Captain Rick Murphy of Homestead, Fla., has always loved numbers. In high school, his favorite subjects were Algebra and Geometry.
So it's no surprise to learn that when Murphy stalks a redfish on shallow flats, he becomes a kind of mathematician, talking about angles in a way that would make Pythagoras proud.
"In the redfish world, especially with sight-casting, it's all about angles," opined Murphy, who is also the show host for Sportsman's Adventures and The Florida Fishing Report. "How your lure moves in relationship to how the fish is positioned can have everything to do with getting the bite or just getting ignored. A lure moving the wrong way or at the wrong angle can even spook a redfish."
Captain Jose Wejebe, host of ESPN's The Spanish Fly and the ESPN Outdoors Saltwater Series, has been chasing redfish on Florida's clear water flats for years and agrees that when things get tough, angles become critical.
"When redfish are really on the feed, they will eat just about anything, whether it's coming or going, and angles don't really count for much," Wejebe explained. "But come upon a single red with a neutral demeanor in clear, calm water and things get a lot more difficult. That's when the right angle can turn a neutral fish on."
The first step in determining how sensitive the fish are to a lure's direction of travel is to gauge a redfish's level of aggressiveness.
A reds' demeanor seems to depend on where in the country they live. For instance, pros who fish the Oh Boy! Oberto Redfish Cup are unanimous in their opinion that Louisiana reds, as a whole, are more aggressive than Florida reds.
Murphy describes redfish aggressiveness within four basic categories: large schools; small packs (three to five fish); single tailing reds; and solitary reds holed up in a stationary position or meandering down a bank or flat.
"The degree of difficulty for catching reds increases as you move through these categories," he said. "A large school of reds eating everything in sight is usually a no-brainer. Angles are of little consequence because there are so many eyes looking at your lure, providing you with multiple opportunities in a single cast.
"With a smaller pack of reds, the chances of catching one are still pretty good because of their competitive nature and, once again, multiple pairs of eyes seeing your lure."
"Where the degree of difficulty increases significantly is with single reds. A single red tailing can be a challenge; however, it's the single redfish cruising or sitting still and doing nothing that gives you more refusals than any other type of red – and that's where angles become a real issue."
Given Murphy's continuum of redfish aggressiveness, it would seem that fishing for schools and packs would be the way to go. But that's seldom the case for pros on the Redfish Cup. Finding big bunches of slot-friendly reds on a daily basis is rare, especially in Florida.
As a consequence, redfish pros are forced to fish for single reds on skinny flats in ultra-clear water where, as both Murphy and Wejebe have pointed out, angles become critical.
"The worst cast you can possibly make is one where the lure charges, or attacks, the fish," Wejebe explained. "That's usually the kiss of death."
"That's what I mean by a lure traveling in the wrong direction," Murphy agreed. "A mullet, crab or shrimp is not going to flee towards a redfish, it's going to flee away and that's why angles are important. You want your lure to travel away from a fish so it looks like it's trying to escape."
Making your lure appear as if it's traveling away from the fish depends totally on which way the fish is facing or moving.
For this reason, Murphy addresses a lure's best angles and lines of travel relative to a fish's various positions (see diagram).
"A fish facing you head-on is a pretty tough fish to catch because there really is no obtuse angle to bring the lure by the fish's line of sight," Murphy said. "However, if that fish is positioned just right or left of dead ahead, even if it's just by 10 degrees, then suddenly you have a much better angle on the fish. You can cast beyond the fish and bring the lure across his line of sight – out in front of him, not directly at him. Yes, in a way, the lure does come at him for a moment, but just about the time he sees it, it starts going away from him – that's the highest percentage cast (in terms of getting a bite) you can make on a solitary redfish."
According to Murphy, the highest percentage window exists from 10 degrees (right or left) of the fish facing the angler head-on, all the way around to where the fish is facing 90 degrees (right or left) from the angler.
Once the fish breaks the 90-degree plane and begins facing slightly away from the angler, around to completely away (180 degrees) from the angler, the percentage drops significantly.
"The more a fish is facing away from you, the harder it is to avoid charging the fish with the lure," he reasoned. "You are forced to bring the lure into his line of sight and then into the fish instead of just across his line of sight."
Wejebe describes cast and retrieve angles as parallel or perpendicular to a fish's line-of-sight axis. (see diagram)
"Imagine a line from a fish's tail to its head and extending out in front of the fish," Wejebe explained. "Consider that line as basically the fish's line-of-sight axis. Now, the more oblique or perpendicular your retrieve is to that axis, the better chances you have of catching the fish. The more parallel your retrieve to the fish's axis, the more your chances decrease."
To catch a red turned in an awkward direction, an angler needs only to consult a protractor and adjust. When Murphy finds a solitary red facing away from him, he will often take the time to reposition the boat for an angle more perpendicular to the fish's line of sight.
"I think it's worth my while to reposition and create the angle I want, especially in tough tournaments," Murphy reasoned. "That's how we placed fourth at the Punta Gorda Redfish Cup event last year. We would find a fish and take our time in setting up the correct shot. In my opinion, having the best angle improves the odds of getting a strike by at least 50 percent."
But sometimes conditions don't allow for setting up specific casts. Single redfish moving away from the boat are some of the hardest to catch.
A fish facing the angler dead-on is another difficult situation. Throwing the lure behind the fish requires breaking the prime rule of bringing the lure towards the fish's body before its line of sight; however, a lure plopping in front of the fish might spook it.
"I would likely wait for a change in the fish's position or change my own position," Murphy said. "Remember, with a head-on fish, just the slightest rotation to the right or left and your chances go up tremendously. But if it's coming straight at me and I have no time to reposition, I'll take the option of casting in front of the fish as opposed to casting behind it. There is still a slim window of possibility casting in front of a fish. There's virtually no window created by casting behind a fish that's moving directly towards you."
Wejebe says the biggest key to angle manipulation is to steer the lure with the rod as you reel it in.
"The angle of the cast is not as important as the angle of the retrieve," Wejebe remarked. "Things are usually changing so fast underwater that a perfect cast can suddenly become a terrible cast simply because the fish changes positions."
"The closer my lure gets to the fish's window during the retrieve, the more I use my rod tip to make crucial last-second changes to the lure's track," he said. "I might start the retrieve with the rod straight up over my head, but by the time it gets to the fish, I might be holding the rod tip way out to the right to keep the lure running towards the fish's window instead of towards the fish."
"A great cast and retrieve angle can turn an otherwise neutral fish on," Wejebe added. "It's a game of percentages and the better your retrieve angles, the more your numbers go up."
"And anytime I can make my numbers go up, I'm all for it," Murphy concluded.