Preparing Yourself – Gear, Rigging, & Flies
Landing a 30-pound class redfish on your fly rod is easier than you think. The most important thing to remember is to keep things simple. In other words, there’s no need for a leader and tippet section consisting of ten different types of monofilament and fluorocarbon, and you definitely don’t need the “latest and greatest” fly reel or rod offering from Ross or Sage. A sturdy 9WT fly rod paired with your favorite arbor-style fly reel – anywhere in the 7-10 range – is well-suited for subduing large redfish, while still maintaining the “fun” factor. I back my reels that I use for targeting large reds with a couple hundred yards of 30-pound test braided backing, and then use an Albright Knot to tie on my fly line, which is generally a cheap, floating 9WT line. Tie a Surgeon’s End Loop to the end of your fly line, then, using a loop-to-loop connection, attach a section of 40-pound test monofilament that is about the length of your rod. To finish the process, grab your favorite big streamer – for this application, I tie my own brightly colored, weighted streamers in the 5 to 7 inch range – & use a Rapala Loop to tie it your leader section. Now you’re ready to rock.
You don’t need to go out and purchase a boat, but you will need a kayak. Any “Craigslist Special” sit-on-top kayak in the 10 to 14 foot range will get the job done. Just be sure that it is seaworthy first. Check to be sure that water does not enter the hull of the kayak via any cracks, holes, stress points, or hatches. Be sure to take a landing net, measuring tape, pliers, extra rigging materials, flies, a camera and a life jacket with you on your trip as well.
Start Your Search
Naturally, you will want to find an area where large redfish congregate. Targeting them on the flats is possible, as they do cruise through the shallow water that many flats offer on a semi-regular basis, but its best to find somewhere at which they can be found in numbers, as it can be particularly frustrating spending an entire day searching the flats aimlessly for a single bull redfish, only to have it be a finicky fish that isn’t interested in your presentation.
Because I am located in Pensacola, Three Mile Bridge is the perfect spot. If you are not located in the Pensacola area, fear not. Any bridge located in a bay or estuary that is illuminated by street lights at night will generally be a good area to start, as large redfish often feed on the baitfish that congregate in these lights during the night hours.
Once you’ve found a spot, pick a night of the week that you don’t have to be up early the following morning – yes, you will be targeting these fish via the technique of “sight fishing” in the dead of night, so be sure that you’re comfortable kayaking at night first, and bring a buddy!
Finding the Fish
Launch your kayak & slowly approach the areas near the bridge that are lit by streetlights above. I prefer approaching from underneath the bridge, so that I remain inconspicuous to the redfish below as I scan the lit areas of water. This is a sight fishing game, so keep your eyes peeled. Redfish are fairly easy to see at night, as they emit an orange glow as they swim through the lights. If you don’t find one at the first light you approach, don’t worry. Keep hitting bright lights until you find one. Once you do, it’s game time. Casting a fly rod while sitting down in a kayak isn’t easy, but try to keep the false casts to a minimum so that you don’t spook the fish that you are targeting. Place the fly 7 to 10 feet in front of the fish, in the direction that it is moving. Strip the fly quickly to get the attention of the redfish. When the fish inhales the fly, set the hook – fish on!
If you’ve never heard of the term “sleigh ride” in reference to kayak fishing before, I’ll describe it to you. Here is a rundown of the events that will immediately follow your hookup with a trophy-sized redfish.
• The slack in your fly line is going to disappear, very quickly
• Once tight with the redfish, you will be at the mercy of whichever direction the fish feels like swimming – if it wants to go, it is going to go!
• The redfish that’s creating that 90 degree bow in your fly rod is going to begin towing you, probably faster than you can paddle
Enjoy the redfish sleigh ride, but don’t forget to hold on to your fly rod! Be mindful of pilings and bridge structures as the redfish tows you around. I keep my paddle in my right hand tucked against my side so that I can maneuver my kayak during the fight if I need to. Once you wear the fish out (often times it’s the other way around), try to position it yak-side so that you (or your buddy) can carefully scoop it up with your landing net.
You’ve just accomplished your goal of landing a trophy-sized redfish, and it was on a buggy whip, arguably the most challenging (and fun) way of targeting these fish! What do you do next? Pop the fly out of the mouth of the fish, get a quick measurement, have your buddy take some photos – be sure to smile, as you should be grinning ear-to-ear at this point – release the fish, and then go do it all over again!
Fly fishing for bull redfish is one of the most rewarding types of inshore fishing available in Florida, or anywhere for that matter, and it can be done very effectively by keeping things simple and following some basic guidelines.