By Brock Miller
Sight fishing redfish is one of the most popular forms of fishing, but it can also be the most difficult. In a boat, you have help maneuvering and spotting fish if someone is with you. However, in a kayak, you are on your own. You are in charge of spotting the fish, getting in range, and making a cast all while not spooking them.
Some days this is easy as kayaks give anglers the advantage of stealth. Other days kayaks can provide a bigger challenge. Wind and lack of sunlight can create adverse conditions when trying to sight fish from a kayak but there are a few ways you can still find success.
When approaching an area that you believe may hold fish, a perfect scenario would involve the sun at your back and zero wind. Unfortunately, these days are few and far between and weekend anglers need to make the best of whatever the conditions they encounter.
My main priority when sight fishing is having the sun at my back. Eliminating glare is crucial because that is the main barrier keeping you from seeing what is below the surface. A good pair of polarized sunglasses is also essential. I prefer amber or copper lenses as they work best in inshore waters and low-light scenarios.
Wind can provide its challenges, but I believe it can also have some advantages. A slight wind can help silently
push your kayak along, so you make less noise than if you were paddling. I also believe it provides a layer of camouflage between you and what is below the surface. On a calm day, fish are much more in tuned with what is happening around them and they tend to spook easier. Wind can also disguise your bait hitting the water and make a bad cast effective.
Eliminating noise is another important part of sight fishing. Any noise, whether it is a paddle hitting the side of the boat or a water bottle rolling around, will be amplified underwater. I clear the deck of my kayak of anything that could make noise or get in the way before I stand to sight fish. Sometimes this goes as far as removing the Mirage Drive and fish finder.
Your process for making a cast should be as simple as possible. Your rod should be in reach and free of tangles and your paddle should be easily and quietly stowed. The fewer movements made before the fish sees the bait, the less likely it is to spook. I prefer to keep my rod in between my legs while paddling because it is quieter than using a rod holder and it is well within reach when I need it.
The easiest way I have found to stow my paddle is using a paddle clip belt. These are incredibly simple, but they make sight fishing so much easier. They allow you to keep your eyes on the fish while switching from the paddle to a rod.
I recommend using a setup that you can make accurate casts with but that also has the backbone to fight fish in heavy cover. In most scenarios, you will be sight fighting near grass or oysters because that is where you will normally find the cleanest water. These structures are great for attracting fish, but they also play in the fish’s favor when they are trying to escape. For lighter baits such as Buggs jigs and weightless plastics, I prefer a medium action spinning rod. This action allows me to accurately cast smaller baits while having the strength to fight fish around cover. For heaver baits such as plastics on jigheads or weighted swimbait hooks, I prefer a medium-heavy casting rod. This setup will have more backbone and it can be casted easier with one hand if you do not have time to stow your paddle.
Finally, I try to keep my lure selection as simple as possible. In most cases, a Buggs Curl Tail Redfish Jig in blue crab is my bait of choice. It is a perfect small crab imitation and very few reds will ignore it. If the water is muddy and I feel like they are having trouble seeing the bait, I will change to a black and purple Buggs jig. These baits will work in grass, but if I need something to stay on top of heavy, matted grass, weedless soft plastics are my go-to’s. I prefer crawfish style plastics because the claws normally have better action than standard swimbaits when fished slow.
Sight fishing is a blast once you get the hang of it. Move slowly, simplify your setup and use the conditions in your favor. You will miss a lot of shots before you find success but when that perfect sight fishing trip happens, it will be a hard one to forget. Stop by Pack & Paddle in Lafayette to pick up all of your sight fishing essentials from Buggs jigs to rods and reels and Hobie Kayaks.