Seeing reds

  • Caleb Goyette is all smiles after catching this big Amelia Island redfish. TERRY LACOSS/SPECIAL
    Caleb Goyette is all smiles after catching this big Amelia Island redfish. TERRY LACOSS/SPECIAL
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Seeing redfish has been a bit of a challenge recently for longtime fishing buddies Kent Poteat and Russ Heller. Granted, fishing goes in cycles, and redfishing is excellent for a period of time because of a successful spawn, abundant supply of forage foods, moon phases, water quality and, most importantly, less fishing pressure.

“Russ and I have been having a tough time locating redfish during the past few weeks,” Poteat said. “We have been concentrating on the outgoing and low tide periods, when redfish school in shallow sloughs, making them an easy target for our flats boat and fly fishing gear.

“I would like to blame it on a variety of fishing conditions, but at this point, I believe our Northeast Florida redfish are being over-fished. There are a lot of fishermen now who are targeting redfish because they are hard fighting and excellent eating too.

“I would like to see the current Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission put the redfish limit back to one redfish per day while keeping the slot limit at 18-27 inches.”

Poteat and Heller are not the only fishermen complaining about the current FWC limits for redfish. A large school of redfish can be easily depleted when overfished, especially if there are four fishermen in the boat taking home their two redfish limit. That’s eight redfish.

“I love to sneak up on a big school of Mosquito Lagoon redfish,”Gary Jennings said. “However, during the past several months, the big schools of redfish have been simply nonexistent. In fact, this has been going on for a couple of years now.

“I am good with the one redfish per day limit. One big redfish is plenty of fish for me to eat. However, in most cases, redfish are so fun to catch, I will let them go so other fishermen can enjoy catching redfish as well.”

Jennings is the director of Keep Florida Fishing and on the board for the American Sportfishing Association. If you have input, write to Jennings at 6514 Sawyer Shores Lane, Windermere, FL 34786.

When I first encountered Amelia Island redfish, I would simply anchor my bass boat alongside a long oyster bar. Back then, the power pole was yet to be invented, and I had to wait for a large school of redfish to forage their way to my waiting redfish lure.

Today, we have to fish deep under docks, where redfish are hiding from our fishermen.

Many backwater fishermen, including me, would rather see a large school of redfish pushing its way on a shallow flat to within casting distance of a fly, lure or bait. Seeing 20-50 redfish churning the shallows or making wakes has to be a Top 10 in the world of shallow water fishing.

With the growing popularity of redfishing, our economy has benefitted as well. Fishermen are traveling to popular redfish destinations, staying in hotels, hiring fishing guides, eating at restaurants, buying redfish gear and bait at local tackle shops, buying gas and, in many cases, purchasing a shallow water fishing boat that is rigged especially for catching redfish.  

Several fishing tournaments have also customized their format around the ever-popular redfish. The Inshore Fishing Association Redfish Tour holds tournaments throughput the Southeast and along the Gulf, including Texas.

And in recent years, the popular fishing manufacturer Power Pole has also been holding redfish tournaments; the Greater Jacksonville Kingfish Tournament holds a one-day redfish tournament prior to the kingfish competition; and Amelia Island hosts an annual spot tournament.  

Purchasing a fishing license helps fund the FWC, boat ramps and parks, stock fish and, most importantly, patrol our waters for illegal fishing activity.

Managing the stocks of Florida redfish has been a challenge from commercial netting, which ended during 1989, when Florida approved redfish for game fish status, taking them off the meat shelves.

Karl Wickstrom of Florida Sportsman Magazine spoke before the Florida Cabinet on behalf of bringing game fish status for redfish. Crowds of people filled the building and flowed out to the streets, where they listened from a speaker system.

A long-term cabinet member aide said the redfish turnout was the largest crowd to ever appear before the top officials. Five years later, the net ban was approved, saving many thousands of redfish that were netted by accident.

With the growing popularity of redfishing, fishermen and our governing bodies need to stay on top of what is really happening out on the redfish flats.

For current redfish regulations, go to www.myfwc.com.