Although It’s Easier to Sight-Fish in Warm Weather, It’s Still Possible in the Cold
It’s a classic Gulf Coast situation. I see the bulge and moving wake of a good-sized redfish as it prowls the very shallow water of a bayou mouth off Mississippi Sound just south of Bayou La Batre. This fish is easy to see and it should be easy to catch.
I’m able to see the direction the fish is taking and can tell from the movement that this fish is eagerly seeking something to eat. I can see that the fish is moving slowly and that I have time to get into position for an accurate cast.
As I quietly move my shallow-draft boat so I can make the best possible cast, I’m able to see from my standing position that the big redfish has company. A couple of other redfish are creating wakes as they grub in the shallow water.
“Reds will get in water so shallow that their backs and tailfins will often be up in the air as they grub along the bottom looking for shrimp, crabs and other small eatables.”
When I position my boat, I set my feet, carefully checking my line for any possible tangles. Then I make a cast. My soft-plastic fluke gently splashes into the water about four feet in front of the redfish. I see the fish hesitate and then the water erupts as the big red violently charges and gobbles down my lure. There’s no need for a hook set. The red takes care of that itself.
When the big red feels the pressure of the hook, it makes a massive wake trying to flee the scene. The other two reds also spook out of the immediate area. That’s all right with me, because I’ll find them later as they feed.
When I lift the fat 8-pound redfish from the now clouded and swirling muddy water of the little bayou, the sunlight glints off its golden bronze sides and the black spot on its tail glows – if the color black can ever glow. I then return the fish to its home waters.
There’s just something special about looking for redfish, finding them and then catching them. That’s the reason so many Gulf Coast anglers love sight-fishing.
Many anglers think that sight-fishing for reds is strictly a warm-water sport, but truth be told, redfish anglers can use their sight-fishing skills, techniques and boat equipment any time of the year with great success.
In Warm Weather
When the water and air are warm in Alabama coastal waters, we have the conditions that create the fishing situation for reds that most people think about when they consider “sight fishing.” Reds will get in water so shallow that their backs and tailfins will often be up in the air as they grub along the bottom looking for shrimp, crabs and other small eatables. This makes it much easier to know where the active and aggressive fish are. It’s almost like hunting rather than fishing.
My buddy Robert Dobson of Foley, Ala. gives his fishing partners a hands-on education in redfishing when he takes them on trips after the big spot-tailed fish of south Alabama. Dobson is all eyes and ears as he scans the waters of Wolf Bay and other prime redfish locations.
Dobson, better known as “B.T.” to his friends, says, “I look for tailing reds in very shallow water close to grass or in tidal pools. I like to sight-fish for reds in the backs of small tidal creeks. I like to use Gulp! scented soft-plastic bodies on light jigheads for sight-fishing reds. These jigs can be cast a long way very accurately. I also like to use a spinnerbait for reds that I can see feeding in shallow water. Redfish Magic spinners are very good. They’re built very strong and the big single spinner blade puts out a lot of vibration and flash to help the tailing reds find the lure and eat it.”
The most impressive part of B.T.’s sight-fishing technique is his extremely close attention to the shorelines and bars that he thinks might hold fish. The smallest ripple or movement in the water is enough to signal to B.T. that a red might be on the prowl and in good position for a cast. B.T. catches a lot of feeding reds that most anglers miss because they don’t see the classic exposed tail of a tipped-up red.
In Cool Weather Look for Places, Not Fish
When the wind starts to switch to the north and the water cools, sight-fishing is still possible and very productive. However, in cooler conditions, anglers will need to change their focus a little.
In cool weather, sight-fishing anglers will need to look for places rather than feeding fish. In cool weather, reds will congregate in certain spots in tidal creek and mouths of bayous. Anglers who know what to look for can have great success.
Robert Dobson tells us, “In cool weather, reds will be in pretty much the same places they were in warmer weather, but the fish will bite better and be more aggressive on high tides and later in the day when waters have warmed a little bit. Specifically, I look in smaller streams and bayous for slightly deeper water and a darker colored bottom. Water over a dark bottom warms faster than over a light-colored bottom.”
A situation that redfish anglers sight-fishing in cooler weather need to look for is a combination of dark muddy bottom just off an oyster bar with lots of shells that give reds prime territory to find small crabs, shrimp and bull minnows. The empty oyster shells collected on the bottom around such places create a rich cool-weather feeding ground for reds.
Redfish anglers who are sight-fishing in cool weather will want to look at the turns and bends of small bayous and creeks. Typically, the bends and turns will have pockets and deeper holes caused by the constant flow of water from stronger tides. These deeper holes are almost always the places where reds will be holding in cold water.
Again, very rarely will anglers see reds tailing and pushing wakes in cool weather as they do in warm weather times. However, the reds don’t go very far from their warm weather habitats. They will still jump on a jig or spinnerbait that comes too close to them.
Picking the right boat for sight-fishing
Almost any kind of boat designed for fishing can function for sight-fishing, but some boats just tend to work better for seeing and catching reds.
First, a sight-fishing boat needs to be fairly shallow draft since most sight-fishing is done in shallow water. Flat-bottomed boats, bay boats, flats boats all work well, but one crucial element that needs to be present in any boat used consistently for sight-fishing is some sort of elevated casting platform. This can be no more than just a small deck on the bow of the boat, or it can be a much higher platform built onto the boat. We’ve even seen redfish tournament boats that the anglers equipped with securely mounted stepladders used to position themselves six feet or more above the deck, but this is an extreme arrangement.
One type of boat that is becoming more popular with anglers who sight-fish for redfish is a kayak that has been built so that the angler can safely stand up to see reds and then cast to them. Not every kayak is usable for stand-up sight-fishing. Trying to stand up and fish in a kayak not made for this purpose is a quick way to change from an angler into a swimmer. Many of the Hobie brand of kayaks are built so that anglers can stand and fish in them. Kajun Custom Kayaks, built in Baton Rouge, La., are also made for stand-up fishing.
Kayaks also offer sight-fishing anglers extremely shallow draft and access to ponds and bayous that no other kind of boat can reach.
No matter what kind of boat is used for redfish sight-fishing, the most important element is the ability to stand high and see far. Once reds or places where reds should be are sighted, then the angler can do the rest.
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