Fly Fish Redfish

Around Sanibel and Captiva Islands we fly fish for redfish 12 months a year because we have one of the largest, healthiest redfish fisheries  in the State of Florida.

But, the most exciting part about our fly fishing redfish is that we sight cast to them in crystal clear shallow water.

Picture this:  I push pole my boat across the flats through crystal clear water with my angler “at the ready” looking for cruising redfish, laid-up redfish or tailing redfish.  Once we spot the fish, both my angler and I are keyed into the target.  Then we switch from the hunting mode to the stalking mode working ourselves into the best position possible to make the cast.

Once that presentation is made, hopefully without the fish seeing us or the fly hitting too close to spook him, the fly fisherman then manipulates the fly to get it onto the redfish’s dinner plate (strike zone).  When the redfish sees the fly and starts moving on it, that’s when our heart rate picks up with the anticipation of the redfish eating the fly.  So much of the time we do see the fly disappear into it’s mouth.  As the fly fisherman feels the take, he swiftly strip-strikes the fish while simultaneously coming fast to the side with the fly rod reinforcing the hook set.  The majority of our redfish are from 25 inches long to 35 inches long, generally 6 pounds to 14 pounds.  The redfish gives a strong fight often getting well into the backing.  As you can see by the pictures I have included, they are very beautiful fish.  No question, redfish are one of the most exciting shallow water gamesters for fly fishermen to pursue; mainly, because they stick their tails out of the water and make for great fly fishing targets.

The scenario I just described takes place all year ’round.  In the winter, because the tides are lower during the day, not only do we fly fish from the boat but we can also slip on our wade boots, get out of the boat and pursue redfish by wade fishing.

By the end of March, we have higher tides during the day to the point that we’re no longer in a tailing situation because the water is over 2 feet deep on the flats.  Then we fly fish along the extensive mangrove shorelines which fly fishermen like because they are constantly spot casting, challenging themselves, kissing the mangrove leaves and roots with every cast.  With the crystal clear water conditions, so much of the time we can actually see the redfish cruising in and out of the mangrove roots or laid-up in a white sandy spot giving the fly fisherman a stationary target to cast to.  Also, when the water rises higher during the day we can move into some of the far back bays where only skinny water skiffs like mine can float shallow enough to search out fish.  In these areas I normally find the redfish laid-up or moving along the sandy shorelines.  The redfish can show up like dark spots on white paper.  These situations hold true not only in the spring but through the summer months as well.

Toward the end of August through September; the large spawning schools of redfish move in from the Gulf of Mexico and take up residence along the edges of the shallow flats.  At higher tides, the redfish will actually spill up onto the shallow water flats literally turning the water reddish-orange in color.  It is great fun to use surface flies to catch the redfish since they are schooling right on top of the water.

October and November are transitional months (water is going from warm to cooler).  It’s “off season” for tourists and we don’t find many boats on the water.  It’s not “off season” for the redfish!  As the water temperatures cool down, we find an abundance of very active redfish on the flats.

October is also when the common Southern stingrays begin their spawning rituals.  It’s not unusual to see several stingrays together flapping their wings mudding the water stirring up lots of little critters redfish love to eat.  That’s when we can find a number of redfish tailing up around those stingrays as they look under the ray’s wings seeking out the morsels to eat.  This is a prime situation for wade fishing.

There is just excellent red fishing all the way through December.  People ask if we get redfish in the winter time when the water temperature gets cooler.  We experience many tailing situations.  Redfish are not a subtropical fish, even though they live here in the subtropics, they are tolerant to much cooler water temperatures than most subtropical fish.  We don’t find a shortage of redfish.

Most of the time our water temperatures in the peak of winter are right around 60 to 73 degrees.  However, a few years ago I measured the lowest water temperature I ever measured in the inside bays at 51 degrees and we caught redfish on fly that day.

I hope I’ve given you a pretty good outline of what our fly fishing for redfish is like in this Sanibel Captiva Islands area.