Fly Fishing for Redfish: A 101 Guide (Florida Style)

To me, redfish (reds) are one of the top species to chase on the fly. Reds can either be a master class; testing every single skill you have developed, or overly aggressive and eager to eat whatever gets in front of their face. There is seemingly no in-between. Growing up in Florida, I was blessed with fisheries such as the famous Mosquito Lagoon, the flats off my favorite local beaches, and the everglades. I will be going over what I have found enables the day to be more successful. 

 

Redfish is a nickname for the Red Drum. They are a copper-bronze fish with a lighter belly. Often, they have one or more dark, ocellated spots at the base of their tail. You may even be able to catch one with no spot. Those fish are a an almost required picture. For bragging rights of course. Reds can grow up to 61 inches in length. The Florida record being 52lbs and the world record being just over 94lbs! They inhabit Coastal waters. In winter, redfish are found in seagrass, over muddy or sand bottoms, or near oyster bars or spring fed creeks. When juvenile reds grow to about 30 inches in length, they make the move from inshore habitat to near shore. Prodigious spawners that produce tens of millions of eggs. Spawning season is from about August through December, in passes, inlets and lagoon estuaries around the state. During spawning season, redfish use special muscles rubbing against their air bladder to produce a “drumming” sound for which they are named. Their diet consists of oysters, shellfish, fish, and invertebrates.

The Rods:

The most used rod wt is going to be the 8wt for juvenile and average sized redfish. You will also require a 10wt or larger for the large bulls that cruise the shore of the beach and the ones that Brooke has cut her teeth on in Louisiana. My favorite rods to use are one of two styles. For the easily spooked fish: a rod that can produce a gentle presentation with nice control. For the ones that are aggressive and ready to eat: a rod that will get your fly in front of it’s face as quickly as possible. 

  • Thomas and Thomas Sextant Saltwater Rod – Sextant rods are constructed with a unique reinforcement strategy that enhances strength and recovery properties of high-performance unidirectional fibers. This improves the coefficient of energy of the completed rod sections, resulting in rods that load quickly and generate wind-cutting line speed and casting distance with less effort. This is the rod I use when I am fishing for spookier fish in the Mosquito Lagoon area.
  • Sage Maverick – The Sage Maverick has been designed with quick shots and pulling power in mind. It has a powerful tip section that drives the casting load down to more robust lower sections, making it easier to fire these quick efficient casts and helping the angler make the most of their finite opportunities. If you are looking to get into saltwater fishing in general, without breaking the bank, at its price point and even against higher end rods, I believe it is one of the best saltwater rods you can have in your quiver. 
  • G Loomis NRX + Salt – With a primary focus of maximizing versatility, these adaptable actions improve angler capability and expand tactical opportunity in difficult fishing situations. The NRX+ provides the power, line speed, and loop stability expected from modern fast-action rods, without compromising “feel” and finesse in the short game. This rod served me very well while fishing top water flies for aggressively feeding redfish. It got my large 1/0 sized fly out as quickly as I possibly could. The more opportunities you have, the higher you chance of catching one.

The Lines:

  • Scientific Anglers Amplitude Smooth Redfish (Warm or Cold depending on the area Florida) – This line is fantastic for short front taper and head for quick, powerful casts. Made a half-size heavy to deliver large flies in demanding situations. Specifically made for warm or cold water. Depending on your preference.
  • Orvis Saltwater All Rounder – This line is the do-it-all saltwater line that has the power to reach that distant target, and a fast-loading, front compound taper to make a few quick shots in a row. The dual belly helps add stability to the line and allows for easy casting and pickups. If you are looking for a line to use on more than one species, this is the line for you.

The Reels:

  • Nautilus CCF-X2 Fly Reel – The Nautilus CCF-X2 features a stout, saltwater safe, disc drag system that is built to withstand the stress of hard fighting species. The 8/10 reel is a staff favorite due to the fact that it has a lightning-fast line retrieval rate of almost a foot per revolution. This reel can also be fitted with a larger 10/12 spool to tangle with cuda, tarpon, sharks and whatever else can be found while roaming the flats.
  • Ross Evolution R Salt – Ross Reels’ Evolution R Salt reel was designed with the rigors of fly fishing in the salt in mind. A 16-disk, sealed-drag system incorporating stainless steel and carbon fluoropolymer produces 30 pounds of fish-stopping drag pressure. Not one, but two, counterbalances on the spool reduce mass and eliminate vibration. An exceedingly strong frame, made of Anodized II aluminum, performs in the most challenging saltwater environments. In short, the Ross Evolution R Salt reel will exceed your expectations. Ultralight weight for unsurpassed power-to-weight ratio Sealed drag Stainless steel internal components for corrosion-resistance Increased backing capacity for fast-running quarry.
  • Galvan Grip – Big game and saltwater fly anglers who desire a fully sealed, lightweight reel need look no further than The Grip fly reel by Galvan. This fly reel is designed for the most extreme fishing conditions. Added durability from being machined out of a solid piece of aerospace aluminum, the ceramic ball bearing and carbon fiber drag system, and corrosion-resistant hardware all help ensure that this fly reel will hold up to the demands of big fish and saltwater fly fishing. Fly anglers will appreciate the strength and silky-smooth action of The Grip fly reel by Galvan. Easily converts from left to right hand retrieve Water lock hub to keep moisture out of the drag Type T2 anodizing for great corrosion-resistance Monster grip handle for an easy/quick grab. Just like with the Sage Maverick, it is more cost effective and preforms very well. 

