A redfish in clear, shallow water can be a very difficult fish to catch once you get away from live bait. Take the results from the Tampa stop on the Professional Redfish Tour back in April. There were 54 boats entered in the two-man team, catch and release event. The rules mandated artificial baits only, with no wading allowed. Of those 54 teams, only 18 weighed fish, and only 11 teams weighed two fish.
I fished the event with Capt. Chet Jennings, who is also a professional guide here on Tampa Bay. The day before the tournament, I pre-fished with Capt. Chaz Waltz of Apollo Beach. We had no trouble finding red fish, and when we did, we got off the boat and waded, tossing gold spoons into troughs on the edge of a grass flat. In short order we had a pair of tournament sized reds right at 26 inches. Not wanting to disturb these fish any further we returned to the boat.
The next day Capt. Chet and I were in perfect position for the change of the tide. A major difference between redfish and snook is that reds bite much better on a rising tide than they do on a falling tide. When the tide turned, groups of redfish showed up like they were punching a time clock. The problem was that every group of fish we saw also saw us. They fled at the sight of our gold spoons as though they were poison - the same spoons that these fish hammered the day before. The difference was that tournament rules confined us to the boat, and the boat was spooking the fish in the clear shallow water.
We were also troubled by a major shift in wind direction, and a number of other boats around us that hampered our ability to change position, either of which we could have easily overcome had we been able to wade.
I have caught redfish in this same area from the boat with artificials before. However, it was with the wind blowing hard, and we were making long downwind casts. To me, that's the trick to catching reds with lures from a boat. You can't throw a lure too far from a boat when trying to catch redfish. To get maximum casting distance, I use longer rods and lighter line than I do for snook. I drop from 10- to 8-pound test, and use a 20-pound flourocarbon leader. I don't believe that redfish see as poorly as some anglers think they do, and reds are not as tough on leader material as snook.
I would also recommend poling a skiff only until you begin to see fish. Then get down from the platform and either stake out, anchor, or drift. Trolling motors might seem quiet, but in the redfish environment, they are fish spooking machines. So the moral of this tale is, that if you must fish from a boat with lures, you need to keep the profile small, noise to the absolute minimum, and cast as far as you can.
It is not as important to cast to fish you can see, as it is to get your lure far from the boat once you start seeing fish. The fish you can't see are the ones you have the best chance of catching. It helps if the wind and the tide are in your favor, which would be a downwind cast and a retrieve that brings the lure back with the current. I have caught some fish working lures against the current, but I have caught a lot more when the lure and the current are travelling in the same direction.
And gold spoons are not always the right answer. Sometimes small jigs with plastic tails will outfish everything else. I've found the motor oil, root beer, and new penny type colors to be particularly effective. They also seem to like red and yellow as a color combination. Other times, when the water is roiled and dirty, a large surface plug such as a Jumpin' Minnow, or a Zara Spook will give you the extra casting distance and some splash to attract the attention of big redfish in murky, or deeper water.
Regardless of what lure you throw at redfish, the hooks need to be extra sharp. A fish that grinds up live crabs for a living is necessarily tough mouthed. And the paradox here is that the short, stiff rod you might like for a solid hook set in this situation won't cast the lure far enough to get a strike. This means using a longer, more limber rod, and extra sharp hooks. I take special care to point up treble hooks on spoons and plugs because they do not seem to set as readily as a single hook.
Some of the guides I know have also made the switch to microfilament lines for this type of fishing for smoother casting, extra sensitivity, and virtually no stretch. Capt. Craig Richardson, who is currently leading the Professional Redfish Tour in Florida for angler of the year, fishes one of the super braids on baitcasting equipment. I still find monofilament and spinning reels easier to work with, but that's strictly a matter of preference.
A redfish in shallow water is a nervous fish. You need to keep boat noise to an absolute minimum and movement too. That's why I like to get off the poling platform as soon as I spot a school of fish. Unlike trout or snook, once spooked, a school of reds will simply shut down. So if you want to catch redfish from the boat, you have to be in the stalking mode.
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