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True tales about spots on redfish

September 12, 2009

What's the deal with spots on a redfish? What's the most you have ever counted? Why is a redfish spotted?

I once caught a 31-inch red that had exactly 31 spots on it and all but three of those were on its port side.

When Dana Packard of Mel-bourne went red fishing in the Mosquito Lagoon a few years back she caught two reds that day. One 36-incher had exactly 150 spots on it which at the time was the second-most spots ever recorded for a redfish. The previous "official" record was a 1996 Everglades National Park red with more than 500 spots.

Article Photos

Capt. George Tunison

This 26-inch, seven-pound fish had spots on each of its scales and spots on its dorsal fin, something which is unheard of in this species.

Later that afternoon Dana boated another red with 63 spots. Genetic expert Mike Tringali from the Florida Marine Research Institute said her first red was a one-in-a-million offspring of two parents with the same recessive gene. Tringali also stated a Texas red was caught and documented in the 1950s with 200 spots, but Packard's fish had the second-highest number of spots ever found on a Florida redfish.

Tringali further stated that his best guess of the odds on catching two highly spotted reds like that in one day are somewhere between 1-in-5000,000 to 1-in-2.5 million.

The age old question remains. Why do reds have spots and some way more than others?

Biologists believe reds develop black spots, usually one on each side near the tail, as camouflage. The idea is to make a predator think its tail is really its head. It's easier to heal a tail wound, then a head-on-attack wound.

The predator fish typically is aiming for the head, zeroing in on the "eye," but in this case the spot. The norm for spotting is one spot on each side of the tail, but variations are countless. Some have spots evenly balanced from side to side while others bear completely different markings from port to starboard. Spots can range past a redfish's tail, occasionally stretching up to its gills.

Most spots occur separately, but connected dots occasionally create unique patterns. Usually, the fish absorb the pigmentation, losing the spot, by the time they become adult breeders at 10 pounds or so. Generally, a red can live 30 to 40 years.

Theories about redfish spots and numbers range from salinity levels to geographical locations. Biologist Gina Russo, the program coordinator for the past Project Tampa Bay, a hatchery project, believes it's as simple as random selection by nature.

Although rare, some redfish are caught with no spots. All reds begin life this way, but those whose destiny is to have freckles will develop their lifetime pattern by their forth or fifth month.

Russo also crushes some common myths. Redfish do not change their spots and hatchery-raised reds have the same spot tendencies as wild reds.

n Capt. Dick May of Easy Rider Charters says his redfish are being caught by getting out very early (daybreak) and fishing slowly with topwaters. Snook are being caught the same way. Low morning tides this week mean fishing potholes, not the bushes, with cut bait. Mangrove snapper are still in the passes and getting bigger each week. Sharks are still around so have a rigged rod ready for when you see one. Trout are hitting whitebaits and small pinfish under a cork float up on the grass flats. His best tip - Get out early!

Speaking of topwaters; if you are the tinkering type, try your hand at luremaking. All it takes is a length of dowel cut to size, a sharp carving knife, some screw eyes, split rings, and hooks, along with some wood sealer, paint, and some imagination.

Topwater luremaking is fun, easy, and rewarding.

Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. Contact him at, or Flying Fins Sportfishing.



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