Like most of us in this hectic modern world, once in a while, all the demons get together in my head along with the local traffic, the rude boaters at Lanier, and the daily stress of the business end of my chosen occupation. When this occurs, I usually throw my tent, sleeping bag, and a small amount of tackle into the sports car and head south with the words and music of Jimmy Buffett engulfing the tiny compartment. The anticipation of salt air, gentle southerly breezes, and the solitude of the Gulf Coast, plus the chance to go one-on-one with a big redfish soon eases all pain. So, as I zip through the masses automobiles while enjoying the precision shifting and handling of the Miata, the soothing begins!
Near the sugar-white sand beaches of Florida’s Panhandle, redfish have found a permanent home away from the hustle and bustle of the crowds. Most of the winter tourists have gone home, leaving the beaches, bays and bayous deserted, but perfect for an old fishermen.
The sparkling, green waters and shining white sands of the “Redneck Riviera”, which is a strip of practically white, powdered quartz that extends from Alabama’s Dauphin Island to Florida’s St. Joseph Peninsula just east of Panama City, can produce lots of battles with big redfish. Therefore, it’s easy to enjoy fantastic saltwater fishing and resplendent seascapes during these colder months.
Capt. Ray Wading the GrassWading shallow flats, salt marshes, or white sand beaches along the Gulf Coast while stalking redfish can be a gratifying experience. Also, unlike fishing from a boat, it is inexpensive. The wade fishermen has access to many more places and is in control of the situation. Success is dependent upon one’s own ability to interpret and take advantage of what is seen.
On any part of the Gulf Coast, the basics of “reading the water” are similar. Therefore, anglers should look for certain conditions before stepping into the water.
The presence of baitfish is essential to success, and the movement of the tides is important to both the angling and the wader’s safety. The shallow bars, flats, marshes, or points in these areas are usually the places where one stalks feeding reds. One should plan to be at any fishing spot at least an hour before the tide begins to change from low to high. This allows the angler a chance to see if dangerous tidal cuts exist that might cut him off from reaching higher ground on the incoming tide.
Also, it is important to be aware that gusty winds often push tides higher than normal. If this occurs, it can open up vast new areas for one to stalk the roaming redfish. These hungry saltwater predators show a preference for freshly flooded areas, especially where plenty of grass is present. The grass releases huge amounts of food, and hungry reds capitalize on such opportunities. In this type of water, wading is the only answer to success. Even the shallowest draft boat would find these areas inaccessible. Also, redfish in newly flooded places are very “spooky”, which makes wading the only alternative.
Since by design or by accident, one can walk right up close to feeding reds in these shallow areas, polarized sunglasses are a necessity. They eliminate glare and surface reflection, which makes it easy to spot movement on or below the surface in extremely shallow waters.
Capt. Ray and RedfishCatching shallow water reds is a visually stimulating game with topwater lures, extremely shallow-running baits, or weedless lures. In fact, floater/diver lures like the Bill Lewis Rat-L-Stik in chrome or gold, when twitched on the surface of the water, realistically imitates the actions of a crippled mullet.
Since redfish feed heavily on live shrimp and small minnows, plastic imitations can be quite effective. Best plastic baits incorporate 1/16 or 1/8 ounce leadhead jigs with 3 to 4 inch Ranger plastic grub bodies in white, pink, or chartreuse colors. Faster-moving lures like the Spin-Trap and the new Saltwater Series Swirleybird spinner are productive when long, accurate casts are required to catch single fish. Simple baits like these are easy to fish and also realistically represent the most sought after foods of the redfish, which practically guarantees success.
The strenuous exercise required to wade the shallows all day, and the electrifying experience of catching redfish in such picturesque surroundings stimulates most of the senses. The result is a return to sanity and the rejuvenation of the tolerance needed to cope with the stress of functioning acceptably in the madness of the populated world!