Like I always say, thank God for redfish. For saltwater fly fishing guides, when the bonefish, permit, snook or tarpon get hard to find, you can usually find a redfish. Not always, but usually. And when you find a redfish, it usually bites, but not always…
Whenever I stumble onto a fishing show on TV, nine times out of ten they are fishing for redfish!
I wasn’t much of a redfish guide during my 30 years in the Keys. In fact, when I started guiding in 1986, you could hardly find a redfish in Florida Bay. Commercial netting for redfish in Florida Bay was still legal then, and with the blackened redfish culinary craze started by Chef Paul Prudhomme and others, the redfish soon got wiped out. Eventually the state of Florida came to its senses and realized commercial fishing in the shallow, ultra sensitive waters of Florida Bay was a death sentence. They adapted the sensible redfish conservation practices developed by the state of Texas, and eventually the fish came back. The state of Florida got lucky with redfish. Most of the time Florida has proven to be disastrously ignorant of the environment in their own back yard.
One time I asked Capt. Harry Spear, “where can I find a redfish?”
He told me, “go fish around Sandy Key.” And so I did. It is a huge area but when conditions were right I could find them on the late falling tide around the inside and on the incoming tide on the outside. They would tail and cruise and wake…sometimes they got so shallow they would run aground and flop around in the mud. They would follow sting rays and nurse sharks. They were great sport on a fly rod because you could sight cast and actually see them take the fly most of the time. I was able to catch more than five in a day a few times…they were bulldog fighters but didn’t go far… none ever got into the backing. Some days they were tough to feed but usually they cooperated. The other bonus was you might also hook a sea trout, black drum, jack, sheepshead, shark or triple tail while redfishing.
Fly patterns varied, but you had to be careful about the weight of the fly…too heavy and you got grass or mud…to light a fly and the redfish wouldn’t see it…they are nearsighted sonofaguns! Weed guards helped. So did spun deer hair heads.
These days, I’m not sure about the redfishing in Florida Bay and Everglades Nat’l. Park. The water was getting pretty mucked up back there when I left in 2013, with huge areas of dead sea grass. I heard the Snake Bight area took a big hit. The guides that know the Chokoloskee/Shark River/Everglades City area still do well on redfish, as do the coastal guides of Texas, Louisiana and the Low Country of South Carolina.
Redfish are lots of fun on a fly so go to it and let me know if you ever have one get into your backing!