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Dirty Water Redfishin'

By Dustin Hill

 

Autumn is a favorite time of year for many fishermen in northern Florida.  Baitfish and predatory species are on the move and moderate temperatures allow for longer fishing excursions sans the blazing heat of summer.  As all Floridians have witnessed over the past two years, the fall months also bring hurricanes, unpredictable winds, and copious amounts of rain.  As a result, inshore fishermen are often faced with highly silted/stained water with low salinity content and abnormally high tides.  Popular species such as speckled trout and Spanish mackerel can be very difficult to target under such conditions.  In contrast, dirty water and low salinity have little affect on the availability of redfish. 

 

Dustin and a dirty water 8# redfish

One particular trip always stands out when I think back on my experience with dirty water redfishin’.  After the Florida peninsula was pounded by three hurricanes during late summer and fall of 2004, water quality on the Big Bend coast was downright horrible.  Clarity ranged from 6-12” in areas with normal top-to-bottom visibility of 6-8ft.  The poor conditions persisted for several months as numerous rivers along the coast continued to dump enormous volumes of fresh water.  My Dad and I launched our kayaks one late October afternoon on a roaring incoming tide under bluebird skies and a whipping northwest wind- not exactly ideal fishing conditions.  We probed the murky water over grass-flats and oyster bars for several hours using subtle jerkbaits without a bite.  Out of frustration, Dad tied on a large topwater lure, fired it towards a point, and proceeded to connect with an 8lb redfish the first cast.  A few casts later, he had another enormous explosion, but the hefty redfish missed his mark.  All the while, my jerkbait had gone untouched.  We both anchored facing the point and quickly combined to catch another half dozen slot redfish on full-size Rapala Skitterwalks.  Once the topwater bite ceased, I switched my dark-colored jerkbait on a weighted hook to a 1/4oz jighead paired with largest and most gaudy chartreuse jerkbait I could find in the box.  The first two casts resulted in twin 6lb reds.  I quickly discovered that by working the lure very fast and erratically, I could trigger the reds to respond in an aggressive manner.  In the following 90 minutes, Dad and I landed over 30 slot redfish and a 9lb jack crevalle without pulling anchor a single time.  Since that afternoon, we have applied the same techniques during similar weather/water conditions with great results.  When the water is very muddy, an obnoxious presentation is often key to catching redfish on artificial lures.

 

Skip Hill tamed a 29" red on topwater at a
Jacksonville creek mouth.
 

A different approach is usually required to find good concentrations of redfish in high, silted water.  Sight fishing is not typically a viable way to catch fish.  Blind casting over grass/mud flats and sand holes that would normally hold pods of fish is generally unproductive as well.  I target reds in muddy water by quickly moving from one ambush point to the next,  leaving slack-water areas for times when structure is more visible and  sight fishing is likely to be more productive.  Reds aren’t as ambush-oriented in their feeding habits as snook, but they do have a propensity to school on well-defined points when creeks and marshes are dumping abnormal amounts of water.  The optimal way to pursue these fish is using obnoxious search-style lures that cover water quickly.  If I don’t get a good bite within a half dozen casts on a particular ambush point, I quickly move to the next spot- this is certainly not “relaxed” fishing, but moving frequently is often the only way to find reds that are tightly schooled.  A good stake-out pole and/or anchor system is a necessity for positioning the kayak within easy casting distance of ambush points. 

 

Author hooked up with an oversize red off an
oyster point.

 

I use two basic lures when prospecting for redfish in dirty water- a full-size, walking topwater bait and a spinnerbait.  Plugs like the Rapala Skitterwalk, Mirrolure Top-Dog, and Excalibur/Heddon Super Spook all produce a great deal of noise and disturbance using the typical “walk-the-dog” retrieval technique.  Even under bright skies, a big topwater lure will often draw impulsive strikes from aggressive reds, particularly from upper-slot or oversize fish.  When working a point of an island or creek-mouth, I make several casts on either side with a topwater lure, and then do the same with a spinnerbait.  Spinnerbaits have become increasingly popular for inshore saltwater fishing in recent years, especially models that combine a big, flashy blade with a soft-plastic trailer.  Redfish absolutely love spinnerbaits, and they’ll draw reaction strikes when more subtle lures go unnoticed.  Inline spinnerbaits like the Quasi-Jig Classic or Deep Cup models and traditional safety-pin spinnerbaits such as the Strike King Redfish Magic or Quasi-Jig Lead Belly Spinner seem to work equally well.  A traditional 1/4oz chrome rattletrap is also an excellent choice if the area lacks high-profile oyster/rock bars.  Once a school of fish is located, try switching to a large, brightly colored jerkbait on a wide-gap jighead for easier releases and a better hookup percentage. 

 

Mike Kyle and Dustin Hill found a school of big
reds eager to take chartreuse jerkbaits. 

 

When fishing high water and structure for redfish, it’s advisable to use slightly heavier tackle than what might be suitable for low tide conditions or open flats. A hooked redfish will make every effort to get tangled in flooded spartina grass or run the line over a submerged oyster bar.  Due to its abrasion resistance and lack of stretch, braided line provides a real advantage.  Fluorocarbon leader is unnecessary.  I prefer 30-40lb monofilament leader in muddy water, although many anglers have excellent success tying braided line directly to their lures.  Redfish are not leader-shy, particularly in heavily silted water.  Strong hooks are essential for pulling larger reds out of heavy cover.  For topwater plugs, replace factory treble hooks with either 4x strong trebles or appropriately sized single hooks.  

 

Redfish are highly abundant on the east and west coast in north Florida literally anywhere mud or grass flats merge with oyster bars and salt marshes.  Reds have the unique ability to quickly adapt to water conditions that push other marine species towards cleaner and more saline waters.  Finding reds during the fall in high and turbid water can be both challenging and frustrating, but persistent kayak anglers are often rewarded with great catches of quality fish. 

 

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