Much like spot-and-stalk hunting, sight casting to redfish in skinny water is equal parts electrifying and frustrating. Reds are the bully of Gulf Coast inshore fishing: they’re quick, meticulous, and aggressive, which is why many anglers treasure this species. The rush of seeing a red tailing, casting at it, hooking up, and that fish burning up your drag with its shoulders out, busting through skinny water is like few other fishing experiences. Here’s how to get there.
First, Find Them Sand pockets, grassy shorelines, oyster bars, or stalking between lines of seagrass: Redfish, being the bullies they are, will station themselves to hold in areas along submerged transition zones, ready to ambush bait. Walk, wade, pole, paddle, or motor slowly and quietly, looking first for high likelihood locations where reds may be hiding just out of sight. If you watch such places long enough, you may see redfish tail, flash, mud, or otherwise disturb the water such that you can decipher where they are.
Redfish can see a long ways in clear water. The goal here is not to spook the red, which is why your jig head weight is key. Lighter jigs result in slower sink and smaller splash. If it lands feet within a redfish line of sight, you may very well end up with a reaction strike due to the proximity of your lure.
Jig Weight Your jig weight is a very important element of your presentation. Ideally, you want a slow, graceful, sink. Anything else will spook redfish. Baitfish may pop on the surface and navigate through the water column but one thing they don’t do is fling themselves straight to the bottom. Automatic red flag.
When using a jig, weight is circumstantial to the area and water depth you're fishing. A 1/32-ounce head is advantageous for ankle-deep flats fishing, mixed sand pockets, and shorelines. You want your lure sinking as slowly as possible, otherwise it’s an abrupt fall in a very shallow water column.
Next up is the 1/16-ounce jig, ideal for 12 to 20 inches of water. You’re still relying on a slow, natural fall, but the extra weight will help deter snags on matted grass and give a slightly faster descent with the ability to twitch and flutter through the water.
Lastly, our heavy weight champion: the 1/8 ounce. Just kidding, it’s not that heavy, but it’s like Goldilocks, just right for below-knee-deep water. The added weight provides a quicker descent but less action. Within this water depth, redfish will still remain at the bottom, feeding and scouring for bait but have more space in the water column to remain undetected and move freely. While still considered “skinny water,” it is possible the only sign of redfish could be a very subtle wake or tip of their tail, meaning you want a faster descent to catch up to the fish as they’re searching for bait.
Best Jigs for Shallow Redfish If you sit down and talk with any well-versed angler that has fished throughout the changing tides of the fishing industry, lure color inevitably plays a role in the conversation. However, as many self-proclaimed purists (and salespeople) like myself would say, “You aren’t selling the fish on the lure, you’re selling the angler.”
Out on the water, the color of your lure should be based off water color and clarity. Rule of thumb: light water, light lure. Dark water, dark lure. But part of the equation many people forget is confidence.
Having the wherewithal to stick with the right rig and finessing your way into a redfish mouth is a big part of closing the deal. I myself have become borderline superstitious about a lure color that works for me in skinny water sight casting situations 99% of the time: the DOA lures 3-inch Shad Tail in color Molé has been my secret recipe for landing redfish the past years and it proves itself time and time again. This color has the perfect mixture of a pearl bottom and root-beer top. When it’s fluttering through the water, it looks pretty irresistible for most reds. When fishing skinny water, especially when it’s clear, smaller presentation is crucial.
Like with any good recipe, you have key ingredients. When fishing artificial lures, your recipe will change depending on the circumstances and the area you’re fishing. Another important ingredient is hook size.
Hook size will vary depending on the size of your plastic lure—you can have the right lure and the right jig weight but the moment you throw hook size out the window, that can make the difference between hookups and getting skunked. Too long of a shank will negatively impact the action of your lure and will not look natural. On the opposite end of the spectrum, too short of a shank with a longer lure will result in fish only hitting the lure and missing your hook completely.
Rule of thumb: the curve of your hook should come out around the mid-section of the body on the lure, or right before it. For instance, when using my go-to DOA Molé, I would use a 2/0 hook for my jig because the lure itself is only 3 inches.
Timing and Accuracy
Too fast, too slow, not fast enough, not slow enough: timing is everything with reds, as it is with most things in life. While there is no cheat code for timing, redfish aren’t as predictable as us humans. But we do have the ability to read them (or acquire the knowledge to do so) and anticipate their movements. Avoiding lost opportunity, the ultimate goal for most of us, is where timing and casting accuracy come into play. Try hard to prevent minor errors.
Presentation You’ve found the fish, you’re aware of your surroundings, and you just witnessed a blow up on the surface, now what? Presenting your soft plastic morsel is next.
Since we are mimicking baitfish, we rely on presentation and finesse of our lure. Presentation is key; you want the redfish to think it was their idea and go after a quick and easy meal or make a reaction strike. Whether you are bouncing your jig across a sand pocket or grass line, you want your lure to fall as naturally as possible. In clear water (our ideal conditions) when the jig head falls to the bottom it will create a cloud of mud, getting their attention, mimicking a shrimp unburying itself or a spooked baitfish fleeing. This is typically an automatic show-stopper for most insatiable redfish in clear water.
Consider the direction a fish is going before you cast, its momentum, and any possible obstructions such as knotted grass (jig’s arch nemesis) to strategize your course of action. If the redfish is heading toward you, throw past its tail and gingerly bring the jig toward its face, passing and dropping it a few inches in front of the fish’s nose. If needed throw in a subtle twitch. If the fish is going away, cast in front of it and let it sink but try not to retrieve right away. Food doesn’t usually swim right into their mouths.
If the fish is moving across in front of you, lead it by only two or three feet. You usually want it to notice the lure right away. If the fish are being spooky, increase your lead.
Closing The Deal I’ve given you the run-down on sight casting with jigs, and hopefully you have premeditated your next skinny water outing, as well as what weight, lure, and hook size you will use. One last key point some folks forget is swapping out your jig head after a few hookups. You may think your timing wasn’t right, your hookset was too soon, or every other angler’s excuse in the book. But as most sharp edges do, hooks dull. Swap out your jig if you feel your hookups haven’t been as frequent. A brand-new, sticky sharp hook will simply make your life easier.
Redfishing in skinny water is one of the pinnacles of American sportfish. But it isn’t popular because it’s easy. You need to spot fish quickly, cast accurately, and adapt your lure weight, size and color to the conditions and the fish’s preferences. Keep doing those things and trying hard and you’ll be in for the big show.