Without a doubt, the most intriguing aspect of our sport are the many ways we can fish from our little plastic boats. Everything from bass fishing in lakes and rivers; chasing reds and trout along the coast; even venturing offshore for pelagic species. Name it and anglers are doing it!
I have done my share of fishing on the coast and dabbled in checking off bucket list species across the country. I have caught sailfish and snook in Florida and have targeted smallmouth bass in Tennessee rivers. Each has their own appeal. But if the Big Man upstairs said my time is up and he would grant me just one more day of fishing, I wouldn’t hesitate with my answer.
I wouldn’t ask for my skiff, nor my tower or trolling motor; I would ask for a sunny day with little to no wind in the Texas marsh, paddling and sight-casting redfish. When it comes to catching fish, there is not a more challenging or rewarding pursuit.
The only way I can explain it is that it’s hunting, but with rod and reel. You have to be in the proper area and once you get there, it becomes a slow stalk searching for your target. When a fish is spotted it is up to you to get into position and then you must make a perfect cast to entice the fish to eat. I have done this numerous times and my heart still races just as fast as it did the first time!
Not long ago, my buddy Wesley wanted to start fishing with me to learn a few spots and some different tactics. He told me that he had never sight-casted a redfish and wanted to see how I go about it. I eagerly told him to come along and I would try my best to make it happen. That being said, I figured I would share what I have learned and what works for me, in hopes that you may be able to put some of these tips to use and flatten your own learning curve.
Selecting Fishing Areas
I think successful outcomes begin with the areas you select for sight-fishing marsh reds. I prefer smaller ponds with a single slough or channel serving as both entry and exit. These small bodies of water will often be overlooked by most anglers and the fish that inhabit them tend to be less spooky. Bottom grass is very essential as it contributes greatly to water clarity and holds plenty of small baitfish and other forage to attract our target species. Water depth is another consideration; we can only sight-cast to the fish we can see. So, depth is as important as clarity.
There are a few absolute must-have items, along with a few others that make it much easier to be successful. Quality polarized sunglasses make all the difference in the world. Without them we cannot see into the water and it is difficult to distinguish colors. Next is a hat or cap to help reduce glare and enable you to recognize the shapes of cruising fish. Another essential item is a paddle tether or clip device. Standing in the kayak affords a better view and we frequently use the paddle as a push-pole for propulsion. Spotting a fish, we must release the paddle and grab a rod as quickly as possible. Some anglers add clips to their belts to attach the paddle for hands-free casting and others simply use a piece of cord as a tether to allow it to trail behind. Both are effective and casting is always easier with the paddle out of the way.
I cannot stress this enough! Fish do not have to see us to sense our presence. They have exceptional ability to detect sounds (noise), and even the waves of pressure from a paddle stroke or a gliding kayak can spook them when conditions are calm. The worst mistake is finally spotting a fish and then fumbling to lay the paddle down and pick up a rod. Take your time, rehearse all your moves mentally, move slowly and quietly, and make a nice, easy cast!
Spotting and Casting
Spotting fish before they detect your presence can be difficult at first but becomes easier once you see a few and learn what to look for. I always tell beginning anglers that if you have to guess whether it’s a redfish it probably isn’t. Of course their color often gives them away, but not always. Certain light and background conditions may cause them to appear more like a log lying motionless in the water. This is when learning to distinguish shapes enters the picture. It’s always easier when they’re moving, wagging their tail above the surface, or pushing a wake in shallow water.
There are several aspects to casting that are super-critical to your success. First is lure selection; the lure must be light enough to land softly but with enough weight to be able to get it there. My personal favorites are swimbaits such as the fluke-style soft plastics on 1/8-ounce twist-lock jigheads. Nothing will spook a redfish quicker than the splash of a heavy lure a few feet from its nose.
Next and equally important is casting accuracy. I always instruct beginning sight-casters to aim the lure three or four feet in front of the fish and the same distance past them. This gives you plenty of room to land the lure without spooking them and a few twitches of the rod tip to get their attention. A common mistake is aiming right at the fish and having the line settle across their back. Somehow, I too am occasionally guilty of this. Nothing will spook them quicker! It is better to be ten feet in front rather than ten feet behind.
Another bit of information you might find useful is how far in front of a “waking” fish you should aim your lure. Some get the idea that the wake produced by a fish swimming in shallow water originates at the fish’s nose but this is not true. Plopping your lure into the tightest point of the vee will likely only cause him to kick it into overdrive as it bounces off his back. His nose is at least a foot ahead of where it appears. Lead him by an extra foot or two and hold on!I could go on and on, simply because I love sight-casting so much. I hope that some of the things I’ve shared here will help you learn the game and land a few sight-casted fish on your own. I will leave you with one more tip an old salt passed to me when we were discussing sight-casting marsh redfish years ago…“Make your first cast your best cast.”