Thursday, May 31, 2012

Redfish: Lessons Learned

Alternate title: How to get High-Fives from Redfish
My regular readers may have noticed a recent increase in the success of my redfish expeditions.  Looking back at my blog archive, there are some old posts with a depressing lack of redfish.  I was starting to get legitimately frustrated at one point.  Its taken me about a year but I'm finally starting to catch reds with some consistency.  And not only am I catching them, but I'm sightfishing them from my kayak with my fly rod.  I've decided to record my thoughts on things I've learned during this process and maybe even give a little bit of advice.

Back in December, I read John Kumiski's book, Redfish on the Fly.  It has been a very useful book.  Probably the most important advice I received was in his section on fishing from a kayak.  He says, "The main strength of the kayak is accessing areas that skiffs cannot."  He follows up by saying he looks for "water that's eight inches deep or less."  In order to find these places, I spend a lot of time looking at Google satellite images.  I look for places that are in the middle of nowhere, out of the way of boat traffic, and I look for places that are extremely shallow.  As a hint, if the water is shallow enough, you can typically see the shape of the marsh bottom in a satellite image.  From my experience, the best places are ones where a small branch of a bayou opens up into a wider, shallower area, with a channel running through it or adjacent to it.  In the right place, the redfish will move from the channel to feed on the flat even if just a few inches are covering it.

Until recently, I simply wasn't paddling in the right areas which meant I wasn't seeing fish and all of the other information I've read about looking for subtle clues and how to stalk fish was completely useless.  Now that I've found the right areas, that stuff is finally useful.  Again, from Redfish on the Fly, I learned to always paddle with the sun at my back.  This has a two-fold purpose.  It makes it harder for the redfish to see you, and it makes it easier for you to see the redfish.  My most recent fishing outing, the sun was very high, and I decided it no longer mattered which direction I paddled.  I was wrong.  I ended up spooking a redfish within touching distance from my kayak that I know I would have seen if I had been coming from the opposite direction.  Even the slightest angle from the sun makes a difference.

Along the same line of thought, stealth is of utmost importance.  Every movement should be slow and deliberate.  Paddles should be set down quietly; movement should be kept to a minimum.  Redfish can be surprisingly spooky.  Yeah, I've paddled right up to redfish before they've spooked, but I've also paddled into a pond that was exploding with multiple redfish only to have it go completely dead as soon as I entered. 

The final piece of the puzzle is figuring out if that disturbance on the surface of the water is a redfish or if it is a mullet or other baitfish.  This is very difficult, and the funny thing is I've never read anything about it.  When I first moved down here, I cast at every mullet that jumped out of the water.  Even after I learned that they are vegetarians, I still spent a huge amount of time casting at swirls caused by mullet before I figured out what was going on.  I actually developed a passionate hatred for mullet.  I'm slightly more in tune these days, but even now it can be difficult to tell what is a redfish and what is not.  There can be so much action in the bayou that is completely unrelated to any predator activity.  My best advice is that a cruising redfish is fairly slow and deliberate compared to the random, spastic movement of baitfish (although baitfish that are being chased is obviously a good sign).  Besides that, sound can be a good indicator.  Redfish make a huge amount of noise when they crush bait in shallow water.  And if you ever spook a redfish in 4 inches of water, you WILL NOT confuse it with a mullet.  Maybe an alligator.  But this is by no means all inclusive.  The best answer is just to spend a lot of time in the marsh studying surface disturbances and casting at them to find out what is causing them.  In other words, go fishing a lot.

Hope this helps.  It has taken a lot of effort on my part to catch just a few redfish, but I can promise that its worth it.  Now lets just hope those redfish won't punish me for getting cocky and giving out advice like I'm an expert...

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