Surf Fishing Bull Redfish
Fall is the time of year where surf fishing bull redfish is most rewarding because they congregate along Florida’s coastline in search of one thing, mullet. The mullet migrate from as far north as New England to southern Florida. The migration starts in mid-August and lasts about 2 months to mid-October.
You will need to obtain some live mullet to use as bait. You must have a bait bucket to keep the mullet alive. The best that I have found is a 5-gallon bucket with a lid and aerator. The lid is required because mullet are jumpers. There are several ways to obtain mullet. Buy them at a bait shop or use a cast net to catch them. It is easiest to cast net in calm waters because you can see the mullet swim by. The St. Mary’s River by Ft Clinch is a good spot. Be very careful if you wade as there are deep dropoffs and very fast currents. The Amelia River by Dee Dee Bartels boat ramp is a good and safer spot. Also, Nassau Sound by the Amelia Island State Park is another good spot but again use caution. You will be able to see the mullet swim by and throw you net over them.
By definition, a bull redfish is over 27 inches. A 27-inch redfish will weight around 6 to 9 pounds. This is the small end of what you are targeting. On the large end, a 40-inch fish will weight around 30 pounds and a 50-inch monster will be over 50 pounds. The most important thing to keep in mind is that your equipment must be able to hold enough line to allow for 100-yard runs. 300 yards of 20 to 30-pound line is minimum. Because you will cast a 3 or 4-ounce mullet plus a 3 or 4-ounce weight so you rod must be able to cast at least 4-ounce comfortable to lob this 8-ounce load.
Braid offers a much higher line capacity for a given size of reel. Tie a 30 to 40-pound fluorocarbon leader to your braid using an FG knot, Double Surgeon’s Knot or just use a swivel to join the two lines. I place my weight at the end of the leader and use a surgeons loop to attach a 5 or 6/0 non-offset circle hook about 6 to 10 inches above the weight. This keeps the bait close to the bottom but not on it. Hook a lively mullet through the tail. This accomplishes two things. The mullet will live longer when tail hooked. All fish swallow bait head first so there is no kook and line to interference with the redfish feeding.
Allow plenty of time before pulling tight, a 20 or 30 count is required to allow the redfish time to swallow and get the hook in its mouth. A live liner type reel will help but is not necessary, I turn my drag down so that it is just tight enough to keep the bait stationary. When it is time to pull tight I tighten the drag. The circle hook will most often slide out of the gut into the corner of the mouth. I have learned that after the line comes tight to set the hook. This is not a bass fishing “all you’ve got hook set” but just a quick jerk or two. This way the hook can penetrate the tough area of the jaw. Without this extra set, many times the hook doesn’t seem to penetrate and the fish is lost in the last few feet.
The normal battle with a large redfish is spent with the fish deep. Bull redfish have earned their nickname. The will pull hard and can strip line in long runs. Let the drag do its job and pump the fish in between runs. It may take 10 or 15 minutes to get all your line back after several long runs. Keep calm and don’t horse the fish in. Just keep a steady pumping actions to subdue the fish. They don’t like to be in the waves against there will so when the fish reaches the outside of the surf line be prepared to have them turn out to sea again. This is not a big deal just let them have their way for a few minutes then you can turn them back in again.
When I get the fish to the shore I leave it in the water while removing the hook. If a fish is hooked deep don’t try to get the hook, just cut the line. For a quick picture only lift it horizontally not just by the head. Keep your hands out of the gill covers as this can injure the gills. Return the fish to the water as soon a possible and revive it before releasing it. Any bull redfish is over 5 years old and could be up to 40 years old, they are precious to preserve the species. Treat them with care, keep them in the water as much as possible.