A good angler can go anywhere in the world and catch fish. It might take a day or two to figure out the lay of the land, or to be more precise, the lay of the water, but some things, the "universal truths" of fishing, don't change from location to location. The professional anglers that travel the redfish circuits know they can never compete with home water knowledge and experience. So they approach every new spot in the same thorough and conscientious manner. The average angler can learn a great deal from these stalwarts of the tournament trail. So get out your notebook and come listen to four of the best — Rick Murphy, Geoff Page, Jay Withers and Ed Zyak — when the 2009 Shimano Fishing Tour stops on Saturday at Seminole's Dogfish Tackle.
Murphy travels all over the United States to catch red drum, but he never has to look very far to find fish.
"It doesn't matter if you are fishing off Tarpon Key, the Mosquito Lagoon or Florida Bay," said the 47-year-old guide. "It all comes down to the grass flats."
Shrimp, crabs, pinfish and a variety of other forage species spend at least part of their life cycle in the grass.
"They have to conceal themselves from predators," the Homestead resident said. "So whereever you are, the first place you want to start looking is in the grass."
Water clarity and depth also will play a critical role. Aquatic vegetation needs sunlight to survive. The clearer the water, the deeper the various species of sea grass will thrive.
"It helps if you can scout an area when it is calm," he said. "If the water is flat, you will be able to see the grass and even fish feeding. It helps to know what you are dealing with."
Page, an artificial lure enthusiast, has an arsenal of proven lures.
"There are some things that will work wherever you go," the 47-year-old Sarasota resident said. "A top-water plug, a gold spoon … you should always carry these in your tackle box."
Redfish are fairly predictable, Page said.
"Redfish always travel with schools of mullet," he said. "Mullet will mud up the bottom as they swim along and this will kick up a lot of food. The redfish just follow along and pick up an easy meal."
Fishing for reds is a lot like hunting deer.
"You need to be quiet … redfish are a lot smarter than you think," he said. "I think they can sense a trolling motor. Some times you have to just shut it down and wait."
And if what you are doing doesn't seem to be working, call an audible and change plays.
"You might have start over and switch to a deep-water pattern," Page added. "You have to be willing to change tactics if that is what it takes."
Most anglers make the same common mistake, Withers said.
"Fishermen always work their baits too fast," he said. "If you want to catch fish, slow it down."
Withers agreed with Murphy and Page: Florida's redfish are particularly spooky.
"Maybe it is because so many people fish for them," said the 36-year-old from Port Charlotte. "These fish get hit so hard. So I think is pays to take your time."
Withers said slowing retrieval speed by just 20 percent could make the difference between fishing and catching.
"If you leave that bait in front of a redfish for just one second more, they have a better chance of getting it," he said. "Don't make them work so hard for it."
Withers said he thinks a good rod and reel combo is also essential.
"You have to cover as much ground as possible," he said. "In Louisiana, you might be able to catch fish with a 10-yard cast. But that won't do down here in Florida."
Try to find a rod and reel that will allow you to throw an artificial bait least 50 yards, he said.
"That extra distance can make all the difference in the world," he said.
Zyak grew up fishing the Indian River. "I know every spot from Jupiter to Sebastian Inlet," he said. "But on the tour, you have to fish places that you have never been before."
But Zyak tries to even the playing field by doing a little research before he hits a new fishing area.
"The first thing I do before I fish anywhere is get some charts and some satellite photographs," he said.
Fishing "hot spot" charts show areas that are commonly known as good fishing holes.
"I look for patterns," he said. "Is the spot good because of the water depth or because it is adjacent to a pass or channel? Once I have that figured out, I will look for similar areas. That is how I find my own hot spots."
On the day of the tournament, Zyak will have a plan.
"But even if a spot looks promising on a chart, I won't waste a lot of time if it doesn't look like there is any reason for fish to be there," he said. "I need to see bait, fish feeding, something … for me to stay."
Other factors, the four tournament anglers agreed, need to be considered: light, structure, water temperature, barometric pressure, etc.
"I could go on and on," Zyak said. "There is so much to consider. …"
One could spend all day talking about the difference between fishing and catching. And that is exactly how long these top redfish pros will have to answer questions — from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. — at Dogfish Tackle, 8750 Park Blvd., Seminole.
The shop will have free food and drink, and attendees will have a chance to win a 20-foot Pathfinder Bay Boat with a Yamaha F150 Outboard. For more information, call (727) 393-2102.