Time for tailgating, kickoffs…and tailing redfish

Fred MIller displays a fly-caught redfish

 

By Nathan & Ted Miller –

With the summer months coming to an end, September is the beginning of a much-needed break from the summer heat. Fall is just around the corner and our focus shifts from planning summer vacations to making sure our kids are outfitted with the newest fad in backpack design.
Football season is also around the corner, and many will find themselves planning outdoor activities early on Saturday to ensure they are back in time for tailgating and kickoff.
For some people, football schedules are readily viewable (taped to the wall) at work…alongside the lunar calendar and tide charts.
We are talking flood tides. And that only means one thing: tailing redfish.
Our First Coast offers hundreds of miles of saltwater marsh and spartina grass flats along our Intracoastal Waterway. These marshes will flood at certain times of the year, and late summer and early fall marks the beginning of the best flood tide season.
For the next several months when conditions are right, redfish will stage during the incoming tide until the water grants access to the higher-elevated marsh that is usually inaccessible to them. Once the tide reaches the higher-than-usual mark, the fish will enter these areas and feed on crabs and other crustaceans not available during more typical conditions.
However, not every high tide is a flood tide during this time of year. The tides are the highest during the lunar cycles of a full and new moon. And the tide charts will help you determine the best time to go.
We find the Mayport tide gage is a good barometer when the water may be right. A tide of 5.4 – 5.5+ feet is important, provided the wind cooperates.
A strong Northeast to East wind will assist by pushing saltwater toward our First Coast flooding our marshes. This will also flood the marshes for a longer period of time, giving you higher water to work with, and longer fishing time.
On the contrary, a strong West wind will have the opposite effect by pushing water out of the marshes and into the ocean.
Some prefer the dry environment of push-polling a shallow-draft boat over the marsh. A pole platform can assist in seeing tailing fish, but is not necessary. Mostly it is watching and listening.
Others prefer securing the boat along the edges of these flooded marshes and wading in. The depth can vary between ankle and waist deep, so be prepared to get wet. Boots or tennis shoes with long pants will do fine. Some prefer waders. But be careful walking. There are holes and small creeks out there, so go slow.
The flood tide may only last an hour or so until the water starts to recede. If you poll in, it is important to watch the flow of water. When it begins to fall out, poll off the flat. The bite is probably over anyway. Many boats have been stranded on the marsh for many hours until another flood tide allows you to get back out.
If you wade, it can be a good idea to take extra supplies with you. Extra hooks rigged weedless with artificial baits like Gulp or Fish Bites will eliminate the lengthy walk back to the boat losing valuable fishing time. If you prefer fly-fishing, extra leader and flies will also help ensure you spend your time fishing. It can also be a good idea to take a measure stick (measure between 18 to 27” – legal ‘slot’ for redfish) and a stringer so you can secure your catch. The new bag limit on reds is 2 per person, and a stinger will help you fish for your second fish before heading back to the boat.
Some anglers prefer light conventional or spinning tackle. Others prefer fly rods. Either way, choose a rod, reel and line you can comfortably and accurately cast to a feeding and leery fish.
When the conditions are right, fishing for tailing reds is a lot like hunting.
When you reach your destination, preferably an hour before high tide, survey the landscape quietly for any movement. Fish moving in the shallows will move grass or produce a wake giving away their location. Fish feeding along the bottom will use their tails as propulsion, exposing them above the surface. This is what you came here for…let the stalking begin.
Quietly move within casting distance and pitch your bait near, preferably in front of and / or past your target and carefully retrieve towards the feeding fish. Twitch slowly and wait to see if the fish sees or smells your bait. Twitch again. If nothing happens, quietly retrieve and recast. It takes stealth and patience to avoid spooking the fish. If you spook your fish, game over.  If you are successful in your presentation and your offering is consumed, the water erupts and game on!
Redfish numbers in Florida have drastically improved since the net ban back in 1994. A recent statewide change in limit from one fish to two per person is proof that the numbers are up. But if you are simply content with the experience and enjoyment of our native saltwater marshes, and one red is enough to feed you and your family, take a picture of your second fish and release.
Mother Nature will remember this gesture, and grant you good fortune another day.
Send your pictures, stories and favorite destinations to The Miller Brothers at [email protected]
FredMillerGroup.com or  [email protected]

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