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Weather, Clear Water; Are You Up To The Challenge?
Capt. Kevin Chamberlain
all the great fish we have the pleasure of chasing here in southwest Florida,
there's little doubt that redfish are my favorite, hands down. And, when the
weather gets cooler, it's one of the best times of the year for these bronze beauties. When the water
clears up and the tides get lower, sight fishing for these gamesters can be the
ultimate challenge, especially when casting flies.
type of fishing is not for everyone. It can be tough and it requires some
patience. It's usually referred to as hunting rather than fishing, and that's an
accurate description. These fish are in gin-clear, shallow water and they can be
very nervous. Sometimes it doesn't take much to spook them, and precision
casting is in order here. They can be tough to fool, and dropping your coffee
cup on the deck will probably not earn you many new friends.
using spinning or baitcasting gear generally won’t have too much trouble
getting the long distance casts often needed. However, chase them with a fly rod
and, unless you can cast a mile, wading will put the odds in your favor. Though
there are times when super long casts are not needed, you’ll probably
experience more hook-ups while out of the boat.
in the eight to ten pound range is perfect to start with, and unless you’re
extremely proficient with baitcasing gear, spinning reels will allow for more
distance on your casts. A seven foot, medium fast or fast action rod is a good
match. For fly anglers, an eight weight, nine foot rod with a weight forward,
floating line and a nine foot leader is all you’ll need. In both cases, a
twenty to twenty five pound fluorocarbon shock leader will prevent break-offs.
the most rewarding way to pursue these fish is to hunt for "tailers".
These are fish that are feeding in very skinny water. While they feed off the
bottom, their tails will break the surface, waiving back and forth as they
search out small crabs and shrimp. Just getting within casting distance can
sometimes be a pretty tall order. The idea is to present a fly or lure out in
front of them and drag it across their intended path, sometimes no small feat.
If it hits the water too hard, they'll spook. If it lands too softly, and their
nose is buried in the grass, they won't know it's there. It can take several
casts to actually hook up.
only thing more satisfying than poling a skinny flat and having tails popping up
around you, is actually casting to one and watching him take. The battle that
ensues ain't too bad either. An early, incoming tide is the best time to keep an
eye peeled for tails.
baits are the best choice. I’m not aware of too many fish will charge an
artificial lure or fly with a piece of grass trailing from it. Lightweight
surface lures and popper flies will get their attention, too.
a redfish is grubbing, tail in the air, cast the lure or fly a few feet past,
and about two to three feet ahead and let it sink. You can actually get closer,
but feel the fish out and see just how nervous they are. Then, when he comes
off-tail, when the tail drops below the surface, strip or work the bait back in
front, slowly, for the hit. If there are several fish in the area, resist the
urge to put the fly or lure into the school. Instead, cast to one fish around
the outside, to prevent spooking them.
productive, but only slightly less challenging way to trick them is to go for
the live shrimp. Place one ahead of them, and more often than not, they'll smell
the bait and search it out. Actually, the shrimp doesn't really have to be
alive, but it should be fresh. If the cast is accurate, let the bait sink and
resist the urge to move it. Just take in the slack, and when he hits, drive home
have an excellent sense of smell. Breaking the tail off will put the scent in
the water and if you rig it "Texas" style, it will be weedless. Be
bold, bite the tail off, and with a 1/0 or 2/0 live bait hook (depending on the
size of the shrimp), run the hook into the end of the tail and out the under
side. Turn the hook around and bury the hook in the body of the shrimp, toward
the shell. The hook point will not be exposed, therefore weedless. Cast it as
close to them as possible without hitting them on the head (or tail) and they'll
sniff it out. If the cast is too long, drag the bait back into the zone and let
it settle. For more distance, add a small split shot just above the hook eye. If
they’re feeding in the column, instead of off the bottom, a popping cork can
low, incoming tide when the sun rises is a good one. On low water, reds will
stage in deeper areas, waiting for the tide to push in. As it does, they'll move
up on the flat, spread out, and feed. Finding fish stacked up in these areas
before they move can mean hot action, not to mention several tight lines and
more than a grin to two. The secret is finding them in these concentrations.
Once they move, they'll scatter, and the game plan changes.
some Sarasota flats, redfish will gather in potholes. Locating a hole that holds
fish is a matter of paying your dues. You might have to try several before that
first hook-up. Holes are usually light colored, sandy areas that are deeper than
the grass surrounding them. They can be difficult to see without polarized
sunglasses, or at times of low light.
good approach is a silent one. Anchor within casting distance and fan-cast your
lure or fly to cover the closest side of the hole. If you don't get tight there,
move up and cover the rest. Early in the day, they’ll
lay on the edges, where sand and grass meet. Points and pockets around
the holes are good areas to target, too.
the fish move up on the flat, they'll usually spread out to feed in the shallow
water. The higher the sun gets, the easier it is to spot them, whether they're
in the holes or over grass.
