Skinny Water Reds

O ne of the most awe-inspiring sights a shallow water angler can see is the bright turquoise strip on the tail of a feeding redfish. Unfortunately, not everyone has had that experience and does not know what to look for.

Redfish are known to feed in the skinniest of water.

Sight casting involves spotting a cruising or tailing redfish and placing a lure, or fly, in front of it. Most saltwater anglers have heard of tailing redfish but have never seen one. If you haven’t, you are likely fishing in the wrong places.

Redfish love to nose around the bottom and hunt for crabs, shrimp and other marine organisms. When they do, the top corner of their tail will stick out of the water—assuming the reds are in the shallows.

Redfish are also known to feed in the skinniest of water, as in ankle-deep. Many anglers don’t start fishing until they are waist-deep in the bay, well beyond the zone where tailing reds can be seen.

To increase your chances of success on the flats, you need to invest in a good quality pair of polarized sunglasses. Polarized lenses cut the glare on the water’s surface, allowing you to see fish cruising under the film.

I find it humorous that some anglers stalk their prey with a rod and reel that pushes a thousand dollars, but wear ten-dollar sunglasses. You have to see the fish before you can cast to them. Good quality sunglasses are definitely worth the investment.

Redfish and mullet both frequent shallow flats. It is not uncommon to see hundreds of tails sticking up in a secluded cove, but they are usually all mullet.

The easy way to tell the difference between a mullet and a redfish tail is by the shape of the fin. The caudal fin of a redfish is square while a mullet sports a distinctive forked tail. In addition, redfish have a strip of bright turquoise along the trailing edge of their caudal fin. When you see the color on the fin, there is no mistaking that it is a redfish.

As you wade through the shallows, it is imperative for you to walk slowly. Fish become extremely spooky in skinny water. This is not the place to splash or make noise. Stealth is the key. Wade slowly and deliberately. If you can hear yourself moving through the water you are moving too fast.

Tailing fish present the best sight casting opportunity for lure and fly fisherman. Tailing fish are actively hunting for food and concentrating on finding a meal. This makes them less aware of your presence than normal.

I have waded to within 10 feet of tailing reds and have never been noticed. A pod of fish tends to be less spooky than single fish, especially if their heads are down, and they are rooting in the grass.

To demonstrate, try sneaking into a room of friends when they’re eating and talking. Chances are you can enter the room and move in close without being noticed. Same goes for tailing reds.

Not all sight-casting opportunities involve tailing fish. Redfish can also be seen cruising through the shallows looking for food. Redfish leave an impressive torpedo-like wake in the shallows, giving away their location. 

Cruising reds can sometimes be maddening to catch. I have cast repeatedly to cruising fish, only to get the cold shoulder. Keep in mind that cruising fish have a better chance of seeing you, and long casts are your best ally.

Hungry reds will push up into water so shallow that their backs are completely out of the water. “Backing” fish are very skittish, and the slightest disturbance will cause them to rocket back to the safety of deeper water.

Small lures and soft presentations are critical here. A lure that lands with a splat will spook a skinny-water red in an instant. Good options include gold spoons sporting a single weedless hook and soft plastics rigged on a weedless hook.

Next time you head to the bay to wade fish, check out the shallows. Be patient and work slowly. You might be surprised how many fish you catch in twelve-inches of water.

Email Greg Berlocher at



Email Greg Berlocher at ContactUs@fishgame.com

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