On The Hook: Hunt for reds in October

BILL WALSH

No, this is not a sequel to the famous Tom Clancy novel but it does deal with another elusive seaborne target, piscatorial this time, known as the red drum aka the redfish.

Prized by anglers from all over the southeastern United States, and especially here in our shallow water, for it’s elusive stealth along our coastlines and nearshore reefs, the redfish then excels in tenacity and spirit once set upon by hook and line. Ask any angler worth their salt, about their last struggle with a red and they can recite it chapter and verse.

And October is redfish month. Although seemingly active during the late summer hereabouts, their activity surges as the waters just start to cool down. They begin to school up and move endlessly searching down schools of the pilchards and sardines that are stuffed obese after summer feeding.

Also, their population here has been noticeably increasing over the past few years. Redfish are very adaptable and fare well in hatchery breeding.

A few well managed redfish hatcheries located in and north of Tampa have been releasing squadrons of healthy redfish over the past years. As a result, we,here, are the beneficiaries of the expanding redfish population as they search for food.

But, they are definitely not a “pushover” catch; they are cagey and wary on the bite and tend to inhabit super shallow waters while they tail the bottom in their search for food.

That “shallow” characteristic can make angling tough, as some nice folks found out a couple years back on an October charter trip.

It started on an inquiry phone call from a couple here from the U.K. asking about fishing prospects. I probably oversold the redfish experience, and after but a few sentences of the charter pitch, they were “all in.”.

On our appointed morning, they arrived totally focused on redfish to the exclusion of any other species. They apparently had Googled their way through a myriad of fishing websites and were now “jiffy” (their term) experts on the red drum. Even when I mentioned that we may see some legendary snook on our travels that morning, they shoved back; the fishing universe was only “red” on this morning.

We started north of the island in and around Rookery Bay working freelined whole shrimp along the mangrove edges on a morning incoming tide. Water was clear and the mangrove snapper were hot. As we drifted the shorelines, on almost every cast, they would get a fierce strike and after a brief tussle would swing a nice snapper aboard.

They both detested the intrusion that these nice take home snapper were foisting on their redfish hunt. I cringed remembering how hard we tried to find these great snappers on our summer morning charters. The snapper action was unending and I could see we were raising angler blood pressures so it was time to move on.

We made a run south to Johnson Bay where the current flow was just a bit milder and, hopefully, could be holding a better mix of targets. We gingerly made our approach over the tricky Bay shallows and into the creek and made our casts on a shallow corner just off a deep hole.

We found our better mix of targets all right! More snapper, a couple of flounder and even a small black drum. All of which, again, were categorized as intruders spoiling the fishing plan. But, then we turned a corner making some casts up under a mangrove overhang and finally found some redfish. But these were 10-12” juveniles known as puppy drum; an easy catch and a careful release.

With their patience for a real redfish tussle wearing thin, we made our way back up the Marco River to a spot aptly named “the Muddies.” There we made our way just off slightly submerged but visible oyster bar . The plan was to lob some casts up into the super shallow edges; even with a hour left on the incoming tide there was only a foot of water back there.

As we moved in on our spot, we could see marked activity tight to the shoreline. There was bait scattering as big fish, with tails extending out of the water, gave them chase; “redfish; big reds”, I shouted as, excitedly, we crept closer. We needed 20 yards or less to make accurate casts on the freelined shrimp rigs.

Knew we were in super shallow water but just needed a few more feet when all of sudden the boat stopped dead and the engine stalled. “We’re aground”. Tilting the engine allowed us a few more feet but we eased into the mud bottom again.

There was mild commotion in the cockpit and I turned to find the couple removing their shoes and things from their pockets. Determined to attain their goal, they announced they would wade the rest of the way. And so they did wading the last ten yards and let go their casts.

It only took minutes and both of them were hooked up on good size reds that had decided to run in opposite directions. Courageously, standing in thigh deep water, the couple were both making progress with their catches when they realized they had no way of landing the thrashing fishes without a landing net.

They inched their way back to the boat where the landing net was extended. There was absolute mayhem as we tried to get two people and two enraged fish back the boat at the same time. looked like a Lucy Skit with lines wrapped around everything possible.

But we did it, the redfish were gorgeous. One was in the slot size and the second was over 30” and photoed and carefully released. The slot fish was cradled on ice and headed to that evening’s dinner.

We tried a few long range casts from the boat but the redfish had scattered.

Extraction from the mud was easier than I expected, as moving our couple to the bow and the late surge of the incoming tide gave us just enough to start the engine and reverse our way out.

Our U.K. couple defined the outing as “brilliant” as their focus on target and determination got them their quest.

Redfish kind of do that to you lots of October left, why not give it a try.

Capt. Bill Walsh owns a Marco Island charter fishing business and holds a U.S. Coast Guard license. Send comments to dawnpatrolcharters@compuserve.com.

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