For a kayak angler along the coast, there are probably better times to target redfish than July, but for anglers headed for a beach vacation, or for coastal anglers who regularly ply those waters, reds are always on the list of fish to catch.
This time of year, redfish behave like two different species. An adult red is typically considered a “bull” at or around the 27-inch mark. These large fish are typically not associated with inshore waters, while smaller “puppy drum” — those fish which will fall within and below the state slot limit of 15 to 23 inches — inhabit estuaries, tidal creeks and salt marshes. Deciding which one to target will determine which way you paddle when leaving the ramp.
For the beginning kayak angler or professionals who suffer flinging artificials in hot water, the best way to catch a slot limit redfish is with live bait. There’s nothing sexy about how or where you’ll fish live bait, but it works.
To rig your kayak for this type of fishing, you’ll need three to four medium-heavy rods and reels spooled with 20-pound braided line. On the end of that main line, attach a 3-foot length of 30- to 40-pound fluorocarbon or heavy mono leader. To that, tie a 2/0 to 4/0 circle hook depending on the size bait you are using. Add to the line with either a half-ounce egg sinker, which essentially makes it a Carolina rig, or crimp on a string of split shot.
The best areas to fish will be around piers and docks that give fish access to at least 6 feet of water, or the mouths of a smaller ditch, creek, drain or other water entering a larger flow of water. Cast your cracked blue crab, live finger mullet or mud minnow or whole dead or live shrimp at the base of anywhere you see oyster shell. Stay off the shell, but fish right up to it.
For this type fishing, you’ll need an anchor system, preferably with a trolley, a couple of rod holders and a cooler to store and keep the bait fresh, if not alive.
Around the super-high tide stages of the new moon on July 4 and the full moon of July 19, many kayak anglers love to paddle up into the furthest reaches of the tidal flats and sight-fish for redfish tailing on the flats. Never underestimate how far a redfish will go during these stages.
To target tailing redfish, you’ll have much more success standing and poling the boat with a push pole or paddling up into hardbottom and wading. Watch for swirls of water or, even better, the tails of redfish sticking up out of the water as they nose along the bottom. You want to present an artificial bait far enough away to not spook the fish, and then have it discover your bait. Regard a tailing redfish the same as you would a strutting turkey. One is about as spooky as the other, and if you do get one to commit, you have accomplished something.
Launching off the beach or a major inlet will put you in the vicinity of bull redfish that spend the summer hanging around nearshore bottom habitats — shipping channels, sandbars and oyster reefs.
Two schools of thought exist for targeting bull reds from a kayak. The first is to use larger tackle, larger rigs and larger live or cut baits around fish holding structure. In these cases, you expect to weed your way through numerous sharks and rays to get the attention of a bull red.
The other school of thought is to target big redfish in deeper water holding on structure. For this, you will need a good graph on your kayak. As you paddle over and across bottom structure, scan the graph for large arches near the bottom. It’s likely there will be multiple fish. Using a heavy action rod outfitted with 30- to 40-pound braid and a stout leader, present a big, plastic bait vertically to the fish. This tactic works better on either end of the tide when there is not so much current. A jighead in weights from ¾-ounce to 2 ounces paired with a 8- to 10-inch swimbait, especially one with fish attractant molded in or added to the bait, works well.
Target fish on the graph by vertically jigging the bait within the sonar cone. Drop the bait to the level of the fish. Sometimes just being in front of the fish is all it takes, others you may need to jig the bait in sporadic bursts. Try to avoid hitting the bottom as bottom currents will suck the jig into the structure and hang it.
A final safety note about targeting redfish from a kayak in July: always wear sun protection and have ample water. Now is the time to wear those buffs, floppy hats, long pants, long-sleeve fishing shirts, sunglasses, water shoes — the whole outfit. Any skin left showing needs sunblock.
Dehydration and paddling go hand in hand, especially in the heat with the sun reflecting off the water all around you. Double or triple the daily recommended intake and have more to spare in the event you’re out paddling longer than anticipated.