Jackson: Imagine our riches if redfish could tolerate Illinois waters

 
 
Updated 2/1/2018 11:49 AM
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  • Standing on a charter boat, a fisherman explores the marsh near Boothville, La., an area in the Mississippi Delta known as one of the best places to catch speckled trout and redfish. As the bannner suggests, Louisiana sees its fishing waters as prime tourist attractions.

    Standing on a charter boat, a fisherman explores the marsh near Boothville, La., an area in the Mississippi Delta known as one of the best places to catch speckled trout and redfish. As the bannner suggests, Louisiana sees its fishing waters as prime tourist attractions. Associated Press/2014 file

It's big, colorful (red), and almost as strong as a lake sturgeon.

It's relatively smaller, very strong, and hits live bait or some kind of artificial lure like a freight train.

I am referring to the very desirable red drum caught off the Florida coast as well as the brackish waters of the Gulf of Mexico near Venice, Louisiana.

My first experience with white drum, a freshwater close cousin to the red, occurred on the Rock River near Sterling, Illinois. The strike was hard and I told Mike Seeling at the time that I thought I had hooked a big flathead catfish. Wrong again.

A pretty good size white drum took quite a bit of line off the spinning reel until it (the fish) ran out of steam. The 8-pound welterweight fighter made up of scales and fins was about to go back into the drink when the guide we used yelled "save it for the smoker."

And we did.

It happened again on Lake Michigan while fishing for smallmouth bass and jumbo perch. My rod doubled over after a vicious strike. I managed to bring the fish to the surface when Frank Byrzicki screamed out "it's a sheep of the deep" and don't even bring it in to the boat.

Since my angling pals had very little regard for the tasty meat of that fish, I've chosen to keep the stories of about a half-dozen more encounters with white drum to myself.

And so about six years ago Seeling and I traveled to Venice, Louisiana, and went out into the shallow flats to find jumbo redfish. We didn't just find them -- we went nuts catching and releasing huge fish weighing up to 40 pounds. And in Cajun country, the good old boys treat redfish (or red drum) like filet mignon.

In all the hours I spent with Seeling on that first trip, I never heard a disparaging word pertaining to "bull reds" and those big southern channel catfish we nailed at the outlet of the Mississippi River.

The truth of the matter is locals treat just about all seafood with respect because most everything caught, be it from the land or sea, goes into the skillet or Dutch oven.

It went to another level after a famous New Orleans chef decided to experiment with redfish and wound up blackening the filets and redfish steaks while also using some pretty hot seasonings tossed in for a zingy taste experience. After all that, redfish became the go-to fish for commercial operators and hook and liners.

Before long there appeared to be a shortage of redfish in the Gulf so the feds stepped in, forcing lovers of the tasty red to feast on other gems from the sea. And with all that happening down South, our beloved angling brethren up here were still throwing the white drum back into the water.

Venice, Louisiana, along with and much of the saltwater fishing grounds around Florida's rocket country, has seen another economic re-birth from its great redfish angling.

Meanwhile, back in Illinois, we're still waiting for politicians and legislators to wake up and invest in the outdoor riches here.

• Contact Mike Jackson at angler88@comcast.net, catch his radio show 7-9 a.m. Sundays on WGCO 1590-AM (live-streamed at www.1590WCGO.com) and get more content at www.mikejacksonoutdoors.com.

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