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Fly-fishers see red in the fall

By BOB PUCCINELLI

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 17, 2000


Life doesn't get much better for bay area fly-fisherman than September on the flats. The water temperature begins to cool, the wind is usually calm and the fish start to cooperate. Snook will filter out of the passes and take up residency in the mangroves and potholes. Cooler temperatures put trout in a feeding mode. Herds of marauding jack crevalle will eat almost anything that gets in their way.

Best of all, redfish are here and on the prowl. But as much as we fly-rodders love redfish, they can be complex creatures.

A couple of years ago, a friend and I were fishing a school of redfish that wouldn't eat anything except the biggest fly we had on the boat, a 4-inch white bucktail streamer he tied on a 3/0 bendback hook.

A week later, that same school ate on every cast no matter what fly we used. What was surprising is we watched those redfish get mauled by a dolphin and her calf not more than a half hour before we started catching them.

Redfish can be moody and are tough to figure out, but for the most part, when they're schooling they're competitive feeders and are fairly angler-friendly. It's not unusual to see two or three redfish race out of a large school and crush almost any fly that's cast in front of them. But as cooperative as schooling redfish can be, tailing redfish usually are the opposite.

In the bay area, tailing redfish are the closest things we have to bonefish, and at times are just as difficult to catch. There's a two-fold problem. The first is to get close enough to make an accurate cast. These fish hang out in shallow water and quickly leave a flat if approached improperly. The second problem is timing, when to cast and when to strip the fly.

A tailing redfish has its head buried in the bottom grubbing for food and has a hard time seeing or hearing anything. This is when the cast should be made. The fly shouldn't be wiggled until the redfish's tail goes back in the water and its head rises from the bottom.

If the fly is worked before this happens, the fish will never notice. When it comes to tackle, a floating weight-forward line on anything from a 5-weight to a 10-weight outfit will work, depending on the situation. If the wind is light and the fish are in shallow water, a 5- or 6-weight is desirable. A 9- or 10-weight is good for casting big topwater bugs early in the morning along the mangroves.

If only one outfit can be picked, a 7- or 8-weight probably would be best. This tackle can handle almost any redfish and will cast all but the biggest hair bugs with ease.

As for flies, there are a number of patterns that work great. When redfish are feeding on baitfish and mullet, streamer flies like Lefty's Deceiver or Whitlock's Baitfish are effective.

Later in the year, when baitfish become scarce, redfish focus on crustaceans. This is a good time to try a crab or shrimp pattern such as a Del's Merkin or Broski's Shrimp.

For topwater action, it's hard to beat a slider or a big hair bug. These flies are tougher to cast than most, but the results are worth it. And for versatility, a Sea-Ducer or a muddler tops the list.

These are full-bodied flies and have a good amount of neutral buoyancy, which allows them to hover in the water. This hovering ability is important when fishing for tailing reds because it allows the fish a better opportunity to find the fly once it's done rooting in the bottom.

No matter what fly is used, it's best if it has a weed guard. The weed guard will help prevent the fly from snagging on the bottom when fishing for tailing redfish. It also helps keep the fly clear of floating grass, of which there is plenty this time of the year.

-- Bob Puccinelli is the co-host of Let's Talk Fishing, 8-10 a.m. Sunday on WQYK-AM 1010 and can be reached at toddandbob.com

Fly of the month: Redfish Muddler

Materials

HOOK: Mustad 34011 No. 1 bent keel style.

THREAD: Brown.

BODY: Gold krystal flash; tan or beige craft fur or marabou; grizzly, natural or brown neck hackle.

HEAD: Brown bucktail or deer body hair.

Tying sequence

STEP 1: Under-wrap rear section of hook only, then attach 8-10 strands of Krystal Flash.

STEP 2: Wrap craft fur or marabou, then add four neck hackles, two on each side.

STEP 3: Spin bucktail around hook leaving tips extended over the hook point.

STEP 4: Spin more bucktail or deer hair to form the head of the muddler and trim to shape.

NOTE: The finished fly should be approximately 3 inches long.

-- Rick Redd, Austin & Gunn Outfitters

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