The ancient Mako 17 lounged beside an Indian River fishing camp. Amid the rusted trailer and decaying leafy interior clutter was her magical and somehow readable stern message merrily announcing, “Reds R Us.”

I chuckled at the irony of that sun-bleached clunker’s name as I wheeled a friend’s sleek, carbon-and-fiberglass Maverick down the ramp. Almost single-handedly, redfish have CPR’ed life back into the light-tackle fishing markets of the inshore Gulf and lower East Coast. Reds R Us was built over 30 years ago, in the bad old days, even before Cajun Chef Paul Prudhomme’s blackened redfish craze reached epidemic proportions. Thanks to proactive anglers and the multi-state Coastal Conservation Association, species-devastating commercial netting was reduced, and now even old time crackers are surprised at the booming redfish numbers.

Taped on top of my favorite redfish carving is a crab fly on a robust 5/0 Mustad. The heavy tinned hook is almost straight enough to be used as a spear. It’s a gift from my Maverick-owning pal’s great day, which included two shattered fly rods, three disappearing fly lines and numerous other break-offs. Finally they boated and released a 34-pound bull red and called it quits. Wish I’d been there.

Redfish weren’t a major deal when I was a kid in South Florida during the 50s and early 60s. In the 10,000 Islands and north, pluggers caught them on Johnson Silver Minnows and Sprite spoons, Mirrolures and jigs sweetened with shrimp. Sea trout tasted better and snook and tarpon fought harder and jumped around. I enjoyed catching redfish on wooden Creek Chub Darter floaters in runoff channels and nearby Flamingo flats.

In the early 70s I returned to South Florida and met a recent U. M. marine biology graduate who was just beginning his Islamorada guiding career. Rick Ruoff introduced me to bucktail streamers on Keel Hooks and Seaducers that injected my fly rod with super redfish powers. It was easy to interest tailers and ray followers in many of those places I’d haunted before college and the Air Force.

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