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Falling for Redfish – How to Reel In this Season's Best Catch

catching a redfish in tampa bayEach fall, breeder stocks of redfish normally found in the Panhandle move south down to the Tampa Bay area of the Gulf. Baitfish that school inshore offer a concentrated source of food for these fish whose movements burn energy with each move. As the redfish move inshore to feed on schools of baitfish, crabs and shrimp, they connect with anglers who take advantage of the influx of these brawny, bronze fish. While many fishermen are used to catching the average redfish that we have in our inshore waters that range from 3 to 8 pounds, some of these monster red drum may run in the 40-pound class, and stretch a tape out to 40 to 46 inches in length. So, how can you catch one of these jumbos? Have the right pole, mimic their bait and you’ll be reeling one in before you know it!

When Tampa Bay Fishing for Redfish, Have the Correct Pole

Giant redfish will eat crabs and shrimp, just as the average inshore reds do, but when they are on the move, they run quickly in schools (just as big jack crevalle do), feeding on everything that gets in their paths. Mullet schools are in danger when these big redfish move in, and mullet up to 10-inches are easily eaten by these big fish. Large top-water lures that imitate these small mullet are some of the best imitators and provide some real thrills for anglers who gear up with tackle to land some of these big fish. The kind of gear you use when fishing for trout will land these big fish provided you have a smooth drag and plenty of line for the scalding long runs redfish can make. I suggest a medium to medium-light rod with 6-to 10-pound test line. However, to put pressure on big reds like these, you may want to choose tackle more suited for cobia and small tarpon that will help prevent tiring these fish to the point of fatal exhaustion. At times, these fish will fight to the death. Braided lines testing 20 to 30 pounds with medium heavy to heavy action rods allow enough pressure to be put on these fish to land and release them without undue stress.

Choose the Best Bait for Redfish

Topwater lures like the Rapala Skitterwalk, MirrOlure’s Top Dog or the new MirrOmullet XL, and Heddon Zara Spook can be some of the most exciting lures to throw at approaching schools of these big fish. When running in schools, these fish feed competitively – just as jacks do. So keeping the lure moving is a must! At times multiple fish will hit a lure, and when two of these fish hook up at once, it can tear a lure apart. Stout hooks (such as the ones listed below) will prevent this for the most part. You can also fish a lighter drag – using 4X strong hooks will help in all cases.
Sub-surface lures like spoons and jigs have always been effective for redfish. Eppinger Rex Spoons, the Johnson Silver Minnow, Tony Acetta Hobo Spoons, and the Mepp’s Syclops spoons have all been excellent productive spoons with good stout hooks. Each of these in gold will produce a flash that will attract reds, but some companies like Eppinger, the oldest of the group, also make them in a big variety of colors. Copper, black, nickel, and others are colors that redfish rarely refuse.
Jigs have been around since artificial lures were first developed, and just like the spoon, they will catch redfish as well. Most imitate baitfish if retrieved in a manner that baitfish swim. Some of the oldest jigs were made of buck tail (hair from deer’s tails) and were incredibly effective, but today, many synthetic materials are used, including nylon and flashy fibers like crystal flash, flashibou are added, increasing the durability and effectiveness, adding to the “real appeal” of the lure. Hands down, the most popular jigs today are made of soft plastics. Perhaps my all-time favorite is a lure made by DOA Lures called the CAL Shad tail. This lure resembles a killifish, one of the most sought after inshore forage by redfish. I rig the CAL Shad on a CAL chartreuse 1/4-ouce jig head. My color favorite has been the night glow, but Arkansas Glow and Silver Mullet have also been top producers. More recently developed colors like Gold Holographic over Glow have come on strong rivaling my favorite glow color, and not only offer the effectiveness of the glow color but add flash in murky or off-color water.
Make no mistake about it, fall is here, and the reds have arrived. Spend some time on the flats and those cooler fall waters can lead you to some hot redfish action.