The end of summer means a lot of things on the Northwest Coast of Florida. Crowds of summer visitors thin out, birds migrate here from the cold North, and a special kind of fishing gets really, really good.
The schools of big redfish start to form up right off the beaches in fall, and they continue to be on the beaches all winter. By May each spring, the big schools break up and the big reds go deep in the Gulf or up in the bays for the summer. They just spread out.
For anglers, sightfishing in the fall and winter means that they will be working water that is as clear as it ever gets—optimum conditions for the seeing the fish. Also, in winter when those sharp cold fronts bring strong north winds, the immediate areas just off the beaches are often totally flat—no surf, no wind chop, just super clear water with a glass-like surface. These conditions are perfect for sightfishing redfish.
Reading the Beach
When it comes to locating the schools of big reds—these redfish commonly weigh 20 pounds and sometimes much more—it helps to cut down on the chase territory. After all, there are many miles of beaches in Northwest Florida, and the reds might be at any point along the beach.
Find the big reds off a Panhandle beach, and you’ll have your hands full.
It is necessary to understand the general “lay of the land” when it comes to searching for redfish. In Northwest Florida, most beaches have two sandbars which lie out from the surf zone. The first bar is fairly close to the dry sand—usually no more than 20 yards out. A trough of deeper water may stretch for a hundred yards or so, and then there is a second, deeper bar. Both the bars and the trough are usually easy to see in the bright winter light. The trough will usually be a darker color of green which indicates
the deeper water. This trough is where the big schools of redfish will usually be found.
When it comes to the seeing part of this kind of fishing, it helps to know what to look for. If the school of reds is a tight school—really packed close together, it will look like a dark blob, a shadow on the bottom. However, this shadow will be moving. If the reds are up on the first bar as they sometimes are when chasing prey, individual fish can be seen clearly in the transparent water.
Good places to start a bull redfish sightfishing trip are just east or west of the major passes here—Destin Pass and Pensacola Pass. The big reds will often be within a quarter mile of the passes. They like to hang out in somewhat deeper pools. Look for pinch-points on the beach. These bars, which form at various locations along the beach, create deeper water on one side of the point, and these can be very good places to find the reds schooled up.
When you find the bull reds in a certain spot, they’ll often be found again even on other days very close to that same spot. Some places on the beach just seem to always have schools of reds close by, so keep working these places.