Redfish light up local flats
PHOTO/CAPTAIN RICK GRASSETT
Keith McClintock, from Lake Forest, Ill.,
caught and released this redfish on a
CAL jig with a shad tail while fishing
Sarasota Bay with Captain Rick Grassett
Redfish are one of the area's premier species. They are not as highly prized as snook, but are one of the area's most prolific inshore species, second only to spotted sea trout. Mature redfish spawn in estuaries from mid-August to mid-October where they can be found in large schools.
A female red can lay anywhere from 200,000 to over three million eggs. According to local guide Captain Justin Moore this year's spawn is one of the best in years with large schools of over slot breeders (in excess of 27 inches) distributed on the flats from Sarasota Bay to Apollo Beach.
According to Moore, "Lots of the reds are between 35 and 38 inches, and a huge school of fish over twenty pounds has been spotted in the middle of Tampa Bay."
Moore has also seen lots of smaller fish between 18 and 23 inches which is a good sign of a healthy fish population.
Redfish can be caught on any tackle from bait casting to fly and will take a large range of lures and flies in addition to live and dead bait. While redfish also inhabit structure like bridges, docks and rock outcroppings, this time of the year the flats provide the best chance of action. Redfish congregate where there is a healthy cover of grass with mixed areas of sand bottom.
They travel the flats foraging along grass edges and oyster bars. Redfish seem to have an affinity for potholes and open sand areas on the grass flats, which make them an ideal target for sight fishing.
Anglers can blind cast in low light conditions or fan cast jigs or gold spoons over likely habitat. A bright sunny day affords optimal sight fishing conditions, but most days require a mix of the two methods. Another option is chumming with live bait. With this method the fish can be attracted to the boat.
Many anglers like getting in the water and wading, a method that lets you get up close and personal with the reds. Not only does the angler present a lower profile, but he is often fishing areas where even a shallow flats boat won't reach. Flats can be covered slowly, wading from pothole to pothole or just by staking out a likely sand area and letting the fish come to you.
When in the water, 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 with a dark under-bill will pay dividends, whether you're in the water or on the boat.
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 or bait casters are easy to carry, and are all you'll need for some great action.
When fly fishing, match the size of the outfit to 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 (less wind resistance) 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 are effective depending on the stage of tide and the depth of the water column you're fishing. In the morning and on low tides, prospect deep edges using a quick sinking Clouser or work a spoon or jig close to the bottom. When the tide allows, move to the potholes and fish crab patterns like the toad or top water plugs and spoons (vary the retrieve).
On flood tides move to the shallow grass near mangrove edges and try poppers and flies that suspend in the water column like a Seaducer or bend back. 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.
Sarasota Bay and Tampa Bay feature excellent flats that hold healthy populations of redfish. Whether you're using live bait, flies or artificial lures you have a good chance of encountering some great fishing in area waters in the coming weeks.
The same flats that hold redfish will also attract trout, snook, flounder and assorted other species. If you pay attention to your rigging, work likely areas and are patient, you stand the chance of experiencing some of the year's best action.