The Leaders

Your leader set up is very simple. 

The Flies

When it comes to redfish, your fly placement and presentation are going to make more of a difference than your actual fly selection. So, here are a few go to flies that will make your choices easy.

  • Redfish Scampi size 2 – Any gamefish that eats shrimp will surely eat a Redfish Scampi. Tied in two color ways (tan and rust) the Redfish Scampi can be fished in either clean or tannic water. Use the dark color for dark water and the lighter color for clear water. 
  • Triple Threat Flats size 2 – Like the Redfish Scampi, this fly can be used for more than just one species. I love the light colors for clear water. This fly is perfect for if you are doing some DIY fishing in the Florida Keys. If bonefish, permit, and redfish will eat this…why not have it in your box?
  • Swiss Army Slider size 4 – This pattern is one of my favorites to use. With its legs to help entice strikes, it’s jig head hook for better connection, and barbell eyes to get it down faster, this is the pattern that I have used the most. It comes in a natural colorway and a purple and black pattern. Just like with the redfish scampi; dark color for darker water and light color for clear water. I bet you are starting to see a pattern.
  • Rio’s Guido Shrimp size 1/0 – RIO’s Guido Shrimp is a slick gurgler style topwater pattern. In the right conditions this fly triggers spectacular eats from most backcountry flats species including tarpon, snook, redfish, seatrout, and jacks. It comes in black, tan, and white. With the black having purple accents. My favorite color combination for redfish. 

The Packs:

Here are my two favorite packs for fishing out of a canoe, on a flats boat, or wading. 

  • Fishpond Thunderhead Submersible Backpack – This pack is equipped to carry and protect everything you could ever need for a day on the water. Every bit of tackle, food, water, etc. This will carry all you need for two people and more. 
    • 900D TPU coated NewStream Fabric
    • One set of Lariat gear straps (included) that can be positioned on left or right side
    • Fully waterproof, self-healing TRU Zip zipper closure on main compartment
    • Water resistant zipper closure on the front pocket
    • Compatible with Thunderhead Chest Pack, Canyon Creek Chest Pack, San Juan Chest Pack, Sagebrush Mesh Vest front panel, and Cross-Current Chest Pack
    • Adjustable and removable lumbar support strap
    • Coated webbing haul handle
  • Fishpond Thunderhead Submersible Sling – When you need quick access to all your gear, sling this clean design over your shoulder and charge into the elements. Load your valuables in the roomy main compartment, lock them behind the fully waterproof TRU Zip, and submerge yourself into the environment. It is the perfect pack for short trips on the boat, or wading down the coastline.
    • 16” x 9” x 7”
    • 13L (793 Cu. In.)
    • 900D TPU coated NewStream fabric
    • Includes one set of Lariat Gear Straps
    • 900D TPU coated NewStream fabric
    • Fully waterproof, self-healing TRU Zip zipper closure on main compartment
    • Water resistant zipper closure on the front pocket
    • Lightweight foam shoulder strap and back panel
    • VELCRO® and Hypalon® attachment points on shoulder strap for fly patches and accessories

The Fly Boxes:

These are just my two favorite boxes to use for two different situations. 

  • Umpqua baby boat box – I love this box for all my flies when I am hanging out on the boat. It also has an attached foam pad on the back for easy access, as well as drying out the flies you have used before putting them with your other ones.
  • Tacky Pescador Fly box – This is my preferred box to have ready to go just incase I need to hop in the water and wade down a fish, or to carry in my Thunderhead Submersible Sling for a small selection of my go to flies.

The Easy to Forget:

These are some things that I have forgotten, or I have seen people forget. They may seem obvious, but we have all forgotten to bring at least one of these items at some point. 

  • Rain Jacket
  • Pliers/Scissor clamps
  • Nippers
  • Mosquito Repellant (Put it on your clothes. Not your hands of fly line.)
  • Yeti Colster for celebrating your first, or 100th red on the fly.

The Casting:

As I already stated, presentation and placement are key to this. Redfish either tail or cruise just like most other flats fish you will encounter. You don’t have to be as precise as a tailing permit though. If you can successfully get your fly 12-18” in front of their faces, you will be golden like Pony Boy. Weather conditions also reflect that of other flats fish such as bonefish. Being able to cast 30-40 feet into the wind will set you up for success. Redfish are generally not as spooky as permit, so you don’t need to worry about having to cast 60 feet. That shouldn’t stop you from practicing though. 

If you need information on how to dress for flats fishing, you may also look up the article, What To Wear: Salt Water Edition.

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