Captain Bob Fisher has seen a lot of big redfish.
Make that BIG redfish.
Guiding on the Indian River in the Titusville area, Fisher is on the home turf of the clan of giant resident redfish that roam between Titusville and Ponce De Leon Inlet near Daytona Beach. His anglers regularly catch and release 40- to 45-pounders.
But the fish Holly Macaree brought to the boat on March 23 was something else.
Macaree, visiting from Indiana, took about 20 minutes to bring the monster to the boat. As soon as Fisher got a good look at it, he realized it was a step above the normal Indian River giant.
“I could tell right away that it was a really deep fish, just a huge girth,” Fisher said. “It was way too big for the net, so we just got its head in there and her friend grabbed the tail and we brought it aboard that way.”
Fisher had no scale aboard, but he quickly measured the fish and got some surprising numbers.
“She was 541⁄2 inches long and had a girth of 33 inches,” Fisher said. “It was by far the thickest fish I had ever landed, though I caught one other that was about that same length.”
The largest redfish ever reported from Florida waters went 52 pounds, 4 ounces. Macaree’s fish was considerably bigger than that, Fisher estimated.
In fact, based on the classic formula for estimating fish weight — length times girth squared divided by 800 — the fish weighed 74.2 pounds.
“It was not as heavy as the formula would say it is, but I’d say it was surely over 60 pounds,” Fisher said.
“I see 45-pound fish just about every trip when the fish are hitting, and this was a good 15 pounds or so bigger.”
Because there was no official weigh-in, there’s no record. However, Fisher guessed he’ll see this fish again.
“She came from one of my big fish holes,” he said. “I don’t know why, but there are several little spots up and down the lagoon where the really big ones hang out, and they’ll be in there year after year. I would not be at all surprised to catch that fish again.”
He said the fish ate a live pinfish in water barely 3 feet deep.
“I fish an 8-foot rod, Shimano 4000 reel and 20- to 30-pound test PowerPro braid,” Fisher said. “The braided line really helps get them under control a lot better than mono.”
Most of the big reds in the lagoon area are caught in shallow water, where they cruise looking for mullet and crabs from spring through fall. They move into the deeper holes and the Intracoastal Waterway channel in the colder parts of winter, Fisher said, adding that the best time of year is typically from now through August.
“Sometimes you can sight-fish them, because when they move around in that shallow water they make quite a wake, but there has been so much pressure anymore that it’s better to just know where they hang out and go there and sit and wait for your bait to fool them,” Fisher said.
He said in prime season his anglers typically catch between two and six fish on a trip.
“You have to be patient, because it’s not like catching trout or rat reds,” Fisher said, “but if you get one, you’ve got something to take a picture of.”
He said the fishery has remained strong for many years thanks to the no-harvest rule on reds more than 27 inches long.
“We lost some fish in the big freeze a few years back, but there are still a lot of them here. It’s not uncommon to see 50 fish in a pod, sometimes 200,” Fisher said. “I saw one group a few years back that probably had close to a thousand, all of them 4 feet long.”
The redfish on the Atlantic Coast tend to run heavier than those on the Gulf side, and the all-tackle record — a whale-like 94.2 pounds — came from the Outer Banks of North Carolina. But redfish in all Florida waters appear to be growing steadily heavier, thanks to the tight harvest regulations.
It’s not unlikely that more huge fish will be showing up in the Indian River Lagoon and other areas, including west coast waters, in the years ahead.
To learn more about the giant redfish of the Indian River Lagoon, contact Bob Fisher at (386) 290-0786 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.