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Redfish Advantage: The Kayak

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By Neil Taylor, owner www.capmel.com, owner and guide www.strikethreekayakfishing.com

 Most of the west central Gulf coast of Florida is a heavily populated area with a lot of anglers chasing a favorite species- Redfish. One key to success is being as quiet as humanly possible.    Those sneaky, spooky, wily redfish!  Those temperamental, timid, teasing redfish!  How can you improve your odds at connecting consistently on this species?

Neil Taylor, kayak-fishing guide and instructor:  www.strikethreekayakfishing.com

Kayak fishing accounts for the fastest growing faction of Florida saltwater anglers.  Why?  The distinct advantages of using a kayak are:  Access very shallow waters you could not get to with a power boat, the “low profile” in approaching fish and the “stealth factor.”  A kayak angler can enter into an area low to the water and putting off “zero wake”.   Even the tiniest little ripple thrown off can alert a gamefish to your presence.  Using a kayak to get in to very shallow feed stations can get you into range undetected.   Henceforth “the redfish advantage”, kayak anglers can sneak up on the spookiest of species and get into the action better than other methods of approaching these species.  

Access to remote areas
There is perhaps no better method to escape the crowded areas and quietly arrive into fish-infested waters undetected by your quarry.   Areas less trafficked means fish are in a natural setting and not skittish as they would be in areas where boats crisscross regularly.   The most remote areas, you may rarely even see other kayakers.  A powerboat is unable to access some of these areas at all.   In some situations, a kayak angler will have to get out and drag their craft through the shallowest areas.

Maintenance and Cost
Is this an “advantage?”   To some it may be.   Kayaks are ”no maintenance”, low cost option to successfully fish inshore waters.   The kayaks that are manufactured today are more durable than kayaks of the past, less prone to defects and require zero “upkeep.”   Salt water is not damaging to plastic.   Stainless steel rigging components nullify the need to replace parts on a regular basis.   The bottom line: When your fishing is done, the work is minimal.   Compared to the time, effort and expense of fishing from a power boat- advantage: Kayak Fishing.  A kayak angler is more likely to make an hour-long fishing trip than an angler who is going to utilize another type of craft.  More fishing trips for these shorter trips-“advantage, kayak fishing!”

The Convenience Factor:
Locations to launch a kayak are abundant in the Tampa Bay area and decent in most other Florida locales.   Any public area with the smallest access to water is a usable launch.    So many of the launches have excellent fishing, often just a stone’s throw from the put-in point.

The Boat, Equipment Choices and Rigging:
The basics of a properly equipped kayak are: An anchor trolley system, a paddle clip or leash, rod holders, a life vest and a whistle.    The trolley is important for positioning of the boat by having the anchor coming off various angles of the kayak.   The paddle clip or leash allows you to stow the paddle during “fishing time” and also prevents separation from that vital piece of equipment.   The vest and whistle are required safety equipment for the kayak.

Multiple rod holders allows different lures for different situations eliminating wasted time changing lures.  Lure selection for a kayak angler targeting redfish should consist of an assortment of soft plastic jig tails, on 1/8 or 1/16 jigheads and one of your rods with a lure rigged up “weedless”.  The weedless option is going to give you a shot at redfish that are “in the thicket”, shallow grassy areas that are so thick any exposed hook will be impossible to keep “swimming.”    One plastic tackle tray should contain all the lures you will need for a full day on the water.  In your selection of lures, don’t forget a topwater plug.   On the occasions where redfish seem disinterested in anything else, try that topwater lure on them!

You have your kayak and the philosophy on the kayak “advantage” so now what tips do you need to succeed?   Easy: Have all your rods rigged and ready to use with your lures rigged up properly so they swim “true.”   Have your polarized sunglasses on for glare reduction so you can spot the redfish as you move up a grassflat.   Approach the fish from upwind or upcurrent to help make long, accurate casts to the fish.   If you choose to deploy an anchor, pick it up and “set” it in the water without creating any noise.   Work to make your lures move in a realistic, appealing way that make a redfish want to eat it.  

Another great option for the “beginner” is to hire a quality guide to show them how it’s done.  Fishing from a kayak is fishing from a seated position, a little different than other fishing venues.  Getting the instruction from experts in anything that’s “new” shortens the learning curve for all the skills involved and eliminates the formation of bad habits.

Neil Taylor
“Instructional Kayak Fishing”

Strike Three Kayak Fishing
www.strikethreekayakfishing.com
(Cell) 727-692-6345
LivelyBaits@aol.com

Redfish Tactics

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Great and Productive 

By Submitted by Greg Hutchins   Photo by Neil Taylor, Strike Three Kayak Fishing

Huge herds of chunky redfish have now begun to appear in our shallow waters. They are fun to catch, but can be spooky and quite a challenge. We present here a few tips to aid in your quest for big reds.

WHEN TO STRIKE BACK: The surging wake made by a broad-shouldered redfish as he charges a fly (or other bait) in foot-deep water is bound to set your blood aboiling. Your tendency will be to set the hook hard as soon as the bait disappears from sight. Bad move! Patience doesn’t come easy in such a situation, but if you can control yourself for a second or two, your hookup percentage will soar. Wait until you feel a tug before hitting back. Used to feeding on crabs, a redfish automatically proceeds to toss his perceived dinner to his throat, where his crushing pharyngeal teeth can go to work on it. Strike instantly, and you run the risk of pulling the hook, or setting it too lightly in the edge of a lip. By delaying your strike, you almost always will set the hook solidly–usually in tough tissue at the corner of the mouth.

