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For a red-hot redfish bait, try this tiger

A trip with a critic may have produced a solution to catching the species, which have been harder to find and to hook along the lower Nature Coast this season.

There is more than one way to skin a redfish, if you'll pardon the pun.

Redfish have been harder to find and to hook along the lower Nature Coast this season, so it has become a challenge of sorts to unravel the mystery _ at least as far as getting them to feed is concerned. During my weekly conversations with anglers along the coast, a few have ventured reasonable solutions. By coincidence, I may have found the answer while fishing with Hernando Beach guide Eric Thomas.

Thomas came my way by way of a criticism. He mentioned to Charlie Gardner _ you remember Charlie, who does the dockside interviews and research for the Florida Marine Research Institute _ that I wasn't writing enough about fishing Hernando County waters. My apologies to those who fish there.

Hernando County is one of the quietest places to fish at midweek. At times, you'll be the lone boat for miles. In all its wonderful quietness, it's a fantastic jump-off spot for fishing the flats and back-country coastal waters of the lower Nature Coast.

There are beautiful vistas; miles of salt marsh, hardwood hammocks, and endless little creeks and tributaries leading to the gulf _ a veritable treasure trove of natural landscapes. The type that make you feel as if you have stepped back in time, to when Indians fished or dinosaurs roamed.

Thomas, whom I contacted, invited me to fish with him for a day. I gladly accepted and we set the date, although at the time I didn't know he uses the Farmer's Almanac to help forecast his fishing. The day we picked was not forecast to be a good fishing day. When only an outline of a fish is illustrated on a page, it means poor fishing for the day. We went anyway.

We were to meet at the municipal launch ramp on Calienta Street in Hernando Beach. The morning was steamy and gray as Thomas whizzed past me in his van, beeping as he drove by at the appointed 5:30 a.m. meeting time. Odd, I thought. On the return trip, he stopped, introduced himself quickly, and told me he would return soon with the boat. Then off he sped into the darkness.

Shortly after, I noticed the red and green navigation lights of a boat heading toward the ramp. Finally, I thought, he's here. I grabbed my gear and loaded the skiff. Thomas had gone by before in a mad rush to meet a shrimp boat coming to the commercial dock. He had been waiting for a call from the skipper so he could buy bait.

We headed south toward Aripeka, a We headed south toward Aripeka, a stiff southwest breeze blowing over the choppy waters. The early morning spray jarred our senses.

A small, rocky spit of spartina grass was our first stop, the tops barely visible over the rising tide. Thomas asked what kind of bait I preferred _ pinfish, shrimp or tiger chub?

"Tiger chub? Where did you get the chubs from," I asked?

"Netted them in a creek yesterday," came the reply.

Now I was really excited. I had heard that tiger chubs or mud minnows made great redfish bait but hadn't had the opportunity to fish them. We had a livewell full.

Naturally, I selected a chub, while Thomas hooked on a pinfish. A few casts toward the grass and I hooked a fish. The churning tide made the little redfish seem even more gamey. It was barely a keeper, but a good fight. Thomas' pinfish never got noticed.

Our trip was to be more than just a fishing trip. Proud of his home waters, Thomas wanted to show me his beautiful coast. So off we went to the north, running inside of Fiddler's Point headed for Centipede Bay. I caught my second redfish there _ on a tiger chub, of course.

From there we jumped back on plane headed for the north side of Pine Island. The waters along the way were brilliantly colored, a beautiful blend of gilded greens in the midday sun. The water was clear and inviting. As we passed Pine Island beach, bathers frolicked in the warm gulf.

Fishing now was not a priority, though most places we ventured had plenty of fishy-looking structure: lots of long rocky points, craggy oyster bars, and quiet little islets and back bays. Too perfect.

As the heat rose, we began to think dockside thoughts, but there was one more spot to fish. This one will remain anonymous, but I did get a huge hit by something that bit off at the last minute. With my fingers itching to get to my keyboard, and a large purple thunder cloud gaining strength in the eastern sky, I finally said, "Let's head for home, no sense in getting soaked."

As it happened, I only caught the two redfish _ both on chubs _ while Thomas' pinfish never did get noticed. I think he let me catch both fish by not hooking on one of those little red-hot alternative live baits. Thanks, Eric.