Resident Reds

When professional redfish angler and guide Scott Guthrie fishes his home waters on the St. Johns River near Jacksonville, Fla., he looks like a fish genius.  He knows, long before he gets to a particular fishing spot, how many redfish will be there and exactly where each individual fish will be positioned.

“He’s incredible,” admitted fellow redfish pro Terry Brantley, who has spent time with Guthrie on the St. Johns.  “Just before you get to a spot, he’ll say, ‘There will be 5 redfish in here, two in the pocket to the left, two next to the sandbar and the biggest one will be all the way in the back.’  And sure enough, when you get in there and stand up on the platform, there they are, just like he called it.”

“Those fish are like his pets,” said Rick Murphy, Guthrie’s team partner in pro redfish tournaments.  “It’s like he has them named. He knows what they’re doing before they do.”

Guthrie and Murphy won an FLW Redfish Series event in Jacksonville in March and Murphy got to witness Guthrie’s redfish prophecies unfold into fruition several times a day.

“Everywhere we went, he told me exactly how the fish would be set up and that’s exactly how they were,” Murphy said.  “It’s awesome.  He showed me a triplet of nice reds in a creek pocket on the first day and told me they’d be in the exact same spot the next day.  When we came back the next afternoon, there they were, like they had been frozen in time.”

Guthrie’s uncanny ability does not come from black redfish magic or a direct line to the redfish gods, but rather from a decade of studying redfish in the St. Johns system.  The most powerful discovery he has made is the degree to which redfish, specifically slot redfish, are residential creatures.

It’s a commonly accepted biological theorem that once a redfish becomes sexually mature at about 4 years of age (roughly anywhere from 27 to 32 inches), the fish’s instinct to migrate towards the deeper passes to be with the spawning stock kicks in.  But up until that time, immature redfish (legal slot reds) just want to hang around the “house” and eat.

“We’ve always known that slot-size reds were more prone to stay in one general area than the bigger migrating reds,” Guthrie said.  “But it was not until I started studying them in the tidal creeks of the St. Johns that I truly understood just how much of a homebody a redfish can be.”

The St. John’s tidal basin provides Guthrie a unique laboratory in which to study redfish. Unlike the open shallow flats and passes on the Gulf of Mexico, the St. Johns is more of a one-way in and one-way out system.

“Once a fingerling red finds its way into a tidal creek off the St. Johns or Intracoastal Waterway, that fish stays there,” Guthrie said.  “And I believe it will live in that same 200-yard creek until it is caught and moved or until it becomes big enough to join the spawning reds in deeper water.”

At times, Guthrie has watched the same group of reds inhabit a creek for weeks and months at a time.

“They’re not big schools, just small packs of maybe 6 to 12 fish,” he said.  “They do make daily movements with the tides.  We have a 6-foot tide here in Jacksonville and when the tide comes in, they’ll move up into the flooded marsh grass and eat fiddler crabs.  But when the tide drops out, they find their way back into the exact same tidal creek pool they were sitting in before the tide came in.  It’s like clockwork and they do it day after day.”