Sight casting is a technique a flats fisherman should learn if they want to be sucessful in fishing. Dustin Schouest explains a few things about this technique for the novice fisherman!
I sat across from my friend as we sipped our adult beverages. We were relaxing after a day of chasing bass and perch on fly. If you have never experienced the thrill of watching palm sized shellcrackers and bluegill blow up on topwater flies, you have never lived. It was late in the evening as we sat down across from the television, both of us taking turns getting our butts kicked by the ever infamous game Dark Souls, when we decided to start planning for our next fishing trip.
“Y’know,” I said between sips, “the wind is gonna die down for the weekend. Temp’s gonna be in the 70’s. It outta be great for some redfish.” I saw my friend ponder as a skeleton impaled his avatar on the screen.
“Thing is brother, I ain’t never caught a redfish I’ve sight casted to before.” I nodded, remembering how hard it was to teach myself how to do it. I had been fly fishing almost two years before I learned how to find, sight, and cast to redfish. I took the controller and headed right back into the fray of beasts that gave Dark Souls its tagline of “Prepare To Die”.
“It ain’t that hard man. Give me an afternoon with you, and I can teach you. There’s only like four things you have to keep in mind when looking for and casting to them.” Another nod came from my friend as he watched me run passed all these enemies towards the boss of the area. “Let me kill this demon, and I’ll explain all you need to kno-ARE YOU SERIOUS, I COULDN’T EVEN GET A HIT IN BEFORE HE KILLED ME?!?!” I had been cut off by the sight of a large bull beast dropping an axe on my character’s head.
“Ok, let me take you into Sight Casting 101….”
Know Your Prey’s Prey
Redfish are voracious critters. If they want it, they will try to eat it. From large crabs scuttling across the floors of silent seas, to mullets swimming in the duck ponds, redfish will eat whatever they can fit in their mouths.
What they eat is dependent upon many factors: temperature of the water, time of the year, moon cycle, etc. There are three things that are a key in a redfish’s diet: crabs (fiddler and blue crab), baitfish (including minnow and mullet, maybe even small fry from other game fish), and shrimp. Most times you will find these pieces of forge in the same areas, but, what you offer a redfish may not be what they want to eat.
A good example of this is the old standby bait for saltwater gamefish: shrimp. The best times to use this bait are when the shrimp are in the marshes. In Louisiana, this occurs between May to October. In May the brown shrimp move into the estuaries (much to the delight of shrimpers and fish alike), and in August the white shrimp come in on the tides. These shrimp typically stick to the interior marshes, and don’t move deeply into the brackish backwaters. They will get into these pockets, but not in vast numbers.
Instead in the pockets and ponds that I frequently duck hunt, I see hundreds if not thousands of finger mullet and other baifish, including bass and bluegill fry (THANK YOU TERREBONNE PARISH CONSOLIDATED GOVERNMENT). I also see tons and tons of small to medium sized blue crab. Upon cutting open the stomachs of redfish I harvest (my apologies to you catch and release purists: I just like blackened redfish) the most common thing I see are crushed up crabs. This tells me that crab patterns are a key forge for them.
For someone entering a stretch of marsh for the first time, redfish behavior can tell you a lot about what they want to eat. When redfish are tailing, something every red blooded flats fisherman loves to see, they have their heads digging in the mud for crabs, worms, and other small forge. These fish can usually be triggered to bite by something that looks crabby, or even a well-placed popper (we will get into that later).
Redfish cruising around may be looking for any kind of forge that walks in its line of sight. I have literally placed a fly in a redfish’s face while it was swimming away, and it destroyed the fly. This was a reactionary strike, and not characterized by hunger. But a lot of times redfish cannot resist an easy meal.
The loudest and most obvious sign of a feeding redfish is one busting on bait. You may be paddling your kayak along (hopefully something as sexy as the new Vibe SeaGhost 130) and you hear a loud crash, and see large waves in a pocket of a pond. That is as sure a sign as any that a redfish just destroyed a baitfish. It is as great a sign as a lookout in the crow’s nest calling “Whale Ahead!”
Looking For The Beast
So now we know what the redfish are eating, but now how do we find them? The easiest tell-tale sign of a redfish in your area is a tailing red. It is almost impossible to miss the wagging of a tail, but if you aren’t sure of what to look for, or even where a red may be tailing, it can be easy to miss amidst the weeds, stumps, and other trash in the marsh.
