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Fishing for the future

What a brutal winter the majority of us have experienced. I believe that the weather should be on the steady warm up for the remainder of winter into spring for the Southeast US. With this come some amazing fishing opportunities for the saltwater marshes ranging from North Florida through the Carolinas. Our water temperature is presently 53° after a low of 45° this winter. A little further north the salt water temperatures got into the high 30's which was enough to kill many different species of fish. Luckily this has happened before and with good conservational efforts by all of us anglers the fish will rebound and in many cases come back in greater numbers than before the freeze.

Now onto the styles and techniques used to catch redfish and spotted Seatrout as the warming trend starts:

While the water is still in the 50's or below the fish will be somewhat lethargic. When the air temperature is in the 70's though the fish will pep up and feed aggressively for an hour or two. When the fish are a little bit slower and I am in a water depth of over 2 feet I like to use the Z-Man MinnowZ. The color and weight of the jig head are switched depending on the depth of water and species of fish targeted.

For redfish in 2-5 feet of water I prefer an 1/8 ounce Trout Eye Jighead with pearl or red eyes. I prefer either the deal or the gold rush colors. I will throw close to the oysters and try to stay somewhat parallel to the drop off and do an extremely slow retrieve. Just fast enough to feel it occasionally making contact with the bottom. The thump of the tail will usually trigger a bite. Be ready for it because if you pause on the Hookset they will spit it out. I prefer to use 10 pound Spider Wire Invisabraid with 15 pound Seguar flouracarbon leader. Once the water warms up to the 60's or higher I switch to a 20 pound leader. Also, as the water warms I will speed up my retrieve.

For site fishing redfish in less than 2 feet of water I use the same set up year round. I love the 3 inch Scented ShrimpZ in the fried chicken color fished on a weedless 1/16 ounce weighted KVD grip pin hook. I actually cut off the chartreuse end of the tail and rig it backwards. This does a few things. First and most importantly it lets me cast it a mile. There's no wind resistance from the flap of the tail and it will cast in a direct line.

This will also let me bump it without changing my line due to the tail catching the water. I will have my clients throw a few feet in front of the red fish school. The further past the fish you throw it the less chance that you will spook the fish. Also, if you're off your target line you can use the 7'6" rod to help retrieve your cast in the direction towards the redfish by putting the rod to one side or the other. Ideally you want your Scented ShrimpZ to be about a foot in front of the redfish line. When he gets about a foot away you want to do a very light bump.

Around an inch or two. As the redfish eats your bait you want to give it a decent hook set. You will not feel the fish eat your bait since you are in shallow water. You will see them flare their gills as they suck in the ShrimpZ. This is when you want to set the hook and hold on. A redfish eat in shallow water will already have your adrenaline pumping and the initial run will amplify that.

Now on to the spotted Seatrout:

In our area there are numerous trout to be caught this time of year. Some days we get 50+ trout on a four-hour charter. Most range from 10 to 16 inches but we've already seen a few over 25 inches this year. The majority of the bigger ones, up to 30+ inches, start showing up when the water temperature starts reaching the mid to upper 60s. I prefer to target these fish in the 3 to 15 foot range. I throw an 1/8 ounce or quarter ounce pearl Trout Eye Jighead depending on the depth. My go to color is a MinnowZ in the purple/chartreuse tail color. A lot of different colors will work as long as it has a chartreuse tail. I prefer to throw it as far as I can and let it sink to the bottom. I then do what I call a double hop retrieve. I will let it sink to the bottom and do two big foot plus hops with the rod tip and then let it sink back down. Then I'll retrieve the slack line very fast. They will usually hit it on the drop and you will feel the thump on the braided line and have to be extremely fast on the hit to get the hookset. Trout use their two large canine teeth to kill their prey before they eat it. Once they realize that it was not an actual bait they will spit it out. If you miss the hit continue with the retrieve. It is not uncommon to have multiple hits on a single retrieve. I had a client last week catch 18 trout in 18 casts!

An important thing to remember right now is that this was an extremely cold winter in our region. There were numerous fish kills due to the cold especially in North and South Carolina. Please handle the fish extremely cautious and try to release them unharmed. Trout are a very delicate fish to begin with. Make sure your hands are wet and try not to use a landing net if possible. I try to release them boat side. I do enjoy eating fish and think it is a much better option then buying meat or seafood from a market. But on years like this where so many fish were killed you have to weigh your options. If you keep trout and redfish now while they are trying to restock their numbers, there might not be any left to catch in the years to come. We did not have any fish kills in our area this year, but I always try to get my clients to understand the conservation efforts of it all. Try to only take one fish to eat fresh like a sheephead or black drum this time of year since they're more cold tolerant. This'll ensure future generations will have ample opportunity to be successful on the water.

Until next time, get out on the water.

James Dumas
Drum Man Charters
St. Augustine, FL

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