Stalking skinny, clear water permit and bonefish in the Keys and far away island chains usually is a challenge best done in shallow draft skiffs or by wading very quietly. Sometimes even the glare from sunglasses or a fishing reel can send them into another zip code at warp speed.
The slightest boat noise or a bird flying overhead will spook these always nervous gamefish.
Hunting Southwest Florida redfish in the winter can present the same problems for any angler, and at times can be just as challenging as stalking a bonefish in the Keys. Ultra-low winter tides made even lower by north winds and super clear water allows dedicated anglers to find tailing reds, if your dues are paid by investing the time and patience to search them out.
Capt. George Tunison
Once found, getting them to eat your offering without seeing you and spooking is another thing altogether. Fly fisherman are the most challenged as they must get closer to present their offering. A fly-caught winter redfish is an accomplishment to be proud of. Spinning rod anglers using hi-strength but ultra-thin braid lines have a big advantage as they can cast very long distances to avoid being seen by the wary fish.
I recommend 10-pound test Power Pro or Suffix braid lines. Both have the line diameter of two-pound test monofilament and lures or bait can be cast a mile.
I like to start my search on an incoming tide for "tailers" grubbing along the bottom. Approach a flat quietly with a wind drift or push pole and stay off the trolling motor. Stealth is the ticket so keep noise inside the boat to a bare minimum.
Two choices here when fishing the lower tide phases - start blind casting with a gold spoon or other search type lure, or quietly scan the area for wakes, tails waving or fins breaking the surface. Waving tails reflecting the sun is a beautiful sight to any sight fisherman. As the tides move in I like looking at deeper potholes and if there is enough water at the highest tide cycle I will try fishing the bushes as well.
A good search lure for deeper potholes, cuts and dropoffs is a weedless Texas rigged shrimp fished slowly, crawled along the bottom. First, bite the tail off the shrimp. Select a jig with just enough weight to allow it to tick the bottom without burying itself in the grass. Impale the shrimp lengthwise in the end where the tail fin was, bring it out the other side, turn it, and bury the hook point back into the shrimp. This makes the shrimp look natural as it crawls along and makes it weedless. Sometimes pausing during the slow retrieve and letting it simply sit there on the bottom will allow the reds to seek it out with their noses.
Other methods are the classic cork and shrimp on higher tides, and shrimp or ladyfish steaks fished on the bottom in deeper water or cast under the bushes. Casters try gold spoons or soft plastic jerk baits as well as slow moving topwater lures. Fly guys using slow moving Clousers will score. I cheat and dip my flies in Berkeley GULP solution.
Capt. Dick May of Easy Rider Charters reports if you can stand the weather trout are being caught in the deeper sand holes and along deeper weed edges. Redfish are biting under the bushes on the higher tides and in deeper potholes. Shrimp fished slowly along the bottom is the way to go.
Capt. Phil Evans of AFishinMission Charters tells me that even with the cold and the winter winds, redfishing has been very good with some days producing groups of rat reds and other days fish all over 27 inches. Trout and ladyfish are hungry and biting as well. The best day to go? Anytime you can get on the water.
Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Flying Fins Sportfishing.