Late summer red fishing looms largeFrom the August 19, 2009 Issue
Michael Caver, from Longhboat Key,
caught this red with Captain Mac Gregory.
Late summer and early fall provide some of the area’s best red fishing opportunities and prime time is just around the corner. Look for schools to congregate over local flats where they can provide hot and challenging action. You can blind cast to likely spots in low light conditions, but I prefer to see my target. A bright sunny day affords optimal sight fishing conditions, but most days require a mix of the two methods. Getting in the water with the fish is the most productive way to target them. Not only does the angler present a lower profile, but he’s often fishing areas where even a shallow flats boat won’t reach.
Wade wet or dry, but make sure you have a stout pair of booties to protect your feet. Wade light with a chest or fanny pack for flies, lures, pliers, spare leader and a point and shoot digital camera. Polarized sunglasses and a large brim hat complete the outfit.
A seven to nine-weight fly outfit with a floating line and long tapered leader works fine under most conditions. Light and ultra-light spin tackle is easier to carry, more fun and will get the job done. The size of the outfit is determined by the weather conditions. If the wind is light, a seven- or even six-weight outfit will work fine. If the winds are higher, step up your fly tackle to an eight- or nine- weight. The same applies to leader length. Under light winds and clear skies a long leader to 14 feet will allow for a quieter presentation. When the wind is up, a shorter leader turns over easier and the fish are less wary. Spoons work better than plugs when you’re working spin and bait casting rods into a stiff wind.
A wide variety of flies, plugs and spoons is effective depending on the stage of tide and the depth of the water column you’re fishing. I confine my hunt for redfish to the flats and their edges. In the morning, if you’re prospecting deep edges, use a quick sinking Clouser or work a spoon or jig close to the bottom. When it’s time to move to the potholes, try crab patterns like the toad or top water plugs and spoons (vary the retrieve). Over grass on high tide, poppers and flies that suspend in the water column like a seaducer or bend back work best. Gold spoons shine under these conditions, as will a variety of top water plugs and jerk worms. Use a weed guard on flies to avoid snagging grass.
Look for flats with a good sand and grass mixture. Start fishing the shallows adjacent to deep water (staging areas) on the edge of the flat. As the tide floods in, explore points, troughs and bars that funnel fish onto the flat. These areas act as side roads, feeder lanes and highways that fish use to enter and leave a flat with a rising and falling tide. Savvy anglers pay close attention to the thoroughfares at dead low tide, making mental notes or marking charts for their next fishing trip.
Local flats can get a lot of pressure. Unfortunately, a lot of anglers and even some guides run over the flats looking for fish, not realizing that it’s hurting everybody’s fishing. This was a valid tactic 20 years ago, but these days it makes redfish extremely spooky or runs them off the flat completely.
If you find fish that are extremely spooky, try this tactic. Position yourself about 30 feet (over dark bottom) away from an area where you have good visibility and wait. It requires a bit of patience, but it’s extremely effective when stalking wary fish.
Well thought out tactics will often make the difference between target practice and catching fish. When fishing spooky fish in clear water, I will calculate where the fish is going to show up and then put my fly there ahead of time. If the fish sees a fly or lure enter the water, the game is up. However, if you have the lure waiting at the intercept point your odds are greatly increased.
Tampa Bay and Sarasota Bay are two of Florida’s largest estuaries, and although progress has taken a toll on its resources, especially around urban areas, the flats that remain hold healthy populations of redfish. You’ll have to be up on your game to be consistent, but quality late summer and fall fishing is right around the corner.