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Patterns for Early Winter Redfish

As the days get shorter and the temperatures begin to drop, it's the time of the year that most anglers put away their rods and get ready for the hunting season. Truth be told, the fall is when inshore fishing hits its stride, the bite will heat up once the water temps drop into the mid to low 70's and the bite will stay consistent until the winter's first real cold front roars through.

As the weather changes so do the inshore patterns and to be successful you must change right along with them. We realized several years ago that the last few weeks of November have lead up to some of the very best inshore fishing of the year. In fact, some of our most epic Redfishing days have come right around Thanksgiving and the weeks following. I am going to share how we fish our favorite pattern for fall and early winter Redfish.

For me and my son and tournament partner, Capt. Michael Cowart, we can't wait for the fall pattern to progress. We find the Redfish will transition from the summer pattern and start to work away from the big, wide open flats toward the shorelines with points, edges, drop offs or nearby channels. These Redfish tend to school up when the tide gets moving and will bunch up along breaks in the shoreline or along points. These shoreline breaks and points provide ambush spots that will funnel bait, we will also target the edges along a flat that has a slight water depth change or small channel or depression running through it in 2 to 3 feet of water.

We like to slowly drift through an area, keeping the wind at our back whenever possible. We cover a 45-degree cone fan casting in front of the boat and will drop the Power-Poles frequently to make sure we don't run over or drift into the fish. 

We throw two types of search baits while trying to locate the fish, our favorite search baits are the 3" Z-Man MinnowZ and the other will throw a 5" Z-Man Scented Jerk ShadZ.

We rig the MinnowZ on an Eye Strike Fishing Weedless 1/8oz jig head and the Jerk ShadZ on the 5/0 - 1/8oz EZ KeeperZ Weighted hook, we make sure to use colors that match the bait; Pinfish, Pearl and Houdini are typically solid choices for the fall.

Once you find the fish you want to stay as far away from the school as you can but still be able to accurately reach the fish. Making long, accurate casts requires you to be throwing downwind and using the lightest line possible and making sure it is paired with the correct rod and reel is a must.

We have found that the 13 Fishing Omen Green 7'7" medium light spinning rod matched with a 2000 size reel spooled with 10lb braided line consistently gives us the maximum casting distance along with the backbone necessary to handle upper slot Redfish.

Typically, this time of year you will find fish in multiples, normally half dozen or so Reds will be found together and these fish will tend to be the lower slot fish. However, you will also find larger schools of fish – 20 to 40 and sometimes you will stumble upon schools of over a hundred or more. It's common that these fish will be larger mid to upper slot Redfish, but keep in mind that the larger schools can be easily spooked.

Once you've located the fish, focus on the outside edges of the school first. Your goal here is to catch as many as possible without spooking the rest of school, you want to start with the fish on the deeper water side of the school first and methodically working the edges of the school. Throwing into the school and hooking up a fish from the middle can cause the school to spook and scatter or possibly break up. I can't stress enough that during this time of year the fish can be extremely skittish and any little thing can put an end to what may be your epic day!

One of my favorite baits to work a school of Reds with is the Big TRD in the Blue Craw or California Craw colors. The Big TRD is perfect for methodically working the edges of the school, we rig the them one of two ways depending on the retrieve technique we are using.

The first is on the Eye Strike Fishing 1/8oz Weedless Jig Head, because the Big TRD, like all other Z-Man soft plastics, is a buoyant bait and when rigged on this jig head the Big TRD's tail floats straight up when at rest. Much like the Ned Rig that is so potent on Bass, any current or wave action will cause the tail to move erratically just like live prey trying to burrow down in the grass or in the sand bottom. We like to make big hops with the Big TRD letting it settle for two to three seconds between hops, often with the school of fish the Big TRD will get hit up as soon as it settles on the bottom.

The other method we use to target these schools of fish with the Big TRD is to work it more like a twitch bait. We will rig it weedless on the Mustad 3/0 - 1/8oz Grip Pin hook and twitch the bait letting it slowly fall to the bottom for a couple of seconds before twitching it again. Most every bite will occur as the bait falls. You must pay close attention to your line when using this technique because if the school is moving toward you the redfish will pick the bait up on the fall and you won't know they have it until you notice the slack in your line.

Each of these rigging methods will allow you to make long, accurate 40 yard plus cast downwind. And these techniques require the bait to sweep up off the bottom and slowly fall to be the most productive. You will need to keep your rod tip up as you work the baits to get the proper action whether you are hopping or twitching the TRD's, watching your line closely as the bait falls and be looking for the tell-tale sign your bait has been picked up as the school moves along.

Lastly, be aware of the noise you make, especially during this time of the year when there is less boat traffic on the water, the sound of you moving around in the boat really stands out. Be prepared when you come upon the Redfish motherload and always try to have at least three rods pre-rigged and ready to throw. You never want to stop and retie a leader or change baits when you are on a school of fish and have your net ready so you don't have to run around to grab it.

You never know when there may be a hundred Redfish right in front of you and the only thing that may be standing in the way of catching dozens of them could be you!

See you on the water,
Mark Cowart
ZMan Pro Staffer and Redfish Tournament Pro

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