Paddling with the Bulls

Paddling with the Bulls

I believe it is safe to say that we will make it through another scorching Texas summer. We aren’t there yet but the hard part is over. The temperatures are starting to drop and the long trips on the water are becoming more bearable with each passing day. Along with that, just any day now, we will receive a light puff of norther breeze – the first signal of the changes that lie ahead.

Much like the transition in weather, my own internal angler switch will get flipped in a couple of weeks. No secret, I love chasing shallow water redfish but, this time of year, I spend a little more time venturing out to deeper water. I am still targeting redfish, but much larger ones. 

The bull reds begin staging in preparation for their annual spawning activities all along the Texas coast. Hundreds of thousands of redfish from the nearshore gulf and bays congregate and the fishing can be just plain stupid. And, since only mature redfish are able to spawn, this means when you hang into one, you better be holding on.

According to TPWD Coastal Fisheries and Louisiana’s LDWF, coastal redfish become sexually mature and capable of spawning at around 28-inches in length. This means, typically, the smallest fish you will land in a given day will be 28-inches, and can exceed lengths of 50-inches. If you have ever wondered why they call them “bulls" just hang into one and you will quickly learn how they got the name.

When it comes to targeting bulls in the surf, I have found that any place can be as good as another. From my experience, the depth of water is the key factor – the exact location you decide to launch and fish is far less important. I know BTB (Beyond the Breakers) guys that do this religiously who say that 8- to 12-feet of water seems to be the magic depth. A depth finder makes finding the zone much easier than simply relying upon distance from shore. I usually anchor about 200 yards from the shore to begin fishing. If I don't hook up in the first 30- to 45-minutes I make a series of short moves further offshore until I discover where the schools are roaming.

Another helpful hint as to where to begin fishing is watching the pelicans. If you see pelicans diving or repeatedly flying a line the same distance from shore, start there. They are likely eating the same forage as the bulls. Likewise, if the action slows, the pelicans will show you where the school has gone. 

When it comes to gear and accessories, you pretty much need a completely different setup from your typical inshore fishing. First off, ditch the stake-out stick and get a decent anchor. No, you do not need a 30-pound chunk of iron but you need an anchor that will hold your kayak in the wind and current. I use a 9-pound Danforth-style anchor and it does the job well. Also, make sure to include a stout anchor line with a buoy attached. I find it useful to fashion loops in the anchor line about every ten feet and then clip to the loops. That way when you hang into a fish, you can unclip easily and continue fighting your fish. The buoy makes it easy to retrieve the anchor after the battle.

Since you are targeting much bigger fish, your favorite trout rod is not going to cut it. I use a Daiwa Lexa 400 spooled with Daiwa’s 80-pound J-Braid, paired with a heavy-action Ugly Stick. For terminal rigging I prefer 60- to 80-pound fluorocarbon leader and a heavy-duty circle hook. Cut mullet is probably the best bait for bull reds, in my opinion.  

A quick stop at a dollar store for a cheap set of steak knives is all you need for cutting bait. No biggie if you lose one or it gets rusty – just break out a new one and keep fishing. No need to risk dropping an expensive filet knife overboard.

This style of it is fairly relaxing, until you hang into a big one. You just paddle out, cast your bait out and enjoy your day. It is quite leisurely sitting in the kayak until you feel your line start slowly pulling away. Then you tighten up, set the hook and the fight is on. Your drag starts screaming and your kayak is getting towed out to sea. This is when you realize just how much power they have. Once you get them in the boat, it’s time to CPR (Catch-Photo-Release) and do it again!

Truly, the most fun aspect of the bull red run is the number of fish you can catch in a day. During the early days of autumn, landing ten or more in a day of fishing is very common. I have heard stories of thirty or more from the BTB guys. Several kayakers fishing together might land a hundred. I have personally seen schools numbering in the hundreds pushing down the coast, and sitting in the middle of them as they pass by is an unforgettable experience. Some days they will be so close to the beach that you don’t even have to launch the kayak – just step out of the truck and go to work.  

Redfish are definitely my favorite species and I typically prowl the back bays and marshes in pursuit of them. But the spawn only comes once a year, and for a few short weeks, at that. If you have never had opportunity to fish it, you do not know what you’re missing. I met a group of guys on the water last year that drove all the way from Dallas – that’s how good it is!