Shallow water sight-fishing along the Texas coast seems to mean chasing redfish for most anglers. That’s understandable, I suppose. Redfish fit the bill quite well. They feed shallow, give away their presence by tailing and pushing wakes, readily eat lures or flies, and are famous for an outsized fight. All around awesome targets and certainly one of my favorites.
But if you’re limiting your casts to only reds and passing on everything else, you’re missing out. Sight-fishing is all about the challenge and being able to watch the fish eat. If it’ll eat my fly, I’m throwing. Some will turn their noses up at the thought but, I’ve even caught some big hardheads by sight-casting. Why not? I release 99% of what I catch anyway. And, if there are no better targets around, I like to amuse myself.
Think of all the different species you see drifting a flat or poling the marsh. Sheepshead, black drum, jacks, gar, and those unidentifiable dark spots you know aren’t reds. If I’m on the bow, there’s a cast headed in that direction. Not only is it a challenge to see if you can get them to eat, it’s also great casting practice for when that big red does show up. How many times have you stood on the bow for an hour waiting for a shot, only to blow it because you weren’t warmed up?
I see it all the time with my customers. It’s a slow day (it happens) and the customer isn’t into blind-casting. I’m seeing the occasional sheepshead or drum and pointing them out as possible targets. Nope, not gonna do it. If it isn’t a red or trout they refuse the shot. Then along comes a pig of a redfish happily rooting its way down the shoreline. Miss, miss, miss...spooked.
I can fully understand if you don’t want to cast to a hardhead or piggy perch, but why pass up a sheepshead or drum? They require a perfect cast, spook with the slightest provocation and are picky eaters. They also represent themselves quite well once hooked and aren’t too shabby on the dinner table, if you’re so inclined.
Alright guys, now that the snobby folks have turned the page, it’s just us fun people. I figure if you’re still reading I should probably let you in on a few things I’ve learned about casting to “trash fish.” First off, pretty much everything out there eats shrimp.Second, most everything eats small crabs.
This is good news for fly fishermen. Most popular flies used for redfish are designed to imitate a small shrimp or crab. The Redfish Crack fly I rely on can sort of look like either one depending on how it’s tied and how you fish it.
For those of you using conventional gear, the best thing I’ve found for catching drum or sheepies is a Buggs jig. They also work like a charm on reds. Buggs are flathead lead jigs tied with rabbit fur, like flies. When simply resting on bottom the fur wiggles and waves like something alive. I’ve got a whole box of them in a variety of weights and color combinations.
Sheepshead are perhaps the toughest of the crew to catch on artificials. The good news is they’re pretty common so you’ll get plenty of opportunities. The bad news is they’re spooky as all get out and you’ll only catch a small fraction of them. I generally find them more agreeable from fall through early spring.
In the fall, as the shrimp are moving along the edges of the marsh grass preparing to migrate, you’ll see a lot of sheepshead right against the bank. They’ll be slowly working along, poking their nose in the grass hunting the shrimp. I like to wait until the fish backs out of the grass and starts to move down the bank before casting. If you can drop a small shrimpy looking fly right on its nose you can often receive an immediate strike. A few inches too far away and they’ll never see it, too close and they’ll flee like you shot at them with a rifle.
During the dead of winter, I like to look for sheepshead along the edges of oyster reefs.They can often be found tailing just like reds as they poke around the loose shell. The hardest part is getting the fly or Buggs jig in front of their face without hanging up. I’ll usually just wait patiently for the fish to move to the outer edge of the reef or over a clear spot. Drop the fake a foot or two in front and let it sit. As he gets close, give it the slightest movement to get his attention. Do it right and he’ll pounce, pinning it to the bottom. Do it wrong and he’s gone in a puff of sediment. But that’s the fun of it. I’ve thrown to hundreds of sheepshead with flies and only caught a handful. There’s a reason they’re called Texas permit.
Black drum are just flat out weird. In general, they can be found in the same areas as redfish. Smaller drum, under 10 lbs, tend to be the pickiest about eating artificials.Treating them like a sheepshead on a reef will sometimes work. The generally accepted fly is small and dark, same with a Buggs jig. However, I once found myself in a large shallow pond on Matagorda Island that was loaded with 5- to 10-pounders. I had tried all the traditional methods and flies to no avail. On a whim I tied on a small bright-pink shrimp.
My first cast was to a drum headed straight at me. I was shooting for a spot about a foot ahead of him but missed left. I knew I was toast so I stripped the fly quickly from behind the fish towards his head while waiting for the inevitable mud puff and fleeing wake. As the fly passed within inches of his gill plate it spun and hammered it. I figured it was a fluke, but tried it again on the next fish. Time after time it worked like a charm and I had a blast. I’ve tried it several times since then without catching a thing. Like I said, drum are weird.
There are times when we find large drum way back in the marsh. It’s not unusual to see 20- to 40-pounders tailing like crazy. These fish tend to be a bit more aggressive about eating artificials. Treat them like you would a tailing redfish with the only difference being the lure often must pass within inches of their nose to get a response. It may take repeated shots, but it’s worth it. A really big drum in shallow water can put up quite a fight.Next time you’re out there and the redfish have disappeared, give these oddballs a try.You might just find that you enjoy the challenge.