Catching Redfish On The Fly: 3 Things I Learned The Hard Way In Florida
The fact that redfish can be found everywhere throughout Florida’s Atlantic and Gulf coasts makes the Sunshine State an obvious hotspot for anglers looking to slip a fly into a school of tailing fish.
With world famous fishing destinations like the lagoon systems on the east coast, the Everglades to the south, and the crystal clear grass flats of the Nature Coast to the west, there is certainly no shortage of epic environments in which these fish can be targeted.
When I first began fly fishing in Central Florida I had no friends that were into the sport; however, with a little focus I quickly became a fly tying and fly casting prodigy in just a few short weeks – kidding, I frustrated myself half to death for a full year before I finally started to get the hang of it.
After buying a 7wt fly rod, I began watching every video I could find in regards to fly fishing in Florida and found dozens of videos of people catching redfish on the flats.
In the videos, it seemed as though landing one of these fish was a piece of cake. I mean, the fish literally waves his tail out of the water while feeding! However, to be honest with you, it took me a full year of fishing before I finally got my first redfish. When I did, the floodgates opened and I was hooked!
Learning a fish species like this from scratch was a challenge but also allowed me to learn from my mistakes. Hopefully sharing what I learned the hard way will help you the next time you target redfish on the fly.
1. Slow Down
Now, the average angler who gets out to fish twice a month typically enters the water with a sense of urgency to locate fish and get one on the line as fast as possible. Trust me, I used to be one of those guys. This sense of urgency may work in the office during the work week while trying to impress your boss or coworker, but will not benefit you on the water one bit.
Fish, especially fish in shallow water, are very sensitive to movement. Movement of the boat, kayak, or even movement while wade fishing can put every fish on the entire flat on edge. So, the most important thing you can do is SLOW DOWN and SIT TIGHT!
While fishing the Mosquito Lagoon system I have had many mornings in multiple areas where redfish are not eager to throw their tails 6 inches above the water and give away their position to every angler within a mile radius. Instead, they prefer cruising very slowly over the flats barely making any noticeable wake on the surface. In low light conditions this can make for very difficult sight fishing.
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By slowing down and waiting for the fish to come to you, this ensures they will not be alerted to your location and therefore much more inclined to work into a feeding mood.
Stomping, pulling, or paddling around a flat that is holding skittish redfish is a sure way to make your day on the water much more difficult than it has to be.
2. Be Like A Hunter
Once I figured out that hunting redfish like a bow hunter is a lot more successful than simply running through the flat “Rambo style” blasting off 70-foot casts in every direction while screaming back and forth to my buddy tap-dancing on the poling platform, things got a whole lot easier.
Now learning a hunting technique for redfish wasn’t all that I needed in order to land one of these fish – that would have been too easy.
My new challenge was learning how to drop a fly in their face without spooking them. Yes, tossing a fly at a school of 50 fish takes a little more strategy than one might think.
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Let me give it to you straight. The first time you see 50 fish smashed into a 15-foot circle with their tails waving in the air, here are the side effects you can expect to experience: shaky knees, blurred vision, inability to think straight, dizziness, cotton-mouth, vertigo, immediate sensation of needing to urinate like a racehorse, and the list goes on and on. When this is all taking place at the same time it can be difficult as all hell to make an accurate cast.
Focusing on leading fish or fish that are cruising on the outside of the school is your best approach. Also, do your best to pick out an individual fish and FEED THAT SPECIFIC FISH! Trying to cast to all 50 fish at one time is never a good idea and often leads to spooking the entire school.
3. Use Light Flies and Long Leaders
Redfish, especially in the area between Tampa Bay and Crystal River, tend to be some of the spookiest fish in the state of Florida. Gin clear water makes these fish very skittish when in shallow water situations. I have found that light flies and long, long, long leaders are the ticket in these situations.
Fishing a 14-foot leader is common when I am targeting redfish on Florida’s central-west coast, and while leaders are super important, so is what's on the end – your fly.
My go-to fly choice when chasing tailing reds is often a fly that will land softy, but also get down into the zone. One fly that has proven itself time and time again on the flats is a fly I like to call the Two-Tone Camarón. It is a realistic shrimp pattern that can be tied in countless color variations and redfish absolutely love it!
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This fly uses a mix of natural and synthetic materials as well as the Fish-Skull Shrimp & Cray Tail to help bring the fly into the zone where the fish are likely to be feeding. The Two Tone Camarón has landed fish all throughout Florida and Texas and is a great fly to add to your redfish box.
The above fly tying video from the Backwater Vlog shows you just how to whip these flies up on a size #4 Kona Universal Strong Streamer (USS) hook. If you like the video please be sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel. If you don’t tie your own flies yet or are not comfortable with this pattern I do have 3-packs for sale on my online fly shop.
So that just about wraps it up, folks. These are some quick tips to help you be successful on your next redfish trip.
Until next time, tight lines!
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About Jesse Males:
Jesse Males is a longtime fly fisherman from Central Florida and is the owner-operator of backwaterflyfishing.com, which offers HD fly tying videos as well as photo tutorials. His website also features fishing lifestyle blog posts, and fishing videos of his angler adventures. He is a custom fly tyer at his online fly shop backwaterflies.com and a guide for both freshwater and saltwater fly fishing in Costa Rica through his guiding business 506outdoors.com. You can check him out on Facebook and Instagram @backwaterflyfishing.
Comments on this post (4)
Beginner getting into the technique. Would like to be on your list of videos. Thank you.
— Richard Rodriguez
I heartily agree with all three points but especially with number 2. I use the analogy of bowhunting all the time. Stealth is an absolute necessity. I recently stalked a grazing redfish for 300 yards on a flat only to have my line spook him when I did not allow quite enough windage. As I learned in bowhunting when game is startled but not blown out just stand still and be patient. Five minutes later he showed himself again not ten feet from me. I practically “cane poled” him. Not real sexy but seeing the bite that close was way cool. By the way, it ended up being a thirty inch fish. All I wanted on an 8 weight in the grass.
— David Bankskton
Thanks for the info.!
The fourth rule is “set the hook and let them run else you get broken off.”
I learned the hard way. These are strong fish, especially on the first run. Get control when the first run is over.
— Ken Pigg