Growing up in a land-locked state in the city of St. Louis I never knew the water. The most I ever knew about fishing was through stories of friends and family taking a trip to the Lake of the Ozarks in southwestern Missouri. Most people took weekend trips to go hunting. One of those hunters was my grandpa. He would visit us almost every Saturday morning when I was a kid. A WWII and Korean War veteran, and avid deer hunter, my Grandpa towered over most of my family, being around 6’3’’ with broad shoulders and a sense of humor to be reckoned with. He would bring over his Missouri Conservationist magazines for me to read and I would flip through the pages in awe of the hunters and how close they were to animals and the natural world around them; it was like another dimension to us city dwellers. When he passed, he left my older brothers his hunting rifles, and me a Swiss army knife. I took this as a nod to the notion that he knew we had the same DNA, wired for adventure, exploration, and the urge for “the hunt.”
Now I’m three decades old, a Northwest Florida transplant, a veteran myself, and a hunter. Not in the traditional sense. My game is fish; redfish specifically. Most anglers reading this already recognize the appeal of redfish fishing. For one, they put up a very exciting fight. They slam bait when they are hungry and take off in the opposite direction of the angler with all of their might pulling drag like a pissed off wild boar. Secondly, for those who choose to harvest, they can become one of the best meals you can pull out of the sea. You’ll rarely see them as the fish of the day here in Florida, as the slot size is a small window, you can only bag one-per day per angler, and you might spend a couple days chasing them with no luck. You’d be in heaven with a good south Texas or creole style redfish recipe at your disposal.
Sight-fishing is the hunt. In Northwest Florida, October and November are prominent months for inshore anglers. Tourist season has died down and it’s safe for the locals to emerge back on the water. Huge redfish can be caught in the northern gulf coast as far west as Louisiana. Here near Destin, the brood redfish can be found in deeper channels along the flats moving together to spawn future generations of redfish. Slot and upper slot redfish can be found on the sand and grass flats in very shallow water, looking for shrimp, small crabs, and small mullet. This is where I like to stalk.
Stand tall. My craft is a BOTE board Zeppelin; an inflatable paddleboard made out of military grade PVC for durability and stability. I have it outfitted with the BOTE Tackle Rac for storing rods and my tackle box. It is also equipped with a Power Pole Micro Anchor. My goal was to mimic the skiff captains in the Florida Keys who stalk Tarpon on the flats. I needed something stable enough to allow me to stand on the bow and push myself around in 1 to 2 feet of water. This gives me great visibility of reds within my casting reach. If the conditions are right and with the right optics, I can usually see redfish about 25-30 feet in front of me and even further on some of the bright sandy flats.
Stay quiet. This is the hardest part. In these fall months, the redfish that I’ve observed (aka the ones that got away) are either schooled up with 5 other reds of the same size, or they are sitting in a sand patch amongst a grass bed waiting for an unlucky menhaden shad. Their senses are turned up to 100, and they are easily spooked. When I’m pushing myself along a grass flat, I like to look ahead for these sandy spots. 9 times out of 10, there is a redfish along the edge or swimming slowly through it. I will put my Power Pole down, set my paddle gently into the BOTE board paddle sheath, and prepare my cast. Doing all of that without making a sound is nearly impossible, so knowing how to react quietly is key. Spooking a big redfish at the last minute before a cast is heartbreaking. If I’m on a big sandy flat, I like to work my way around it, and use my Power Pole to stay in one place and observe any reds cruising across the flat.
Observe their environment. Asking someone which bait to use is like asking someone what kind of music they listen to; it’s always different and oftentimes, it sucks. I’ve stopped asking the clerk at the bait shop because I’m pretty sure he is just making up stuff. I started experiencing the most success when I closely observed the environment of the fish I was targeting. For grass flats with sandy spots, I pick soft plastic swimmers with darker natural colors that contrast well against the sand, like the Z-Man Trout Trick in green pumpkin. This is fantastic bait all year round but I’ve found it especially useful in these fall months. The chartreuse tail helps me see it against the dark grass. For sand flats, I’ll use the same thing with the Z-Man Trout Eye jig head. I always use slightly heavier weight like 1/8 OZ so that they drop low to the ground where the fish are looking for crabs. If I’m seeing a lot of minnows and shad swimming around me, I’ll give the Z-Man Sexy Mullet Swimmerz a try. I’m not sponsored by Z-Man at all, I just really like their stuff, and they’re easy to find in most shops. If there is low wind, I’ll pack the fly rod too for some shots with a shrimp pattern fly.
Sight-fishing isn’t for everyone and can be exhausting and even frustrating. However, the satisfaction of spotting a redfish, taking your position, crafting your cast, and watching them chase it down or turn and slam your lure as it passes by is unmatched. I get extreme satisfaction if I land just one fish this way during an all day trip. I like to believe it’s the same feeling my grandpa would get after landing a buck he was stalking on a hunting trip. It’s the “thrill of the hunt” that you read about in the old conservation magazines as a kid, and on the water is where I experience it. He would be proud.