We are approaching one of my personal favorite times of the year. The period from the end of September through October might be the best time to fish in Southwest Florida. The mornings are cooler, the storms and humidity become way less of an issue, the bug population plummets — and the bull redfish come out of the Gulf to spawn in our passes and feed in the estuary. So let’s discuss some of my favorite ways to target these beautiful fish.
The first thing is the proper equipment to target these big pumpkins. My favorite setup is a 7-foot 8-17 Star Seagis rod with a 3000 Penn Clash reel. I use 20-pound test braid and a 30-pound fluorocarbon leader. Fluorocarbon becomes more important in the fall and winter because the amount of rain greatly decreases and the water clears up some, and redfish are easy to spook.
Location matters. The first place I like to start targeting redfish is the passes: Boca Grande, Captiva, Gasparilla and Redfish passes are some of my favorite places. In these areas, I look for deeper docks closest to the passes. The fish seem to stage there first.
I like to take a shrimp or a crab and hook it on a quarter-ounce Rockport Rattler jighead. I cast my bait upcurrent from the dock I’m fishing and let it drift right in front of the dock. If they are there, hang on — you’re in for a fight.
If artificial baits are your thing, a DOA shad or Gulp shrimp on the same jighead can be very productive, and so can a gold spoon. Fish the lure slowly, bouncing along the bottom. Work all the corners of the dock as well as the front. No hits? Move to the next dock.
When these fish move into the Harbor, they spend most of their time on the grassflats. The flats that have sandbars, deeper mangrove shorelines and sandholes tend to be the ones that hold more fish. Some of my favorite places to fish are the islets located on the Gasparilla side of the Intracostal Waterway. Cayo Pelau, Sandfly Key and Bird Island are a few of my favorites. When I’m approaching these areas, I always turn my outboard off and use my trolling motor.
The first thing I look for is mullet. Redfish will hang around schools of mullet because they disturb the bottom, stirring up small crabs and shrimp — some of the favorite foods of redfish. If you see mullet working, get a bait out soaking or start throwing that lure. I also add Pro-Cure scent to my artificial baits for an extra advantage.
If the mullet are not there, I’ll focus on mangrove points near deeper water. Throw your baits upcurrent and let them drift towards the point. The fish will be on the back side of the point where it breaks the current, waiting to ambush a tasty treat.
Another great way to catch these fish early in the morning is by throwing topwater baits. Be aware redfish are not designed to feed on top and will usually will miss your bait. Wait til the rod loads up to set the hook.
Now we all know this time of year the tides get lower. In these low-water conditions I like to target sandholes. These are deeper indentations located along the grassflats. There are some great ones in Turtle and Bull bays. I like to drift these areas and throw natural baits into the sandholes and let them sit, or slow-roll a plastic shad over them.
Fall is definitely a great time to get out on the water, and probably my favorite time of year. If I can help in any way, come see me at Fishin’ Frank’s and see me or message Southern Charm Charters on Facebook. Remember, get your kids hooked on fishing and they won’t be able to afford drugs.
Capt. Steve “Pegleg” Phillips owns and operates Southern Charm Charters, with his wife Heather as occasional first mate. If you’re wondering why his friends call him Pegleg, stop in at Fishin’ Frank’s and meet him. For charter info, contact him at 678-787-4750 or through his Facebook page at https://bit.ly/2vesgVn.