Fly after those Mississippi redfish

Clear water along Mississippi’s Gulf Coast brings sight-fishing into focus in October, and that means a fly rod becomes a real weapon for catching redfish. Here’s how that works.

If you’re a fisherman along the Gulf Coast, you’re completely and utterly aware of when October arrives; you’ve been counting the days to cooler temperatures, fewer boats on the water, but most important, the fall bite.

Richard Schmidt and his son, River, look forward to October as much or more than any of us. The dog days of summer are over, and inshore sight-fishing starts to heat up.

Sight-fishing

“October is the everything month: everything is coming in, everything is hungry; they’re getting ready for the winter time,” said the elder Schmidt who runs Richard Schmidt Fly Fishing, a guide service out of Ocean Springs.

“The biggest thing about October is that’s when the water clears up in the bayous and marshes — it’s easier to sight-fish. The marshes like Fort Bayou and Davis Bayou, the water clears up in there.

“Sight-fishing for redfish is what fires me up about October. That’s what get’s everybody around here excited; it’s the redfish. Redfish are easier to sight-fish for; they’re more forgiving. If you see a trout, if they see your line moving in the air, they’re not going to bite it.”

The Schmidts are skinny water fly-fishing specialists who use their skiff to access water into which most fishermen don’t dare venture. They doesn’t hesitate to pole into water 16 inches or less. If they can pole into a pond they’re going to fish it.

“It’s better to pole instead of troll with a trolling motor, because a trolling motor will stir up mud and mess your bottom up,” Schmidt said. “With the pole, you can push along a little easier without stirring stuff up. If you have to use a trolling motor, just stay a little deeper.”

The most important factors

The keys to sight-fishing are clean water, elevation and a good pair of polarized sunglasses.

“It’s crucial to have elevation,” he said. “I have a platform on the front of my boat and a platform on the back of my boat. I pole off the back and someone will be on the front. The higher they are, the better they can see.”

The higher position gives fishermen a better angle for vision to penetrate the glare on the water. The higher up, the better the vantage point.

Redfish will get into skinny water ponds back in marshes where sight-fishing and using fly-fishing tackle is a perfect match.

A good pair of polarized sunglasses is also crucial.

“I use amber lenses,” said Schmidt (228-697-7873). “The brighter the lens, the better it helps brighten up the bottom. An amber lens draws more light; it doesn’t cloud anything up.”

Where to go

There are plenty of shallow-water opportunities around Ocean Springs. Both Fort Bayou and Davis Bayou have shallow flats that feature miles of grass lines, points and cuts.

“They’re (redfish) always going to be around the points, and they’re always going to be around the pockets,” Schmidt said. “If you find points and pockets you’ll find the fish.

“Look down the grass line. Sometimes, you’ll see them easing down the grass; they’re going to be right on the marsh, but if you start seeing them off the marsh, then they’re going to follow a pattern. They’re either all going to be off the marsh, or they’re all going to be on the marsh.”

Casting distance

Schmidt recommends positioning the boat a comfortable casting distance away from the marsh line, keeping in mind how far away you can see a redfish cruising. If you can’t see him, you can’t cast to him.

“I stay within casting distance (50 feet) of the marsh,” he said. “Throw your fly in there; lead him. If he doesn’t eat it on the lead, that’s the great thing about fly fishing, if you make a bad cast with a spinning rod, you have to reel it all the way back up and cast again. If you make a bad cast with your fly, and you don’t like it, you can pick it back up and drop it right back on his head.

Productive flies for redfish will resemble something the fish are used to eating: crabs, shrimp or tiny baitfish.

“If they’re spooky, they’re not going to eat it if you put it right on their head; they’re going to want to be led. Most of the time in October, they’re hungry, and they’re going to eat anything, and they’re going to like it to bop right on the head.

“Let the fish tell you how they want the fly. If the first fish eats the fly when you land it on its nose, then apply the same technique on the next fish. The bite may change throughout the day, so be conscious of how fish react to your bait each time.”

Equipment

The Schmidts like to keep it simple when it comes to their equipment; quality tackle that is lightweight, responsive and durable.

“I like to use 8-weight tackle, an 8-weight fly rod. The reel doesn’t really matter, because they’re just redfish; they’re not going to spool you,” Schmidt said. “I like a floating line and a short leader, about 8 feet. Usually, I buy the tapered leaders that come out of the package, tie it on with a nail knot and maybe put a little 20-pound piece of bite tippet for the oysters.

“My favorite rod is a Sage One. It’s a really light rod: it tracks easy; it casts really well. The fly line I use is Royal Wulff, it’s a floating line, it has low memory and loads the rod really quick.”

Schmidt favors crab flies, while his son, River, favors a different line of flies.

This shrimp fly, designed to imitate a pink shrimp, will catch redfish, tripletail and even, in larger sizes, cobia.

“I like shrimp flies,” River said. “They work on almost anything. Tripletail, redfish, cobia — you name it, they eat it.”

A new generation

River is in his teens, but he has enough years fly fishing under his belt to be considered a veteran. 

“River was 2 years old when we started playing with a little fly rod we made and got to where he could throw it just a little distance, and then I took him out to the (Biloxi Bay railroad bridge), and he caught a speckled trout right off the bat,” Richard Schmidt said. “He caught his first speckled trout on a fly rod at 2.”

Schmidt explained that training a youngster to fly fish is easier than training an adult who has been using spinning or baitcasting tackle their entire lives.

“Everything happens fast with a spinning rod,” he said. “With a fly rod, you need to slow it down.

“You’re loading the rod just like you do a spinning rod, but the line is what loads your (fly) rod. With a spinning rod, the weight of the lure is what loads your rod. It’s the same concept; you load the rod, then release the load. It just happens a lot slower on a fly rod.

A passion for the sport

The Schmidts are passionate about fly fishing and go every chance they get. They both enjoy the visual aspect of sight-fishing and seeing a redfish smash a fly when it lands on its nose.

“That’s what’s so fun about it,” Schmidt said. “It’s so visual. That’s what people from up north like. It’s just like hunting. You’re hunting fish. That’s why I like it so much.”

“My favorite part is the eat,” River Schmidt said. “Watching it eat the fly like they want it so bad. I like stripping it, and they want it so bad and keep missing it then they get so mad that they just — swoop — come at it and eat the heck out of it.”

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