In fishing we throw around superlatives a lot: biggest, longest, fastest and we also enjoy talking about firsts and lasts. As a fisherman, I am certainly prone to this habit and will continue now as I talk about a particular “best”- the best day of redfishing I have ever seen.
I see a lot of good, even great redfishing here at home in Charleston, SC. So, when I head south to the Glades and Keys I generally target species that aren’t readily available in my backyard: Snook, Tarpon, Permit and Bonefish for starters. I’m certainly not a snob and will cast at pretty much anything with fins, but I don’t usually set out to find redfish when there are so many other opportunities.
But last September I was down in the Keys for a shoot with Saltwater Experience TV and the plan for the first day was to head up into Florida Bay where the redfish were schooling and tailing in a few inches of water. Our South Carolina redfish generally tail alone. Every now and then you’ll see a school tip up a little, but for the most part the true tailing action is on high tide grass flats where singles will stand on their heads rooting out crabs. I had never seen the big schools of tailers, so I was excited to get a chance to see it, and hopefully get some good photos.
World Wide Sportsman at dawn
We pulled out of World Wide Sportsman just after sunrise in a couple of Yellowfin skiffs weaving through the narrow channels to the North. We dodged a few thunderheads as we worked our way up into Florida Bay and Everglades National Park.
Cruising in Yellowfin Skiffs across Florida Bay under a rainbow
Eventually, we dropped off plain and idled up to the edge of the flats. As we shut down and began poling up into the shallows we were greeted with slick calm waters and the sight of hundreds of tails shimmering in the distance. I have seen plenty of big schools of redfish before, we get schools into the hundreds in Charleston. But this was a hundred or more fish, tightly balled up in inches of water, all tailing aggressively. We poled up on them slowly, trying to document as much as we could before casting to them. Big schools can be spooky, so we thought we might catch a couple and send the rest fleeing.
A tight school of redfish tailing in low light
When it was time to cast, Captain Tom Rowland hooked up first, the school got up and swirled around some but reformed quickly and went back about their business. After shooting the catch, Tom hooked up again, then Captain Rich Tudor joined in and they doubled up two, maybe three times. Eventually the school moved off some, but then another school appeared, then another and another. After getting more than enough for a show they switched to fly gear and we quickly lost count of fly landings. These fish were super aggressive eating anything and everything in their path. They were rolling, crawling, boiling and fighting over every bit of prey. They were even smashing needlefish which we could see taking to the air to avoid their demise.
Captains Tom Rowland and Rich Tudor of Saltwater Experience doubled up on tailing redfish in Florida Bay
A riled up school of redfish is easy to make out on a flat calm day
Captain Tom Rowland of Saltwater Experience TV admires a double of nearly identical redfish
Captain Rich Tudor with a nice Everglades Redfish
Captain Tom prepares to release another redfish back into Florida Bay
After what seemed like 3 days worth of fishing and witnessing something amazing, we broke for lunch. That is when the camera boat busted out the flyrods. I got the first shot, and had a 30 inch redfish launch over the backs of a dozen others to eat my fly on reentry. After another quick landing, I took to the poling platform and the camera boat driver caught a couple before we met back up for the afternoon shoot. The action continued for a few more hours until the rising tide let the fish push up into water too shallow for us to pursue. By then we had all had our fill and were ready to head back down to the keys to review our day and plan for the next day’s shoot. We had some more great days that shoot and I’ve had other great days since, but that day will likely remain the Best day of redfishing I will ever see.
A big school of redfish tailing aggressively in the Everglades
Redfish tracking across shallow Florida Bay grassflats
Captain Tom Rowland with a nice Florida Bay Redfish on fly
One of countless schools of redfish we encountered in Florida Bay on the best day of redfishing I have ever seen