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Fly Fishing For Redfish: 5 Tips For Catching Reds on The Fly

Fly fishing for redfish is a real experience to say the least!

Redfish are the perfect species to pursue with a fly rod. They offer great sight fishing opportunities, they eagerly hit flies, and their powerful bodies send electric waves from tippet to reel.

If you're up for the challenge of catching reds on the fly, these five tips for catching redfish will help you bring more redfish to the boat next time you're on the water.

Here's a cool video of some guys in my own back yard catching some nice reds on fly fishing gear.

5 Tips For Fly Fishing For Redfish

1. Use the Right Tools for the Job

If you're new to the sport of saltwater fly fishing and are building your tackle arsenal from scratch, save yourself a whole lot of headache and get a versatile saltwater setup.

This setup is perfect for catching redfish, along with any other salty creatures you might encounter in the marshes and back bays.

  • 9-foot tip flex rod, either an 8- or 9-weight.

  • Saltwater-specific reel in a size that matches the rod

  • 175 yards 20 lb dacron backing

  • Weight-forward floating line

  • 7.5 or 9 foot tapered knotless leader, mono or fluorocarbon, 20 lb test

For 90% of the scenarios you'll encounter while fly fishing for redfish, an 8-weight rod is perfect. It's heavy enough to throw large flies, has plenty of backbone to fight a powerful redfish, and is light enough that you can cast it all day long.

However, for the other 10% of the time, particularly on windy days, you may need the extra oomph of a 9-weight. A 9-weight rod is also helpful if you fish areas where the opportunity arises to cast to larger fish like jack crevalle or even tarpon.

You can handle such large by-catch on an 8-weight, it's just more enjoyable on a 9-weight. Regardless, you definitely don't want to use anything lighter than an 8-weight fly rod for redfish.

The reel you choose should be saltwater-proof, have a strong, smooth drag, a stiff frame, a large arbor, and plenty of room for an extra 175 yards of backing.

A weight-forward floating line with an aggressive forward-taper will cover nearly 95% of your redfishing. Several manufacturers make redfish-specific saltwater fly lines that are marvelous. You may want to have an intermediate sinking line on hand if you know you'll be fishing turbid water.

Redfishing is largely a shallow water game, so there are only a few times when you need a full-sinking line for redfish. But if you find fish holding in deep channels, a full sinking line may save the day.

Short, quick leaders are key for redfish. You'll often need to make quick, accurate casts, and a shorter, stouter leader helps you turn over large flies on a dime. 7.5-foot leaders are perfect for redfish, but 9-foot leaders work well too; experiment and see what you prefer.

Monofilament works great for redfish, but if you fish over lots of oyster beds, reefs, or other abrasive structure, you may need the added abrasion resistance of fluorocarbon.

2. When in Doubt, Fish Down

If you examine the facial structure of a redfish, you'll see that the fish's mouth is naturally oriented in a downward position. Redfish spend most of their time eating crabs and other forage off the bottom. So, to present your fly in a way that a redfish will find it and eat it, fish it down.

To fish down in the water column along the bottom, you'll need to use a sinking fly. Flies weighted with dumbbell eyes are ideal, and there are tons of redfish patterns to try out.

Try a Fool's Gold for a basic-but-effective crab imitation, or an Electric Chicken to imitate something wiggly that a redfish might want to eat.

For a some more ideas, check out this awesome list of flies for redfish!

If you see redfish actively hitting the surface chasing mullet or other baitfish, by all means, switch to a floating or subsurface fly pattern. But, if you're not sure what exactly the redfish are feeding on, go with a sinking fly until further notice.

3. Hunt Cruisers

Often times, fly fishing for redfish feels more like hunting than it does fishing. You have to use your eyes to find the fish before you can make the cast. There are many visual cues that tell you where redfish are, but one of the most exciting is when you find cruisers.

When redfish are in full-on feed mode, they will cruise along grass lines in shallow water, eating anything that crosses their path. When you find either a single fish or a pod of three or four fish, as long as you don't mess up the cast, you've struck gold.

When you're polling around looking for fish, scan the shorelines looking for wakes, bubbles, or nervous water. When you spot a cruising redfish, cast your fly about 10 to 15 feet ahead of where it's going and let your fly sink to the bottom.

When the fish gets within 4 or 5 feet of your fly, start your retrieve using small, jerky strips. If all goes well, the redfish will notice the movement and pounce. Fish on!

If a cruiser passes up your fly, don't fret. Keep track of the fish and get in position to make another attempt. You might cast to a fish three or four times before you get a take.

4. Fish Big Flies

Redfish can be spooked, but they aren't scared of large food items. In fact, if you've found an area that's rich with forage, a big, gaudy fly might be the ticket to get the attention of a redfish that's happily feeding on real food.

Use flies tied on wide-gap, size 4/0 hooks. Patterns that incorporate long flowing tails, such as the Kinky Muddler, can work wonders. Also, redfish have a certain fondness for the color gold... use lot's of it.

5. Keep Your Rod Tip Down

Using a strip set is critical when setting the hook on a redfish. If you miss the strike while using a standard trout set — raising the rod tip to set the hook — the fly will shoot out of the water, blowing any second chance you had with that fish.

If you're crossing over into saltwater fly fishing as a trout angler, it's going to take some focused effort and discipline to break the habit of the trout set. But it's something you must do if you want to catch more redfish.

Here's a little trick that might help:

Keep your rod tip not only down, but dipped in the water.

After you cast your fly, immediately sink your rod tip into the water 3 or 4 inches and keep it there. This does two things: while retrieving your fly, it keeps your fly pulling through the water on a more level plane for a more realistic presentation; and, when you go to set the hook, that extra bit of resistance from the water will serve as a reminder to keep your rod tip down and do a solid strip set.

Once you've connected with the fish using a firm strip to set the hook, feel free to give it another jab or two or three to drive the hook home. Don't be afraid to put some muscle into it.

Final Thoughts

If you incorporate these five tips for catching redfish into your fly fishing regiment, you'll be well on your way to landing a trophy red. As with any fly fishing pursuit, becoming proficient at fly fishing for redfish takes lots of time on the water, a willingness to try new things, and lot's of celebration when you finally land a big one.

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