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Learning to catch redfish has been a journey

By Capt. GEORGE TUNISON - | Oct 8, 2021

Being a mid-Atlantic-raised Yankee, my childhood fishing took place in small ponds and creeks eventually graduating to the salt, with that angling done in deeper water environments like the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays. My only Florida, saltwater flats fishing knowledge came from studying issues of Florida Sportsman magazine, often while the snow blew hard against the windows and covered my boat.

Finally, making the move South during the fall of 1999, I also knew it was cooling water, redfish time, and I was dying to try and catch one.

After getting on the water, I surprised myself by quickly finding a big school of redfish, quickly boosting my confidence, that where making the shallow surface classically “nervous” as the herd fed and moved across the flat, just like in the pictures. I used every trick I had read about, approached ninja quiet with heart racing, casted all the right lures, at all the right angles, made all the right moves, still no reds. The next day I was complaining to veteran Cape angler and my Cape tarpon fishing mentor Tom Smith, from the old Anglers Outlet store on Del Prado. He listened, smiled, and quickly motioned over a few other veteran customers that where hanging out in the store, then asked me, “When you see these “schools of reds” moving across the flats are any of them occasionally jumping out of the water?” To which I replied, “Yes!” which of course caused great laughter all around. I had been stalking schools of mullet for days. Redfish don’t often jump when eating, or most any other time.

Later I turned this embarrassing learning experience into a fishing challenge learning how to catch those shallow water, plankton eating, hard to catch, schooling mullet on light fly and spin tackle. A big mullet on an ultra-lite rod with 4 pound braid or a 5 or 6wt. fly rod, is a real blast with the fish giving a powerful, redfish-like, fight.

Just an old mullet? Try it! It’s a fun challenge. Turn lemons into lemonade – If it fights hard, I like catching it.

Same with always powerful jacks and high energy ladyfish, the “poor man’s tarpon” that most anglers curse, but that actually provides great lite tackle action and has saved the day, for many pro guides working local waters. When I first arrived and started catching these energetic, always charged up fish, I was in hog heaven. Easily accessible, a ready biter on lures, flies, and bait, amazingly high jumping and hard fighting, a fun, lite tackle, fish. To fully appreciate these “trash” or big baitfish, take along your old 3-5 wt. trout rod. To make the day really fun, gather a few 6 year olds, a couple tiny rod outfits, add a bucket of shrimp and a school of ladyfish. They will talk about that day for many years to come.

While the tarpon and shark fishing still hangs on the primary focus of the inshore crews are on snook and of course, fall redfish.

As snook move away from the beaches seeking warmer waters inland you might find one or a school, almost anywhere along the way, ready to ambush your live bait, fly, or lure. If you’re not the live bait type then open that box and pull out a search lure that can be cast far and covers water quickly, as you move from spot to spot. Spoons are a top choice. Top water plugs can be worked quickly with faster, erratic retrieves, rather than slower “walk the dog” styles.

Try fishing high percentage spots like island points which snook always use to ambush. Oyster bars, edges, and drop-offs with good current are always reliable places to prospect with topwater plugs. Small docks to large river bridges always host travelling snook.

Some classic redfish spots include Smokehouse Bay, Reckems Point, Big Dead creek, Burnt Store Bar, and Indian Fields.

Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. Contact him at 239-282-9434 or captgeorget3@aol.com.