For those satisfying surface explosions, timing is everything. Here’s our plan.

By Terry Lacoss

Originally Published August 2011 print edition

When redfish key on late-summer shrimp runs, chugging lures provoke tough fights and big smiles.

A high falling tide gathered baitfish at key ambush points at the headwaters of Amelia Island’s Langsford Creek. From experience, we knew we had to be here, armed with surface plugs. Topwater redfishing is all about timing.

Terry David, my son and frequent fishing partner, positioned our skiff downcurrent of a marsh island which juts perfectly into the deeper portion of a flooded mud flat. We knew those redfish would soon be schooling behind the marsh point, waiting for mullet, crabs and shrimp to pass within their strike zone.

As the tide began to fall, T.D. and I cast close to the marsh point. We knew it was critical to cast into the current and then “walk” the plugs slowly into the eddying water where redfish would get a good, slow look.
After a few well-placed casts, T.D. saw the head of a 7-pound redfish rise behind his plug and crash down on the mullet imitator. He dropped his rodtip, allowing the red to take the plug deep into its mouth, then reared back to set the hooks. During a desperate run, the fish was able to straighten the saltwater treble hook and then retreat back into the deep pocket of marsh grasses.

Terry David’s following cast landed a ½-ounce gold spoon into the same pocket of flooded grass. The big red was fooled once again, but this time unable to straighten the strong spoon hook.

Not long ago I watched this same scenario play out in a Cocodrie Louisiana duck pond. As in North Florida, at a high falling tide we found mullet schooling at the mouth of a major creek that fed the pond. The minute the tide began falling, it was like a light switch had been turned on and reds began bombing our surface plugs.
Doesn’t matter what part of Florida, or out of state for that matter, you have to try topwater redfishing during a high, falling tide.

Bait on the Run

Baitfish begin migrating out from flooded marshes, creeks and the backsides of bays during the high falling tide. Take a closer look and you’ll soon identify nearby ambush points along those baitfish thoroughfares.
Positioning your boat down-tide from the point will allow you to work surface plugs right in the face of redfish holding on the ambush point. Reds will in many cases swim into the current and wait, either at the face of the point, or just behind it where there is an eddy.

It can be tough finding reds in flooded marsh, but as the tide turns noisy toparwaters will pull in fish like Ryan Conner’s.

In my experience, when topwater fishing, you’ll get more strikes and hook more reds with 20-pound monofilament fishing line. Regular monofilament lines mostly float, where fluorocarbon lines will sink, making it difficult to work surface lures properly. Sinking lines may also spook redfish, particularly in clear water conditions. Regular mono lines will also stretch, which allows redfish to take the surface plug deep in their mouth, versus fluorocarbon and braided fishing line which have very little stretch. However, in cases where submerged oyster bars, barnacle-clad pilings or mangrove roots tend to cut off your mono fishing line, tying 20-pound braid directly to your plug will save your plug and keep your redfish hooked up.
Making a loop knot connection to your topwater plug will also impart a better swimming action.
Like many redfish anglers, I prefer a 6 ½-foot casting rod with a medium-light tip for accuracy and a medium-heavy butt section for working big fish away from structure. Usually I use that revolving spool baitcast setup, but on windy days, spinning gear is the way to go.

Stay in the Strike Zone

Keeping your plug working slowly in the redfish’s ambush zone is key. Chugger-type surface plugs can be chugged hard, and then allowed to rest for a long two- or three-count before a second chug is imparted. Cigar-shaped plugs, such as the Zara Spook, Badonk-a-Donk, MirrOlure Top Dog, Yo-Zuri, Rapala and others, can also be worked super slowly by walking the plug to the side, then allowing it to sit, before walking it to the opposite direction. In many cases reds will simply blow up on a surface lure and miss the hooks. I find that replacing the rear treble hook with a new VMC “Sure Set” treble will make that connection more often. Here the top hook has a wider gap than the others, reaching out, if you will, to hook fish.

Fall is by far the best time of year for taking reds with topwater plugs. As summer draws to a close, major mullet and shrimp runs begin in many parts of Florida. When the shrimp are migrating, surface chuggers seem to work best. When mullet are schooling, cigar-shaped surface plugs become more effective. Some of the better colors include mullet patterns when baitfish are schooling, chartreuse for dirty water conditions and gold or black for overcast days. FS

Changes in the Redfish Bag Limit?

GOOD NEWS! Red drum are doing well under today’s conservative management: No commercial fishing since 1989; very limited take for individual citizens.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) continues to study a proposal to actually increase the red drum bag limit from 1 fish to 2, for northern waters of the state. The Commission is scheduled to take up the subject at a meeting in November, following a new stock assessment due this fall.
The 2-fish north Florida bag limit proposal stemmed from a reevaluation of a 2009 stock assessment which indicated redfish regulations were exceeding management goals in the Northeast and Northwest regions.
Increasing the redfish bag limit only in certain parts of the state would be a bit confusing. But, as with red grouper (see story this month), anglers who’ve accepted tight limits over the years should be encouraged to see once-threatened fisheries turning the corner.

—Jeff Weakley, Editor

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