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Sight Fishing Tips & Techniques
January 25, 2004
Sight fishing is by far one of the most thrilling, challenging and rewarding methods of fishing. There is just something about being able to see your prey, position yourself for a perfect cast, and presenting your lure just right, in order to coax a fish in to eating.
The general rules in sight fishing are; stealth, identifying a target, positioning your cast and presentation.
First and foremost, you can’t catch a fish if he’s stays out of range, and you certainly can’t catch a fish if he is high tailing it for the next island over A stealthy approach is key when fishing shallow water. It pays to take all measure to minimize deck noise. Remove all loose debris from your cockpit and store them in your storage compartments or holders. Empty soda cans, pliers and shoes can wreak havoc on feeding or staging fish when dropped or stepped on. Speaking of shoes; it’s not a bad idea to take shoes or sandals off. One walks much quieter on bare feet then with supports. In extremely clear windless conditions, shouting or even talking loudly can send a Redfish off the flat. In addition, anglers should maintain a steady position when approaching a target. Shifting your weight from one side of the boat to the other will send a wake across a flat causing any fish in the vicinity to focus their attention from feeding to wondering “What’s was that”. Casting shadows from a rod tip, push pole or an angler will also spook a fish. With that said, position your shadow away from your target. Once you’ve incorporated these basics into your routine, then it’s time to approach your target.
Push-pole is the most effective method. Those running larger boats or boats without a poling platform can do so by trolling motor. Just remember, even the slow hum of a trolling motor can be heard by a Redfish a hundred feet away, especially under clear and calm conditions. This is where making long and precise cast will pay dividends. For those using a trolling motor, approach your target from an upwind direction. That will enable you to run your trolling motor at a slower speed, resulting in much less noise. It will also allow you to use the power of wind to move your boat, relying on your trolling motor to simply control your boat. Speaking of slow speed, if there is a fish in the distance, take your time and approach him as slowly as possible in order to minimize any boat wake.
Identify your Target:
On my charters, one of the biggest problems I have is with anglers making reaction casts. It seems as if, whenever I say fish forty-feet at twelve O’clock, that mean cast. And usually anglers cast before I finish my sentence. Bad mistake. Fish forty-feet at twelve O’clock means, look at forty feet directly in front of the bow of the boat and do not cast.
If you see a target, it is very important to identify your target before reacting. Determine the species of fish, his or her direction and what the fish is doing before deciding upon your next step.
Positioning your Cast:
If you’ve made it past not spooking everything on the flat and identifying a target, now comes all of the fun. Making that perfect cast is what you’ve been patiently waiting for. Remember, sight fishing is like being a Sniper. You will not take 10 casts to catch one fish. You will not even take two casts to catch one fish. Sight Fishing is a one cast to one fish proposition. Not because it has to be, but because, if you have to take two casts, you probably made a bad initial cast, and your target has been spooked. Therefore, take the time to study all of the variables before making a cast.
Ideally, you want to place a cast in front and past a fish.
Tailing Redfish: A Redfish Tailing is one of the easiest targets to catch, as the fish has one thing on it’s mind…. feeding. You will see a redfish tail or tip when he has his nose in the mud or grass in an attempt to east a crustacean. Therefore, his focus is on eating and not what’s around him. First and foremost, determine where his head is. If the conditions are clear and calm, you’ll have to make a conservative cast. If there is a chop and it is cloudy, you can be a little more aggressive. I usually like to start a bit conservative and make a cast 10’ past the fish, and run the path of my lure or bait 12” from its nose. Lightly tighten up your line by applying pressure on your spool just before your bait or lure lands. That will soften the impact of your cast. Immediately after landing, reel your lure or bait just fast enough to prevent it from hanging up in the grass, and to surf it on top of the water until it is a foot and a half past the fish. Allow your lure or bait to sink, and then begin your retrieve. If the fish does not sense your offering, become a little more aggressive on your next cast. 10’ past your target and this time, run the path of your line 6” from its nose. If the fish still does not take your offering, it is not because he does not want it, but instead because he does not see it, feel it or smell it! If he did not want it, he would have spooked. If you’re fortunate enough to have a third shot, run the path of the line an inch in front of it’s nose. If it’s meant to be, he will eat. If not, you’ll send him off the flat and it’s time to find another target.
