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Fall Redfishing on Tampa Bay

There's good Redfishing somewhere around the Tampa Bay area pretty much 12 months a year, but the average fish gets a lot larger and the schools get a lot easier to find starting in early September and continuing on through October most years. That's the time the adult Redfish that have been prowling off the beaches and around the offshore reefs all summer swarm into the passes and larger bays to spawn.

There's good Redfishing somewhere around the Tampa Bay area pretty much 12 months a year, but the average fish gets a lot larger and the schools get a lot easier to find starting in early September and continuing on through October most years. That's the time the adult Redfish that have been prowling off the beaches and around the offshore reefs all summer swarm into the passes and larger bays to spawn.

The fish can be found anywhere from the passes themselves to several miles up inside the bay on the artificial reefs and ship channel spoil banks. Biologists report the movement is strongest around the new and full moon periods, but once the migration starts, there are always schools of the jumbos somewhere on the inside.

These are all fish over the maximum 27-inch size limit, so if you're looking for Redfish fillets or tournament-legal Reds, look elsewhere. Average length is 30 inches and up, with many in the 10- to 15-pound class, and many more, particularly those found in deeper water, over 20 pounds.

The fish tend to run the outside edge of the flats nearest the passes. This is the zone where the knee-deep water drops away fairly quickly to three to five feet and then on down to 20 feet and more. Shoals jutting up out of deeper water, like the spoil banks at Port Manatee and those south of the main ship channel into Tampa Bay proper, are frequently a good bet. The waters around Fort DeSoto are famed for fall Reds, as are those at the Clam Bar, Bulkhead, and Pinellas Point areas. Range markers, wrecks, and artificial reefs often hold fish, as well; anything that might concentrate some bait.

Many times the fish will reveal themselves by pushing a hump of water along the outside edge of the bar that stands between the flats and deeper water in many parts of the bay. You may also see them chasing Mullet, blowing big holes in the water as they go. And it's occasionally possible to see the red wave when a large school comes cruising close; the sun reflecting off a mass of these guys literally turns the water red.

The usual big-fish, big-bait reasoning applies; a live four to five-inch pinfish or a large scaled sardine is the can't miss bait, and the Reds will find them if you put them anywhere in the right zip code.

When the fish are schooled tightly and have not been pressured, they also readily take just about any artificial you can get in front of them. Noisy topwaters are the most fun; the sight of a 20-pound Red running one of these things down is not to be forgotten.

Spoons, jigs, soft-plastic jerkbaits, and swimbaits are also effective, as are many of the DOA soft-plastics, including shrimp and crab imitations. The Berkley Gulp crab also does the job due to the strong scent it puts out, and can be useful anytime the fish are a bit reluctant to take conventional lures.

Jerkbaits are among the many artificials that will fool big Reds when they're prowling the edge of the flats in October. (photo by Frank Sargeant)

With all treble hook lures, be sure to flatten the barbs for easy de-hooking, and have a long-nosed hook remover handy. Remember, all these guys have to be released. Their primary purpose at coming inshore is to spawn and create the next generation of Reds that will be swimming in our estuaries for the next four years, so we want to make sure that they all survive to do their thing.



The Online Fisherman

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