Taking aim at the monster redfish in Florida’s Banana River
Throughout its life, redfish may forage along shallow estuaries, brackish streams, grass flats, mangrove swamps, oyster beds, bridges, piers, and beaches from Texas to the Chesapeake Bay. They know no boundaries and are not picky about depth of water or clarity if forage is present. However, the red drum within Florida’s famous Banana River virtually never leave, which surprisingly doesn’t make them any easier to catch.
Separating Merritt Island from Cape Canaveral, Cocoa Beach, Satellite Beach, and Indian Harbor Beach, the 31-mile-long Banana River is a secluded lagoon that exists within a dramatic climate transition zone. Here, mudflat and mangrove ecosystems flourish in a complex landscape where there is exceptionally no tidal flow. There are no freshwater tributaries, no saltwater inlets, and the only outlet to the Atlantic Ocean is through a system of locks at Port Canaveral.
A Cocoa Beach, Florida local who has been guiding the Indian River Lagoon for years, G. Loomis ambassador Captain Willy Le can’t help but reminisce about the days not too long ago when the Banana River was full of seagrass.
“This floor right here was so lush, the grass was thick as could be. But with water quality problems fueling mass seagrass die-offs, miles of underwater vegetation have been reduced to barren sand plains. There are still giant redfish, although they have changed their behavior and before they used to track and search the seabed, now they just sail around looking for bait”, reflects Le.
With a blunt snout and a downturned subterminal mouth, the redfish is designed to dig and root around the bottom. They are not the best-equipped species for attacking prey at the surface, but they can certainly display exciting surface attacks as they track a surface lure, eventually reaching the offering after several unsuccessful attempts.
Anglers who impart the proper snap of the rod tip can easily mimic distressed baitfish at the surface, but it is important to choose a lure with the right action for the prevailing conditions. When the Banana River is moderately rough, surface lures that make loud noises attract predators from a great distance. On calm days, when glassy conditions put fish on high alert, it’s best to fish with a walking lure that has a lower frequency and softer tone, or one that is completely silent.
“We can sight during all hours of the day and in all weather conditions, but since redfish focus on feeding early and late in the day, that’s when they’ll find the most cooperative surface sting. With cloudy conditions, surface fishing can stay strong throughout the day,” says Le.
Shimano’s Current Sniper family of topwater baits offers anglers a lure for every scenario. The Current Sniper Walk 110F Silent is a walking lure that lacks internal rattles. It mimics a variety of natural forages and is ideal for calmer mornings without ripples on the surface of the water. The weather can change quickly in Florida and when the wind blows it’s wise to strap on the Current Sniper Walk Hi-Pitch, which is equipped with a fiberglass material that emits a high-pitched rattle. Available in three sizes: 95mm, 110mm and 130mm, the durable Current Sniper Walk stands up to the most aggressive shallow bites.
Both of the tested topwater baits feature wire construction and are just over four inches long. Aboard the Maverick 18 HPX native fly, Combines a 4000 Stradic CI4+ size with a 7’6” G. Loomis GCX Inshore spinning rod with medium power and extra fast action. The action of this rod helps cast a heavy topwater lure and allows the angler more control with a slippery ride presentation.
Mature redfish tend to move in a slow, rhythmic pattern. They do not run nervously and usually push the wakes at a steady pace in a straight line. The size of the trail is a good indication, with narrow, pointed V trails likely created by mullet, compared to redfish with broad heads producing a wider wave pattern.
Once a single redfish, a pair, or a flock is spotted, it is important to be patient and watch for activity before prematurely sending the top of the water high into the air. Nothing will scare off a redfish faster than an incorrectly placed hard bait falling from the sky.