Feel the urge to hunt? Now’s the time to give standup redfishing a shot.
When kayakers ask about sight-fishing for giant Indian River Lagoon spotted seatrout, I generally recommend they stay seated and content themselves with casting to likely lairs such as sand potholes and dropoffs. The sharp-eyed, upward-looking, wary old beasts usually lie buried in the grass or on a pothole edge, and are just too adept at noticing high-profile anglers and the more-pronounced pressure waves that emanate from a vertical fisherman casting from a shaky platform.
Redfish may be another story. They can’t match the camouflage of trout, and frequently reveal their presence with wakes as they hunt on the move, their tails or backs often exposed. Because a red’s mouth and pharyngeal crushers are best suited to catching and crunching crustaceans, attention is focused downward, rather than on approaching surface threats.
Their comparative youth may also contribute to the relative ease of stalking and feeding them; a 27-inch redfish, around four years old, is probably half the age of a comparable-size trout. In fish years, that makes them teenagers; parents of middle or high school age adolescents can relate to reckless feeding frenzies. Fishermen new to kayaking will catch more fish—and stay dry—if they remain seated. But a cautious, experienced fisherman who knows what to look for may approach unnoticed and fire off a targeted cast.
Jerry Coleman is the best I know at finding redfish in the southern Indian River Lagoon. That’s an often tough task, since reds are not a common commodity here. To make it even tougher, Coleman does it from a 28.5-inch-wide kayak designed for paddling and fishing, not standing on. The ex-surfer performs his balancing act in the fall and winter—tarpon and snook occupy the warm months—from Sebastian to Stuart.
“After the fall mullet run ends, I start hunting for redfish. I get bored blind casting,” Coleman told me on our last outing, when he left me sitting on a Fort Pierce flat, catching trout and snook, when no redfish wakes or tails materialized. “I have to have a target to throw at.”
Coleman adapts his sightfishing approach to conditions.
“If I’m in an area where I normally see fish, I stand up at first light. I watch for anything–swirls, tails, humps—any visual clues. I might stand off a flat for 5 to 10 minutes just looking,” he said. “Even if I don’t see fish, I still go up on the flat if I think the fish are there. If I spook something, I come back later.”
Coleman finds IRL fish easier to spot in the winter. Algae-killing temperatures and lack of rain create clear water conditions, and the seagrass recedes with the colder water and shorter light periods. But unlike many winter fishermen, Coleman doesn’t wait until the water warms up in the afternoon.
“Snook and trout feed better when the water warms up,” he says. “But redfish don’t seem to care how cold it gets. So I go out early before the wind kicks up, and before anyone spooks the fish.”
Standup kayak fishing presents logistical problems different than those facing skiff anglers fishing in pairs, according to Coleman.
“The trick is to stop the kayak and get rid of the pushpole, quickly and quietly, without running over the fish,” he said. “I used to put the pole through the scupper holes, but that’s too noisy and spooks the fish. Trailing a short loop of rope behind the kayak works better.
“Ideally, if the tide and wind cooperate, I position myself where I can forget the pole and drift with my rod in hand, ready to pull the trigger. If not, I often just stand up and use my paddle. When I see a fish, I very quietly put my paddle down, drop my anchor [two dive weights in a padded bag] and pick up my rod in one motion without taking my eyes off the fish.”
Coleman prefers the outgoing tide on most of the flats he fishes—contrary to conventional wisdom on many redfish flats in other parts of the state. On a dedicated redfish mission, his lone rod is generally adorned with a 3-inch D.O.A. Gold Glitter paddletail, rigged weedless on a 3/0 1/16 -ounce Powerlock hook.
Standup kayakers can simply drift across a flat at the mercy of the tide and wind, perhaps quietly influencing the direction left or right by dragging the paddle blade on that side of the boat. In areas lacking tidal flow, such as Mosquito Lagoon or the Banana River No Motor Zone, a pushpole is generally the preferred propulsion method. In the past, it might have been constructed from PVC or the broken remnants of a longer flats-boat pole. Kayak shops now offer dedicated kayak models, or they can be ordered online.
Native Watercraft’s Paddle Pole ($299, www.nativewatercraft.com) is 9½ feet long and weighs 2½ pounds. The 4-piece sectional pole breaks down for easy transport inside a car trunk or a kayak hatch. In addition to the typical pointed end used for poling or staking out, it features a long, narrow paddle blade rather than the traditional duckfoot, to aid in steering as well as pushing off.
Stiffy (www.stiffypushpoles.com) offers one-piece fiberglass canoe/kayak poles in lengths of 5, 8, 10, 12 and 14 feet. The 1¼-inch-diameter poles feature a high-strength nylon spike and duckfoot. The ends are sleeved in graphite for added strength. Prices range from $100 to $178.
The telescoping SuperStick, although designed for powerboats, is small and light enough for kayak use. It features a positive locking device that allows extension from 6 to 12 feet (longer version available), and weighs 3¼ pounds. Retail price is $239.99. The duckfoot can be removed with the click of a button and replaced with a gig or paddle blade, or a dozen other accessories. Visit www.thesuperstick.com. FS
By Jerry McBride