Moving Redfish: Moving Redfish are a little more difficult of a target, as the fish is not only moving but may have already seen you. If the fish is moving any faster then a slow swim, disregard him and look for another target. If he is swimming slowly, then take your shot, as there is a good chance he has not seen you yet. Positioning your cast is very important with a moving target. You may only have one shot, as your target is on high alert when he is on the move. Unlike a tailing redfish whose attention is strictly focused on what he is rooting up in the grass or mud, a moving fish will sense everything around and on top of him. Determine the fish’s rate of movement and make a cast, which will intercept his path. A cast made anywhere from ten to fifteen feet past the fish, and ten to twenty feet in front of the fish will work. The worst thing you can do, is to allow your lure to fall behind a fish or line a fish. Line a fish means, to drag the path of your line directly on top of the fish. This will almost always send your fish off the flat. Lead your fish with plenty of room by placing your offering well in front of the fish and then reel your offering until it is approximately a foot or two past the path of your fish. As the Redfish approaches, begin your retrieve. Timing is crucial. Ideally you want your lure crawling in its direct path as he is between six inches to a foot away.
Stationary Redfish: Stationary Redfish are common targets during low tides when fish are holding in potholes and depressions, and on high tides when fish stage along shorelines, under mangrove trees and even next to docks & sea walls. These fish are the most difficult to approach, as they are lying motionless like an Osprey on a branch, with all senses on overdrive, looking, feeling and smelling everything thing around, waiting for an easy meal and/or avoiding predators. Approach a stationary fish as quiet as possible and start with a very conservative cast. Cast twenty-feet past your target and run the path of your line a foot to a foot and a half in front on the fish. If he ignores your offering, continue retrieving your bait or lure at least ten feet past the fish, before accelerating your retrieve to make a follow up cast. Do so too fast, and he may spook. Your next cast should bring your lure or bait twelve inches from its nose, and the very next should be six inches from its nose.
Like a tailing Red, your stationary Red will either eat or spook.
By knowing how to approach a fish in conjunction with practicing precision casting, you should often find yourself at the “Presentation” level.
The basics: Unlike a Snook or Trout, a Redfish’s mouth is located on the bottom part of their head. They are designed to feed on the bottom. Their primary diet consist of shrimp, crabs and worms. Not to say a Redfish will not pounce on a Pinfish, herring or Sardine, as they will with a vengeance, especially during the warmer months when the prevailing food source shifts from crustaceans to fish. When sight fishing however, it is easier to achieve accuracy and distance with a live shrimp then a Pinfish or Whitebait. Live Shrimp also enters the water much softer then a fish. If you choose an artificial, a lure resembling a shrimp or a crab will afford you much more versatility then a lure resembling a fish. A lure resembling a fish can only be retrieved at one speed (Swimming speed), whereas a lure resembling a crustacean, can be slow crawled and even stopped in order to position your offering right at the intersecting point. A “fish” lure or even a jerk bait sitting on the bottom does not look natural. A jig or a shrimp or crab imitating plastic on the other hand, looks very natural.
Since you never know if your target will be tailing in mud or grass, sitting stationary in a porthole, or lying on a sand bar, I prefer to use a utility lure or bait. As mentioned in the above paragraph, a live shrimp rigged weedless on a 1/0 live bait hook is ideal. For anglers choosing artificials, a plastic crawdad, shrimp or crab rigged weedless with a tiny crimp-on bullet weight will do the trick.
Remember that a Redfish’s prevailing sense is the sense of smell. Therefore, choose a lure or bait that give off a natural scent. Plastic baits manufactured by Exude or YUM are my favorites. A fresh shrimp will give off all of the natural scent you need. If possible, try to use the water current to your advantage when presenting your offering, especially with live shrimp.
