If you can deal with the heat you should be able to catch plenty of fish, especially in the South Shore waters of Tampa Bay.
In all my years of fishing the area this has been one of the best I’ve seen when it comes to redfish. Big schools have been roaming on just about every flat on both low and high tides from Joe Island all the way up into the Kitchen area. They are everywhere.
Getting an early start has been key since we are still seeing hot temperatures, which heat up the shallow waters. One of the biggest obstacles hasn’t been finding fish but finding large enough bait.
Bait has been all over the flats but it’s been a mixed bag on sizes. I’ve been sticking with the Calusa ¼-inch mesh net, but some days I’ve still been gilling bait. I’ve been picking through the bigger baits and using the all new Cajun Thunder Back Bay floats for added weight to ensure longer casts.
I have also had some great luck using artificial baits since these schools of fish just don’t want to sit down. The Z-Man Chatterbait has been very effective. It has a great vibration that really gets the redfish going. I’ve also had some good luck with the MirroLure Mirradine bait as well.
The good thing about the artificial baits is you can throw them a long way and stay away from the fish. If you’re sticking with the live bait and the Cajun Thunder, don’t forget to use the popping technique as these fish pretty much hit anything moving.
Many have asked lately about the difference between a school of redfish and a school of mullet. After years of watching and studying the way these fish move around, I’ve learned mullet typically don’t move fast and they make a big wake. Redfish on the other hand, when schooled up, tend to push a V-like wake on top of the water and move fast. The key when you find this situation is to lead the school of fish with your cast. You want to anticipate the direction in which the school is moving. Remember, always try and do this as quietly as possible. Redfish are easily spooked.
If you’re getting out around the higher tides, look to fish the shaded areas around the mangroves. Look for oyster bars and mangroves with good tidal flow. Chances are there is a nice little cut these fish will use to run in and out of the mangrove lines. These cuts are great ambush points for redfish and other species. If you decide to keep a couple of redfish, remember the slot size is 18 to 27 inches and the bag limit is one per person per day.
Jason Prieto is one of three Ruskin-based fishing guides and charter captains who share this column. He can be reached at (813) 727-9890 or [email protected]