R e d c h a s e r . c o m
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I never would have known that fish was there, much less caught it had I not been able to distinguish the very subtle differences between that redfish's wake, and the wakes of the many mullet that were present. While nothing can teach you the subtleties of spotting fish, or keying in on what they are eating better than time on the water observing them, I'll try to at least make you aware of a few things to watch for.
When I first started fly fishing for redfish in shallow water, I made the false assumption that if anything as big as a redfish were to move in less than a foot of water, it would surely make a big wake and be very apparent whenever it moved. The truth of the matter is that I was amazed when I began to learn just how little disturbance a very big redfish can make, even in the shallowest of waters. Unless a redfish is in a hurry, or actively feeding, they often will produce only the slightest ripple on the surface as they move around. Indeed, now when I don't have the water clarity to spot redfish in the water, I find them by looking for wakes that "act" like a redfish, not necessarily by looking for large wakes. To distinguish subtle wakes and ripples produced by redfish from those created by bait, watch how the disturbance moves. If the wake or ripple is jittery, and darts quickly from one direction to the next, it's not a redfish. If instead you see a small wake or disturbance moving in a very deliberate, almost confident manner, and making wide sweeping turns like a vehicle with a long trailer when it does change directions, it may well be the wake of a redfish. Mullet and shad are at the bottom of the fin-fish food chain, they have reason to move and act in a nervous manner. Redfish on the other hand, have little to fear in the shallow marsh, and act like they own the place. Another distinction between the wake of a redfish, and that of bait is the shape. Mullet tend to produce a wake that is a sharp "V" with a very pointed front end. The wake of a redfish tends to be a bit more rounded up front.
You can often even distinguish between the various species of sizeable fish by the way they move in the water, even when you can't see them. While a good sized sheepshead may produce a wake as big or bigger than a redfish, they too tend to be more skittish and move in a more erratic manner. Often while poling in the marsh, I'll blow out a fish in front of the boat. If the fish runs circles and zigzags as it runs away, it is often a sheepshead. Redfish tend to blow out by kicking it into high gear and making a strait bee line away from you. The mud trail left by a traveling fish can often be a giveaway as to what kind of fish it was as well. If something moves out from in front of your boat, and the mud trail is a fairly closely spaced set of individual mud puffs or boils that travels 20 to 30 feet then settles down, it was probably caused by the up and down motion of a flounders tail that buried himself back in the bottom once he felt he was a safe distance away. If the mud trail left by a fleeing fish looks like 2 parallel and almost unbroken lines of muddied water, it was probably caused by the broad sweeping tail of a redfish.
Often when fishing the marsh, I will encounter conditions when the fish aren't tailing or otherwise showing themselves above water, and due to poor clarity, or wind, visibility into the water is very limited. In these conditions I don't expect to see what really looks like a fish in the water, instead I look for what does show up. The coloration of redfish changes with the clarity of the water they are in. Generally the more clear the water, the brighter red the fish are. Often when I am fishing clear water, but can't see into the water very well because of wind or glare, I just look for color and movement. Often I'll spot what just looks like a little bit of an orange glow on the move, chances are it's a fish. When fishing muddy water, the body of a redfish becomes very hard to see, as their color becomes much more muted, however the tail and pectoral fins of a redfish look almost white in the murky water. Many times the tail of a redfish is the first, or even only thing I'll see below the surface.
Spend time on the water looking for these subtleties, and soon you'll find that you're able to distinguish between bait, fish, and even the different varieties of fish even when they are providing you with only the smallest clue to their identity. Learn this and you will catch many more fish, as redfish don't seem to mind eating, even when visibility is poor.
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