Try sight fishing to catch redfish
By ED WALKER
Published February 10, 2007
When water temperatures on the flats drop below 60 degrees, as they have in most of the Nature Coast area, sight fishing is one of the best ways to catch redfish and speckled trout. Chilly water usually becomes clear water, opening a window into the fish's world.
By quietly working your way over shallow grassy areas or patchy hardbottom spots, you will eventually bump into a few big reds or specks lying motionless on the bottom. These fish are very difficult to approach without scaring them away, even to veteran sight fishermen. It is likely that more than half of the fish you encounter will bolt before you are able to make a cast. Many flee the area even before you see them, leaving only a telltale dust cloud brushed from the bottom. Some of these puffs of silt or sand are likely to be left over from mullet or sheepshead spooking, but after a while you can learn to differentiate between the signs of those redfish and other fish.
While poling a shallow draft boat or wading, scan the edge of your field of vision for the distinct fish shapes. The further away you are when you first see them, the better your chances of sneaking close enough to cast them a bait. Once your eyes lock onto a potential target, try not to look away. Once you lose sight of the fish, it may be difficult to pick him out again, particularly over grass bottom. You should be able to open your bail and make a cast without looking down at your reel, line or bait. Again, practice makes perfect, and eventually the whole motion will become instinctive.
Before attempting to cast, make sure you know which way the fish is facing. Casts behind the fish simply will not work and require re-casts, which increase the chances of spooking the fish. Judge the movement, if any, of the fish and try to place your bait in its direction of travel. Never cast at the fish as this will almost certainly send it running for deep water. The ideal cast carries the bait ahead of, and past, the fish. By over-shooting the area, you separate the initial impact splash of the bait hitting the water away from the unsuspecting fish. Next, slowly and quietly reel the bait back into the strike zone. Once you are happy with its position, let it drop to the bottom and sit. Once the fish picks up the scent, he should home right in on your offering. Live shrimp with the tips of their tails trimmed off is one of the best baits for this type of fishing, but cut plugs of fish such as pinfish or ballyhoo also work well.
If everything goes according to plan, you should feel a subtle bump, then see your line begin to move. Start reeling until the rod is bent and odds are you will be securely fastened to a great fighting fish. Circle hooks are the choice of most of the guides who fish this way since they produce hook-ups in the corner of the mouth rather than in the gullet. The rounded tips of circle hooks also help prevent snags.
Redfish are the most common gamefish species found in the extremely clear and shallow water during the winter, but there are also some very big speckled trout. These fish will take a cut bait but are usually targeted by casting soft plastic jerkbaits rigged on weedless hooks and no weight. The lack of weight allows the lure to be worked slower in a more neutrally buoyant manner which the gator trout love.