It’s much like fishing in a sauna, except with occasional bolts of lightning thrown in.
But late August marks the beginning of the fall redfish run on the west coast, and that makes it well worth deserting the air-conditioning for a few hours to get in on the action.
Most anglers pursue redfish in the 18- to 27-inch slot. These fish are just under spawning size, which is the reason for the upper limit — those which reach adulthood at about age 4 become the spawners which renew the population. But the big attraction of slot reds is that they spend much of their time in water anywhere from ankle deep to about 4 feet, making them ideal sight-fishing targets.
“Tailers” are a special attraction; on low tides, reds often tip up to root crabs and shrimp out of the bottom, causing their tails to wave above the surface. Alert anglers can spot a tail at a hundred yards, and this allows them to pole, paddle or wade into range and make a presentation to a visible fish.
Shallow-water reds are extremely wary and it’s a test of skill to make the cast accurately, work the lure just right and fool the fish as you watch it, but for many this is the most exciting type of angling.
Plastic jerkbaits rigged weedless are the favorite lure for this action, but topwaters and weedless spoons also work well, as do flyrod streamers.
Good flats typically have lots of turtle grass, with slightly deeper sloughs of grassy area between shallower white sand bars. Fishing is often best on the lowest low tides, which occur on the new and full moons each month. On the east side of Tampa Bay, a strong northeast wind on a falling tide is prime time; it pushes the water out and makes for extreme low water where redfish tails are easy to see.
Reds often settle into potholes in the flats, as well, and in these locations live bait is the ticket; a live sardine or shrimp under a popping cork often draws an instant strike. And some anglers do well with cut threadfins or ladyfish, using pieces of the baitfish both as chum and as bait — reds home in on the scent, particularly when they cruise deep mangrove shorelines on high tide. The Berkley artificial bait known as “Gulp!” also does the job, again through scent attraction — it’s a favorite among tournament pros when the fish are hard to fool with artificials.
Preferred tackle for flats reds is spinning gear loaded with 10-pound-test microfiber line; this allows long casts, and the no-stretch fiber gives plenty of power to handle the hard-running drum. An 18-inch length of 20-pound-test fluorocarbon leader will stiffen the connection and prevent the line from tangling the hooks frequently as you work the lure, as braid often does. Flyrodders typically use 8-weight gear and weight-forward floating lines.
Locations for redfish abound.
On Old Tampa Bay, Double Branch and Rocky Creek are favorites, as is the Weedon Island area. Around the Skyway, waters at Fort De Soto always produce, as do the islands between Fort DeSoto and the north causeway. On the south side, the shoreline from The Bulkhead off Anna Maria to the south causeway of the Skyway are all prime. And the South Shore area, from the Skyway to Apollo Beach, is an endless flat, up to 100 yards wide, where reds can be found year around.
North of the Bay area, the rocky creeks from Chassahowitzka north to Crystal River are redfish central, and there are always fall runs of giant fish around the mouth of the Barge Canal and the powerplant canal.
And to the south, virtually all the shoreline of Charlotte Harbor is prime redfish country, with Bull Bay, Turtle Bay, Jug Creek Shoal and the islands of upper Pine Island Sound all favorites.
Prime redfishing gets underway this month, but it typically continues until at least the end of October, with many of the larger fish showing between mid-September and Oct. 15. These fish are often far over the maximum size limit, with 15- to 20-pounders not uncommon, particularly on the outer edges of the flats, on the artificial reefs and in the deeper sloughs and passes.