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The Right Retrieves for Catching Reds on the Fly

When to bump, when to drag, and how to put it all together when fly-fishing for redfish.

The Right Retrieves for Catching Reds on the Fly
This angler is making a long, slow "drag" retrieve to attract the interest of redfish in cool water which don’t appear to be actively feeding.

Bump it, bump it, bump it!” I shouted from the platform, as the angler’s fly intercepted a school of redfish barreling down the bank, feeding on shrimp. That brisk, short “pop” style strip caught their attention in the dirty water and convinced one of the fish it was a shrimp fleeing the scene. A good strip set and we were tight!

Redfish tend to be receptive to most retrieves; it’s one reason we love them so much! But some strips to do better than others, depending on the situation. There are two different styles I prefer for redfish, depending on the fish’s demeanor, forage and fly I’m throwing.

The first is the “bump.” With your rodtip down, often in the water, make a very short 2- to 4-inch brisk strip, straight down toward your feet. You want quick, short, erratic action that mimics fleeing shrimp and or wounded baitfish. This is a great retrieve when waters are warm and fish are active, even when corralling bait. This tends to trigger that predatory instinct to “run down” the fly as it is pulled away from them. Remember that: away from them. If you overshoot a cruising fish, and in an attempt to get the fly front of it, you bring it with a very erratic action toward the fish, chances are it will spook.

With shrimp imitations, I’ll often “bump” them off the bottom, sometimes letting it sit until the fish is intrigued. With baitfish flies, I will usually keep the fly up in the water column and moving. Remember, keep the strips short; a flick of the wrist is all it takes.

The other retrieve is quite the opposite. With your rodtip down, make long, slow “drags” on the bottom, where you strip line back behind you onto the deck. This is mainly used when fishing crustacean patterns in colder water or the fish are lethargic. Dark flies work best, heavily weighted so they stay glued to the bottom.

That same morning we got on the bank crawlers, the sun rose and the fish became very lazy. Schools broke up and single fish almost sat still on the bank. Putting the fly 3 to 5 feet in front of them and “dragging” it, like a blue crab moving along the bottom, the fish would often mosey over and take a bite. It was enough to catch their attention, but not too much movement to blow them out. The eats were very subtle, which is typically the case with this retrieve. It’s not always the case, but you can occasionally get away with this strip toward the fish if you overshoot it, unlike the “bump” retrieve.

Now for both retrieves, when that fish eats, keep your rodtip down. I can’t stress it enough. Some folks are used to “trout setting” in fresh water and lifting the rod; this just pulls the fly out of the fish’s mouth in the salt. I’ll often tell folks who tend to lift the rod to keep the tip in the water until the fish is clearing the line. Rather than lifting, keep your rod where it is and make a brisk strip back behind you, like the “drag,” just faster. This gives you the most direct connection to the fish and the least amount of “stretch” allowing for good hook penetration.

fly fishing for redfish
Short, frequent "pops" are effective when reds are on the feed.
Line Management

Line management is important with these strips, especially if there is a breeze. As the “bump” is straight down to your feet, a stripping bucket is often your best option. They will often fit on the casting platform with you and you can strip straight down into it. Stripping back behind into a bucket can be difficult, especially when trying to focus on the fish. This is where a line mat or even a toe rail on a boat can keep your line in order. Keep your deck clear and you’ll be in good shape, because Lord knows, if line can catch on something, it will.


  • This article was featured in the May 2024 issue of Florida Sportsman magazine. Click to subscribe.



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