Now that we have slowed down the approach, let’s focus on slowing you down. Mainly, let’s discuss your cast and your retrieve. If you are fishing live bait, leave the popping cork at the house and free line rig your bait with only a split shot of weight that will help you get some extra yards casting towards your target. If you are fishing artificials, take your baits a size down. I like the Zman baits because they have a great lineup of small profile baits that hold scent which is critical this time of year. My go-to winter baits are the finesse Ned rigs, streakZ 3.75” and the hula sticks. Decrease the weight of your jighead or weighted hook considerably to avoid the signature it will make when it hits the water, but do not do so that it sacrifices either the action of the bait or the inability for your bait to get to the desired depth where the fish are located. If you can get your cast there weightless then all the better. Also, some solid 8-10lb braid will help you cover some distance without sacrificing your position. If you aren’t fishing around docks or heavy structures, don’t be afraid to lighten your braid. Another great way to increase your casting distance is to go a little longer on the rod. St. Croix rods just unleashed a number of longer rods in their new Mojo Inshore series which range from 6’6” to 7’11”.
Let’s imagine you have found a school of reds laid up along a grass bank, you made a stealthy approach and positioned yourself up for success now let’s talk about how we properly present our bait to them to close this deal. If you are fishing live bait and you have current, you would want to cast above the school and lift your rod tip slowly to lift the bait off of the bottom to drift naturally in the direction the fish are facing. However, cease this when your bait is a few feet in front of the school, subtle movements matter from here on in and the water is clear enough for that fish to see your bait and attack it a few feet out. Patience is key here because you have to let the fish hunt, don’t try to force-feed the fish or you’ll likely get the cold shoulder as he and the school turn from it leaving you stumped asking your fishing mate why a redfish wouldn’t eat shrimp. However, if this happens just leave the bait and put your rod in the rod holder and wait, you’ll thank me later.
If you are fishing artificial a lot of the same principles still apply, you just have to slow down even more. However, learn to cup the spool on your casts to avoid creating a large signature on the water as your bait makes contact. Cast well above your target and work your bait toward the school using only small movements of the rod between 1-3” of the rod tip coupled with a very slow to stop retrieve allowing your bait to rest on the bottom which allows the fish to hunt your bait. Essentially, the slower the redfish are moving, the slower you should move. However, if it is midday where the sun has heated the water a few degrees and you have movement in the water feel free to speed up your patterns a little bit targeting the edges of the school. If you identify that the school is aggressively feeding then you can be a little bit more aggressive. Lastly, don’t forget the Procure or grab some already scented Zman baits and save yourself a step.
Also, there are different schools of thought on whether you need to use a fluorocarbon leader versus a mono leader. I recommend you spend the extra ten bucks and purchase some quality fluorocarbon leader. This time of year the water is crystal clear and it’s not the time to gamble. I fish the 15-20lb Seaguar Blue Label for these months because it’s not heavy where it affects the action of the baits and is nimble enough to get some solid knot strength.
Winter redfish techniques really boil down to slowing down, being quiet and being patient because a stubborn school of redfish that has stalemated you for an hour can change in a heartbeat and turn into an epic day on the water if you stay disciplined to the craft.