Snookin 'N Cookin: The gold rush is on for redfish in Southwest Florida's waters

Snookin 'N Cookin fishing charter Captain Seth Hayes shows off two of the redfish his clients caught. 
  
 Submitted photo

Snookin 'N Cookin fishing charter Captain Seth Hayes shows off two of the redfish his clients caught. Submitted photo

This month's Snookin 'N Cookin recipe is blackened redfish po boy with fried green tomatoes, artichokes and fresh Florida lobster. 
  
 Submitted photo

This month's Snookin 'N Cookin recipe is blackened redfish po boy with fried green tomatoes, artichokes and fresh Florida lobster. Submitted photo

"Where?" Roger asks, not seeing the school of redfish just a bit of a ways from our boat.

"Three o'clock off the bow and moving fast! See that little needlefish skipping across the water wishing he could fly? Now look at the wakes pushing up from behind," I point out.

"I see 'em, I see 'em!" he yells.

"Now be ready and I will put us in position. Lead the fish by at least five or six feet," I tell him. "Wait, wait... OK, now! Cast, cast!"

Roger rips off a beautiful cast that lands within a couple feet of the school and bingo, he's on and the drag lets me know these are the big girls! Overslots, but unbelievable fun on this light tackle we are using. A few more splashes and rips from the drag, and we have landed our first "gold rush" redfish of the morning, a beautiful 32-inch oversize female that has to be released right away.

We took a few minutes to let the school settle and then went right back in and did just that, got another one, then again another nice redfish. After about an hour or so of smack down on two different schools of fish, we ended up with eight nice redfish from 26 to 33 inches, a couple of 3- to 4-pound jacks, and one nice gator trout. The size limit for redfish is 18-27 inches, so if you go, make sure you understand these and other size limits of the fish you decide to harvest, and have an up to date saltwater fishing license.

From now till the end of October or so, we have an extra bonus for sight fishing in our area. Migratory and resident schools from just a few fish to mass herds of fish run thick in our area devouring just about anything that gets in their path. A loner redfish in hot water with not much tide moving isn't a sure catch, but put 200 reds together on that same tide with hardly any water moving, and "wham," they will compete for that bait like they haven't eaten in months! Most of the time the big schools seem to be the extra bright bronze colored fish that are not actually residents in our water, but just passing through.

All you really need is your favorite light tackle spinning outfit, a shallow running artificial bait of pretty much any type (the more weedless the better), and time to search the shallows a little bit. Find a grass flat, an oyster bar, or just a tide pushed point and get to work, paying attention to other fish pushing wakes or smaller baitfish acting nervously. Do it enough and you will even be able to identify a school of jack crevalle from a school of reds from their different behaviors and wake shapes.

Some herds are mixed and have a few different species. The jacks aggressively working the front of the school, the redfish feeding and controlling the direction of the schools movement, and the speckled sea trout following behind scouring any and every leftover from the group.

Any of these fish are great fun to catch and are even more fun when they are schooled up and competing with one another. When you do find a solid slot redfish or two, bring the competition home for this Snookin N Cookin recipe!

Seth and Astrid Hayes run Snookin 'N Cookin, a Naples-based fishing charter company that also offers private dinners and parties. They can be reached at either (239) 994-1593, (239) 994-3253, via e-mail at snookinncookin@yahoo.com, or online at www.snookinncookin.com.

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