Kayak Fishing for Tailing Redfish
By: Bill “Heywood” Howard
What is it about a redfish wagging its tail out of the water that will bring a fisherman to crouch down, lower his voice to a whisper and cause his hands to shake and his heart to skip a beat? Just the mere thought of tailing redfish keeps me up at night, it’s like an addiction and I can’t get enough of it. Growing up here in Tampa Bay I never gave it that much of a thought, it wasn’t until I was older and more experienced that I felt the need to chase these tempting fish around on the flats. My first attempt at catching these elusive fish was a trip to Pine Island sound. Expectations were high as we made a 2 mile paddle to a protected flat that held promise. Well it wasn’t long before we were rewarded for our hard work, as the tide dropped we started seeing tails just lazily flop back and forth amongst the grass. I did manage to catch one that day and since then it has been a continuing learning process.
I always thought that redfish really didn’t tail that much here in Tampa Bay. Maybe it was due to the fishing pressure or the different types of grass, but man was I wrong. I have caught them throughout Tampa Bay and it seems to me they tail a little differently in each part of the bay that I have caught them. Up in the Northern part of the bay you can find them out on the mud flats in the colder months. Here the tailing action is more aggressive. The redfish seem as if they are driving themselves down into the mud to catch small crabs or worms. Down South, they tail more leisurely in the sparse grass left over in the winter months and the lush grass flats of the summer. Catching them can be a whole different story.
Being a primarily artificial lure user, I like to use a variety of lures depending on the conditions. In winter time, yes redfish will tail in winter, I like to use a 1/16 or 1/8oz jig with some type of paddle tail body, I like to use a color that matches what the redfish might be eating in that particular location. What of my old favorites is a lure we used to use when I was a kid, if you can find a bass worm that has a split tail on the end, pinch off all but the last few inches and rig that on a red headed jig. This was a deadly lure on redfish. In heavier grass I like to go weedless. Using a heavy 2/0 through 4/0 wide gap worm hook rig up your favorite jerk bait. To get some extra distance on your cast’s trying pinching a small split shot on the hook. There are many weighted weedless hooks on the market now that also work great when combined with some of the scented baits that are available. I like to use the lightest leader that I can get away with, usually 20 pound fluorocarbon. Most of the time you will encounter these redfish out on the flats, so a heavy leader is not always required. Check and re-check your leader and knots before heading out, you don’t want to lose the fish of a lifetime due to a knot failing or leader breaking.
Well, now that you are rigged up, the next step is to find them. So where and when do you find these redfish. Over the years I have developed log books so I pretty much know when and where I can expect to see them. Look to the areas that you usually catch your redfish, nice plush grass flats or dark muddy bottoms. I like the bottom half of the outgoing and the first part of the incoming tide. The lower the tides the better. As the tide drops, the reds have to come out of the backcountry spots and will feed along the flats until the water gets too low. Once the tide turns and starts coming back in, start looking for them. Time of day does not seem to matter that much as I have seen them tail during mid-day in the middle of the summer. When it’s time to eat, they eat, but I do think early morning and late evenings are the best times, especially if the wind is not blowing. If the wind picks up too much they don’t seem to tail as much. Another thing I do when looking for tailing reds is to keep the sun behind me if possible. It makes seeing them a lot easier, you might just only catch a reflection of their tail from a distance, but that could be the difference between going home empty handed or not.
The biggest hurdle to overcome when fishing for tailing redfish is stealth. You have to be very quite.
These fish are already spooky and when they get into shallow water their senses go into over drive. Just the slightest noise can send them to the far side of the flats in a heart beat. I think the most productive method for getting close is to wade. Just be very careful when doing this, the flats are loaded with hidden obstacles such as string rays and cat fish. Sometimes it’s like walking in a mine field. On a recent trip this past July I stepped on two sting rays, luckily for me I didn’t get stuck. So, you’ve spotted some tailers, what do you do next? Well after getting close enough to cast, which can be difficult in its own right, you have to determine which way they are heading. Get your cast out in front of the direction of travel and wait until they are almost right on top of it. Remember, these fish are feeding, so if something takes off in front of them they will almost always strike out of reaction. If you are using some of the new scented baits, you can cast it out in front of the fish and let them find it. Don’t cast to close as this well most assuredly spook them.
On that same trip this past July, I fished the same flat four days in a row. In those four days I must have seen over a hundred redfish, each one more exciting than the previous. With a little homework and patience you too can join the ranks of those who are addicted to tailing redfish.