WATCH FOR THE “HUMPS”: When an angler or guide announces–usually in a loud and excited tone–that he sees a school of redfish “humping,” he is not just talking naughty. What he sees is a school of redfish moving in shallow water–each sending up its own wake that blends with all the others to form what appears to be–at a distance–a small tidal wave.

If you fish an area where a long stretch of flats lies parallel to deeper water, you can run the edge with your outboard motor and look for disturbances on the flat that might mean fish. A big, moving hump of water will not only mean fish, but lots of them and probably big ones. Your next move is to get well ahead of the traveling hump, shut off the outboard motor and pick up the fly rod or pushpole–according to your particular role in the operation.

SPOOKY IS AS SPOOKY DOES: Relative to the preceding paragraph, some anglers actually run their boats at the edge of the flats for long distances, hoping to spook a school of reds into humping visibly as they flee. Unlike bonefish, which endeavor to set a new marathon record every time you scare them, redfish normally lose their fear after a relatively short flight and can be fished again. They may be more skittery this time, but they can often be coaxed into striking.

This knowledge will stand you in good stead in many scenarios. For instance, if you start seeing puffs of mud from spooking fish while poling, or even slowly motoring, along a 2- to 3-foot-deep flat or shoreline, you needn’t figure that all is lost. Ease carefully away in a wide circle and approach the area again. Likely as not, the fish will have settled down and you’ll find them in the exact same territory, or not too far away.

Redfishing 101

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 By Capt. Mike Locklear

Here’s what works for me when I go redfishing:

First of all you need me to guide you for the best results. Otherwise read on. First, a couple of brief tips concerning reels and fishing lines are worth mentioning. The reels I use have super smooth drags and do not stick when fighting a big bull red. I prefer Shimano or Daiwa SS 1600 open-faced spinning reels with front controlled drags. The model I am using now is the Shimano Spheros 3000FA or Shimano Stradic 2500-FH.

Now I am testing some Okuma FH S30 spinning reels and they are proving to be more than worth their money with 7 ball bearings and a good enough drag.

The type of fishing line I like the best is Power Pro in either 8 or 10 pound test. These diameters are smaller than regular monofilament and thus cast almost twice as far. My old stand-by is Ande Backcountry Blue in 8-10 pound test. Also Berkley Trilene Big Game in the 10 pound test in a color called Solar. The fish don’t mind the bright green color and the advantage is you can see the line easily to prevent getting tangled up with your fellow angler while having multiple hook-ups.

Another tip to keep your line straight is, if you are using spinning reels before each trip, let out about half of your fishing line while idling and drag it behind the boat with nothing attached for about five minutes. This will usually untwist your line. I always use swivels when I spoon fish to keep line twist to a minimum.
Feed them: Cast a shrimp out, sit and wait...
I either use large live shrimp or pinfish about 3 inches is prime size under a Cajun Thunder Oval shaped popping cork with about 24 inches of 20-30 lb. clear monofilament or fluorocarbon leader. Sometimes I have to either decrease or increase the length of the leader depending on the depth. I tie 1/0, 2/0, or 3/0 # 89 Eagle Claw plain shank hooks depending on the size of the bait. Just above the hook about 10 inches I crimp either a #4 or #5 removable split shot. When the conditions are calm or if there is little or no current I use no lead or corks. Hence the term “freeline”. That is when you use just a hook and a leader without any terminal tackle. This technique works best when you are sure of where the fish are and they are kind of spooky. Sometimes I will put a fresh piece of ladyfish or mullet about 2 inches wide from a cut of filet.

The best time to catch redfish around Homosassa is during income tide from about half made to flood. The last hour of incoming is the magic hour for me. The best time of month is four days before or after the full or new moons in August or September. These times produce the highest tides and largest sizes for our coastal redfish. June is a good month but the sizes are down a bit on average. Although mighty hot in August, so is the fishing with catches over 30 bull reds common.

How you catch redfish is by anchoring well away from a well chosen outermost point with plenty of current running parallel to the shoreline of any mangrove studded island. This will insure you that the redfish will not be spooked. Cast towards the point and let the “cork rig” drift in towards the point of the island. You must let the live bait drift in with the tide by continually hand feeding line off the reel. This free drifting technique will produce fish for you. I can not over emphasize the point of letting the “cork rig” drift to cover ground and find the fish for you. If results are not produced within 15-30 minutes, I recommend you move to the next point as it would appear that no one was home at that spot.

Redfish loves Gold spoons. The two spoons of choice are the Johnson Silver Minnow both in 1/4 to 1/2 half ounce sizes. You can use the 1/4 ounce size for lighter tackle in the 4-8 pound test line. I use mostly 10 pound test line and cast half ounce spoons for all my red fishing trips. To catch redfish on spoons, a few tricks will produce an easy limit with little effort.

Try fishing the same tidal conditions as mentioned above. A drifting technique by casting towards or parallel to the shore when possible with a medium to fast retrieve during the early incoming stages of the tide. After the tide is up and nearly high you can slow your retrieve down a bit. The trick is to not getting hung on the rock bottom is this; before your spoon hits the water, close your bail by hand or engage your handle to take slack line out caused by wind or a high cast. If you start reeling a second or two before the spoon hits the water their will be no slack line and you will rarely hang up on the rocks. Gold color spoons are the best and great for bright sun. Try using silver on cloudy days and black if it is early or late in the day.

