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Learning the tricks for redfishing

By Staff | Sep 28, 2023

Capt. George Tunison

Many years ago not long after relocating to Florida in the fall of the year, I found myself in my new flats boat eager to sample some Southwest Florida flats redfish angling. As an expert reader about redfishing, I knew to look for schools of fish in thin water, making the water boil or appear “nervous” as the school moves along eating, or to look for groups of nearly stationary “tailing” fish also in eating mode. It wasn’t long before I spotted a big school of Matlacha redfish and honestly couldn’t believe my luck. My reading paid off! This was going to be easy!

I quietly drifted within casting range careful not to rock the boat. I made the perfect fly cast right to the edge of the moving school right in front of the fish. No takers. I quickly recast nothing. In desperation, I switched to a top water plug. I tried redfish candy; a spoon. Nothing, I was crushed. I found another school of reds; same results.

There were about six local anglers and a few guides in the bait store when the owner loudly informed me and for all to hear that schools of “nervous water” plankton-eating mullet aren’t partial to Zara Spooks or spoons which, of course, everyone got a real big kick out of.

After that education and years spent on local waters, I did find out that casts around schooling mullet can be productive as game fish like reds or a gator trout will travel along with the mullet, eating bottom goodies stirred up by the passing school. For now, from the 10,000 Islands all the way north to the Panhandle, inshore, pass, bay and beach anglers are enjoying their Gulf coast fall redfish invasion.

Here on local waters redfishing can mean fly casting from the front of a quietly poled skiff to get within range of a Pine Island “tailer” or two down by Captiva Rocks or skip casting soft plastics under a favorite mangrove or dock stretch on higher tides. Those that don’t enjoy casting, catch just as many or more soaking dead baits along edges or spread out around the boat on a promising flat.

Over the years I’ve caught a few local flats redfish over 20 pounds and have seen even bigger fish, which is unusual inshore with most local schoolers in the 3 to 10-pound class. If I was tasked with catching the biggest local redfish I could find I would be fishing our passes where a bull red is more of a possibility than on our shallow flats.

Aggressive lure presentations would include spoons, spinnerbaits and top-water plugs with paddle tail plastics and lightly worked twitch baits like MirrOdine’s selected for subtle work. A lightly weighted Clouser Minnow gets your fly rod offering down to bottom feeding level and realistic shrimp and crab fly patterns with weed guards are always hot very slowly worked around bottom cover.

Probably the number one fall redfish bottom bait is shrimp with cut pinfish, crab chunks, mullet, ladyfish, etc., close behind. Fill a plastic container with hot dog pieces and cover with GULP and refrigerate overnight. Whatever your bait choice, always use circle hooks as greedy reds wolf down their food and hooks.

What a great time of year for local anglers. From 1-foot deep redfish schooling shallows to hundred-foot depths offshore where tuna, various snapper and grouper species roam the reefs and wrecks, there’s a fish for everyone. Red snapper is still open on weekends. Lots of these same bottom fish will also be stationed on the various mid-depth structures as well so only gathering bait and keeping an eye on the weather should be your main offshore concerns.

Hungry snook are likely to be encountered just about anywhere as they move away from the coastline, while trout fishing only gets better as water temperatures slowly drop.

Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. You can contact him at 239-282-9434 or via email at captgeorget3@aol.com.