Keep in mind though, the higher the light, the easier it is for them to
see you, too.
way to locate them is by fan-casting artificial lures or flies. Though the
latter can be tiresome, you can cover a lot of water while increasing your odds.
Don't be in a big hurry while working a flat. Take the time to cover the water.
Cast until you've covered the area within casting range, then move up about half
the distance of your cast and start the process again. Sometimes you’ll spook
one or two, and it does happen, but by taking your time, you’ll be rewarded in
the long run.
the sun rises, the water on the shallow flats will warm faster than any other,
and areas with dark bottom will warm first. Redfish are fairly tolerant to lower
water temperatures, but it may take them awhile to get moving and turn on. They
can be found over dark bottom or on the dark edge of a hole early, and if the
sun does it's job, in potholes later on.
times, they’ll be feeding in water just out of tailing depth They’ll still
be grubbing off the bottom, almost standing on their heads, just below the
surface. Some are so preoccupied, that many times, you’ll get very close them.
a quiet approach is preferred; these fish will be very spooky. Poling the boat
or wading are the best methods. An electric trolling motor will work, but may
put the fish on edge on some flats.
an early incoming tide is not always the case, nor does it have to be. Fishing
in the afternoon heat of summer is a tough way to go. The heat will shut the
fish down, therefore, fishing either early or late in the day is preferred.
the cooler months however, the water temperature is low enough that they'll feed
throughout the day, with the tides. And, when the water temperature dips down
into the 50's, in January or February, it may take awhile for their metabolism
to kick into gear.
recent trip presented us with a different scenario. High water early in the
morning had the fish feeding on the incoming tide and they didn't seem to be too
interested in feeding after the tide turned and headed out. Not that they'll
always adhere to that schedule, that's just the way it unfolded.
around 11:00am, we started finding redfish in potholes in 3 to 4 foot depths,
and occasionally, one would eat. The tide bottomed out at around noon and as
soon as it started to move in again, they turned on and started moving into the
skinny to feed, waking and harassing schools of mullet along the way. It felt
poled the skiff onto a flat with more turtle grass than sand or potholes, barely
enough water to float, and waited. I was so sure it was going to happen that I
pulled the camera and was fumbling with it on the poling platform. Then it
happened. About 40 feet off the bow a bronze tail broke the surface, waived and
went under, then popped up again. I raised the camera; the fish turned, waked
and was already in the next county.
was all I managed to get out. Even with his head down, that red saw the
movement, the flash from my watch, whatever. It was over and the tension was
thick. I couldn't bear the thought of that being our only shot at a tailer and,
by the grace of God, it wasn't. About 30 yards to the east, another tail, then
another, and another. We were back in business.
that first redfish was spooky, the others had nerves of steel and were more
preoccupied with the crabs, shrimp or whatever was down in that grass, trying to
hide. One tail would break and disappear, then another. Occasionally two or
three at a time would show.
1/8th ounce, weedless gold spoon landed three feet past the lead fish and was
slowly retrieved back. The tail dropped, a wake shot toward the lure and turned
into a boil when the hook was set. Though the others moved off, it didn't
matter. Five minutes later we had that camera back out. What can you say? Life
course, with cold fronts dropping down on us, this scenario won't present itself
every day. Best bet is to wait until a day or two after the front passes, and
the winds die down, then have at it. Most likely, the fish haven't fed for a
while and will be on the prowl.
word of caution: winter tides are notoriously low tides. They can be good for
spotting those tails, but not so well for you if you run out of water. Keep an
eye on the wind and water. North winds will keep the water from reaching the
predicted tide height on the incoming side. On the outgoing, they'll push the
water out faster, and further than predicted. Don't get yourself stranded in the
backcountry. It could be a long, cold wait. Also, there's no real need to be at
the dock at first light. Set the alarm clock an hour later and the sun will
bring that flat to life.
you're on the bow of the boat, rod in hand, polarized sunglasses and all. You've
spent a good deal of time hunting, and maybe even spooked out a few bruisers,
without making a single cast. Your nerves are on edge. Then, about fifty feet
off the bow, maybe 10 o'clock, you start seeing tails waiving at you. As you
start to cast, and your knees begin to buckle, try not to drop your fly rod in
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