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Tips for Fall & Winter Inshore Fishing

Sight fishing for redfish is one of my favorite types of fishing. Although, I have to admit I do release all of my inshore species to protect the fishery for future generations to come. I am in no hurry to have kids but I hope they share that same love for fishing as I do...when that time comes!

I fish all year for redfish in Florida but my best recommended times would be in the fall and winter. Right now here in Islamorada (FL Keys), the winter season has just begun and the fishing has been incredible with the water full of life.

While on the hunt there are a few things I consider in my surroundings: tide, water clarity, what the bottom looks like (is there grass, just mud, any structure...) and activity seen at the surface of the water.

a.) Tide: The greater the tidal change, the more the fish will move. A redfish that lives in a tidal creek with an average tide flush of 3-5 feet every six hours, is going to move much more than a redfish in a slack Louisiana marsh pond. Tide flow is important, as well. A moving tide excites both bait and redfish. Usually the last part of the outgoing tide and the first part of the incoming are when you?re most likely to find reds cruising to their next tailing stop. In the Florida Keys, when I am in a tidal flush I keep an eye out for rolling tarpon and feeding on passing bait. For larger tarpon, the DOA Baitbuster and Terror Eyz are my suggestions. For tarpon under 30 pounds, the 1/4 oz. DOA Shrimp will work perfectly. Want to understand tides better? Check out this guide here.

b.) Water Clarity: The quality of the water helps me determine what type of bait I will use. If the water is cloudy, I will use a bait that can be found easier by selecting a soft plastic color that is lighter and / or using a scented bait on a jighead (Gulp or Pro-Cure). I will use a jighead when blind casting on a flat with little to no structure...work it along the bottom - you might even get a trout hook up!

c.) Structure: I can typically be found fishing on grass bed flats where the redfish will be feeding or along a shoreline of mangroves. I'm always trying to get a few casts under the mangroves in case a snook is hanging out. And if you get caught up in the branches when casting, that's ok - I do it at least a handful of times during every adventure out. On a grass bed, I am looking for redfish traveling, laid up (sitting still) and tailing (feeding). While on the bow of the boat I am looking outward for tails and looking down for resting fish to pitch a bait to. When you see a cloud of mud, that means a fish was spooked and took off....yes, every time I see that puff in the water it reminds me to keep my eyes alert. Over time you will unconsciously train your senses to find fish.

d.) Water Activity: Use your surroundings to help you find the redfish. Look for diving and/or wading birds. Also watch for mullet and small schools of baitfish. I listen for the sound of bait popping at the surface of the water and getting chased by other fish. There are plenty of crystal clear spots that you think to yourself "this has to have fish" - but if the water is dormant it's time to move on!

If I am using artificial bait my choice is rigging a variety of soft plastics weedless, especially when fishing grass flats. Make sure your casting skills are up to par because redfish have notoriously bad eyesight so accurate casting is a must. I always try to cast just behind them if I am unsure of my exact accuracy and start to work and twitch my bait past them for a hit.

To catch larger reds I use live or cut bait such as mullet or ladyfish that will sit on the bottom of a river channel where the larger fish are traveling if you are not seeing any tailing indications in shallow water. You can still catch the larger reds on live and artificial bait when the water conditions are clear and shallow. If it?s summer time, try to get out there as or before the sun comes up in the morning. Around 10 or 11 am the fish will either move to deeper water which will be a few degrees cooler, or if the tide is high enough they will move back into the mangroves where they can hang out in the shade.

An advantage that soft-plastics have over hard-body baits is being able to rig the lure "weedless." Without an exposed hook, soft plastics can be fished in the mangroves and over oyster bars without snagging and fished in the sea grasses without snagging a side salad each time. My favorite artificial bait colors are New Penny or Nuclear Chicken. I also use gold spoons from time to time. I always use a swivel and significant wrist action to make the spoon dart, flutter, and sink. The amount and speed of wrist action depends on the depth and weed presence. Quick snaps of the wrist clear a lot of weeds.

Rounding out my favorite redfish hard baits is the topwater hardbait. The Mirro Lure, Bomber?s Badonk-a-Donk, or Rapala?s Skitter Walk are effective around drop offs and around mangroves or the edges of grass and reeds. Stick to a slow, steady retrieve with topwater lures, as they offer a more direct, aggressive presentation and redfish are known to spook easily.

Good luck out there!

Have questions?
I look forward to hearing your questions, comments and suggestions!

Capt. Brittney Novalsky