Bull redfish and black drum, that is! Catching these big fish has become something of a specialty for me the last few Octobers. Multiple landings of these bruisers during a charter tend to put a smile on everyone’s face onboard the boat. Who can catch the most or the longest normally engages some friendly competition.
Last season during “the run” anglers regularly caught over 20 big ones in a half day charter. Some trips topped over fifty releases of reds and drum. Now that is CATCHING!
JETTIES & PASSES
Fish where they congregate; deep channels connecting the bay systems to the gulf are some of the best areas. Ship channel jetties, natural and manmade passes, the surf and nearshore structure are all good areas to target. Deeper depths of harbors and the ICW, where they intersect major bays, are also worth exploring.
I typically fish ship channel jetties by anchoring where the rock piles end and the sand bottom slopes toward the center of the channel. When an area is located, make a note of the depth you plan to fish and move up-current to drop anchor.
The bay bottom in areas with heavy current flow tend to be firmer than surrounding shallower areas. Sandy bottom gives way to hard clay that often includes occasional rock structure. I normally use a 13-pound Danforth style fluke anchor, with clevis attaching 6-feet of 5/16-inch chain. During the run I change out the chain with 8-foot of 3/8-inch for more holding capability – but a little harder on the back.
I’ve found that a scope of 3:1 works in most situations, so in 40-foot depths measure out 120 feet. Tie the length of rope off to your bow cleat before dropping anchor. Once the anchor catches, I allow the engine to continue running for safety’s sake. This immediate strain can cause an anchor to slip, a rope to sever, or a boat’s position to sheer. By aligning the boat parallel to a nearby immovable object or noting position by GPS, one can ensure the anchor is holding firm.
Once set, the engine is turned off and the throttle/gear shift advanced back into forward position. Putting the engine into gear keeps the propeller from spinning in the current and wrapping wayward fishing lines.
A good idea is to attach an anchor ball or a couple of crab trap buoys to the end of the line. If a very large fish is hooked and the line is emptying from the spool, it is easier to cast off the anchor line and chase the fish instead of increasing the drag setting and chancing the line breaking or hook pulling. The anchor buoy allows you to return to the exact fishing location without losing your spot. I normally write my TX-numbers on the buoy to claim ownership. Trust me, some boaters may try to tie up and/or retrieve your anchor without some identifying markings.
TACKLE, RIGGING & BAIT
On my charters, we typically use heavier than bay tackle when targeting big ones. Reels are spooled with 50- to 65-pound Spiderwire Blue Camo braid or 30- to 40-pound Berkley Big Game monofilament. The rods should be capable of handling the weight of the fish and force of the current where these fish reside. A long tiresome fight on wimpy tackle can cause serious stress, or even kill the fish.
Monofilament leader material of 60- to 100-pound test works well and is preferred in this style of fishing. Steel leader material is discouraged due to possibility of damaging the fish’s gill plates or bodies.
When fishing channel edges or open-water without snags, we use a Carolina rig 12- to 36-inches in length with an egg sinker heavy enough to keep the bait on bottom. The Bait Stopper Rig is another great setup which keeps the weight closer to the bait. This rig aids in assisting the hookset on the fish as it pulls away. Deep-hooking the fish is less likely as the sinker stops and slides the hook toward the fish’s mouth.
The Bait Stopper incorporates a 12-inch straight leader with swivel on the opposite end of the hook, another 24-inches of leader material tied between first swivel and another up the line. The sliding weight is added to this stretch of leader, egg weights are popular as well as using pyramid or bank style weights on a sinker slide.
Circle hooks are a must for the conservation of these fish – hooking them in the mouth 90% of the time. Rigs I use are constructed with a Mustad 39941 circle hook size 6/O - 9/O depending on the size of the bait. Keep as much of the hook gap exposed as possible to assist the hook finding solid purchase.
Fresh dead or fresh-frozen baits such as menhaden, blue crab, Spanish sardines, mullet and large white shrimp are all good choices. With finfish I insert the hook into the bottom jaw and exit between the eyes in the center of the skull. Shrimp are best hooked through the tail or threaded on the hook.
TAKING CARE OF THE BROODSTOCK
Many of these large redfish and black drum will be very tired and/or have their swim bladder over-inflated internally. Venting tools available for retail purchase work well with smaller fish. On larger fish the puncture wound may do more damage than good. The venting needles are not manufactured for tough skin and scales of large drum. Please do not poke the fish with the point of a knife
Holding the fishes head under water facing into the current helps them revive and resuscitate after an honorable battle. Sometimes this may take the better of 10 minutes so I use a fish release clamp. I have been using a 3-inch plastic spring clamp attached to a boat cleat with quarter-inch rope. With the big redfish in the water, I attach the clamp to their lower jaw and let them dangle on the surface with the current flowing into the gaping mouth.
Last October, at times, we had a half-dozen fish riding the current near the boat. If clamped lightly many of the fish release themselves when strength is regained.
Please take these measures into consideration:
- Use adequate tackle and circle hooks for big fish
- Coarse flesh of spawning-size fish is not very palatable
- Modern taxidermy can render excellent replica mounts
- Take quick photos and revive fish ASAP
- Do not remove the fish from the water if not needed