Right on the mark

I love to catch 'em and I love to photograph them, but I must admit that I probably take redfish for granted. That all changed during a recent visit to the secluded fishing village of St. Marks in Florida's Big Bend.

I was participating in the Florida Outdoor Writers Association conference in Tallahassee and the event's group fishing activity was held out of St. Marks, just 30 minutes south of Florida's capital.

Despite its proximity to a major metropolitan area, St. Marks stands in stark contrast with its comfortably sleepy demeanor and abundant natural accouterments compliments of its namesake National Wildlife Refuge. The expansive protected coastal region holds lots of fish-friendly habitat that gets a lighter dose of angling pressure than the state's more developed regions.

Guided by Capt. Rusty Jenkins, I was fortunate to be paired with Charles Fitzgerald, president of e21, the company that makes Carrot Stix rods.

I say "fortunate" not only because Charles brought some of his saltwater series rods for us to try, but more so because I witnessed him catch his first redfish -- apparently, something he'd wanted to accomplish for some time.

Now, when it's nearly 90 degrees by sunrise, the inshore scene gets pretty desolate. Even hardy fish like reds tend to slow down in the balmy brine. Capt. Rusty warned us of this fact, but said he'd do his best.

Well, his best turned out to be right on the money. As we departed the public boat launch adjacent to the historic San Marcos de Apalache Fort, the original plan was to reach the mouth of the Wakulla River and fish the marsh creeks near the St. Marks Lighthouse on the rising tide.

However, as Capt. Rusty passed one of his favorite oyster bars, he decided to pull up short and give the mollusk mound a few minutes.

Mullet wiggling and splashing along the bar's perimeter told us that the spot was happening and periodic boils indicated predators in the neighborhood. We threw a mix of topwaters and lipless crankbaits, with Capt. Rusty bagging a 22-inch red in short order.

The captain offered some targeting instruction and Charles soon came tight with a cantankerous opponent that kept us guessing for nearly a minute, until it rolled topside and revealed those shiny copper scales.

Redfish -- a 24-incher!

Charles and his bright orange spinning rod had finally captured the species of his dreams. Now, don't think him a novice -- in fact, he's quite an accomplished freshwater angler. But this coastal stuff was something of a new game for Mr. Fitzgerald. So, imagine his delight when he added a second red, this one two inches larger, about 30 minutes later.

Angler thrilled, captain relieved -- it was a good morning in St. Marks.

When it came time for the souvenir photo, Charles busted out a heartfelt smile of appreciation that shone brighter than the sunrise we had recently seen peeking over the salt marsh. Later, as I cooled my heels at the Sweet Magnolia Bed and Breakfast, about a mile from the boat ramp, it occurred to me that I had not caught a single fish this morning. Funny, how a great fishing trip isn't always defined by one's personal performance.

For information on St. Marks and Wakulla County, visit www.wakullacountytdc.com. Reach Capt. Rusty Jenkins at: (850) 528-1705. Find the bed and breakfast at www.sweetmagnolia.com.