Redfish on the Grass:
Artificial Lures - I have found that crawling a lure is the most effective method of presenting an artificial. When running the path of your line in front of the fish, allow your weedless lure to settle a foot or two past your target Redfish and let it sit. Keep your eye on your target and watch its reaction. If he has not spotted your offering, slightly twitch your offering, moving it an inch. If he has still not seen your offering, become more aggressive and give it a couple light twitches, crawling it an inch or two at a time. If your lure or bait is in stuck in the grass, DO NOT move it to erratically or try to free it, as it will spook your target. If you’ve made a good cast, your stuck lure should be within a inches to foot in front of the Redfish. Under this circumstance, leave it in one spot. “Shake” your lure while keeping it stationary. Your Redfish will eventually find your offering and make a decision. When finessing a Redfish into eating, it is important you keep an eye on your line. The entry point of your line into water should be as far away from the fish as possible to avoiding creating a mini wake, or directly vertical, to avoid your fish seeing your line. If the fish passes your bait without spotting it, allow him to swim at least five if not ten feet past your offering before reeling it in for a follow up cast. Do not reel your lure or bait through the grass. It is best to skate it on top of the water, or quietly jerk it out of the water back to you to avoid making any unnecessary wakes or bumping grass. Live Bait (Shrimp) – The best presentation with a live shrimp is no presentation. Make a good cast by leading your fish and allowing your shrimp to settle inches to several feet in front of your target Redfish (Inches if it is tailing or stationary, several feel if it is swimming). Once settled, leave it motionless on a tight line. From that point, Mr. Redfish and his extraordinary sense of smell will do your work for you.
Redfish on Sand or Mud:
Artificial Lures - When casting to Redfish sitting on mud or sand, I prefer to “Bump” the bottom with my lures. Similar to crawling a bait or lure through the grass, bumping your bait requires a little more energy in your twitches. Mimic a crab or a shrimp fleeing away on the bottom. Each time you bump your lure, you should create a tiny puff of mud of sand. This occurs as you dig your lure into the bottom each time you twitch your rod. This is best done by keeping your rod tip low vs. in a vertical position. If your fish does not strike, become more aggressive with your follow up casts. Live Bait (Shrimp) – Similar to fishing a shrimp on the grass, fish it motionless. Make a good cast and allow it to settle in the path of your fish and leave it motionless. In the case of a moving fish, if you sense the fish is swimming a little too fast and may not see your shrimp lying on the bottom, give it a light (Very light) twitch as the Redfish approaches your bait.
Sight Casting Tips:
a. A live shrimp is not necessary. A fresh dead shrimp will work just as well. Peel one or two pieces of the shell from the head section of the shrimp to add more scent to your offering. Tail hook your shrimp.
b. Maintaining twelve to eighteen inches of distance between your rod tip and lure or bait will provide for a higher degree of accuracy when casting. This works well for short cast to thirty or forty feet.
c. Three foot of distance between your rod tip and lure or bait will provide for a higher degree of distance. This works well when having to make a fifty or even seventy-five foot cast.
d. While a Redfish has teeth, they generally do not fray or bite through line. Therefore, put the 25lb, 30lb & 40lb leader away. I use #15 fluro for my charters, and #10 or #12 when tournament fishing. Fluro carbon leader is a must. I use a minimum of a 2’ leader, and in extremely clear water, I’ll use as much as 4’ of fluro carbon leader.
e. Always keep a rod rigged with #6 or #8 clear monofilament, in case you find fish that shy from more visible braided lines. This is especially true, when targeting concentrations (Herds & schools) of fish.
f. A Redfish will almost always eat a properly presented lure as aggressively as a live bait.
g. If possible, make certain the sun is at your back. This will improve visibility by 100%
h. Give any boat poling or on a trolling motor at least a couple hundred yards of room. If possible, give them even more then that.
I find pleasure in sharing some of the techniques I use on a daily basis and while fishing competitively on the Pro Circuit, and hope this information will help you become a better shallow water sight fisherman....
Capt. Derrick Jacobsen
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