Redfish- Presenting the Fly

Redfish on the FlyThis is an excerpt from the book, Redfish on the Fly, by Capt. John Kumiski

Redfish- Presenting the Fly

It was a redfish fisher’s dream, a school of at least 500 fish, swimming fast, up on top, crashing bait all around us, one of the finest sights in all of angling, and one that one doesn’t see very often in the Mosquito Lagoon. Rob Ricks was trembling with excitement. He had caught exactly one redfish on fly in his life, and badly wanted another. It was practically certain that the deed would now be done.

“Cast out in front of them, and just make it look alive,” I told him. Rob was a weak caster. When he got the fly in the water, not very far away, there was so much slack in the line that the cast was useless.

“Try it again,” I said. “Lead them, put it where they’re going and let them swim into it.” Rob tried again with the same result. And again, and again, and again. Finally the fish disappeared. We’d caught exactly none.

The moral to this story? Your casting must be second nature in order to take advantage of opportunities, especially once in a lifetime opportunities like this one was. But it’s a great segue into this section’s premise- after locating the fish, how you present the fly to them is the single most important variable in getting one to bite, much more important than what’s at the end of your leader.

The Strike Zone
When I was younger and just getting into saltwater fly fishing, I was fortunate to get a copy of the finest instructional fishing video ever made, the late Billy Pate’s Fly Fishing for Tarpon (which I recommend highly). In this video Billy explains the concept of strike zones as it relates to tarpon fishing. We’re going to revisit this concept and then relate it to presenting the fly to redfish- cruising fish, laid-up fish, and tailers.

The strike zone is an area around the fish where, if the fly is properly presented, you have a reasonable chance that the fish will take it. This area is roughly shaped like a half a football, extending with the wide part at the mouth of the fish to the apex out in front of it. Since their mouths point down, redfish prefer to feed down, but they show little hesitation in coming up for a fly unless they are heavily fished or have been disturbed by boat traffic.

Understand that the strike zone changes in size constantly though, going from non-existent to huge and back again, and occasionally even goes behind the fish. Over the years I’ve seen a few fish do about faces to take a fly. It’s rare, but it does happen. Our assumption here is that in order to get a bite, the fly must be in the strike zone.

Hopefully it’s obvious that the longer the fly is in that strike zone, the more likely the fish is to take it. This brings us to presentation angles.

Presentation Angles for Cruising Fish

You could be positioned in front of the fish, with him swimming directly at you. You could be behind the fish, with him swimming directly away from you. You might be off to the side of the path of the fish, with your cast at a right angle to his line of movement. Or you might be somewhere in between one of these three locations. Where is the sweetest place to be?

The longer you can keep the fly in the strike zone, the more likely you are to get a bite. The place from which you can keep the fly in the strike zone for the longest amount of time is directly in the path of the fish, with him coming right at you. You can adjust the speed of your retrieve to keep the fly a foot in front of him, or, if it’s a school, in front of a lot of them. This is by far your best chance.

As you get closer to being at a right angle to the path of the fish the sweetness of the angle declines, since the fly of necessity is in the strike zone for a shorter amount of time. A cruising redfish can move fairly quickly, so at a 90 degree angle your fly might be in front of the fish only a second or two.

In most areas it’s a mistake to cast past the fish and bring the fly to it. Redfish are not used to being attacked by their prey, and unless you’ve watched it happen you’d be astonished at just how spooked a group of reds can be by a two inch long fly. If your cast is too long it’s best to wait for the fish to pass and then try again. However, where the fish aren’t pressured that doesn’t seem to matter. When I fished in Louisiana with Danny Ayo he told me, “As long as you get the fly within six inches of the fish’s head he’ll hit it. The angle it’s moving at doesn’t matter.” I had trouble believing this based on my experiences in Florida, but of course he was exactly right.

As the fish gets past you you’re casting from behind it. You have almost no chance to get a bite. They see the line and leader land, and the fly is coming at them. This is a desperation tactic and only serves to booger up the fish. It’s much better to use the time to collect yourself for the next shot, or to try to get back out in front of them.

Working the Fly
I had a gentleman from Atlanta on a charter in a canoe one time. He’d never caught a redfish and wanted one on fly, so I had taken him into the no motor zone of the Banana River Lagoon. We didn’t find a fish for a couple of hours, which was enough time for me to learn he couldn’t cast very well.

When we found the fish there was a wad of them, and they were huge. I didn’t think they would let us get close enough for him to reach them without spooking them, so I backed off of them. We got out to wade to them. As we were getting closer to them I realized they were moving towards us.

“Cast, now,” I said. “I can’t reach them,” he responded. “I know that, just cast!”

He made a 35 foot cast that was 35 feet short. “Don’t move that fly until I tell you to,” I said. We waited, not breathing, as the fish got closer. Finally they were clearly over the fly. “Just twitch it, now.” He gave the fly two small hops and the line came tight. The resulting battle was epic, and he caught that fish, a monster red pushing 40 pounds, while wading in less than two feet of water.

When casting to cruising reds you want to lead them. In most places if you hit them on the head they respond in a very negative fashion. Leading them is a must. When you lead a cruising red (or a group of cruising reds) by several feet, the most important thing you can do at first is nothing. Wait until they are close to your fly before you move it.