For the fittest fish, press the barb down with a pair of pliers. Unlike speckled trout, redfish have a tough skin inside their mouth and I rarely lose one because of a pressed barb. To end this redfish segment, the best release is the one that you don’t touch with your hands or net. This can be done by using a pair of long needle-nose pliers at boat side.

Good luck and good fishing,

Capt. Mike Locklear

Redfish “Rush”, Kayak Fishing for Redfish

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By Kathy Etling, St Louis Post-Dispatch

 01/10/2009

From the moment the fishing rod in my grip began to pulse wildly I was hooked just as surely as the redfish fighting at the end of the line. While not huge, according to guide Neil Taylor, the redfish had ‘shoulders,’ as anglers sometimes say. Burrowing its snout into seagrass mats growing in water less than two feet deep, the fish taxed the reel’s drag with sustained bursts of power that had it going to and fro beneath the kayaks, doggedly pulling line far out into the bay and occasionally bending the rod into a U as Taylor quietly offered advice.
Neil Taylor holds up another stout Northern Pinellas County redfish.
I’d tried — and failed — to catch redfish before, once battling a big red for all of 30 seconds before it pulled off in a Boca Grande backwater, and just recently losing another while fishing Tampa Bay. But this fish seemed well hooked; this fish, I began to hope, might actually be boated. As I thought of the moment, if it did arrive, when I’d finally, gratefully, cradle the redfish’s body, I began to realize just how addictive the sport can become.

Two days previously I’d watched Bob, my husband, catch two big redfish, each over 27 inches in length, while fishing Tampa Bay with Eric Bachnik of MirroLures. The redfish fell victim to one of MirroLure’s soft plastic jigs in electric chicken, a gaudy combination of hot pink and lime green, and each gave Bob one heck of a fight.

Bill Aucoin, a Florida friend and fishing buddy who had helped plan our trip, hoped to share with us a do-it-yourself flats fishing adventure for snook using tackle an ordinary angler might bring from home. Regrettably, the snook had turned off after a cold snap, and so Aucoin decided to substitute an afternoon of flats fishing in kayaks instead. Our guide would be Taylor, another Aucoin friend who, in a previous career, had been a minor league umpire.

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Taylor, of Strike Three Kayak Fishing, primarily fishes offshore of Caladesi Island and Clearwater Beach. His charter trips are reasonable and his saltwater tutelage exceptional.

A do-it-yourself kayak or canoe fishing trip would be even more reasonable, and while such outfitters abound throughout Florida, Taylor’s firm doesn’t rent kayaks. Anglers could take a basic kayaking lesson, ask a few pertinent questions and be fishing the saltwater flats on the same day.

By the time we met Taylor it was well past 1 p.m. Relying on human power to maneuver our craft onto the fertile grass flats was exciting enough, but knowing Taylor was convinced we’d find schools of redfish, tailing on the rising tide as they gorged on shrimp, crabs and marine worms, had everyone excited.

Taylor’s instincts were spot on. No sooner had we pushed and paddled our way across a particularly shallow flat than we spotted hundreds of redfish tails breaking the water’s surface.

Granted, we didn’t actually use our own fishing tackle since Taylor’s company supplied it, but what we did use was similar to what had been hauled from home — Daiwa Tierra 2000 and 2500 mid-sized  spinning reels, 6-foot-6 and 7-foot St Croix Tidemaster and Inshore Avid medium action rods, 15-pound test Power Pro braid line and soft plastic baits. Taylor rigs lines with single hook lures for safety’s sake and prefers soft plastics like the 3-inch Fat Sam Mullet in clear gold, Glass Minnow, 5-inch SlamR in rootbeer gold glitter, or Glow Shrimp, all made by 12 Fathom.

“Tossing a gold spoon is a good way to prospect for redfish,” Taylor added. “You can cover a lot of water that way. When redfish are sulking and won’t eat anything else you can usually annoy them into striking with a topwater.”

Taylor also uses live bait like shrimp, which is what my redfish had gobbled up.

Taylor has been fishing in Florida since 1975. He’s specialized since 1993 in fishing the coastal flats, and in kayak fishing since 1998. Clients can expect to take snook, redfish, speckled trout, flounder and sharks as well as the occasional pompano, cobia, Spanish mackerel, sheepshead, black drum or tarpon.

Redfishing, we discovered, is a lot like hunting. First, find a spot where redfish are feeding. Clues include tailing action or jumping mullets, a prey fish species. “I’m not sure why the mullet jump,” Taylor mused when asked. “I don’t think redfish chase or feed on mullet. I think mullet just prefer to be where redfish are feeding.” In any event, the flat teemed with life — tailing redfish, jumping mullet, pelicans and herons scouting for a meal while soaring just a few feet over the water. On our way to the flat we’d passed roosting yellow crowned night herons and even a roseate spoonbill completely unperturbed by our presence.

Taylor’s area provides great fishing action all year long. “Redfishing is almost always good; speckled trout are best from late October through the end of April,” he said. “Snook are best from mid-March through mid-October with a peak from June until mid-July.”

Nailing down the best time of day to be fishing isn’t easy, Taylor admitted “Tide is important, but so are other factors,” he said. “From May through October I like to be out between 5:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m., and again from 5:30 p.m. until sundown. Fishing tide switches can also be good, not only when tides are starting to rise but when a high tide switches to outgoing water (ebb tide).

Alligators aren’t a problem, but avoid going out in winds greater than 15 knots. Afternoon thunderstorms are common during the summer months. If planning to go it alone ask which areas you should avoid, and when to avoid them. In Taylor’s area, for example, kayaking inside Hurricane Pass with an east wind and an outgoing tide is like asking for ‘a trip to Mexico.’ Always tell someone where you’re going and when you plan to return.

