tampabay.com

Trailing spot tails

By DAVID A. BROWN
Published March 3, 2007


If you hunt, you know that the approach is at least as important as your ability to shoot straight.

Stalking redfish in shallow water is no different. You just replace the shooting with casting.

I observed a textbook example of this principle when I joined a team of anglers Feb. 19, as they prepared for last weekend's FLW Redfish Series Eastern Division tournament.

Clearwater hosted the event, but teams checked likely redfish haunts to the north and south in the preceding days. Naturally, the Anclote area saw its share of scouting.

Now, it's no secret that redfish favor the fertile grass beds skirting pristine mangrove shorelines on the eastern side of Anclote Key, along with the adjacent Dutchman Key. Here, the fish find a bounty of forage and cozy potholes to belly into during low-water periods.

Heath Seckel and Brian Ulch, both residents of Winter Haven, have been fishing area waters for several years. Three days before the tournament, they worked a precision pattern along Dutchman's south end.

Shutting down the outboard a couple of football fields from the key, Seckel used his trolling motor to ease into drifting range. About 75 yards out, the anglers cut all power and used the combination of an east wind and an incoming tide to push them closer to Dutchman's oyster-lined perimeter.

Redfish in this area have become so sensitive that even the bump of a push pole hitting bottom can spook them. Our silent drift epitomized the requisite stealth.

As we eased closer, the shallow grass flats bore the prop scars left by boaters who pushed too far into the meager depths and then powered out of the area.

A deeper trench separated Dutchman from these outlying flats. On either side of this tidal furrow, sandy potholes dotted the thick turtle grass, presenting obvious sightcasting targets.

Seckel ended up plucking one fat redfish from Dutchman's shoreline. The fish was foraging in the grass, and when a scented plastic bait dropped within sniffing range, 29 inches of ruby hunger eagerly accepted the offer and put a bend in Seckel's 7-foot spinning rod.

Later, the anglers checked out a shoreline pocket on Anclote's east side. Here, they found at least a dozen hefty reds mingling with mullet. None would eat, but the find proved encouraging nonetheless.

Ultimately, the tournament held no good fortune for Seckel and Ulch they finished 83rd. But any experienced angler will tell you that finding fish and catching fish are two different conversations.

On the upside, these guys established a productive pattern that they'll no doubt return to for future opportunities. Moreover, local anglers who respect the tide and topography may find the right conditions for reeling a few Anclote brutes to the boat.

State law allows licensed anglers to harvest one redfish between 18 and 27 inches. (Remember, the new regulations require that measurements for soft-tailed fish like reds must be taken with the tail pinched.)

Even if your fish fits the slot limit, consider releasing your catch. Redfish offer good table fare, but returning them to the environment helps ensure the Anclote honey holes remain sweet.

FLW FIRST: Troy Sapp and Jill Sapp, fishing guides from Odessa, made FLW Redfish Series history Feb. 24 by becoming the first husband-and-wife team to finish in the top five. Their third-place finish (three-day total of 31 pounds, 7 ounces) also made Jill the first female angler to reach the finals in an FLW redfish event. The event was won by John Henninger and John Eggers with 37 pounds, 1 ounce.

The Sapps threw 5-inch Berkley Gulp jerk shads on 5/0 worm hooks with no weight. Fishing shallow, grassy flats in about a foot of water north of the Anclote River, they worked in the lee of a main shoreline.

"The protected calm water allowed us to sight the fish and cast to them without spooking the school," Troy said.

And in case there's any doubt, this is a husband-and-wife, not husband "with" wife team. Jill wasn't along for the ride - she represents many capable women anglers who take their fishing just as seriously as the guys.

"I am extremely proud of (this) accomplishment," Jill said. "I was very excited, considering that I was competing against some of the best redfish anglers in the world (and they) have many years of tournament experience."

Jill said total immersion into her pursuit has made her the angler she is today.

"I have taken the time to learn all aspects of the sport," she said. "I prepare all my own tackle, spool my reels with fresh line, tie all the knots, rig all of my own lures and handle the fish at the boat.

"Troy does not need to stop fishing to help me. We have been chartering together for years, and I am very self-sufficient on the water."

David A. Brown covers area fishing tournaments and can be reached at tightlinecomm@aol.com.