Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Patience and stinky bait pay off with redfish

Dave Dennison is a patient angler. He will sit, watch and wait for the redfish to show themselves. The Brandon-based charter boat captain has been fishing Tampa Bay for more than 20 years and has learned one thing: rushing around the flats chasing reds is the sure path to failure. "The fish are here," Dennison said, as he readied a piece of cut bait. "They just need to find the bait."

Redfish are opportunistic feeders, and during this time of year they congregate into large schools, in part for protection, but also to help spook food sources, such as crabs and small fish, up from the protective shelter of the grass beds.

In some areas of the bay, a school might only include 15 to 20 fish. But in others, the giant pods of reds can include 100 to 200 fish; easily spotted, even by an untrained eye. In fact, the school might even look like dolphin pushing up a wake.

But while large schools of redfish might look like easy pickings, casting into the middle of the moving mass will only spook the fish.

So Dennison approaches the situation like a hunter, carefully setting a trap that the redfish can't pass up. "These fish are lazy," he said. "They don't want to work too hard for food."

Redfish will hit topwater plugs, gold spoons and a variety of soft-plastic baits as well as live bait, including everything from shrimp to threadfin herring. But veteran guides, Dennison included, will tell you that if you want to catch redfish, under a variety of conditions, toss out a chunk of cut bait.

"Once the scent gets into the water column, it doesn't take long for them to find the bait," he said.

Most charter captains have a "secret" bait they turn to when the fishing gets tough. Some like chunked mullet, others ladyfish. But on this warm fall afternoon, Dennison took a few scaled sardines out of his livewell and sliced them up.

His strategy was sound. If the cut bait did not work, he still had a well with live offerings if the fish proved to be particular. Dennison let the baits sit for about five minutes and then repositioned them closer to the mangrove shoreline.

He sat and watched as a large school of mullet moved through the sea grass bed. Mullet are herbivores, but their very act of feeding will often disrupt the predatory habits of carnivores, including blue crabs and grass shrimp.

"That's why the redfish follow the big schools of mullet," Dennison said. "The mullet scare up everything in the grass. The reds just swim along and eat everything that pops up."

Now if Dennison had lost his cool and tossed an artificial lure into the mass of feeding mullet and redfish, it would have been game over. But he knew it would only be a matter of time before the scavenging reds found the sliced-up sardines resting on the bottom.

"Got one," he said as a redfish grabbed the bait. The fish tried to run for the protection of the mangroves. But Dennison lifted the rod tip, turned the fish's head, and then handed the fishing pole off to his customer.

Then a second rod bent under the pressure of a fish. Dennison looked around the boat, "Who wants this one?"

Dave Dennison can be reached at tampainshorefishing.com. Terry Tomalin can be reached at [email protected] or call (727) 893-8808.


Captainís Corner: Cloudier water improves the bite

Windy conditions this week have actually slightly improved fishing. The waters of Saint Joseph sound had become so clear that it made finding fish easy, but getting bites very difficult. Snook have been gathering in great numbers all along the beache...
Published: 05/19/18
Updated: 05/21/18

Captainís Corner: Red grouper fishing continues to be good

Red grouper fishing continues to be steady in depths of 100-120 feet. Large bait stacks are holding a fish or two, but larger concentrations are on very small rolls and potholes in those depths. Zooming in on the bottom 10-15 feet of the water column...
Published: 05/19/18
Updated: 05/20/18

Captainís Corner: Catching a giant cobia

Cobia is the topic this week. Capt. Tom Markham, aboard the Simply Hooked, was beginning his daily bait routine. It turned out that one of the markers located near Clearwater Pass, surprisingly, had a giant fish waiting for him. The captain slid up t...
Published: 05/16/18

Captainís Corner: Tarpon showing up on beaches, bridges

This week shouldnít be a total wash out. While there is a chance of rain every day, it should only be sporadic. Hopefully it wonít dirty up the water too much. If you are a tarpon fisherman and look forward to their arrival like I do, then you are in...
Published: 05/14/18
Updated: 05/15/18

Captainís Corner: This is best time of year for bay area fishing

Itís the best time of year for fishing in the area. Tarpon can be targeted off of any of the bridges. The Gandy, Howard Frankland and Skyway are my top choices. While awaiting a tarpon strike, I kill time by dropping smaller baits for Spanish mackere...
Published: 05/13/18

Captainís Corner: Change tactics for fly fishing success

Most fly fishers would prefer minimum wind and cloudless skies to increase chances for a banner day. This has been a problem lately. The wind makes casting more difficult, unless very experienced, and clouds interfere with sight casting opportunities...
Published: 05/11/18
Updated: 05/14/18

Captainís Corner: Tips on handling burgeoning baitfish

Schools of baitfish have arrived and taken up residence in all depths. Birds are diving on them close to the beach, all the way out to the midwater artificial reefs. Farther offshore, bait schools might not be visible on the surface but can be detect...
Published: 05/11/18
Updated: 05/12/18

Captainís Corner: Buckle up, the tarpon are here

Tarpon season is here, and the fish are showing up in numbers along the beaches. While there have been tarpon in the bays and backwaters for awhile, there were very few schools cruising the coast until a few days ago. Then, seemingly overnight, big p...
Published: 05/11/18

Captainís Corner: Here come the tarpon

Itís hot, the water temperatureís right and itís May. That means itís Tarpon Time! Aprilís full moon seemed to have opened the flood gates for tarpon arriving in our area. Weíve observed some at the Sunshine Skyway bridge for a couple weeks. On a few...
Published: 05/07/18

Captainís Corner: Swash channel is full of life

Offshore winds the past week cleaned beach waters to that pretty shade of blue we often have this time of year. The swash channel is full of life as schools of finger mullet, whiting and threadfin herring go in and out with the tide, and schools of p...
Updated one month ago