After a tussle of more than 10 minutes the redfish was beaten. As I cradled the fish in my hands I knew it wasn’t as large as those which Bob had caught, but at more than 5 pounds it was big enough for me.

To contact Tampa Bay area kayak guide Neil Taylor go to:  www.strikethreekayakfishing

MirrOlure information:   www.mirrolure.com

Redfish on Fly

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Reds, Shallow Water, Fly Rod
By CAPT. PAT DAMICO, Fly Fishing Editor
Photo by Neil TaylorOur first severe cold front has come and gone, and introduces a pattern that will be with us until spring. Will we put away our fly gear and tie some flies anticipating better weather, or will we be able to continue fishing? On Florida’s west coast different times of the year usher in a variety of fishing opportunities. I like what winter has to offer.  

Redfish are not very temperature sensitive. Winter’s low tides and clear water offer some unusual fishing opportunities that almost combine fishing with hunting. If you like a challenge, the best fishing of the year may be here. You can find and catch numbers of fish that are trapped in some deeper “hole” waiting for the incoming tide. The rising water will allow them to spread out across some adjacent flat where feeding opportunities are abundant. If you are up for a one on one challenge in skinny water your best opportunity is now. 

A thorough knowledge of your quarry and their habits will help immensely. How do you recognize them, where do you look, what do you use, how not to spook them, are just a few of the challenges that you accept. A red’s low slung mouth is perfect for bottom feeding. He can push and disrupt the bottom in his search for food. His interest in the bottom can be your opportunity to get up close and personal. 

I love to find and pursue tailing redfish. A slow moving tail sticking out of the water will get your attention. Mullet tails are transparent, pointed, and only show quickly for a second. Reds will be found on flats that have their favorite food, like crabs and crustaceans. Wading birds often precede fish looking for the same staples. A concentration of birds actively feeding in the shallows will often have redfish mixed in with them. Watch these birds to see how you should reduce your visibility. Duplicating their movements will allow you to get close. It is rare to find schools of mullet that don’t have reds as opportunistic companions, waiting for mullet movement to flush their next meal. I often pole my skiff to the edge of a flat I want to fish, anchor and wade. Wading will increase your chances of getting closer.   

Don’t be in a big hurry to cast. Watch to make sure you know the exact position of the fish. Is he facing you, or facing left or right? If facing away, there is a good chance you will line him spooking him and any friends he has nearby. When his head is down in the bottom, his tail is usually up and this will be your best opportunity to cast. Get the fly close, but not too close. If the fly makes it to the bottom without a take, move it only an inch when he gets his head out of the mud. A six inch strip will scare him. If the fish is moving, cast ahead of the fish, and let the fly sit on the bottom. As the fish gets within a foot, or two, begin to move the fly just enough to get his attention. Keeping the rod tip close to the waters surface and eliminating slack is most important. Reward his take with a strip strike.  

Florida has many crabs. Blue, fiddler, hermit, speckled, spider, mole and sand are just a few. How do we select and fish an effective crab pattern. Your casting skills better be adequate, because accuracy is more important than distance. Eight weight rods, or lighter in calm conditions, can deliver a crab pattern with a floating line. Nine foot leaders are a minimum, usually tapered to twelve pound test fluorocarbon.

Fly selection will include flies that will not spook shallow water fish. Small lead dumbbell, bead chain, and plastic eyes when properly mounted on a hook also stabilize the crab making it sit at rest with the hook point up. These eyes, mounted in the front allow the crab to seem to dive for the bottom when in danger. Shape your crab pattern so that it is a little narrower in the front where the weight is allowing it to dive and not wobble as it descends. The crabs color should match the bottom. If fishing sand, tan will predominate. When in turtle grass, a greenish color works best. My one exception to this rule is when fishing a mylar crab. They are gold and copper colored and are especially useful when water is discolored. Weed guards are also necessary most of the time. The crab pattern should not make much noise when hitting the water. A pattern make of wool will be more silent than a mylar or epoxy crab. Your casting skills will help most here. Watch the fish’s reaction to your casts, and adjust weight accordingly. Smaller is better when selecting crab flies. A size two or four will often work best. 

Tailing redfish are not easy. A large red in skinny water presents a formidable challenge. Fooling him will give you a great sense of satisfaction and exhilaration. Try not to shout for joy when you finally connect.

Capt. Pat Damico, a FFF certified fly casting instructor, guides in lower Tampa Bay as well as surrounding water offering fly and light tackle trips. To see how to tie a Mylar crab and Kwan crab, go to fishbuzz.tv and under flies you will find a video of him tying these and other favorites. His website www.captpat.com offers additional information.

Reducing Catch-and-Release Mortality

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 From “The Marine Scene” – Florida Sea Grant

Recreational anglers often fish for the sport of it, choosing to release what they catch. Many fish that are caught must be released because for many fish species, the size and number that may be caught by an individual is regulated (see Florida Saltwater Fishing Regulations for Florida’s recreational saltwater fishing regulations, and Florida Freshwater Fishing Regulations for recreational freshwater fishing regulations.) However, there is some concern that fish that have been hooked and released may not survive their stress or injuries.

There are several things that the recreational angler can do to increase the chance that fish that they catch and release will survive. The most common causes of release mortality are stress during the capture process and injuries from the hook or the angler. As with humans, physical exertion results in lactic acid buildup in the fish’s muscles and blood which can result in muscle failure or death. Anglers can reduce fish exhaustion by using the proper weight tackle for the size of fish they are targeting, by landing the fish quickly, and, if possible, by leaving the fish in water while releasing it.

