Just after the new year, I spent two very cold afternoons chasing reds at Jekyll Island, GA. The afternoons were in the mid-40's with a moderate wind, and with about five layers of clothes on, the weather was almost tolerable. The water temp on the flats was 47 degrees. The guide's boat was a brand-new Hell's Bay Whipray with a 90 hp Yamaha. Very nice.
We ran about three miles (not tolerable) to a large flat and saw maybe five schools of reds, with each school having some 10 reds each. Although we were in 8"-10" of water, I could only see down about 3" due to the black silty mud bottom stirred up from the wind. So we looked for tails and pushes.
And boy, were there tails, backs, and pushes. It's hard for five to ten pound redfish to hide in just a few inches of water. I caught only one, as they were extremely spooky and not easy to approach in shallow lee water. So after some time, we ran again (still not tolerable) to near our launch area and staked out, as the guide said that in late afternoon the reds congregate in this area. You couldn't see this size of this huge flat, but it was probably 40 or so acres. Again, dark mucky bottom and late afternoon milky sun limited our vision.
A couple of dolphins (they're not tolerable either) were some 300 yards from us, tossing reds in the air and just tearing the water up. Within minutes the reds were running for their lives straight at us. They came in waves of up to 50, and settled down within casting distance from us. These fish were extremely nervous, and were not eating. More kept coming, and soon we were sitting in the middle of probably 200 reds.
After a while of relative quiet, tails and backs appeared and pushes started everywhere. I think the reds began chasing small mullet that seemed to be stunned in the cold water. I was tossing my go-to slider on one rod and the guide's go-to weighted tan chenille-flash fly on the other rod. Hook-ups were tough though, and I wished I had had a Puglisi black and purple peanut bunker on the boat, but did not. I probably hooked up on 20 reds, with most hook-ups happening with the fish running straight at the boat. A tough hook-up. But I did get a few to the boat, but lost most to lousy sets.
We tried moving the boat to the edge (who knew where the edge was?) of this monster school of fish, but to no avail. More waves of reds kept coming to our area due to the dolphins, so we were constantly in the midst of this huge school. Part of the problem was that every cast I made at a tail or push, I would line another 10 or 20 reds, which would of course would startle the fish I was casting to.
In my many years of fishing, I have never seen a phenomenon such as this. I thought this was absolutely a rare event until I told the guide this, and his reply was, "This happens pretty much all the time!".
Yah, Yah, I've heard that crap before, so I decided to go out again the next afternoon. Still cold and windy, still five layers of clothes. We made the run up to the first flat again but no fish around this time, so we ran back to the big flat again where last evening's action was and staked out (both runs damned cold - frozen fingers).
One dolphin was working the water far way, but I couldn't see any frightened fish running our way. After five minutes or so of being staked out, a tail popped up, then another, then another. Pushes and tails everywhere, all within casting range. Here we go again! I don't think the dolphin was the reason for this school of reds, as he was so far away, and now think the guide was right when he said this was a pretty regular occurrence. And this school was easily as big as the previous afternoon's school of reds. Unbelievable! The same problems existed however, spooking 10 reds by lining them when casting at a particular fish. Again I caught some fish, lost many and had a lot of missed sets. Most of the reds I caught or hooked up were in the 5 to 10 pound range, but I did have a 15 pounder hooked up and near the boat before I lost him. Big ones always gets away, huh?
Anyway, it started getting dark (and colder), and the dolphin was moving on to "our" flat for his evening meal. We motored away and were rewarded with a beautiful sunset on our ride back to the launch.
All in all, two cold and windy afternoons that I will never forget. Seeing 20 or 30 tails and pushes all at the same time, and watching this go on and on for a couple of hours will stay in mind forever.
How's that for a fish story?