Having only lived in Pensacola for about two weeks, I was looking for a good spot to hook up to a red fish one evening a few hours before sunset.
Not knowing the area, I drove down to the end of Pensacola Beach and into Fort Pickens, a place I had heard a lot of good things about, but never fished. I decided to try a spot at the second parking lot on the left past the entrance, since it was a small parking lot with only a few cars. It looked like a decent enough spot, and if anything else, was not overcrowded.
Armed with 2 Penn surf rods, a 9 foot Battle 8000 and a 9 foot Fierce 3 6000 with 50 pound Power Pro, I was ready to tackle anything swimming by in the Gulf of Mexico looking for its next meal.
It was slightly overcast in the upper 60s in mid March, and I pretty much had the place to myself. There were a few people fishing further down to the left of me, but I like to be as far away from people as possible, so I headed to the right about a quarter of a mile until I spotted a sharp V in the sand where the water meets the shore. It was the perfect spot to set up. I had a sandbar in front of me with a deep drop off behind it. I brought my cast net with me in case any finger mullet swam by, but decided to throw out some dead shrimp and some live sand fleas as bait to get started. I figured I’d mix it up, so I put one sand flea and one shrimp on my 9 foot Penn Battle and used the same setup for bait on my 9 foot Penn Fierce rod.
My rig of choice was simple, a pompano rig with a 3 ounce pyramid weight on the bottom. Nothing fancy. The tide was coming in and the current was moving steadily. I was ready and the conditions couldn’t be better, except for the occasional yellow fly harassing me, but luckily I came prepared with bug spray.
There is nothing more frustrating than waiting for your rod to double over only to be attacked by a swarm of yellow flies, and believe me, they hurt! After about an hour or so, I decided to move down even further to the right.
I’m a big believer in moving spots. If the fish aren’t biting at one spot, move until you can find out where they are hiding. That is why they call it fishing and not catching after all. It was getting close to sundown and still no action, so I decided to give each of my rods one more cast before it got too dark.
This time I decided to wade out and cast behind the second sandbar, which was a challenge with the way the current was moving and the tide coming in. But I fought through the waves smashing into my face with each step, swallowing a little saltwater every now and then, to make my last two casts. My bait remained the same, live sand flea and a shrimp fishing on the bottom.
About 15 minutes later just as it’s starting to get dark, my Fierce 3 doubles over. The rod is completely bent over and drag is screaming off the reel. Luckily I had my sand spike buried deep in the sand for just an occasion or I would have lost my gear. I furiously run over to my rod and grab it as line continues to peel off the reel with no sign of it stopping in sight.
I have something nice on, and it’s not a pompano, I thought to myself. I let the fish continue to take drag, and finally decided to tighten down on the drag just a fraction of a turn to see if I could gain a little ground.
That seemed to help. I wasn’t really worried about getting my line spooled since I outfit my rods with 300 yards of line. It would take a lot to spool me, but it has happened before. There are some big rays and sharks out there. After gaining a little ground, the fish makes another strong, powerful run.
This time to the left. I decided to follow him down the beach and walk with the run to make it easier on myself. Now I’m back to where I originally started fishing at the V in the sand, except I am waist deep in water. The fish has gone on four or five good runs and I have gained a little ground, but each time I get him close to shore, he bolts again.
My forearms are getting quite the workout and now the people who were fishing to my left have walked over to watch me fight this bad boy. The pressure was on with an audience, but my only focus was landing the fish. I worked too hard not to see what it was. I finally manage to get him past the second sandbar. One more sandbar to go and he would be mine, but that is where most people lose their fish, right at the shore. I reel slow and steady, and I know from the runs I have been getting, this is a bull red fish.
As I try to get him over the first sandbar and beach him, he gives me one last good run, not completely wanting to give up just yet. I hold my rod tip up, keeping tension on my line, and reel him back to the first sand bar. He is finally giving up! Seeing that the fish is completely exhausted, I seize my opportunity to beach him and slowly walk it back to shore, hoping nothing crazy happens at the very end.
At last I see the fish. It is an absolute beast of a red fish and I knew it had to be close to being my personal best. The people watching were in as much shock as I was. It was a 53 inch bull red. Easily 20 plus pounds with 3 big beautiful spots on each side of its tail. I quickly took a measurement, snapped a picture, and got him back in the water to swim away safely. They are such beautiful animals, and I appreciate every opportunity I get to interact with them. What a fight!