Gigging for redfish in Florida is illegal, let alone gigging a redfish that is out of the slot limit the state imposes. After seeing a batch of images featuring a redfish with a gig sticking out of its head on Capt. Justin Price’s Instagram, we needed to learn more. Capt. Price had this to share about the experience:
“Finally a break in the weather with a beautiful forecast for the day. Normal start picking up some of my regular clients at a ramp near New Smyrna Beach. Tyler and his wife Heather are no strangers to the area and have been fishing with me here for some time now. They’ve experienced some spectacular days here in New Smyrna Beach and the Mosquito Lagoon. They love coming to the quaint beach town for the restaurants, beaches, and the small-town feel. The Black Dolphin Inn Bed and Breakfast is their favorite place to stay and for good reason.
The conditions have been challenging with the lack of cold fronts and the ones we have received started to push the fish into their winter patterns. But unfortunately, outside of those fronts, we’ve have been experiencing record-breaking temperatures for this time of the year. What does this mean for the fish? It makes it extremely tough to pattern their movements and predict what they are doing and where they will want to feed.
The tides for the day where I had been successful earlier in the week were not in our favor but good for a short window in the morning. With the low light in the mornings, we need to see surface movements such as tails or even a dorsal fin of a redfish to give away their whereabouts. It’s crucial not to get the sun out our back too much, so the fish do not see the shadow of the fly line as we cast so positioning the boat at just the right angle is very important.
The first few spots were vacant and the breeze and low light were working against us. Mid-morning now and the sun was finally getting to the right height to spot fish. Poling around oyster bars and starring hard at the shallow mangrove shorelines for any signs of movement. We were seeing fish now and getting a few shots but they were spooky and we needed to get the shots off before they were on to us and lead them quite a bit. This time of the year redfish and sea trout are feed mainly on crustaceans and when the water is clean, skies are blue, and the fish are spooky downsizing your flies and leader really help. So we were throwing pretty much bonefish flies to get them to react. Tyler was lined up on a fish cruising the shoreline and after a few casts, the fish tracked the fly and ate but spit before Tyler could get a good strip set. Now the fish was in the glare making him hard to see. One more shot to him and the fish ate again and this time the line is tight and the rod is bent.
The day continued to be a bit slow only seeing a few small groups up shallow and some single fish on the shorelines. Poling the boat along trying to distinguish redfish over the sand bottom between grass clumps and mangrove stumps. I almost called out what I thought was a fish but didn’t and it suddenly moved. Something wasn’t right about what I was seeing. My angler Tyler made a few casts but the fish already made us. We couldn’t tell what was stuck to the fish but we knew it wasn’t good. We covered more ground and were on our way out and there the fish was again and was crossing the bow. Tyler made a few false casts and laid out a nice shot. Now directly in front of the boat in my blind spot, Tyler made a few strips, and the line came tight.
The fish fought hard and halfway through the fight something felt off. The leader was wrapped around whatever was protruding from its back. Now we had the fish boat side and couldn’t believe what we were seeing. This redfish had been stabbed by a poacher with what is used to stab flounder also known as “gigging”. We were lucky to even land this fish because the fly either came unbuttoned during the fight or we foul hooked the fish, to begin with, on the gig sticking out of his back.
We took a quick photo then kept the fish in the water contemplating whether to remove the gig or just let the fish go. It felt loose and we were confident that we could remove it. At this point, it was a 50/50 chance, either way, the fish would survive but by the looks of it, the gig had missed the spine and all the organs. The removal was a success and the fish swam off strong.
Just to reference the size of the gig…
There are many reasons why this is wrong but gigging for flounder is legal in our area. This happened in the boundaries of the Canaveral National Seashore and Merrit Island Wildlife Refuge. This is known as one of the biggest estuaries on the eastern seaboard which is roughly 25,000 acres with an average depth of 3ft. The Indian River Lagoon system and Mosquito Lagoon are home to redfish, large sea trout, black drum, snook, and juvenile tarpon year-round and an abundance of wildlife from over 300 different species of birds, manatees, bottlenose dolphins, alligators, and the occasional sightings of the Florida bobcat. This fishery has had its challenges over the last decade with algae blooms, loss of seagrass, and boat pressure. This is a special place that needs to be protected and not abused. I encourage people to come and experience this place if you haven’t and to also educate people on what we are trying to save. This fishery needs help from the fly fishing community to give us a louder voice to discuss the issues we have with water quality and the loss of fish habitat.”
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