Over the last few decades, the redfish has developed a following in saltwater angling similar to the craze that surrounds the largemouth bass in the fresh.
Ranging from the Gulf Coast of Texas, around Florida, to the mid-Atlantic coast, this bronze-colored game fish has a penchant for calmer inshore waters and a willingness to attack artificial lures, making it the perfect target for saltwater anglers of all skill levels.
But in recent years a whole new mania has emerged around the redfish—fishing for them out of kayaks.
What has made the redfish so interesting to the kayak angler is the fact that it tends to feed in waters that are often too shallow for even the skinniest-running boats.
Add the fact that stealth can be a critical factor in redfishing and you quickly see why kayaks and redfish are such a perfect match.
Most of the redfish habitat throughout the eastern United States consists of expansive marshes interlaced with winding tidal channels. As the tide rises and crests, water comes up out of the channels and floods the marsh grass, giving redfish the perfect opportunity to forage for crabs, shrimp and small baitfish—and the kayak angler the perfect opportunity to get a lure in front of a hungry redfish. In other areas, like the turtle grass flats of central and southern Florida, anglers tend to fish the bottom of the tide.
At low tide, grass flats are usually much too shallow for the redfish to hunt or maneuver comfortably, but teem with tasty crustaceans and small fish. Redfish will stack up on the edge of these flats or wait out low tide in deeper depressions. As tide begins to come in, redfish move up on to the shallow flats and begin to feed.
Enter the Kayak
In these skinny-water situations, the kayak’s stealth can quickly become a disadvantage if the kayak angler is not a good boat handler or is new to sight fishing techniques. Kayaks can be so stealthy that you can literally run over the fish you are seeking and even if a redfish is a long cast away, an errant knock of a paddle or plop of an anchor can send it scooting for safety.
The number-one rule when kayak fishing the shallows is to slow down. If the fish are there, they will eventually reveal themselves to you by pushing a wake, swirling on prey, or actually putting their tail or back up out of the water. Your best strategy is to find the fish with your eyes before you go paddling and casting all over the shallows.
Pole, Pole, Pole Your Boat
A lot of kayak anglers put away their paddles when fishing on the flats and opt to use a short push pole or stake-off pole to maneuver their boat. Not only is poling stealthier, but since a kayak draws far less water than the typical paddle blade, a pole allows you to take full advantage of your kayak’s skinny-water abilities.
A foot-operated rudder can also be a great asset as it allows you to pole while sitting down, steering with your feet, keeping your hands free to pole, stake off, or make a cast.
Weeding Out the Perfect Bait
For kayak fishing skinny water, it is hard to beat soft plastic baits. They land softly, can be fished slowly, and most importantly will not get hung up in the reeds or turtle grass. They come in an unending variety of shapes, colors, sizes and even scents, but I personally wouldn’t hit the flats without a bag of jerk baits.
Mimicking a wounded bait fish, this adaptable lure is a good place to start if you are new to soft plastics. If you are into fly fishing, choose weedless flies that can be fished slowly. Crab imitations, hair bugs and spoon flies are all effective redfish patterns.
It’s All About Time and Place
Most anglers who are new to saltwater tend to focus on finding that “secret spot” where the fishing is always good. The reality is that in most areas the fishing is good all over—just not at any one time. Learning to be in the right place at the right time is critical in pursuing redfish, and the kayak’s ability to navigate the skinniest of waters makes it the ideal craft to put these two elements together. Once you learn to relate tide and geography you will quickly see that the only “secret spot” is that small area just in front of a redfish’s nose.
Capt. Greg Bowdish (barflyfish.com) is a fishing guide, outdoor writer, and FFF Certified Fly Casting Instructor from Sarasota, Fla. He is also on the pro staffs of Ocean Kayak and Rajeff Sports.
Photo credit: Brock Miller