To reduce stress or injury caused by handling the fish, anglers should either not handle the fish at all (removing the hook using a de-hooking tool), or should use wet hands. If a towel or gloves must be used, these should also be wet. The slime layer on a fish’s body serves many protective functions for the fish, including anti-bacterial functions. If that slime layer is removed, the fish will be more vulnerable to infection and possibly also predation. If the fish is to be held up for a photograph, holding the fish horizontally (in a natural swimming position) rather than vertically will reduce the risk of damaging the fish’s internal organs.
The circle hook.
To reduce injuries caused by hooks, barbless and circle hooks can be used. Barbless hooks are shaped like standard j-hooks, but have the barb removed. The advantage of barbless hooks is that they can be removed quickly and easily. A study on catch rates of snappers and groupers did not show any difference between barbed and barbless hooks. For most saltwater fish species, circle hooks result in higher catch rates and lower catch mortalities when compared to j-hooks. Anglers who are accustomed to fishing with j-hooks will have to modify their hook-setting technique when using circle hooks in order not to pull the hook out of the fish’s mouth. Circle hooks are designed not to catch in the fish’s gut or throat, but to catch the corner of the mouth as the fish swims off after taking the bait and hook.

If fish do become gut-hooked, the recommendation is that the angler cut the line as close to the fish’s mouth as possible, rather than trying to remove the hook. The swallowed hook will decay fairly rapidly, and the fish’s body may actually cover it with tissue while the decay process occurs, allowing the fish to heal as the hook disappears. (Don’t us stainless steel hooks). When deep sea fishing, anglers should be aware that they can increase grouper survival rates by properly venting the fish before releasing it. The swim bladders of fish that are brought to the surface from depth may burst. This causes gases to accumulate in the fish’s abdomen, giving it a very swollen belly. The stomach may be pushed forward and may actually stick out of the fish’s mouth. You can find good info on proper fish venting techniques by going to Deflating Fish.

REDundancy

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One species that “keeps you going back for more”

 By Neil Taylor, originally contributed to ProAnglersJournal.com

The Red Drum:   Sciaenops ocellatus.   A light tackle opponent in Florida inshore waters, reliably available most of the year- redfish become more than a choice in targeting for the angler, they become an addiction.

Of all the species to catch in Florida inshore waters, there is one fish that gets mentioned a great deal. Once an angler has experienced the raw power of the sciaenops ocellatus, they often make them a regular target from that point on. Their availability year-round in Florida waters, coupled with the exciting tug-of-war they provide, make them a passion for those who have the Redfish Experience. With some people, that’s all they want to catch, planning all their trips to intercept and catch these fish leading to “REDundancy” in their angling pursuits.

Redfish rules since the early 90’s have not changed, making the species the best management success in the history of Florida wildlife management. The “Blackened redfish” craze of the early 80’s led to extreme pressure on the redfish populations. Regulations on both recreational and commercial fishermen allowed this species to come back strong. Red drum are no longer commercially harvested in most states. A sustained species, redfish regulations have remained unchanged in the state of Florida for a long time. The typical redfish is 22 to 28 inches in coastal Gulf coast of Florida waters. One fish per angler per day is allowed for harvest and these fish must be “at least 18-inches and not over 27-inches.” Most knowledgeable anglers will not keep a redfish until it gets to be 22 or 23-inches in length.

Redfish feed predominantly on crustaceans and small baitfish. The juvenile redfish inhabit coastal waters the first four to six years of their life cycle. On the west coast of Florida, when they reach maturity, redfish will move offshore in large schools returning to the “pass” areas between August and October. Egg-bearing females will lay up to 2 million eggs in a season. Barring predation or harvest, redfish can live to be 60 years old. Bronze in color, a redfish’ most distinctive feature is a single solid black spot on the tail, likely a natural selection advantage over the ages, a feature which predators (primarily the porpoise or dolphin) may not be able to distinguish “head from tail.”

So many of the requests I get from people for really learning inshore fishing involves a specific request: “I want to learn how to find and catch redfish.” In most situations, the anglers have unsuccessfully attempted to catch this species. The reason that this is the case is often because of a few big factors:

1) Location. Redfish are usually shallower than the waters that people go fishing. Many times when I get these people out there, they will remark “The water sure is shallow.” People realize from that point on that they were “out of the game” by their location selection, never getting shallow enough to encounter the redfish where they are most likely to be found.

2) Stealth and approach. Too many anglers have no idea that the redfish can be one of the “spookiest” of fish, shutting down their feeding or evacuating an area altogether if the angler doesn’t take great care to eliminate noises and avoid moving right into a school of fish. The kayak is the very best way to approach redfish and keep them in their undisturbed state. Anglers who have power boats figure out quickly that using a pushpole is much better than pushing in to redfish using a trolling motor. Anchoring a kayak or boat can have a negative impact on the redfish feed. “Throwing an anchor” instead of quietly placing it in the water can alert the fish to the presence of a “predator.”

3) Technique. So many people want to utilize artificial lures to catch redfish. Without advanced technique in using lures, and knowing some of the other “tools and tricks”, redfish will not be easily caught throwing the lures to them. The ability to aggressively move a lure in shallow waters but still minimize the speed that it is traveling is paramount to success. In specific situations where the bottom characteristics have thick grasses or the surface has floating grasses, employing a “weedless jighead” will allow the angler to get strikes from fish because the lure doesn’t hang up in those grasses.

