While we are rapidly approaching that magical time of the year when the fish bite as well in the middle of the day as they do at dark-thirty, I still wasn’t ready to take that chance. My clients stumbled out of their Tahoe in the pre-dawn darkness and boarded the boat with more concern over the remaining coffee in their Styrofoam cup than any introductions.

Twenty minutes later the most alert of the three lobbed a pink Pro Dog reasonably close to a submerged pile of shell in four feet of water. While in the midst of picking at the predictable backlash and chastising his partners for contributing to the gambling boats much too long the night before, something with fins demolished his plastic offering in the darkness.

The three pound trout proved to be the first of eight that he and I caught before his pals even considered joining in the fun. Two hours later we had only six more keepers in the boat and the hinges on the cooler lid were getting a workout. Heat, boredom and the lingering price of waiting on winning cards inevitably lead to an accelerated run on the bottled water.

Just before noon a small school of redfish exploded on the surface and we were close enough for all three clients to hook up. By the time we successfully landed two of their fish it was over, but they were a tad more motivated in spite of the headaches and mild sunburn and ready for more of that action. Schooling redfish can at least momentarily make you forget your woes.

Hoping to find more of the same I made a long slow loop through the lake until I realized that I was the only one looking for fish. The cooling effect of the slow ride instantly put two of them to sleep and the third had a wet towel hanging over his head which makes it a little more difficult to see any gulls or surface activity!

Even after stopping on a school of respectable trout that were competing with the ladyfish, they were struggling to understand why they wanted to go fishing in the first place. We boxed six more trout before they unanimously declared the next stop would be redfish or home.

By that time it was much too late in the game to cast net live bait and completely change gears not knowing if they could even endure the time spent catching the bait. I ran back up the ICW closer to home hoping to find a few rat reds stacked up on structure. The first two stops were not worth the time spent switching over to GULP shrimp.

On the third stop my bait never made it to the bottom before getting smacked. The suspected redfish turned out to be a 25-inch trout which pleased no one other than me. By the time I could release the fish and troll motor back over to the same spot, however, two of my three sports were trying to remember which way to turn their reel handle as line peeled off their spools.

For the following thirty minutes I netted fish, tidied up the boat and laid claim to my last bottle of water. By the time they decided that they had caught all of the redfish they ever even wanted to see again, we had a pontoon boat and three other boats less than a cast away. None of them were right over the deep pile of debris, but it was still obvious that the redfish wanted the GULP more than live bait or frozen shrimp.

When targeting schools of redfish running the 12 to 15 foot breaks in the river or the ICW I don’t think that you can do better than to fish with mullet, shad, fresh shrimp or crab. We catch a lot of these same redfish bouncing a Hoginar or Swim Bait off the bottom, but they don’t seem to hold as tight or bite long as they do for the live bait fishermen.

GULP bridges the gap between live and artificial as it is a scented bait and it enables you to cover more water when your honey hole doesn’t pay off. As a rule, when dealing with these deep water reds, color isn’t nearly as important as the size of the bait.

The option I enjoy the most, however, is fishing this same water all the way from two to fifteen feet deep with artificials. When the reds are hunting their next meal in less than six feet of water you can just wreck them with a shallow running crankbait or spinnerbait. A single spin quarter ounce spinnerbait with a Gulp curly tail body will also dupe flounder and bass sharing the same water.

My number one choice, however, is a Swim Bait simply because I can fish it all the way from the bank to the bottom of the river. The bait looks just like a shad and the vibration of the paddle tail attracts fish from a greater distance than a conventional soft plastic.

The only two decisions I have to make as to which Swim Bait to fish are color and size as I have found nothing better than H&H’s Usual Suspect. Shad, Cock of the Walk and Space Guppy are all “go to” colors and I now find myself fishing the four inch as much or more than the three inch version.

We are still a front or two away from the easiest fishing of the year, but the redfish aren’t aware of that. Give them a shot this weekend!

Swim Baits, crankbaits and spinnerbaits are hard to beat on reds!