. I know I’m not alone in thinking that the earlier you can get out on the water, the better. But…It was impossible. Low tide was just too low, even in my yak. So it was kinda weird being on a fishing trip and not waking up until about 9:00am. Even after launching at around 9:30, I still succeeded scratching the bottom of the kayak to hell on oyster bars.
My dad and I paddled out to the closest island which was around 1/2 mile from launch and began fishing. After a couple of hours, I’d circled almost the whole island and hadn’t had the first bump. I finally spotted an area where the strong incoming tide was flowing around a point on the island and started to catch fish. I only managed to pull in a few small specks, but hey…It was better than nothing. Moments later, my dad came over and landed a very nice red.
The island was essentially cut in half by tidal mud flats and the incoming tide made it possible to paddle through the middle of it. To our surprise, we didn’t see the first sign of any fish in the shallows aside from mullet. Once on the outside of the island again, we started seeing what -looked- like mullet being chased around oyster bars by big fish. But we failed to catch anything aside from the bottom and got off the water around 3:00 pm.
Later that day, we drove down to an area on the Lower Suwanee National Wildlife Refuge that has an indian shell mound. There is a boat launch there and the area (even though it was low tide) looked really fishy. We decided that we would fish this area the following morning.
Once again, I had to shake the weird feeling of waking up late and fishing late the following day. We launched by the shell mound and began looking for fish. I happened to look at google earth the night before and saw where a channel was located in the area and we used that to paddle deeper into the marsh. After about 30 minutes of paddling and fishing, the tide really began to get moving and the current started shooting my yak through the narrow cuts and sloughs.
Rather than get dragged all the way inshore, I broke free from the current and paddled into a calm area on the backside of an island. Another thing I’m not used to is fishing around large amounts of oysters. It seemed like every 10 casts I’d hook the bottom and would have to paddle over to get my lure free. After just a few casts on the backside of this particular island, I hooked the bottom yet again. Except something was wrong…The bottom was moving! I -actually- had a fish. With all the fish I’ve landed over the years, I still find it funny when I have a fish on and don’t realize it for a few moments. After quite a strong fight, I pulled in my first Cedar Key Redfish. Within slot to boot!
I must have found a little school of Reds because my next few casts hooked even more.
And just as quick as I got into them, they were gone. With that, I kept paddling along, hoping to get into another school. Soon I spotted something in the water, but didn’t believe it when I saw it. A few moments later, I saw it again and my heart skipped a beat.
|Photo taken from Floridafishermen.net|
Sure I know Redfish will sometimes tail in shallow water when they’re feeding, but that’s like saying monster bucks will come running to doe in heat urine…It just doesn’t happen to me. The only tailing reds I’d seen before this were in my dreams and in Florida Sportsman magazine. Something about Pensacola Reds makes them reluctant to do this, so when I saw that tail, the first thing I did was perform my patented ‘insta-fail-cast’.
The move has taken me years to master, but I consider myself a pro at it. I’ve made this kind of cast to everything from lunker bass to Tarpon. The first step is to acquire enough adrenaline in the system to send you into seizure-like shakes. The next step is to grab the nearest rod and hook the lure onto every loose item in the boat. It’s here that I like to sometimes put my own personal touch on the move by dropping the paddle in my lap hard enough that the fish think all the banging is a reenactment of River Dance going on above. During all of this, it’s important to mutter every obscenity that you can think of in order to mentally prepare for the upcoming cast. Finally, with all the prerequisite steps complete, it’s time to finish the ‘insta-fail-cast’. Assuming the fish is still in the same county at this point, take aim with your rod, and let loose a cast that lands either eighteen inches from the boat, or in the canopy of the nearest tree. Really, just as long as the lure doesn’t land in the same area code as the fish, you should be alright.
Luckily, my near perfect ‘insta-fail-cast’ didn’t manage to spook my tailing Red. I quickly made a cliche’ normal cast and got my lure within inches of the Redfish’s nose. I gave the rod a quick twitch and…Nothing. The fish acted like there wasn’t even a lure there. I made another cast, hoping that maybe the fish just didn’t see it. But once again…Nothing.
I rapidly began digging through the tackle box and pulled out my go-to inshore lure: A chartreuse double tailed grub. I made another cast and ‘wham’. Redfish.
Shortly after releasing the red, I saw more tails. These, however, were massive. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be -giant- Black Drum. I made several casts before I finally got one to pick up my grub. Sadly, I was extremely out gunned. I fought the fish for close to a minute before he finally realized he was hooked. Then he started peeling drag. It sorta looked like a mini-sub moving through the shallow water as he dragged me around in circles. I fought the fish for maybe five minutes. I got close enough to see it and would estimate it somewhere between 30-40lbs. He made a few circles around the boat, then finally came straight at the yak, behind it, then under it. At that awkward angle, I was forced to put the rod tip in the water and try to spin the yak around. However, before I could get the kayak spun around, the main line found a set of oysters underwater and snapped the beast off. I was
livid pissed slightly perturbed. Prior to this, the biggest Black Drum I’d ever seen was about fifteen inches long.
I spent the rest of the day trying to catch another. I took out the GoPro, and then proceeded to not catch another fish all day. Sometimes that’s just how it goes. I got a short video of me failing with a cast, then accidentally foul hooking another big Black Drum for a second before the hook pulled. If you watch closely, you’ll see the fish tailing.
Overall, I had an absolute blast fishing Cedar Key. I would have killed to have just one more day to chase after those tailing Reds and maybe throw some actual bait at the Black Drum since they weren’t real interested in my lure. -Super- muddy water played against us, so next time maybe bait would be the way to go. Regardless, I look forward to the next time I make it down there and maybe I’ll get a rematch with one of those big ugly Black Drum.