September is one of the months when big changes come to the coast. Air and water temperatures begin to decline and the humidity drops considerably. The change in season becomes increasingly noticeable with each passing “cool” front and decreasing hours of daylight.
Prey and predator alike sense the change. Sure as clockwork, a progression of forage and gamefish species begin their annual migrations toward warmer Gulf waters. A parade of marine life slowly moves toward jetties and passes. Many times, schools of each species will stage at or near these “exit” channels, waiting for a signal or perhaps it is primal instinct that tells them when it’s time to go. During such stagings they all feed voraciously.
Schools of mullet congregate on the flats and channel edges near the gulf passes and inlets. Often the schools are so large you can smell them from a distance and zero in on the whereabouts.
Look to channel edges, jetties, passes, water bodies intersecting the ICW, windward shorelines and drains or funnels for schools. The tidal currents and recent prevailing wind direction can also play important roles in congregating these fish.
Find the current – find the bait – find the fish. It is basically that simple. Locate areas that the current concentrates the bait by pulling or pushing them into a channel or against a shoal. When the bait stacks up in these areas the predators have a much easier time locating them. Savvy anglers then find the predators.
Redfish on the move
Redfish once again start schooling early in the month on bay shorelines. Groups of different sized fish mix to form a ravenous traveling mass. As the reds move toward the gulf they gain momentum and become very predictable targets. Wave after wave of fish concentrate where the food source is stacked up, close to the gulf.
While anchored and fishing waters less than 5-feet deep, I cast baits as far away from the boat as possible. Both the tide current and wind-driven water current help carry the smell of the bait. Find an area where these two factors are working together and your chance for success multiplies.
When targeting schooling reds I employ the most readily available bait in the area, usually mullet. A cast net is the best way to procure fresh bait. Often, fresh cut bait will produce better than a live offering, so mixing them up can increase catches.
A 24-inch Fish-Finder rig with an egg weight between the leader swivel and rod tip works well. Using enough weight to make a lengthy cast and hold the bait on the bottom is important. A MUSTAD Ultra Point 39941 6/O circle hook completes the business end. Make sure to leave at least half the barb end of the hook shank exposed when rigging chunks of cut bait. That gap allows the hook to make good purchase while digging into the corner of the fish’s mouth.
Chum and get it!
Using chum in the target area can increase both the quantity and quality of your redfish catch. The majority of chum is thrown out between the boat and the bait on your lines. The scent of the chum and your bait will mingle in the current. If all works according to plan, the redfish find your baited hooks before filling up on the chum. Spreading a few chunks of chum in the general area being fished is also helpful. Fresh cut mullet is good, but Spanish sardines and menhaden really get their attention. The oils in the flesh of these species will travel much farther in the current, which brings the reds from afar.
To help spread the chum, a “chum chunker” can really toss the chum and help save your pitching arm. Getting the chum away from the boat will increase the spread’s effectiveness. There are commercially made chunkers available, if you can find one, but making one is easy enough. I’ve been purchasing plastic baseball bats made for children and cutting them to order. The one I prefer most is “The Original Fat Bat,” approximately 28-inches long and 5-inches in diameter.
The fat end can be cut at an angle or customized with a little imagination. I‘ve made a few and found that using masking tape to mark cutoff lines helps. A utility knife makes for clean straight cuts along the lines, heating the blade helps. Leaving about a 1/4 of the bat’s bulbous end intact forms a lipped scoop. This lip helps hold the chum from flying too widely from the open end while swinging. A snap of the wrist helps release the chunks of chum. Practice makes perfect.
Each one of these hollow plastic bats I’ve purchased has a hole in the end of the handle. Be sure to plug this or wrap the end with electrical tape. Leave it open and I guarantee you’ll have smelly chum juice dripping from your elbows.
In September the nearshore waters will be teaming with bait and gamefish alike. There will be an abundance of dusky anchovy and rain minnow bait balls this month. The easiest way to locate the bait is to look for flocks of bonito birds and white terns in large groups diving at the surface.
These bait balls will be getting hammered by bonito and Spanish mackerel mostly. Often tarpon, shark, kings and jacks will be nearby, drawn by the commotion. Rushing through the bait clouds with mouths wide open, these large predators also enjoy the small fry.
Targeting the smaller fish, we do good casting 1/8 or 1/4-ounce Spec-Rigs in either white or orange colors. The larger predators may hit these small baits also, but more substantial offering are best when seeking them.
Last September we did very well when casting #17 or #18 chrome Tony Accetta Pet Spoons. Casting the spoons past the bait balls and allowing a 10- to 15-count drop drove the fish crazy. If you don’t get hit on the drop, reel the lure slowly about 10-feet and give it a 3-count pause before proceeding. The wounded baitfish wobble and chrome flash is hard for them to resist.An 18-inch trace of 60- to 90-pound wire leader helps get the big toothy fish to the boat. These spoons have a tendency to twist the fishing line when retrieved, so rigging with a ball bearing swivel helps. When the fish are actively feeding it is rare to make a complete cast without getting hit.