Bait and Rigging
Fresh dead white shrimp of approximately 25-count make an excellent offering, work equally well on most any bait rig, but are really good fished on what I call the "knocker rig." This rig is basically an egg weight riding directly above or very close to a short-shanked Mustad 9174 5/O hook, (see photo.) By keeping a taut line you can occasionally lift the rig and drop it back down to tap the rocks or bottom. The weight placement, short hook lead and tight line help minimize snags while keeping the bait in the strike zone.
Spanish sardines, menhaden and fresh mullet claim a large percentage of hookups. Up close to the rocks or over sticky structure, a single-drop rig with a 2-6oz lead bank sinker works well. When fishing channel edges or open water without snags, we use a 36" Carolina rig with an egg sinker of similar weights. Both rigs are constructed with 60-pound monofilament and a Mustad 5/O- to 9/O 39941 circle hook on the business end.
When using large natural baits, say 5- to 7 inches, I like to nip the tail off before deployment. This helps keep the bait from spinning unnaturally in the current and disperses the natural scent at a quicker rate.
On obtaining bait, my rule is to purchase twice as much as I plan on using. Approximately five pounds per person for a full day of catching is good measure. More is always better in case of unusually active bait stealers, a super-hot bite, or if chumming might be needed to get and/or keeping them on the bite.
If it is the big backbreaking fish you seek, I would suggest getting some live blue crab. The sweet smell and flavor from a whole cracked crab is something few self-respecting redfish and black drum can pass up. You may even have a few bonnethead or blacktip sharks crashing the party for fresh crab. After removing the carapace (the large upper-half of the shell), leave the body whole with pincers attached for best results. Use the same bait rigs previously mentioned and check the bait often due to washout and small fish nibbling on the meat.
Jetties and Passes
Jetties and passes that provide access to the Gulf are prime locations for congregation. Areas with good current flow bring the fish together, grouping them in large schools as well as funneling forage to them. Look to the ship channel ledges and waterway intersections for increased current. Ends of rock groins, near boat cuts and deep holes on the sides of the channel are also good places to fish.
Redfish schools will seek structure in state-water depths for the same reasons as they do inshore–FOOD! The oil and gas platforms, wrecks and ship channel markers-buoys are all worth investigation. With these fish schooled up they should not be hard to locate, commonly found down-current of structure.
Out past the jetties most of the same bait and terminal tackle will work. The use of 6-10oz lead weights may be necessary with increased water depth and current velocity found offshore. Be prepared with a heavy drag setting, often the larger more aggressive fish bite first. Depending on the late-season water temperatures red snapper, cobia and kingfish could be in the same areas.
Honoring and respecting the fish
In consideration of the size and maturity of the fish we are targeting, along with the obligation to release these spawners, heavy tackle should be used. We normally use 50-65lb braided line or 30-40lb monofilament on the reels. The rods are capable of handling the weight of the fish and force of the current where these fish reside. A long, tiresome fight on wimpy tackle puts undue stress on them during an important part of their life cycle.
Each year many people decide to tag and keep a large redfish because it is the biggest fish they have ever caught. A trophy indeed if it is headed to the taxidermist, but many anglers are disappointed at the cleaning table by the coarse meat and tough skin. I regularly encourage my clients to release the mature redfish; fish up to thirty-three inches are the largest I suggest for table fare. If someone is interested in a trophy mount for the wall there are many fine companies that offer replica fiberglass mounts. All one needs are approximate measurements and some photos showing the fish's colorization and distinguishing marks to make it their own. Most taxidermy companies worth their wages will custom paint your fish to carry the memory for years to come.
Many of these large redfish and black drum caught will be very tired and/or have their swim bladder inflated internally. Many people "deflate" fish with venting tools made specifically for this purpose but the puncture wound they create may do more damage than good. Most of the vent tools were designed for snapper and grouper under 20 inches in length, so the venting needles are not manufactured for tough skin and scales of large drum.
Holding the fish's head under water facing into the current helps them revive and resuscitate after an honorable battle. Sometimes this may take the better of ten minutes so I've devised a tool to help both me and the fish. I have been using a 3-inch plastic spring clamp attached to a boat cleat with 1/4-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. There is probably a fine line to walk here when considering rules of possession while this maneuver is enacted. I keep a hook still attached to the fishing rod lightly embedded in their lip while firmly clamped. Each person should use this method with their own discretion.
Get to the rocks this month if at all possible and enjoy the great game fish October is known for. Be safe, courteous to others, and respectful to the fish.