Bruiser Bull Reds of the IRL

Late summer provides steamy action for bull redfish in Florida's Indian River Lagoon

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Early September on the north-central Florida’s Indian River Lagoon means hot, steamy days and big schools of big bull reds on the prowl in a few feet of water. If they’re chasing hapless mullet, just watch for the bloodbath. Otherwise, look for the telltale wakes that 20- to 40-pound reds push when swimming just under the surface. One morning earlier this month, four editors from three Bonnier fishing titles joined four anglers from the main offices of Zebco — Fin-Nor, Quantum and Van Staal, who brought a substantial arsenal of inshore rods and reels to test out. They hopped onto skiffs of four top area guides (Nick Sassic, and others mentioned in captions for images that follow). The day started grey and breezy but soon morphed into what the forecast called for: flat calm, sunny and hot weather. And we started finding the reds…. PHOTO: Under a rather portentous grey sky, first fish of the morning is on the board for Chris Littau, who oversees product development for Fin-Nor put his product to the test after hooking this Indian River bull on a gold spoon. Guide John Lulay is ready for the release.Doug Olander
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Capt. Troy Perez (left) and John Kushnerick, director of advertising and marketing services for Zebco brands Fin-Nor, Quantum and Van Staal, look on as Salt Water Sportsman managing editor Nick Honachefsky struggles to slow the relentless rush of a big red.Doug Olander
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First double hookup of the day (with quite a few more to follow) for Littau and this editor.
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The end game: score two for anglers Olander (left) and Littau, zero redfish. Both fish released in good shape. Note my use of Quantum’s new, tiny Smoke reel. The size might say “crappie,” but it showed it’s ready to take on a whole more than that.
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Just when you think they’re tired… Bob Bagby, vice-president of marketing for Zebco brands, holds on as a big red powers away from the boat.Doug Olander
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Finesse and time helped Bagby prevail. He and Capt. Scott Maccalla share the moment of success, especially sweet for Bagby, using 8-pound braid on the new Quantum Exo spinner.Doug Olander
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Triple hookup for (from left) Perez, Kushnerick and Honachefsky. When big reds are in spawning aggregations, they’re numerous and aggressive.Doug Olander
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Testing tackle! Kushnerick checks rod strength and Honachefsky leader strength on a big red boatside.Doug Olander
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Tackle tested and passed: Honachefsky hoists Kushnerick’s bull as Perez tries to work his fish into position for a leader grab.Doug Olander
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Finally, the double in hand merits a pre-release photo. At this time of year 25- to 30-pounders can be the norm.Doug Olander
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A happy guide (Lulay) and even happier angler, I had reason to smile with the day’s biggest bull, a good 40 pounds — on the same little Smoke reel and rod with 10-pound braid in the 3rd and 4th photos. The big bull clobbered a Hamma lure, a new design from Halco.Doug Olander
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The big red is lowered to the water to resuscitate. Most of these drum require little such efforts, often kicking away strongly enough to pull away from anglers almost at once.Doug Olander
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One of several big bulls taken by Kushnerick. Many of these fish proved themselves to be bulls in gender as well as the size their name implies, leaving a bit of a mess on anglers’ shorts and on deck.Doug Olander
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Littau wraps it up with the last fish of the morning and does it in style, again using a weedless spoon, now tipped with a white soft tail.Doug Olander