At that point, all you need to do is make the fly look alive. A slight twitch is all it takes. Giant pulls, long, fast strips, all of that only serves to spook them. Redfish live easy most of the time. They usually don’t need to feed aggressively. If you strip fast they will usually disappoint you by ignoring your offering. Your goal is to make it as easy as possible for that fish to take your fly. Just make it look alive.

Sometimes the fish will follow your fly, as if trying to make up their mind. If it’s a surface fly or an unweighted fly just keep stripping. If you stop they almost always turn off. Frequently though, they’ll follow the fly to boat and then see you, and then it’s all over. If it’s a weighted fly, stop stripping and let it dive to the bottom. Sometimes the dive triggers the strike. If not, give it a short, sharp hop. If that doesn’t work you probably need to find a different fish. No, you certainly can’t catch them all.

Sometimes you just know the cast and presentation should work, but it doesn’t. I would give a fly maybe two chances like that, and then it’s time to change flies. Usually when I change, it’s to something smaller and darker. The only exception to that is when you have big fish chasing big baits and they’re ignoring your little # 2 fly. Then it’s time to take that half chicken looking thing on the 3/0 hook out of the box and heave it out there, and see what they say.

Presentations for Laid Up Fish
Laid up fish are the hardest redfish to catch. Ordinarily they’re not feeding or they wouldn’t be just lying on the bottom. I think that when they’re cruising or tailing, they’re paying attention to their immediate surroundings, ignoring everything that’s happening farther away. They don’t see you coming, so they’re relatively easy to catch.

When they’re just lying there they’re looking for trouble. They see you coming, and a lot of times when you make your cast they leave before the fly even gets there.

The only way I have success with these fish is to wade into casting position, and then use an unweighted fly that kisses the water when it lands, coming down like a #18 Adams. If you’re fishing a place with a soft mud bottom wading is impossible, and there’s a good chance these fish will be impossible, too.

There’s an old guide saying, “Never leave fish to find fish.” Ordinarily this is a great adage. But sometimes you have to come to a realization that there are some fish that just aren’t going to eat. Laid up fish are often like that. Then all you can do is try to find some fish that are more active.

Presentation to Tailers

Tailers can be so easy. Tailers can be so aggravating. There are tailers, and then there are tailers.

Sometimes just the very tip of their tail is exposed. Sometimes they literally do headstands, falling over backwards at the finish. I greatly prefer the former. Headstands are a one shot deal and after they fall over you’ll never see those fish again. I think they must scare themselves when they do that. But it sure is funny seeing a headstanding redfish with half its body out of the water!

Ordinarily reds are tailing in grass of some kind, so a weedless fly is mandatory. Frequently their attention is focused within a few inches of their head, so the fly must be right in their face. Much of the time they’re trying to dig crabs out of the mud, so a crab pattern, or something that vaguely imitates a crab, is often a good choice. That having been said, I know guides who like minnow patterns like Puglisi’s flies for tailing reds, and others who like popping bugs.

Tailers are obviously eating and so they should be easy, and most of the time they are. But sometimes they ignore everything you throw at them. For example, Warren Hinrichs and I were fishing one day and found some tailers. Warren, one of the finest fly casters I know, was using a white Seaducer. I was using a Son of Clouser, a small (#4) brown pattern.

Warren cast to, and spooked, all the fish near him, then took progressively longer casts to more distant fish. He never got a strike. I worked on nearby fish, waiting patiently until I knew exactly where they were and then putting the fly right in their face. I got four strikes and caught two fish.

I took one of those fish home, and when I checked its stomach it was full of small brown marine worms. By dumb luck I had picked a fly that matched what the fish were eating. Redfish don’t usually feed selectively but they were doing so this time. My fly “matched the hatch,” and Warren’s didn’t. Thus I had success while he was frustrated.

Tailing is another situation where you want to strip as slowly as you can and still keep contact with the fly. When you get it in their face, leave it there as long as you can!

Just make it look alive. More casts mean more chances to spook the fish.

Final Thoughts
Understandably, fishermen get excited when they see redfish, whether it’s a single fish or a school of hundreds. When the time comes to make the cast, everything about it needs to be second nature. This is no place to be trying to perfect your double haul. Things happen fast, and you need to be able to respond to opportunities quickly.

You need to be patient when that fish is there, too. One good cast is worth dozens of bad ones. Wait until you have a good angle and be sure you can make the cast before you let it fly.

In general, redfish don’t feed aggressively. There are exceptions to this, but ordinarily if you want a bite you have to make it as easy as possible for them to eat. Get the fly in their face, and keep it there as long as you can. As soon as it’s out of the strike zone, pick it up and put it back in there. If you do these things you will have success. If you expect the fish to go out of its way to take your fly you’ll usually be disappointed.

The single key to fly presentation is, make it easy for them to eat!

Redfish- Presenting the Fly, is an excerpt from Redfish on the Fly- A Comprehensive Guide by Capt. John Kumiski

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Copyright © John A. Kumiski 2013. It is illegal to reproduce or distribute this work in any manner or medium without written permission from the author, John A. Kumiski, 284 Clearview Road, Chuluota, FL 32766 (407) 977-5207.

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