July 01, 2010
By David Conway
West coast structure hunt.
Captain Chuck Rogers and a Tampa Bay redfish, sighted from his boat's tower.
WHEN SUMMER'S SWELTER TURNS THE SKINNY BRINE into bath water, redfish go looking for more comfortable digs. With water temperatures rising and oxygen contents declining, life in the shallows becomes tough on even resilient reds.
Consider the key elements of comfort and food availability—where can a redfish fill his belly without feeling cooked? Summer's mix of sun and storms will stifle some areas and invigorate others. Find the right spots and you'll keep the rods bent.
Like anyone trying to beat the heat, summer redfish will look for shelter and they often find it along mangrove edges on the shady side of a canal or creek (relative to sun angle). That's especially the case on Tampa Bay and the Charlotte Harbor complex. Water level is the key—the higher the better—so
expect a full house when the gap between the surface and the overhanging branches disappears. Reds are eager to reach the sheltered digs, so look for shoreward movement as soon as incoming tides flood the mangrove edges and open the door to these comfortable lounges.
“They're getting up under there to hide because it gets hot during the day—plus they're looking for shelter from dolphins and ospreys,” said Capt. Chuck Rogers of Rattlesnake Point Outfitters, on Tampa Bay. “Everything moves into the mangroves when it gets hot. The baitfish run as close to the shoreline as they can get and the higher the tide gets, the closer they can go. The redfish move in after them.”
Scented artificial shrimp, bucktails, gold spoons and soft-plastic jerkbaits rigged weedless on weighted worm hooks will coax a few reds from their retreats, but it's hard to beat a live pilchard or threadfin. Freelining works, but Rogers rigs his baits with a 1/0 circle hook through the nose and hangs them under floats.
“I like to keep my baits on a leash because they'll want to swim back into the mangroves,” he said. “Plus it gives you a better indication of when you get a strike. The first thing a (hooked) redfish will do is run back into the mangroves, so corks give you a little more time to respond and set up on the fish.”
Some other gulfside tactics for dog days redfish include:
Backwater Bruisers: From Pensacola to Bayport, deep creeks with marsh grass borders offer a close substitute for mangrove awnings. Redfish will tuck inside these arteries on high water and move to the mouths when the tide drops. Anchor or stake out on one side of a creek and fish fresh shrimp on split shot rigs or jig heads on the other side. Toss baits upcurrent and let them roll past obvious ambush positions. Probing points, oyster bars and run outs with jigs will produce, as will topwater plugs—especially when finger mullet abound.
What Lies Beneath: Bridges over coastal inlets often attract hordes of summer redfish to the deep, cool water and abundant feeding opportunities found around pilings and various debris. Electronics are critical to this game, as spotting structure or holes where reds lay in ambush means it's game-on. Butterfly jigs, bucktails and jigging spoons make attractive deepwater presentations.
Likewise, jetties hold tremendous redfish potential, particularly when strong tides displace and disorient abundant forage. Jetties offer many options, as working both sides of both ends optimizes all stages of the tide. Crankbaits and soft-plastic swimbaits are very effective here.
With bridges and jetties, remember that fishing in and around passes and ship channels exposes smaller vessels to the presence of larger ones. A long rolling wake will jostle baitfish and that often triggers a bite, but you'd best be quick on your feet or the turbulence may toss you in with your quarry.
Dead Water Roundup: Unlike snook, which snooze their way through slack tides, reds will eat even with zero water movement. They may not feel like chasing anything in hot, still water but let a smelly chunk of chow roll up in their grill and reds will chew. Chunks of mullet, ladyfish or large threadfins free lined on 3/0 circle hooks and skipped under docks or overhanging mangroves can't run away, so the easy meals quickly find takers. Cut bait can also congregate slothful reds into tighter target areas when slack tides scatter them across deeper flats or into cuts and channels.
Night Delight: We mostly think of trout and snook as the targets for after hours dock and bridge light missions. However, redfish don't miss a step and they often patrol the illuminated areas, just a little deeper than surface-oriented predators. Whether you're easing up to a residential dock or standing on a lighted fishing pier, freeline a pinfish on a circle hook or hop a jumbo shrimp along the bottom for any reds seeking a bedtime snack.
Summer in the Lagoon
By Cavin Brothers
Tayler Brothers, left, and Capt. Eric Templeton release a Mosquito Lagoon flats red.
THE SIGHT OF BRONZE TAILS IN THE GLASSY SHALLOWS of the early morning is what summertime redfishing is all about. During winter months, lethargic reds school in deeper, warmer water. But as things heat up they flood the flats in search of food—especially early, before those waters warm too much. “There is no better time to get on the shorelines and find those single fish, tailing early in the morning,” said Capt. Eric Templeton, a Mosquito Lagoon guide. Spots protected from the wind with healthy grass and abundant bait are often the most productive areas. Use a pushpole or get out of the boat and wade to make a stealthy approach.
Tidal flow is minimal in the Mosquito Lagoon; therefore feeding patterns tend to be based more on air and water temperature and bait concentrations. As the sting of the sun grows higher, the reds will often move to deeper hangouts. You will find these schools of fish in 2 to 4 feet of water. They will often be feeding on mullet, so a topwater bait is a must during the summer. “Matching the hatch is always the key when it comes to success in the Lagoon,” said Templeton. When choosing the right bait, you must take water color into consideration, as well as the size and color of the natural forage in the area. Bucktails, gold spoons and soft plastics rigged weedless will all warrant strikes from summertime redfish.
For livebait guys, pigfish are hard to beat. Mullet and live shrimp are also go-to baits. “Fish the drop offs and sand holes which will just about guarantee you non-stop action between reds and trout,” said Templeton. Shrimp and crab patterns are popular among fly anglers. “Borski's Redfish Slider is a tough fly to beat for the Lagoon,” he said.
Hooked up! You can't beat the thrill of sightfishing big reds on and alongside seagrass flats.
You never know what you may find, as redfish from 5 to 50 inches can be caught during the summer months—so be prepared. Larger fish will tend to hang deeper and can't always be sight fished. Be conservation-minded when fishing the larger bull reds as these are the big breeders. Take time to properly revive the fish, which can take much longer in the sweltering heat and warm water of the summer.
While fishing anywhere within the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge a refuge fishing permit is required. The permit is free and can be obtained at www.fws.gov/merrittisland. Approximately one half the Refuge's 140,000 acres consist of brackish estuaries and marshes that include parts of the Mosquito Lagoon, as well as the Indian River Lagoon and the Banana River. It is home to some of the largest numbers of brood stock redfish found anywhere.