4) Timing. It’s not necessarily “where” you fish, but when you fish. There are variables for finding feeding redfish from area to area. With time on the water, the conscientious angler will determine patterns to when the fish are feeding based on the tides, the time of the day and the time of year. These patterns are largely duplicated for the same area and the same time of year. During the warmest months, with good tides, redfish are much more likely to be feeding if there is good movement to the tide.

The mysterious thing about the redfish is their moody, fickle nature. All fish have a little bit of this in them, but redfish, normally gluttons can be sulky, uncooperative snobs some of the time. There will be times when the fish are ganged up in tremendous schools but are not actively feeding. In these situations there is little anyone can do but there are some things to try.

“The Back-up Plan”
For the purist, lure-thrower, when faced with the daunting task of getting sulking redfish to eat: A topwater lure may do the trick. Having faced this situation many times, I am convinced that a noisy topwater continuing to disturb the peace, redfish attack it not so much for a meal but to “kill it” so it won’t be bothering them any longer. Many people use topwater lures for redfish are their “go to” offering all the time. Knowing that it may be the key to success in those toughest times could prevent a “skunking” (catching no fish).

Natural baits, live or “fresh dead” will get taken quickly when placed in front of a redfish. Scented lures also fit into this category. For the sportsman, this is often the boring way to get into the action, but it works. From late May through mid-October, anglers who target redfish when the “sun is high in the sky” from the hours of 10AM to 6PM, the natural baits or scented lures kept down in contact with the bottom are going to be about the only way to get into the action. When the sun is less intense, using the lures can outperform the natural baits if the angler is decent with the presentation. It is quite simple really: Lure throwers cover more water.

“Tailing redfish”.
Perhaps in a category all by itself, sight fishing redfish can be done in the extreme shallows. Tailing redfish are a regular occurrence but anglers need to find the specific locations where this happens. So many people telling me about “tailing redfish” are talking about mullet schools. When a redfish is “tailing” they are usually in water that is under ten-inches in depth. The physics behind their tail coming out of the water has to do with the fish digging their head down into the bottom to get a meal. The head down in the mud or grass, the tail rises and waves. The best areas to find redfish in this mode are usually areas of thick turtle grass. This is a thrilling way to target redfish but it can be frustrating as well. Using a soft plastic lure rigged weedless is tough to beat in this situation.

Hooked redfish put up a great fight. Medium spinning tackle is perfect for battling reds. The telltale signs that the fish bending the rod is in fact a redfish becomes obvious during the battle. The incredible amount of thrust of their tails is evident by the large boils in the water. Redfish have great energy and power but they aren’t too “tricky.” With hard mouths and no “webbing” areas like snook and trout have, it is a rarity to lose a hooked redfish if the angler is using sharp hooks and gets a good initial hookset. If the drag is set appropriately on a reel, redfish can pull out some line without reaching breaking strength.

For oversize fish or other fish that are not going to be kept, redfish have top
durability for catch-and-release. On occasions where the redfish have swallowed a lure or hook, leave the fish in the water and cut the leader as close as possible. Redfish will not only survive with hooks in their mouth, throat or gut: They will continue to feed. In 2007, a redfish was caught that had five pieces of line coming out if its mouth.

If it’s a desire, hire a guide to teach you the tricks to targeting redfish and join the legions of redfish addicts who love to tangle with these terrific sport fish.

Releasing Tarpon

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Release the Mighty Silverking Unharmed
By CAPT. JON ZORIAN, Boca Beacon

There was a time when many marine species caught in the guise of “sportsmanship” and not for food, were used for pictures and then discarded, which included the poor fish being hung from a rack, with the “all conquering” angler standing boastfully aside, his “weapon” rod and reel in hand. 

Regarding tarpon, what a shame for a magnificent game fish to end up as a very brief and selfish hurrah…the subject of a picture.  And from there, after the pictures and while the “hunters” are in the bar celebrating, the carcass of what once was a magnificent marine specimen is tossed in the garbage dumpster or shoved back overboard to feed the crabs and catfish. 

In our area and elsewhere in the state, tarpon were once victims of such treatment.  Hung up for a picture and discarded.  What most people don’t know is that the average tarpon caught at Boca Grande Pass is about 25 years of age, with many being much older.  What most people also don’t know is that it takes about a decade of life before a tarpon can even reproduce.
Photo: Captain Rick Grassett

When you think of the impressive fight and heart of the might silverking and to know that it has been around for such a long time, why would anyone want to kill it for the thrill of the moment and then for just a picture?  To bring the situation really home, the next time you witness a tarpon at the back of the boat after the fight, think back 25 or 30 years to your age at that previous time and where you were in life…then think, this fish has been alive all that time, too. 

Thanks to the efforts of the Boca Grande Fishing Guides Association and some interested law makers in Tallahassee during 1989, the tarpon tag law of Florida now exists.  Since that time, the number of tarpon killed for no reason has been reduced significantly.  Also, since that time, professional charter captains who specialize in tarpon have reported catching larger fish, on the average. 

The law is clear in stating that, “The angler must immediately release the fish uninjured and at the same place where the fish was caught.  Otherwise, any possession of an untagged tarpon is unlawful.” 

This simple statement coupled with the need for a $51.50 tarpon tag on board the boat at the time of the catch has not only reduced the high numbers of needless kills, but resulted in changes to tarpon tournament formats.  The most impressive is the creation of the wet sling that is presently used in Boca Grande to chronicle the weight of tarpon, which are then safely released.  And, only a tarpon with a tarpon tag is allowed for weighing and consideration in the event as an entry. 

