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Watts on Reds  at Cabela's

Watts on Reds

Author: Mike Schoby

Author Mike Schoby learns a thing or two about redfish and tournament angling from the 2001 Redfish National Champion, Bryan Watts.

Bryan Watts with a nice Florida Redfish.
Polling across the flats of Indian River Lagoon, Professional Angler and my guide for the day, Bryan Watts, shouted, "There's a school at 12 o'clock!" I peered in the direction, but saw nothing except dark green eelgrass and taupe colored sand.

"20 feet in front of the boat - do you see them yet?" I peered through my polarized sunglasses, but could not discern the shape of a fish. Then I caught them, the school looked like a giant puff of smoke moving across the sand flats - wait a minute that is a giant puff of smoke. The redfish were 20 yards further out throwing up a wake in the shallow water - what I saw was the remnant mud and sediment of their panic.

"Well at least that is where they were," I thought as I watched the large school quickly dart out of casting range.

Bryan poled along in silence. The morning had been tough. For my first day of redfishing, the weather was less than ideal. Redfish are tough to spot under ideal circumstances, but the slightly overcast sky and heavy chop didn't make it any easier. I was gaining a greater respect for them with every blown opportunity.

To be honest, I knew little about redfish before traveling to Florida. Ignorantly, I always considered them a second-rate bonefish, more akin to a saltwater carp than a real game fish. But as I was finding out, this was an extremely ignorant opinion. Redfish are hard fighting, spooky, incredible gamefish, worth any fisherman's respect.

Bryan Watts playing a red.
A Lesson From A Pro
While I was having a difficult time catching a red, I cannot imagine how difficult it would have been if I had been going at it alone. Luckily, I was being taught by one of the best redfishermen around, Bryan Watts. Bryan and his twin brother Greg have made quite a name of for themselves in the redfish tournament arena amassing an impressive list of wins and titles to their credit, including: 2001 Redfish Team Anglers of the Year, 2001 Redfish National Champions, as well as numerous other tournament championships. Few are as qualified to instruct the nuances of the sport.

Back on the water the already strong wind had picked up a bit and was now an outright gale. The boat was drifting across the flats at a rapid pace, and Bryan was using the pole more as a break than a means of propulsion. Suddenly he pointed and shouted, "A dozen big reds at two o'clock. Oh, son...make it more like two dozen!"

This time I saw them moving across the open sand flat. I quickly false casted with my Cabela's 7-piece, 8-weight rod and shot an epoxy crab in their direction. The wind caught the line and blew it a foot to the left of the group, but still close to the target zone. I let the fly settle to the bottom before I stripped it once and then let it settle back down. The reds were over it now and I was tensed for the strike. I twitched the fly again, but nothing happened. The reds swam past the fly, seemingly unaware of its presence.

Bryan yelled "Cast again!" But it was too late, they were already rapidly moving out of my effective range.

"They are too far, you give them a shot." I replied.

Standing on the elevated polling platform, Bryan tucked the push pole between his legs and grabbed for the spinning rod that was lying at his feet. Flipping the bale over, he shot a brown and tan bucktail jig in the direction of the moving fish. The wind was quartering across us at about 25 knots. Bryan dropped the tip of his Cabela's XTS bass rod to reduce the wind's effect. The line arched across the distance and the jig made an almost imperceptible splash about four feet in front of the moving school of reds. He let it settle to the bottom and did not move it at all. The lead redfish rushed the jig, but Bryan just waited. You could actually see the redfish pounce on the jig, but Bryan still did not set the hook. Then in one fluid movement he reeled up the slack and drove the hook home, the taut line humming in the strong wind. The fish was on and running and the reel belted out its staccato song as line peeled across the flats.

Two things immediately impressed me: redfish are hard fighters and there is a reason why Bryan is a top-ranked tournament redfish angler - he is good!

The strong 39-inch redfish, made several more equally impressive runs before finally allowing itself to be brought boatside. A quick unhook and a short photo session and he was back in the water, no worse for wear.

Catch and release is the name of the game when it comes to sound redfish management.
Mercury/Ranger Redfish Tour Presented by Cabela's
If you are thinking redfish are just plain fun, think again. Hundreds of anglers take them seriously. Serious enough to fish for them professionally in the Mercury Ranger Redfish Tour.

The Redfish Tour is a product of the Inshore Fishing Association (IFA), an organization that is dedicated to conservation, education and the importance of catch and release in saltwater.

The Redfish Tour gives anglers a chance to compete for significant cash and prizes in a tournament series that promotes the importance of these goals.

"Redfish have done for the inshore fishery what bass have done for fresh warmwater fishing competitions" says Chris Bahl, Cabela's External Relations Manager. "The tournaments are growing every year in popularity and Cabela's is proud to sponsor them. Cabela's current saltwater initiative is the inner-coastal fishery, and the redfish tour plays an integral part in that. Currently we sponsor over eight professional redfish anglers, including the Watts brothers."

Back On The Water
The wind continued to blow throughout the day and the fishing was tough. We saw lots of fish, but making the right cast with the right bait proved to always be a challenge. The reds seemed to prefer large bucktails and plastics, but I was determined to hook one on a fly. As the day drew to a close, I was fishless, but not without plans of returning to this great fishery of the south and honing my skills.

What do I think of redfish now? To put it simply, I am toying with the idea of quitting my job, selling my house, investing in a flats boat and strictly pursuing reds. After seeing the environment they inhabit, the hard fight they exhibit and the technique involved, I think they are a fish I could never grow tired of. But on second thought, while I love fishing for them, knowing my propensity for catching them, I had better leave the tournaments to guys like Bryan and Greg.

Having the right gear can make or break any trip
Knowing What To Expect
"You boys bring any britches?" was the first thing Bryan said as I stepped out of the rental car at the Titusville boat ramp. The remark struck me as odd for two reasons. First, I was in Florida; it was supposed to be warm and secondly, who uses the word "britches" these days? Before I could ponder these two points further, the wind picked up and sent an icy chill down my spine. I quickly realized that, not only didn't I know anything about redfishing, I also didn't know how to prepare for a Florida fishing trip in the winter.

While even February in Florida is warm by most "northerner's" standards, it is not as balmy as one might expect. Combine the cool air with the wind off the water, and it will leave you wishing you had brought your britches.

If you are planning a winter redfish trip, here is a list of clothing and gear that you had better pack:

Guide Wear Bibs
Guide Wear Jacket
Guidewear Zip-off Pants
Guide Wear Shirts
Bucktail Jigs
Cabela's Salt Striker™ Spinning Reels
Polarized Sun Glasses
Cabela's Fluorocarbon Line