by Captain Tim “SGT” Peterson
With the end of the winter season, comes amazing fishing. While the migratory fish may not be in high numbers this time of year, an anglers best bet is to catch Red Snapper and Gag Grouper close to shore. Three to four miles off shore, you can catch as many Red Snapper as you want this time of year (2019 Season TBD). Gag and some Red Grouper are right beneath them if you are on hard bottom. Mangrove Snapper, Cuberera Snapper, White Grunts, Black Sea Bass can all be caught closer to the Islands this time of year. All make excellent table fair. Amberjack can be found on large structures in 50FT+ depths.
Bull Red Fish (Red Drum) can be caught drift fishing the tideline 0-5 miles from the cuts between the Islands. Larger fish use every advantage they can to ambush smaller prey. They will use every trick in the book for ambush points. These tricks are fog, night, shadows, color change in water, wind, weeds, current changes, rain, thermoclines (water temperature changes), drop offs, ledges, humps, and wrecks to conceal their presence. It’s where big boys hide.
Bull Reds travel together while feeding. The water temperature (>65 Degrees) has to be right. Drift fishing is about covering ground. Fish the cuts between the islands as they have a bunch of good drop offs and channels. They also can have a bunch of current ripping through them. These currents are natural funnels for Bull Reds following the tides, and baitfish.
Most people think of fishing the cut as anchoring somewhere. This is not what I am talking about. You need to find the fish around the cut. This could mean being 3 miles out past the cut, or inside of it based on the conditions for that time of day. Use as many of the fish’s tricks listed above to find them.
The more ground you cover, the more fish you will catch drift fishing. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand how to hit a marker button on your GPS if you get strike. You can often go back and get more hits. Play around with your boat speed. The fish can be lazy and want prey at current speed, or just outside of it.
A Carolina rig with a 1/4 to 3/4 oz lead, 20-40lbs braided line, a 40lb swivel, and a 2-3 ft 15-30lbs fluorocarbon leader, with a 1/0 hook is my set up. Many use mono leaders but I won’t hear of it. You can use a 4000 Series sized Penn rod and Reel combo fishing inshore, but I use the 6000 series as these are Bull Redfish. These will almost all be over 26”. Catching a 40 inch redfish drift fishing is not uncommon. Drift with 3 or 4 lines.
Popular baits are large fresh off the boat shrimp, and whole fresh flash frozen squid. They give off the most sent, which is key in low visibility conditions. In the winter you can chum a little while you drift fish with the same bait. Scent, without blood (Sharks) will get the Bull Reds to you. It’s my favorite way to catch Bull Reds, but it can be like trolling. You can catch 4 at once or catch one or two all day if you are not in the right place. When you run into a school of breeders, it will be reel screaming pandemonium. Make your plan before you hit the water to use their ambush points combined with low light conditions of the day for success.
Until next month, practice your Fish Jitsu.
Captain Tim Peterson
Captain ‘SGT’ Peterson’s - “More than just fishing”captsgtpeterson.com