“There is no provision for transporting untagged tarpon to weighing stations” as stated in a memo to District Majors and Field Office Captains by the Florida Marine Patrol code enforcement division several years ago.  The law does NOT provide for a tarpon to be taken to the scales for weighing and then released without the use of a tag while the fish is in the possession of the angler or tournament officials. 

It is not only the burden of anglers to uphold the law, but also tournament officials to insist that any fish brought to the weighing station only be accepted as an entry if the fish has been tagged, even if only for the moment prior to a release after weighing.  The rules of the annual Boca Grande Fishing Guides Association’s Invitational Tarpon Tournament say just that…”no tag, no weigh”!  A tag must be expended and used if the fish is removed from where it was caught and taken possession thereof, regardless of the time span until it is released.

Even though many more tarpon are being released, are some of them still being mishandled?  Yes…absolutely.  And worse, are there tarpon still being killed for no reason and without the use of a tarpon tag?  Again, yes!  Hopefully, with awareness of the law and information about tarpon, these incidences will be reduced. 

Now,  for that angler or captain who thinks their tarpon is a record, which results in the need for it to be weighed (killed) consider this…if one were to fish for the next 100 years everyday for tarpon, the likelihood of catching a record is as probable as winning the lotto.  For the record (no pun intended) the Florida record for the largest tarpon is 243 pounds caught in 1975 at Key West by Mr. Gus Bell.  To beat that, your tarpon needs to be over 8 feet long and as big around in the girth as a fat man.  Regarding the world record, it is 283 pounds and that tarpon was caught years ago off the coast of Sierra Leone, Africa. 

Release your tarpon, let it live, you can’t eat it!  Don’t be caught up in record fever!  Your tarpon will be much more beautiful in a natural picture taken while the fish is full of color and in the water. 

Another release by Captain Rick GrassettTarpon release guidelines: 

·         Do not gaff the tarpon unless you plan to expend a tarpon tag

·         Do not haul the tarpon vertically out of the water for a picture

·         Do not bring a tarpon in the boat for a picture

·         Do not run a rope or fid through the tarpon’s gills

·         Release the tarpon as soon after the catch as possible

Report Wildlife Violations

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Report Wildlife And Fish Law Violations Online

 Call it joining the technology age. Floridians can now report fish and wildlife law violations online.

Anyone who has knowledge of, or suspects, a violation involving saltwater or freshwater species or wildlife can report the information to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Wildlife Alert Program through the agency Web site at MyFWC.com. Where incidents are “in progress,” respondents are directed immediately to call the Wildlife Alert hotline at 1-888-404-FWCC (3922) 24 hours a day.

“This is a convenience for those who have personal computers, and at the same time, it brings us in line with other states that are using technology to their advantage,” said Lt. Tom Haworth, law enforcement administrator for the Wildlife Alert Program.

He said reporting violations online is appropriate when someone wants to provide information about a violation that has already occurred rather than situations that require immediate attention. The program also encourages boaters to phone in reports of suspected intoxicated boaters by calling the toll-free number — “#FWC” or “*FWC” — from their cellular phones.

From its inception in 1979, one of the selling points of the Wildlife Alert Program has been the availability of rewards up to $1,000 for information that generates an arrest. With the online reporting system Haworth said, individuals still can collect a reward if they so choose, but they have to follow directions for follow-up contact information and assignment of a code color and number.

Florida’s Wildlife Alert Program remains one of the most successful programs in the nation for reporting fish and wildlife law violations. In 2003 alone, FWC law enforcement officers made almost 3,300 arrests following Wildlife Alert calls. In return, callers were paid just over $35,000 in rewards for the year.

Return to Grouper Digging!

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 By CAPT. MEL BERMAN, 970-WFLA

It’s been more than a dozen years since I made the switch from offshore to back bay. But them, when the opportunity presented itself, I jumped aboard the luxurious 26-foot World-Cat, skippered by Capt. Sam Medigovich’s. And, just like riding a bike, I still had the touch!

For those not familiar with the grouper, it’s a is a large member of sea bass family, an abundant and tasty tropical fish species found in waters throughout the Southeast U. S. and many areas of South and Central America. Without question it is Florida’s favorite seafood species. The fillets are firm and white, with a very mild flavor. Most aficionados will tell you that grouper makes the best fried fish sandwich. It also is wonderful grilled broiled or any other cooking method of preference.

Though a resolute catch and release angler, I must confess that I was looking forward to catching and taking home one of these brawny bottom fish when the invitation was extended to go on a Gulf of Mexico grouper fishing trip.
Following several years as an offshore charter skipper, I have over the last decade been an aficionado of the more benign and somewhat less challenging atmosphere of back bay fishing.
Yet heading out of Hernando Beach, Florida on this bright spring day aboard Capt. Sam Medigovich’s 26-foot World Cat, “The Rock-Boss II,” I was taken with the totally different atmospherics of an offshore fishing excursion.

The quiet twin 175 hp ‘Ficht’ Evinrudes effortlessly powered the unique catamaran hull through a two-foot chop at an impressive 40 miles per hour.

“About nine more miles to destination,” announced our skipper. “How long before we get there,” asked Pete Suick, of the venerable Suick Lures Company. “Shouldn’t take more than about 15-minutes more,” responded our other fellow passenger, Capt. Frank Bourgeois joining us on a sort of busman’s holiday.

