Peter Brookes: Angling for redfish off Amelia Island

Peter Brookes holds a seatrout he caught at Amelia Island, Florida. Courtesy photo

Sportsmen sometimes make elaborate, detailed and optimistic plans for their outdoor adventures, which only gives the hunting and fishing gods and goddesses an opportunity to have some fun with us mere mortals and our intentions.Am I right or what?

I’m sure of this because that’s what happened to me on an early November trip to Amelia Island in northern Florida for what I thought would be some well-timed, sight fishing for tailing redfish on the fly.

I met local guide and Amelia Island native Capt. Lawrence Piper of The Angler’s Mark (theanglersmark.com) a little after first light at the boat ramp on a beautiful fall morning.

Capt. Piper is a great guide and in no time we were on some really fishy water, scouting seagrass marshes for redfish, nosing the sandy bottom for shrimp and crab on a flood tide. 

The conditions were perfect.

Unfortunately, the gods and goddesses had clearly whispered to the reds that I was in town – and there wasn’t a trademark spotted redfish tail in sight.

We moved quickly between potential spots until we finally found a feeding red. Capt. Piper eased the boat gently into the grass and we watched carefully as a good-sized red worked its way across the marsh, sucking up the seafood smorgasbord.

Amazingly, the red which was moving away from us through the grasses when we beached the boat, turned and started heading my way. 

My pulse quickened as I realized that I‘d probably only have one shot – maybe two – at this easily-spooked drum fish. (Redfish are scientifically “red drum”).

Like in other salt water fishing, quickly needed to calculate in which direction the fish was going to move, how fast it was going and then put the fly far enough in front of the fish so it‘d swim into it-and eat.

“Here goes nothing,” I whispered hopefully.

On the first cast, the fly went pretty much where I wanted it to and the red actually seemed headed for it.  I stripped the fly ever so slightly to make it move just a tad, causing the sand to go pooooffimitating a crab or shrimp

The redfish seemed to eye the fly, but passed on my humble offering.

I carefully water-loaded the rod and quickly made another cast from the boat’s foredeck, again guessing where to put the fly.  Miraculously, I again dropped the fly into the “strike zone;” like a homing torpedo, the red locked onto it. 


Like in an old black & white WWII flick, the water exploded upward where the “torpedo” and the target intersected. I braced for the fly line’s tug and the ziiiing of the reel as the powerful fish darted across the marsh. 

But no!

The “slot-sized” redfish flew across the shallow seagrass meadow and out of sight without my hook in its mouth. I could almost hear the faint sounds of the fish gods and goddesses tee-hee’ing in delight.  

Fortunately, while the reds eluded me, every good sportsman has a Plan B to parry the pranks of the outdoor deities. Our fallback was to chase spotted seatrout (aka speckled seatrout or “specks”) – a worthy alternative.  

Capt. Piper did get me into a good number of specks, slinging both surface and sub-surface flies on floating and sinking lines over and along oyster shell beds aroundAmelia Island.

Capt. Piper noted we might see a really big “fish” coming from the direction of Georgia just to the north: A U.S. nuclear fleet ballistic missile submarine leaving the Kings Bay naval base on its way to patrol in the deeps

I asked, “Which fly would we use for that fish?

After a good laugh, the fly line, which was swinging along an oyster bed, went taught.  I strip set the hook to which the quarry put a rainbow-like arc in the 7-weight fly rod.

Twenty-inch seatrout.  Nice!

All in all, it was a great day on the water with Capt. Piper, who seems to really enjoy regaling visitors with Amelia Island’s lore and legend between bountiful bites-a real bonus.

Of course, as we all know, the outdoor spirits can be a real pain. But even if that’s the case, don’t let that possibility get in the way of a potentially great day on the water or in the field. 

Dr. Peter Brookes is a D.C. foreign policy wonk who escapes to his Fort Valley cabin and the great outdoors as often as he can.