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Published Sep. 9, 2009

Anglers leaving the dock most commonly disagree on one point: "Live bait or artificials?"

True, one will see many anglers mixing up their games by alternating between fresh, frisky live baits and some type of plastic and/or metal lures. However, seasoned anglers usually have strong tendencies toward real or fake.

In truth, both work. Notwithstanding any lingering divergence, there remains another very viable option: Dead baits. Convenient and simple to use, deceased natural offerings make a user-friendly option that's very effective on the redfish that will school more abundantly during September.

In preparation for the fall spawn, oversized mature reds and slot-sized fish will mingle in large groups before the big ones head offshore to reproduce. Roaming in large aggregations, reds will eat practically anything you throw, but if you're just looking to bend a rod and put some fresh fillets on the table, dead baits are super simple.

Best bait

Threadfin herring ("greenbacks"), pilchards ("whitebait") or pinfish that die in your live well are probably the most obvious options. Redfish never turn down the live ones, so baits that don't run away are easy pickings.

(Reds readily eat frozen shrimp, but so do the bait-stealing pinfish that swarm local shallows. You'll often lose your bait before redfish find it.)

If you can find schools of jumbo greenbacks around channel markers or just off of the beaches, cut these baits into three or four chunks each and reds will elbow one another for a taste.

Mullet make another good cut bait option because their meaty sides yield several mouth-filling chunks. An abundant fish with a liberal bag limit (50 per day), mullet present an opportunity to catch plenty of redfish bait and the leftovers make fine human meals as well.

Castnetting is the shortest route to success, but if your slinging skills are suspect, or if the mullet won't stay put long enough, try snatch-hooking them. Rig a weighted treble hook on a medium-heavy spinning outfit, cast the hook past a school of mullet and reel it toward the fish as fast as you can. Repeat until you snare one.

Setup, presentation

Unless you spot a school of fish, dead bait presentation requires scouting and patience. But once it clicks, you can catch reds until your arms grow tired.

Anchor or stake out your boat over a likely redfish feeding area like a grass flat with scattered sandy patches, island points or mangrove edges flanked by troughs and potholes. Mentally divide your area into four sections and place a bait in each quadrant.

If you can see redfish moving about, or if multiple bites offer a clue, concentrate your baits in the hot zone. Feeding competition runs high in a redfish school so dead baits won't get left alone.

Fish your cut bait on a 3/0 circle hook, either free-lined or under a popping cork. On the bottom is best, as schooling reds typically forage with their noses facing the sand.

Circle hooks are not legally required for redfish pursuits, but they greatly facilitate live release. With an inward facing point, a circle hook is designed to roll forward in a fish's mouth and securely latch onto the lip area - usually in the corner.

When high tides find reds tucked under mangrove edges, sidearm casts are best for getting baits back into the shadows where the fish hold. As with docks, dead baits prove beneficial because they won't swim out like live ones, and you don't have to "work" them like artificials.

Bait for chum

Fingernail-sized chunks of shrimp or diced baitfish will serve well as redfish chum for calling in fish from afar, or reassembling a school that fragmented when the commotion of a recent catch spooked the others.

Remember that nose-to-the-sand thing? Well, it won't take long for the copper-scaled bloodhounds to pick up the scent of free chow. Spread a dozen or so pieces in a fan pattern and narrow the trail so it leads back to casting range.

Don't be surprised if your chumming effort rounds up bluefish, mackerel, jacks and ladyfish. Keep the baits out there and reds are bold enough to push their way through a crowd.