Chasing Wintertime Giants
Winter days can prove difficult when it comes to fishing and weather conditions. Cold fronts with bitter north winds tend to make things even more challenging. However it does set the stage for a few opportunities that only come around during these months. One of these happens to occur in neighboring waters just to the east and when timed just right, can make for some incredible sight-casting possibilities.
Down in southern Louisiana, the Mississippi River Delta provides some of the best fishing you will ever find; it truly is a world-class fishery. As far as redfish, you can catch them year-round there and in pretty much any weather condition. Once the cold weather kicks in though, the big bull reds that tend to stay offshore decide to come into the shallows of the marsh. When conditions align you have an opportunity to spend a full day of sight-casting to giant redfish.
I have been making the trip to southern Louisiana for quite a few years but have only been going during winter for about the past three. I have learned a lot about the fishery during the colder months and there is still plenty more that area can teach me. When it comes to catching wintertime redfish, I would say sight-casting is the most rewarding way to do it. But when your goal is to catch a 40-inch-plus red, things can become a lot more interesting in a hurry. I will never forget my first sighting of one of these giants; I actually dismissed it as a log until it moved.
When it comes to catching them, most any presentation will work. They are big fish and usually won’t pass up a meal. Our favorite method by far is fly fishing and one thing I learned very quickly was to avoid flashy fly patterns. While they can be generally eager to eat, they will also tend to turn away from anything too gaudy or flashy at the last second. Learning this, I usually stick to more natural colors such as light-brown shrimp patterns and white streamers. As far as your tackle selection I would advise an eight-weight rod, or even a nine or ten-weight. For tippet I recommend at least 20-pound fluorocarbon. You must remember that we are dealing with some really big and strong fish here.
If by chance you are not an accomplished fly angler, don’t worry. Flies aren’t the only things they will eat. I will typically have two other rods rigged and ready – one with a larger swimbait and the other with a Z-Man Chatterbait. I believe the flutter and vibration produced by the Chatterbait will awaken a redfish and entice them to eat more often than just about any lure you can offer on a cold day. Every now and then when you have a perfect weather day and the fish are in aggressive feeding mode I will tie on a topwater, strictly for the fun factor. There is nothing quite like watching the surface bulge created by a giant redfish chasing down a topwater and then crushing it.
One of the key factors in catching these fish is finding clearer water. Even though clarity can be highly weather dependent, some areas hold it better than others. I have come to find that the closer you get to the gulf, the better the chances of finding clearer water, especially on an incoming tide. Weather permitting, the barrier islands are a really great place to start. The bigger fish like to get in the first gut on the beachfront and slowly cruise along in search of an easy meal. If you can’t make it all the way out to the beachfront, the marsh areas that lie closest will almost always harbor decent clarity and plenty of big fish.
A buddy from West Texas accompanied me on one of my first trips, and although he is an avid fly angler he had never done anything saltwater related. The first day’s weather was perfect; the kind dreams are made of. We headed immediately for the beachfront in hope of finding a few fish crawling the first gut. It didn’t take long to find a few and fortunately, one of them was a willing participant. It didn’t quite make the famed 40-inch mark but still a respectable mid-30s specimen, and a dang good one by any measure for your first. That was the only fish we could get to eat due to a cold front having blown through the day prior but my buddy got to see firsthand why we headed down there. We probably saw well over fifty fish that day and we both knew it was going to be a fun weekend. It took two more days before he hit the coveted 40” mark but he finally got it done. Needless to say, every winter since, I pick him up at the New Orleans airport and we head south for several days.Since my earliest wintertime excursions to southern Louisiana, several more friends have become interested and joined as regular participants, which helps in gathering fishing intel and improves fishing success for the whole group. The real fun though comes when we meet up after a long day on the water. The camaraderie over a few cold beers and several dozen fresh oysters gathered while on the water makes the stories of giants landed (and missed) all the more special.