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Plenty of Fight Left in the Redfish Thanks to Conservation

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From high atop the skiff’s poling platform, an eagle-eyed guide points toward an opening in the mangroves. On the front deck, fly rod at the ready, an eager angler sees it, too: a giant bull redfish (Sciaenops ocellatus) is tailing near the cover, in search of an easy meal. For fear of spooking the fish back into his wooded confines during high tide, the angler quickly and quietly casts a large counterfeit squid in front of the cruising giant. The fish’s approach is silent, but once it decides to take the bait, the sound of broken water quickly becomes a mixture of splashing and fly line being pulled through the rod guides at high speeds.
Commonly referred to as a redfish or even a red drum, anglers in pursuit of this popular coastal game fish play out this scene with regularity these days. Found from Massachusetts to Florida on the Atlantic coast and from Mexico to Florida on the Gulf Coast, redfish numbers are on the rebounds thanks to the united support provided to it by sportsmen and women around the country. Once highly coveted for its meat, redfish – which inhabit warm, shallow coastal waters – were netted by commercial operations intent on becoming wealthy over the demand for redfish meat. The great taste of blackened redfish nearly spelled the species’ demise in some areas, until concerned groups banded together to lobby state, local and federal governments to end the wide-spread commercial netting and to impose slot and creel limits.
Today, populations of the redfish throughout its original North American coastal home range are stable and – in some cases – increasing. Whether it’s fighting industrial water pollution that harm fish hatches and reduce food supplies or lobbying for protection of the species, anglers on the piers and jetties of the Texas Gulf Coast can catch redfish the same as the backcountry, shallow-water anglers of Venice, La., and Mosquito Lagoon, Fla. From tournament organizations raising awareness of the this remarkably hard-fighting fish to local residents and businesses realizing the economic impact that hearty redfish populations can bring, more people than ever have taken a vested interest in the future of this member of the drum family.
One of the most iconic of all the coastal North American fish, the redfish features an easily distinguishable dot (or dots) on its tail, which sticks out of the water as the fish cruises around, searching the soft bottom for shrimp, crabs and baitfish. With its large, pale lips indicative of the drum family and a muscular, streamlined body, the redfish is ferocious when hooked. Anglers in search of a challenge prefer sight casting to tailing redfish, while others employ spinning and casting equipment and lure the fish with all manner of modern tackle. Revered for its role throughout history in the lives of coastal residents for centuries, the redfish is now one of the most sought-after saltwater game fish in North America, all the while maintaining its high population, thanks to efforts from conservation-minded sportsmen and women.

Every year, on the 4th Saturday of September,, millions of Americans will celebrate the success of the redfish and many other species as part of National Hunting and Fishing Day activities that will be going on nationwide. National Hunting and Fishing Day began after a presidential proclamation in 1972 that sets aside the fourth Saturday of each September for the event. Since then, national, regional, state and local organizations have staged thousands of open house hunting- and fishing-related events everywhere from shooting ranges to suburban frog ponds, providing millions of Americans with a chance to experience, understand and appreciate traditional outdoor sports.
The careful redfish conservation efforts of the past have given millions of people the thrill of seeing the fish tailing in the shallow, coastal waters, to have the chance to fight one with a rod and reel and – when local regulations allow – enjoy its table fare. Conservation groups, sportsmen and women and wildlife watchers alike are all stakeholders in the future of the redfish, to ensure that the species keeps bending rods and thrilling anglers well into the future.
National Hunting and Fishing Day, formalized by Congress in 1971, was created by the National Shooting Sports Foundation to celebrate the conservation successes of hunters and anglers. National Hunting and Fishing Day is observed on the fourth Saturday of every September.