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Presenting a Fly to Redfish

Updated: Mar 14

There's a lot to process quickly if you want to improve your game on the bow of a skiff. Catching redfish with a fly rod puts you in a lot of different scenarios that end with hopefully catching a redfish. It's important to understand and process these things and sometimes understand them quickly in order to effectively feed the fish. Seeing a fish for even half a second can tell you a lot about where the fly needs to be. It's important to understand that these observations will only help you catch fish. Sometimes fish just show up at the boat. Sometimes you'll get them wrong. When in doubt - make the fish see the stinking fly. Most of the time it's that simple. Here's what you should see before you present a fly to a redfish.


The first thing to examine before presenting a fly to a redfish. What is the fish doing? 

You're going to get a shot on a fish doing one of four things. 

1.     Cruising 

Redfish have tails. They swim. 99% of the time they either swimming to find something to eat or to avoid predators (For the sake of our sight fishing efforts we’ll ignore spawning habits). Cruising fish will readily take a well presented fly. Understanding how quickly the fish is cruising and what its aim may be when you see him can greatly improve your odds of feeding it a fly. Longer leads are required for fish cruising at a high speed or fish that are cruising clean, calm water. If the fish is meandering slowly with its head down of is in dirty water you can be more aggressive with your presentation. When in doubt – show the fish the stinking fly.

2.     Tailing

Tailing fish are actively feeding. It’s also cool to watch. So it’s easy to see why we are so enamored with them. Tailing fish are usually doing one of two things. Sometimes they will tail in a tight area or even one single spot for minutes on end. Sometimes they will tip down to eat something, tail briefly, and then cruise to look for more prey. In both cases tailing fish are awesome because they tell you where they are from a long way away. You often need to get the fly fairly close to a tailer to get them to feel or see the fly. Consider where they are tailing to educate your approach. Tailers in thick grass or tailing hard in a single spot need the fly dropped as closely as possible to their nose. Tailers that are cruising in between will feel a fly from farther away. Give them a lead in the direction they are facing and let them float into the fly.

3.     Laid up

Laid up fish are fish that are laying still and can be the toughest to feed with a fly. However sometimes they will feed readily on a fly. If they are sitting nose into the current a cast with a slight lead up current and swing the fly away from the fish. If they are sitting and resting somewhere where the current is relatively week they can be difficult. I like to lead the fish 3-4 feet with a fly that will make a decent plop on the surface. This will sometimes wake the fish up and they’ll come investigate. Sometimes the fish will move very slowly to the fly so be patient and give it a few seconds with the fly sitting still to see what happens. If the fish does nothing, bump the fly to see if they feel it. If you still get no reaction, slowly pull the fly away and cast aggressively to the fish in a spook it or feed it type of presentation. When in doubt – show the fish the stinking fly.

4.     Schooled Up

Schooling fish are a lot of fun to watch but can sometimes be very difficult to fish to. 80 redfish in a pocket lounging around sounds great until you realize that there are 160 lateral lines and eyeballs that you need to fool in order to catch one redfish. If you can spot a school from a good ways off it is best to hang back and watch what they are doing for a few minutes. Schools will often move around in a small area but concentrate in a single spot. If you can target individual fish moving to and from that spot you’ll be much more effective than heaving a bait into the school. I’ll even sometimes spook the fish on purpose to move them and target them as they arrive back at the original spot. If the school is staying tight, try to work the edges of it and target fish that are moving along the most workable edge of the school. These fish will often be milling around some and you can treat them as a cruising fish with some extra special care.

The Second thing to know before presenting a fly to a redfish. What kind of habitat is fish in? 

1.     Over mud or sand

Mud and sand often mean there is less stuff to distract the fish or keep the fish from seeing your fly. Long leads and soft presentations are favorable to more aggressive ones in this environment. Tailers will often cruise along the flat in between tailing so don’t look for them in the same area over and over. Fish will often use mud flats to lay up on and digest food they have eaten. You can use this knowledge to find fish concentrated on mud when they might need to warm up or relax.

2.     In thick grass

Thick grass will keep a fish in one spot for a long time but it can also keep the fish from seeing your fly. Occasionally, you can find a pothole of areas with shorter grass mixed into these thick grass flats. If it’s possible, try to target fish in these areas by staking out over them. The fish will make their way across them eventually and it’ll be much easier to get them to see your fly. If they won’t move away from the thick stuff, use a fly that pushes a lot of water that the fish can feel with their lateral line. This will increase your chances of a bite.

3.     Mixed Bottom

It is very important with areas of mixed bottom to notice how the fish are using it. For instance, they may be tailing on the flat but only over the grassy portions of it. Or they may be milling around on the edges of sandy potholes waiting for baitfish to flush out of the grass. Take your time looking for bait, and breaking down exactly what you see the redfish doing to take advantage of your next opportunity. You’ll often see different fish engaging in different activities. So process what you are looking at to take the best shot.

4.     Off a hard edge

Low tides in the winter can concentrate fish and even push them off the flats altogether. In these super low water conditions working the edges of the flat can earn you a shot. Fish will congregate on the edges of the flat waiting for water to come in. They’ll school up in deeper areas off the edge and also tail and cruise down the edge. The schools will not usually make it to the shallowest portions of the edge but the single fish will. Look for head wakes and pushes on the deeper side of the edge and tailers and cruisers on the shallower side.

These two pieces of the puzzle in combination are generally going to give you enough information to make an informed decision on where the fly needs to go. All of these areas will hold fish over the course of any given day. Understanding as much as you can about what the fish is doing and where it is located will lead to more successfully fed fish. Never forget, when in doubt - show the fish the fly! 


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