Down here in Titusville, FL the Haulover Canal connects the Indian River Lagoon system to Mosquito Lagoon by way of a 20’ deep canal that stretches a little over two miles in length. It serves as a highway for reds, trout, black drum, and flounder between the two water systems. Once winter rolls around and the temperatures plummet, shrimp start migrating and action can get hot real quickly.
My good friend, Nick Dyroff, was the one that originally got me hooked on the whole “bull reds at night in Haulover” concept. Everyone knows big fish cruise through there nightly, but the trick was figuring out how to get them to bite. Nick has a no-skunk record out at Haulover, so I knew together we would have a great shot at a few fish. After a 45-minute give-and-take conversation we saddled up the two Malibu “Stealth” kayaks on my Highlander. We headed for the coast around 6:30 pm with just enough time to hit the bait shop and pick up our secret weapon: jumbo shrimp.
Conditions that night couldn’t have been more perfect. Light winds out of the north, shifting to the west, called for just the right amount of current without it being slack. We launch promptly at 8:30 pm, a dozen-and-a-half shrimp in each of our livewells, and headed to the overhead bridge. Paddling at night in glass-calm conditions is like an out of body experience; you can’t see much happening, but you hear and feel everything around you: the blowholes of porpoise passing 15 feet to your left side, bull frogs and gators bellowing along the dark shorelines, wild shrimp skipping on the surface with the occasional trout “Pop!” Being out there with minimal light will definitely grow a few hairs on your chest. With the exception of a local shrimper, we had the whole canal to ourselves. We dropped lines and started our first drift. Not even 15 minutes in, and Nick was hooked up. We immediately knew this was not a cookie-cutter, 32” red (and yes, a 32” red in Haulover is indeed cookie-cutter). The sound of a long, steady, never-ending drag continued for more than a minute before the fish popped off. “Hands down, he was probably pushing 50 inches,” said Nick, knowing that the big bruisers don’t like to change directions. Shortly thereafter, he redeemed himself with a nice 37” bull. Working the other side of the bridge fender, I caught up with a rough 36”. Glad I didn’t stay home tonight.
In the first 45 minutes, we’ve already put two fish in the kayaks; we could have called it a night right there. Instead, we decided to play around with some of the sugar trout hanging in front of the fender lights as we waited for the current to switch directions. I split up from Nick as I heard what sounded like a depth charge near one of the pilings. A lone fish had been hiding between two of the cement pillars and I couldn’t keep my bait in the strike zone long enough, so I left him untouched for another night.
A few hours later and we had our wish; current changed direction, shrimp started popping everywhere, trout were rushing like NASCAR drivers around the fender light, and even a few bulls made their way to the surface as they gently cruised against the incoming flow. The canal was on fire and we probably couldn’t have picked a better night. Nick and I each hooked into another beast and in quick work brought our prizes to the surface.
We could have stayed out all night continuing to rack up the numbers, but there is so much satisfaction knowing you left them biting. To think, six hours ago I could have been back in my apartment, probably doing something uninteresting, but instead I threw a plan together last minute and it couldn’t have gone more smoothly.
About the Author: Born and raised in Orlando,FL Justin Ritchey is an avid angler that prides himself on being one of the youngest active competitive kayakers on the water. Although he grew up freshwater fishing locally, Justin has expanded to fishing both Inshore and Offshore throughout the waters of Brevard County and the East Coast. In August of this past year, Justin earned 2nd place in the Help Keep Emily in her School Tournament in Titusville, FL and continues to compete in tournaments statewide. Not only an avid angler, Justin is also an Aquatics Specialist with his focus in Fisheries Management. When not out there fishing, he spends his time taking care of a variety of hatchery raised Game Fish from FWC at the Gaylord Palms Resort, studying their behaviors and patterns to become a better angler. Justin is currently a moderator of the Space Coast Kayak Anglers club (created by Yakangler Pro Staff member Charles Levi Jr.), a Pro-Cure representative and BIGFIN Apparel Pro Staff Coordinator.