Homosassa Topwater Reds

Homosassa Topwater Reds

Few sensations are as exciting as having a redfish blast a lure on the surface. And right now's a good time to experience that on the Nature Coast! (October 2008)

Capt. William Toney displays an average-sized Homosassa redfish that inhaled a topwater offering.
Photo by Polly Dean.

At first light, Capt. William Toney stopped the 23-foot Tremblay in the shallow water where I could see the rocky bottom, and the dotted islands of the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge to the south.

My fishing partner Ray Markham jumped up and flipped a Top Dog MirrOlure to the calm surface. Before a handful of casts had fanned across the surface, and before I really got up and started fishing, SMACK!

A redfish hit at his lure and missed. Markham remained calm, continued to work the lure and -- BAM! The fish was back and this time, hooked!

As Markham worked the fish, we got a few good looks at it. It was a redfish, a 24-incher at least. But not far behind was a large bull shark.

The angler couldn't get the redfish to the boat quick enough, and in an instant, the big red was eaten.

Now Markham was fighting a 5-foot bull shark instead! Moments later, the shark had cut the line. But it was already an exciting morning, and the sun was barely off the horizon!

The village of Homosassa, a Creek Indian term for "place where the wild peppers grow," lies at the mouth of the Homosassa River about a third of the way down the Gulf Coast of the Florida peninsula. The main source of the river is Homosassa Spring, a 75-foot diameter pool where water flows from three limestone openings around a collapsed cavern over 60 feet deep.

The river then flows nine miles to the Gulf of Mexico, fed along the way by additional springs of varying levels of salt concentrations. The expansive limestone flats of Homosassa provide ideal habitat for redfish, seatrout and a variety of sport fish.

Homosassa has long been considered a sports lover's paradise. Since the turn of the century, the area has attracted wealthy and prominent Americans such as President Grover Cleveland, Thomas Edison and John Jacob Astor. Babe Ruth was a frequent visitor, as was baseball Hall of Famer "Dazzy" Vance who bought the Homosassa Hotel and resided there. In the winter of 1904, Winslow Homer visited and produced some of his noted paintings there.

Capt. William Toney and his family are also part of the history of Homosassa. Born and raised in Homosassa, Capt. Toney is the fourth generation of his family to guide anglers on the surrounding rivers and bays.

His uncle, Capt. Rick Doyle, guided famed angler Billy Pate to his world-record tarpon, caught on a fly in 1982. He took the 188-pounder at Homosassa on a 16-pound tippet.

Early fall on the "Nature Coast" of the Big Bend is an excellent time to catch reds on topwater.

The fish are schooled up in great numbers, and most are in the slot limit -- 18 to 27 inches long -- with some larger bruisers in the mix. Later, by the end of October, the fish have donned their red/orange fall colors, and the schools tend to break up.

On our day on the water with Capt. Toney, we fished an outgoing tide and we did catch plenty of fish. But despite our success, the captain much prefers an incoming tide when fishing for reds. A normal tide in the area is about a three-foot fluctuation. On the full or new moon, an extreme high tide is about four feet.

An offshore breeze from the south or southwest also can contribute to those peak conditions he likes to see.

Homosassa's vast rock bottom flats and rocky points are areas where redfish tend to gather to feed on baitfish, shrimp and crabs hiding in the rocks.

Especially favorable for reds are the last one and a half to two hours before an incoming high tide. Those fish like to hold on top of the rocky ledges and wait for the bait.

For skinny-water fishing, Capt. Toney favors a medium to lightweight 7 1/2-foot G. Loomis Greenwater rod, with a fast-action tip.

He spools his 2500 Stradic Shimano reels with 10-pound braided line, with an 18- to 22-inch leader of 20-pound fluorocarbon.

Using this gear, he tosses topwater lures at this time of year. Nothing beats a big redfish slamming a topwater offering in shallow water -- especially when several reds in a school are competing for the same bait!

Redfish often miss a few times before they hit. The red's underslung mouth isn't as efficient at grabbing topwater plugs as a trout's, for instance. Usually, however, if you keep the retrieve steady, the fish will come back for another try.

Some topwater lures that worked for us were Top Dogs, Top Pups and She Dogs made by MirrOlure. These lures vary in the pitch of the rattle they produce, with a She Dog having a higher-pitched sound than a Top Dog lure. Capt. Toney also throws a Rapala Skitter Walk. Regardless of which lure he ties on, he fishes them with a "walk-the-dog" retrieve.

Toney uses a variety of color combinations, including those imitating a mullet -- dark back with a light-colored belly. The lures vary from about 3 1/2 to 4 inches long, and from 3/8- to 1/2 ounce in weight.

Spoons also work great for redfish.

"In the redfish world, spoons are considered a search bait," Capt. Toney noted.

"They mimic a fluttering or dying baitfish, such as a pinfish."

By fan-casting the area with a spoon, you can locate the fish more quickly. And then it's time to go to the topwater lures.

The captain prefers Eppingers Rex spoons for fishing his home area. The Nemire Red Ripper is another successful spoon. During fall, gold generally catches the most fish. On a very bright day, silver may work better. Under very cloudy, dark conditions, try throwing a black spoon.

Another method of searching for fish is with a popping-cork rig and a soft-plastic shrimp. The DOA Deadly-Combo Cigar Float with a root-beer-colored shrimp is a good one to try. The soft-plastic holds up much longer than live shrimp and usually works just as well.

An advantage to using "search" methods to find fish before throwing topwater offerings

is that in the fall, topwater lures tend to gather the grass that floats on or near the water's surface. You may get only a 3- or 4-foot retrieve before you've loaded up with grass.

You can cover more area with the other lures. Once you do locate fish, the effort of changing lures is more than justified when a redfish makes the water explode beneath your topwater plug!

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