Well, it’s here–the spawning season for redfish. Late August through November, redfish will school up in the Tampa Bay area to spawn, but October is probably my favorite month of the spawning season. The flats will usually have different schools of reds gathered up in different areas in the bays from Tarpon Springs to Charlotte Harbor and slightly further.
When targeting redfish in October, you will have many days leading up to the new and full moons where the tide height reaches over the two-foot mark. These tides will allow the redfish to get up onto the lush grass flats with sand holes, into the mangrove shorelines and get onto the many oyster mounds that dot the many Tampa Bay area flats to feed. Small islands are also redfish attracters. These are all things I consider redfish magnets and, if you can combine one or more of these items together, it will up your chances for redfish success.
One of the other things that can greatly affect redfish, and all fish for that matter, is your minor and major solunars. A moving tide is also another key factor for catching redfish, but redfish are a little more forgiving than let’s say snook when high tide is in and the tide goes slack. At this point, chumming (whether it is live bait, cut bait or both) can keep your bite going. There are things–like a rising or setting sun at the same time the tide is moving, while a major solunar is happening–that can be a magical fishing event. I have caught plenty of redfish on an outgoing tide, but I prefer an incoming tide to catch those fish when they first are able to get to their feeding zones and they are hungry! If you run into a hungry school of redfish, every bait will get inhaled, because of the competition factor–first fish to the bait get to eat. When fishing is like this, literally every bait that goes into the school gets demolished within seconds of hitting the water.
Do your homework before you go, or before the tide comes in. What I mean by this is, look at what time the tides are happening, look at when the major solunars will happen (days and times so you can go on the best day you have available) and look at Google Earth to find areas that have a combination that will attract redfish if you don’t know areas already. You can see deep holes, oyster mounds and grass flats, all from aerial views from Bing and Google maps.
Once you have a location picked out, make sure to get there early enough not to miss out on that incoming tide with that major solunar that is happening. You do not want to be traveling during this peak fishing time. Now, just to set things straight, if you have to choose between a moving tide or when a solunar is happening, always choose moving water. The combination of the two is great but, if you are sitting in slack tide during a solunar, it doesn’t help you. Moving water will always produce a better bite.
Now that you are at your spot, let’s say about two hours before high tide, get yourself within casting distance of the mangrove shore line, the island, the oyster mound or all of these, if you have found that great spot that has them all. At this time, the tide is starting to come in and, hopefully, the reds are making their way to you. They will be complacent, since you are there and not chasing them or making a lot of noise, so they will be more apt to feed. If you chase a school of reds, they usually will get lockjaw and then you will have to wait and let them get comfortable again before they will eat. Since you are already anchored down and set up, the fish will feel no pressure. At this time, I would start chumming some cut bait like pinfish, ladyfish, mullet, threadfin or scaled sardines. Try to throw out chunks about 2 to 2.5 inches in an area near the oyster mound or shoreline where you think the reds will come. Keep chumming in the same area to build up the scent in that area and then put some lines out in that area with larger chunks than what you threw out for chum–this will last longer on your hook from the baitfish eating on it and will also look more attractive and have more scent for the redfish to key in on. Put a few poles in the rod holders with the cut baits and leave them alone, so that the scent can build up in one spot around your bait.
If you have live bait like scaled sardines, start chumming some of those live baits out in the same area while the cut baits are doing their job in the rod holders. Now watch for the large tell-tale boil of the redfish. If you see that, make a quick cast with a live bait to that spot. Usually, if you make a good cast, you will get the hit.
Another spectacular thing that happens with redfish during the spawn is that large breeder reds will move into the passes of the estuary bays in our area to a few miles offshore of the passes. Even some of the nearshore reefs will sometimes attract schools of big breeder redfish in the neighborhood of 20 to 35 plus pounds. It is quite spectacular to see! The big reds will be in a feeding frenzy where their heads are coming out of the water chasing every bait in sight. At this point, any bait lure or cigarette butt on a hook is going to get hit. Just make sure you use heavy enough tackle to get them in, without exhausting them to the point of death. Remember, these are the breeders so enjoy them, but take care of them. Make sure you keep them in the water, revive them, take a quick photo and revive them some more. When they feel strong, send them off back to the school.