Updated: Nov 18
With Summer slowly coming to an end the targeted inshore species for most anglers begin to change. Tarpon have began to move offshore to spawn and most female snook have left the beaches and passes. With seasons slowly changing this time of the year is all about flats fishing. Snook begin to move back to the grass flats and mangroves to fatten up for the fall and winter conditions. Tarpon, more so juveniles begin to make the same move moving towards residential canals, dock lights and occasionally on the flats as well. Both species are still very plentiful this time of year and they will be loaded up throughout the backcountry. But the main targeted species right now is Redfish and the red drum season has had an unbelievable start to it.
The most popular months for redfish are August, September, October and even early November. Redfish are still one of the most targeted species after these main months have passed but these early months are there mating season. The bite has been on fire and the redfish have taken over most flats inside Tampa Bay and along the gulf side as well. This species are one of the most enjoyable to target anytime of the year especially right now. I say that because they're are so many different techniques and situations where you can produce an awesome redfish bite. Whether thats searching for tailing reds in large schools or stalking single fish on the flats. You can sight cast laid up fish in potholes, you can fish underneath mangroves and the most popular way right now is searching for that sea of red. Since redfish are beginning to spawn, large schools begin to crowd the flats during certain parts of the day. Most of these fish in these schools are upper slot and over slot fish. The males are competing for the females and it is common to see schools of hundreds of fish during the day. It’s an awesome site to see from your skiff, paddle board or kayak and normally these fish will eat anything thrown in they're way.
No matter what level you are at as an angler it is important to do your homework, research and put in your time out on the water. Knowing that Redfish are the most popular and targeted species this time of the year does not mean you're going to produce a hot bite every single day. However, if you figure these fish out and learn there patterns you're more likely to be successful every encounter with a large school. There are still a lot of factors to consider with redfish like what tide are they feeding on, are they eating live bait or cut bait, and can I catch them on artificial. You have to very patient with these fish and sometimes it'll be very frustrating to see 200 fish and not be able to catch one.
When targeting redfish on an incoming or higher tide these fish might be more spread out then they would with a lower tide. Incoming tides mean more water and more water means more spots and areas for these fish to hide out. It is very important to recognize the water level because if the mangroves are flooded usually redfish will be underneath for cover. If they are not directly underneath the mangroves then they are most likely right out front on the shorelines, in pot holes and troughs. Understanding this gives you all of the information and which direction to go when targeting these fish. When targeting redfish underneath mangroves or on the flats out front using live bait, cut bait and artificial are popular choices. Live bait would have to be my number one option because you can simply chum these fish up by throwing pilchards around your target area. This will not only attract redfish, other species and create feeding frenzies but chumming can also pull fish out from under cover to feed. Using cut bait and artificial are also good choices. Since redfish are bottom feeders and depend on there sense of smell to detect prey using chunks of pinfish, mullet, and pilchards can produce a great bite. Artificial is always a fun way to target any species because you have to completely fool them with something thats not real. Most of my success throwing artificial on this side of the tide comes from fan casting. Fan casting is simply casting as long and as far as you can in every direction until you locate the fish. When doing this you’ll be able to target the school if you can see them but you'll be able to throw at potholes and troughs where these fish like to use as ambush points. For me, higher tides bring along more patience with redfish simply because an angler will have a lot of water to cover to locate these fish.
My preferred tide for redfish is an outgoing but the start of an incoming is also a great tide. With an outgoing there will be less water and fewer spots and areas for these fish to hide along grass flats. this makes Redfish a little more predictable and most of the time this is the tide where you'll see that large sea of red! The flats become super shallow, which gives the angler the ability to search for tailing fish, moving schools and pretty much any disturbance on the water surface that could make for a potential opportunity. Also targeting deeper pockets of water on and off the grass flats can hold staging up fish until the water gets high again. When you finally see that large wake in the water and you find a school of pushing fish your best options are live bait and cut bait. You should always have different options because sometimes these fish can be hungry but picky at the same time. Using live bait you have the ability to chum them up and start a feeding frenzy. However, I like to throw cut pins and mullet more often in front of these large schools. Since redfish are bottom feeders getting a nice scented chunk of bait in front of pushing fish is usually a guaranteed hook up. Also don't be discouraged about throwing artificial or a fly rod either on this side of the tide. Sight casting with a weedless bait or a small fly is very popular when the water is low because redfish are known to travel into super skinny depths to feed. It is easier to spot fish feeding as well as fish that are laid up in this shallow water. A huge indicator that a redfish is feeding is if you see a tail completely out of the water. It is an awesome site and most of the time an angler can produce a strike from a tailing fish.
Along with these factors the time of day can play a role in whether you catch fish or not as well. The best bite normally occurs in the morning or in the evening time. The water and weather is cooler but the low light conditions make approaching these large schools or tailing fish a lot easier. It doesn't take a lot to get on some fish but making sure you make the right plans and preparations the night before is key. It is important to have all the bait options and to have multiple locations to fish because sometimes redfish will be there one day and not the next. Stick to a few of these guidelines and tips and I guarantee you will produce a ton of redfish this time of year. I didn't cover every single detail so if you have any questions about the tackle, set ups and artificial lures I use please comment below or send me an email!