Specifically targeting inshore “sub-adult” redfish from your kayak requires a bit of knowledge and a bit of skill.
It’s January, the air is cold, the water is cold, and the fish just aren’t biting right? Wrong!!!! Redfish action can be hot if you change tactics to account for cooler water and changing feeding patterns. It is a simple fact of life, if you want to live, you have to eat. This is just as true for redfish as it is for you.
Winter redfish are looking for two things: A comfortable place to live and a steady supply of food. One of the secrets of winter reds is to catch them, you have to find them. Locate one of these and you may find a fish or two. Locate both and you are very likely to find not one or two, but dozens of redfish lying shoulder to shoulder.
Let’s start with a comfortable place to live. The range of redfish in theUnited States extends fromDelaware to The Tip of Texas. To keep things simple: redfish do not like cold water. In winter you are much more likely to find fish staged where you find warmer water. By now, the surface temperature in many of our rivers has dropped into the low 50′s. However, a bright sunny day can warm the low tide mud flats into the upper 50’s; a few sunny days and the flats are in the low 60’s. The fishermen who brave the cold are rewarded with fish aggressively feeding in the warmer water of the mud flats. At high tide you should concentrate your efforts in the deeper water channels the fish use to move on and off of the flats.
Understanding redfish diet. Remember, you are targeting sub-adult redfish in the 21 to 30 inch and 4 to 10 pound range, so it is important to understand their diet. According to a study conducted my Dr Charles Wenner for the SCDNR, the diet of sub-adult redfish consists of the following by volume:
35% small fishes
33% fiddler crabs
16% swimming crabs
6% mud crabs
6% grass shrimp
Take a close look at those numbers. Throwing shrimp or shrimp imitations will catch redfish, but it’s not high on their priority list, especially now that most shrimp moved offshore as the water cooled. The normal winter bait choices are small fish and crabs or artificial baits that simulate these two. Simply put, fish tune into the normal food pattern for the season. Fly fishermen would call this part matching the hatch.
Spend most of your fishing time working small live baitfish or artificial imitations. The reason for this is very simple; it meets the “steady supply of food” criteria. There are a few varieties of small baitfish, such as mud minnows, that remain abundant throughout the winter. Low tide forces the baitfish out of their hiding places and concentrates them. For the bait fishermen, mud minnows and cut mullet are your two best choices. Artificial baits include curly tail grubs, paddle tail swim baits, and small dark flies such as olive or black clouser minnows. My ABSOLUTE FAVORITE right now is the Z-Man Rain Minnows on a 1/8th ounce jig head.
Fiddler crabs will be scarce during cold weather. They are not particularly cold tolerant, so they spend most of their time hiding in their burrows. However, if you get a series of warm bright winter days it never hurts to throw a small dark crab pattern. Two key words in both paragraphs are small and dark. Winter is the wrong time of year for finger mullet or menhaden patterns because these fish moved south before the water temperature fell below 55 degrees.
Now, let’s put the information together into a successful fishing strategy.
First, bring the appropriate gear. Select rod, reel, and line toward the heavy end of the spectrum. While it is possible to land a large redfish on very light line and tackle it is not healthy for the fish. A prolonged battle with a large fish on light line makes for a great fishing story, but it is likely to kill the fish. A better choice is a medium to medium heavy rod paired with a “30″ sized spinning reel, 20 pound test braided line, and an appropriate sized bait of your choice. Since I’m usually fishing a small bait I break out the longer rods with moderate to fast action. A 7 to 7 1/2 foot rod makes casting the small baits much easier.
Second, pick the location that meets the comfortable place to live and steady source of food criteria. Look at the drawing to understand what is happening beneath the surface and at the edge of an oyster bar.
The bottom will be covered with dark pluff mud. Pluff mud captures the sun’s energy and warms the shallow water on the mud flat very quickly. This creates a more comfortable environment.
Now look at the exposed oyster points that extend into the water. There will be submerged shell in the best spots. Shrimp, crabs, and mud minnows try to hide among the submerged shells. There is much less space to hide at low tide than at high, so you have a concentrated supply of food. You should be able to spot “nervous water” which points the way to the baitfish. Spend some time scouting the waters at low tide; you will be glad you did.
Third, is presentation. Ease up to the spot SLOWLY. Watch for fish, wakes, “pushes” or silt kicked up by moving fish. Once fish have been spotted the fishing begins in earnest. Cast the bait of choice close enough to be seen, not so close that you hit them on the head, and then work it slowly. If you think you’re fishing too slow you probably aren’t. Try to imagine sitting on the couch next to a bag of chips. You may not want one, but if they stay there long enough you will eat them.
Fourth and final is timing. Winter fishing has more in common with hunting than it does with fishing during the summer. Consult the weather forecast, tide tables and solo-lunar charts. The best days will be sunny, just before or just after a cold front, and with the moon overhead at low tide. I’ll be fishing when these conditions come together; you should be too.
About the author: Tommy Samuels is the owner / operator of Kayak Fish SC, a kayak fishing guide service located in Charleston, SC. He is a member of Wilderness Systems and KayakBassFishing.com Pro Staff and accomplished tournament angler. You can email Tommy at TooBusy@KayakFishSC.com