Saturday, August 11, 2012

Now is the time for exciting redfish action on the shallow flats

Finding mullet on the flat is one of the keys to finding redfish.

Vinny Caruso shows of a Sarasota Bay red.

Redfish are highly sought along Florida’s west coast. They’re hard-fighting, savvy and very strong.

Late summer and early fall are great times to hunt for reds on the flats along coastal Florida. That’s when redfish start gathering in schools to make their annual spawning run into the Gulf of Mexico.

We like to get on the water before daylight so that we’re where we need to be when the action gets started. Don’t want to be paddling when we should be fishing!

But there’s a nice solitude on the water before the sun rises. The air is warm and the breeze usually gentle. You can hear the sounds of mullet jumping. You can hear pelicans and other birds beginning their days.

When targeting reds, I like to have a variety of lures ready to go. On one rod, I’ll have a topwater plug. I’ll use a jerk worm on a light jig head on another. On the third rod, I’ll go with a MirrOlure MirrOdine. All three are proven redfish catchers. You won’t go wrong with a spoon, either.

When I get to a flat, I look for signs of life: mullet, baitfish, crabs, stingrays. If the flat is alive with those things, then you’ll usually find redfish.

I think mullet are the key, though. If the flat is filled with mullet, you can get the reds are nearby.

I usually begin with a topwater plug. I like the Zara Super Spook Jr. in chrome. I use a Hurricane Redbone 7-foot medium-action rod, Shimano Reel and 10-pound Fins Wind Tamer line. Key to redfish success on the Spook is being able to “walk the dog.” That’s a zig-zag pattern when the lure is being retrieved.

To do this, I hold the rod parallel to the water to my left and begin “twitching” the rod as I reel. It’s kind of like rubbing your head and patting your belly. It’s tough at first, but easy once you get the hang of it. You can speed up or slow down the speed of your retrieve or the speed of your lure.

A big key in successful topwater fishing is the NOT set the hook when you see a strike. Only set the hook when you feel the weight of the fish. I just keep working the lure until I feel the fish. It’s tough to refrain from setting the hook when you see a big redfish explode on your plug.

When a fish strikes the plug and misses, I just keep it coming. Often, a big redfish will hit the plug several times before it’s hooked.

There are times that I’ll stop the plug when a fish misses it. I think the fish slap at it to stun it. I let the plug sit for a couple of seconds and then start working it. This often elicits explosive strikes.

If the fish are “short-striking,” I’ll change tactics. Sometimes I’ll pick up a jerk worm and toss it to the spot of the short strike. That often produces a quick hookup.

Just the other day, Vinny Caruso and I were fishing a Sarasota Bay flat at a spot where we’ve been catching quite a few reds. But there was little going on. The mullet weren’t moving and it was relatively dead. The tide was really high and there was a lot of water on the flat.

About mid-morning, we noticed mullet beginning to move about 100 yards away. Vinny paddled toward them and cast a plug. He immediately hooked a nice red. When he lost the fish, he called me over.

I hooked a small red on my first cast. I was using a MirrOlure Lil John on a 1/16-ounce jig head. Vinny caught a red on his plug.

On my next cast, I hooked and landed a 25-inch beauty on a MirrOlure MirrOdine, a plug that really works well for shallow-water reds.

Key to our success was finding the mullet. We landed three out of five fish we hooked. Our window of opportunity closed after about 20 minutes, but we succeeded. Some might say we were lucky, but we feel luck is when preparation meets opportunity!

And we were prepared.

The larger redfish should start schooling soon. They’re the sexually mature fish that will eventually move out into the Gulf of Mexico and never return. The schoolers usually run 30 inches or more.

Two years ago, I found several schools of big redfish in Sarasota Bay and Tampa Bay. I remember a day in Tampa Bay when I found a school of about 100 reds just off a sand bar. I caught eight big fish out of the school before a pair of hefty bull sharks moved in and brought the action to a halt.

When you find a school, it’s usually and automatic hookup. All you have to do is toss a lure to the edge of the school and hang on! I try to avoid casting into the middle of the fish.

When the fish are schooled, most any lure will work. Topwater plugs, however, draw the most-exciting strikes.

Fighting a big redfish in a kayak is a fun experience. These fish are big enough to take you for a ride! They can tow the kayak for quite a distance.

When we’re concentrating on redfish, we’re not thinking “numbers.” Three reds in a day is good. These fish rarely just “jump in the kayak!” We often do better.

If we could select the tide, we’d prefer to have it still trickling out at the start of the day. We like to fish the last hour of the outgoing and first couple of hours of the incoming. But the tide changes daily and that’s not always possible.

But if we can find the mullet schools, it usually doesn’t make any difference!

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