As the GPS display indicated that we were now within 2 miles of our coordinates, Capt. Sam backed the engines down to trolling speed.

Deploying a Mann’s “Stretch 30” on a downrigger and a large Cisco Kid on a flat line, we trolled the rest of the way to our fishing spot.

At about 100 yards from zeroing out the GPS coordinates, the downrigger tripped, coming to life with what had to be a massive fish struggling for release.

Then suddenly the line went slack, as the fish successfully disengaged itself. “Well, the fish has to win one once in a while,” I said, quoting my good friend Capt. Dave Zalewski.
By then we had arrived at our designated destination, and Capt. Sam tossed out a large marker buoy. The depth recorder showed a 37-foot depth and some good hard limestone and coral bottom.
“Listen guys, let’s try drift fishing around the area before we actually anchor up and bottom fish” said the skipper.

With the tide still running out into an opposing westerly wind, we barely made any headway towards the marker. Each of us dropped our rigs down into the unusually clear waters. Mine was comprised of a 3-oz sliding sinker over a #3 swivel to which about 3-feet of 80-pound leader was attached, with a 5/0 offset Eagle Claw hook at the business end.

Dropping down a generous chunk of squid as bait, I could feel all sorts of critters nibbling away like a thousand tiny fingers as we drifted across the crunchy bottom. It didn’t take more than a few seconds before all our hooks were cleaned off.

“Tell ya what guys, lets try anchoring, ” said Capt. Sam. “I’ve got a good idea where they’re at.”

On command, Capt Frank deployed the anchor. “Let out all the line,” shouted the skipper.
“Now, since the water is so clear, we’re gonna set up several yards from the ledge. So you guys will have to cast a good distance to get your baits to the fish.”

“I think I’ll stick with the squid, ” I announced, flipping the bait out into the designated target zone.

Barely reaching the bottom, it took all of two seconds for some voracious creature to inhale the smelly goop off my hook. “I’ve got some live pinfish in the well.” offered Capt. Sam. “Just hook one of them below the dorsal fin and drop it down.”

Selecting a smaller pinfish, I again cast it toward the marker buoy, well past the ledge and worked it slowly back into the grouper zone.

This time, there was no doubt about it, I felt a powerful strike, instantly straining my line and putting a massive bend in the rod.

“Got one?” asked Pete, who was fishing on the other side of the stern. “I think so, and he’s one heck of a puller,” I yelled. At that instant, everything came to screeching halt. “Oh no! I think he got me hung up in the rocks.”

Meanwhile, up on the bow, Capt. Frank was reeling in our first grouper — a chunky 8-pound gag. “What a nice looking fish,” said Pete, who spent most of his fishing life pursuing walleye and northern pike. “That my friend is what a keeper grouper looks like,” explained Capt. Frank, and I caught him on frozen threadfin herring.

“Way to go,” said the skipper, putting the first of what would be several hefty fish into the well-iced box.
Now, it was back to my problem. That darned grouper by now had sullenly hunkered down into the rocky structure below. “What are you gonna do now?” asked Pete. “I’m going to use a little trick a Greek fisherman showed me during my years of chartering out of Tarpon Springs,” I said. “What’s that?” “Well instead of trying to horse the fish out, or “twang the string” like some folks do, I’ll just open the bail and let the fish have lots of slack.”

Then taking the line off the rod tip, I sat there patiently waiting to see if the big grouper felt sufficiently relaxed to swim back out of the heavy rocks.

“Wait a minute, I think the fish is starting to move out,” I shouted. Grabbing the rod, I slowly lifted it skyward. Than, gingerly cranking in the slack, I pulled the fish out of the security of its rocky haven. But now the fight was on!

Tacking in what line he’d allow, I could feel the powerful pull the tenacious gag grouper. “You got him coming,” shouted Capt. Frank. “I just can’t let him get back in the rocks,” I responded.
Finally, we could see the outline of the fish as it approached the water’s surface. “Wow, that’s a beauty,” shouted Pete. “That my friend is a grouper,” said Capt Sam as he reached down and hoisted the big fish aboard “The Rock-Boss II.”

“What do you say he weighs,” I asked. “At least 16-pounds,” replied the skipper.
By this time, our friend from Wisconsin was wresting with yet another monster gag. And yes, Pete Suick’s fish also found the ledge and was tenaciously hanging in there.

I’ll say this about this Midwestern angler, he is one fast learner! Emulating my successful grouper retrieval technique, Pete placed his rod in a holder on the gunwale and gave the fish copious amounts of slack.

Patiently holding the line coming of the rod tip, Pete got comfortable for a long wait.
Meanwhile, Capt. Sam, tossing a bucktail jig enhanced with a slab of squid, hooked up with yet another big grouper. And up front, Capt. Frank was also reeling one in after deploying a squid/threadfin bait combination into the target area.

Meanwhile, Pete was patiently sitting there just waiting for his big fish to come out of the rocks.
Suddenly, he felt that telltale tightening of the line in his hand, indicating that the big grouper was about to abandon the security of the ledge.

Handling his tackle as though he had done it all his life, Suic
k held his rod high and began cranking.

After a several minutes struggle, the hardy 72-year old visitor finally boated a twin to the big grouper that I had landed. “Way to go Pete,” shouted the crew.

The action continued for several minutes until the tide went slack. Now it was time to head back to the dock.

What glorious Florida day — what a productive fishing day! For me, it turned out to be a stunning reminder of why I originally spent so many years roaming the Gulf of Mexico.