The best tool you can use for sight casting is a pair of polarized sunglasses. These puppies are made for cutting down on the sun’s glare and the different tints can help see into water of various colors. I normally use SaltLife Optics because the sizes are better fitting to my smaller noggin. Your best bet to find the right pair is to try different pairs on and find one that you can wear comfortably for long periods of time. The color of your lenses will vary depending on the kind of water and conditions you fish in. There are tons and tons of charts and posts online to help you decide on which color you want.
Water depth will also help you figure out where the redfish will be. In colder conditions, redfish like to go for deeper water during the morning, and then move to the flats later in the day as the water warms. Redfish will also sometimes use deeper channels or cuts in the marsh for moving around. I have seen schools of half a dozen to a full dozen reds moving through a small slip in the marsh towards some dead trees. I placed a fly ahead of the school and one of them inhaled it.
When the water is warm, many redfish will be in shallow water, sometimes only a few inches deep, looking for forge. These waters are super hard for flats boats to get to, meaning we kayakers have the advantage. “Duck ponds” as we call these super shallow bodies of water, can sometimes be filled with dozens of redfish, sheepshead, drum, and who knows what else. Redfish will sometimes follow the tide into these waters as it comes up, stick around while the water is at a good depth, then slowly move out as the tide falls.
Keeping all of this in mind, locating redfish can be fairly easy!
Fly Placement and Picky Fish
As I have talked about in previous articles, fly placement can make all the difference in catching a fish, or spooking the whole school that you are chasing. Depending on the weight of the fly and the way it fishes, the distance to cast the fly will vary.
Poppers require a little more room to work a fish to bite. If you place the bulky foam next to a redfish, he is very likely to spook. I usually put the popper about five feet from the redfish, and work the popper with short, mid-tempo strips to move the big in front of the redfish. The key when using a popper is to watch the eat. It will be one of the most beautiful sights you ever see. The red’s huge big head will come out of the water and eat the fly. But the thing to remember is that the redfish’s mouth is under his head, and it may take one or two strikes for the red to eat. You have to wait till there is tension on the line before strip setting, or you can pull the fly away too early.
Flies with a softer landing, such as small shrimp patterns and flies with a slow sink rate, you can cast closer to the fish. The key thing is to remember not to lay the fly on top of the fish’s head, or cast over the redfish’s body: these will ensure the beast spooks, and you will be hard pressed to get the fish to eat afterward (although it can happen). The key is just to make sure the fly is at eye level with the redfish, and to work it within his field of vision. This will get you bit more times than not!
But sometimes this won’t work: fish can be very finicky. Redfish are temperamental: if something is off with the fly, such as unnatural action or a color not matching what they want, they will zoom away from the fly. Hell, there are times when redfish just don’t want to eat. This can be a factor of tide or moon phase. During full moons or nights with a super bright moon, gamefish like redfish and speckled trout like to feed off the moonlight. When the sun comes up, they will have full bellies and likely be lethargic and unwilling to eat. In that case, the only thing to do is wait for them to get hungrier. This happens in my experience around 10-11 am, when the water warms up.
The only way you will know that a redfish isn’t hungry is to cast at ‘em! If they swim passed the fly, spook away from it, or give a disinterested look at it, then you may need to either wait a while for the fish to get hungry, or piss the red off. Poppers are very good for getting angry strikes from any kind of fish. The popping sound (in my opinion) interferes with the fishes sense of hearing, possibly throwing it into sensory overload, and the redfish wants to crush it to silence it.
Either way, if you see a redfish that looks hungry, throw a fly at it; you’ll be glad you did!
My buddy put down the controller after the next boss fight ended within the first ten seconds. We were doing better than some Dark Souls players: the controller hadn’t been thrown, no bottles had been shattered, and the police hadn’t been called for disturbance of the peace.
“Like I said dude, it ain’t as hard as it seems.” I told him as I began my turn at banging my digital head against the wall of two maniac bosses in golden armor. “If we can beat this damn game, we can get you on a redfish!”
He laughed, shaking his head. “You’re right. This weekend, we go and get on some spot tails!” I gave him a high five, grinning. It would be a fun trip for sure, especially because the weather would be conducive for the fly rod: low wind, semi-overcast skies, and a moderate tide.
Already he had turned to check his fly box. Patterns varying from shrimp to crabs to poppers greeted the eye. I could tell he was well prepared. “It’s gonna be great dude, all we gotta do is –“. The controller fell from my hands as I was greeted by another “YOU DIED” screen. “WHY WONT THIS GUY LET ME EVEN RUN INTO THE BATTLE BEFORE BUTT STOMPING ME INTO OBLIVION?!?!”
I might know a thing or two about fly fishing for redfish and sheepshead, but Dark Souls was too much!