Chasing Cajun Cruisers; A Look at Upper Coast Shallow-water Fishing

Chasing Cajun Cruisers; A Look at Upper Coast Shallow-water Fishing
Kamm Morgan with a beautiful slot redfish from a southwest Louisiana marsh.
Mention sight-fishing and most folk's thoughts leap instantly to redfish tailing in clear, shallow water; none of which conjures images of our upper coast. Sight-fishing, we're told, happens between Port O'Connor and Port Isabel and can only be done down there.

If you subscribe to this traditional thinking you could be in for a rude awakening. Or maybe you come from a different camp, maybe you have already discovered that the upper coast has sight-fishing too; and right now you are cringing because I'm about to give the secret away. Regardless which group you belong to, the next few paragraphs are offered to help you take greater advantage of this style of fishing. It is one of the most exciting methods I know that doesn't involve dynamite. Let me warn you, though, once you start chasing fish like this it becomes highly addictive; so by all means proceed with caution.

Now the classic scenario for sight-fishing is and always will be bright sand bottom with patches of grass. The grass lends contrast to the background and everything jumps right out at you. These conditions do not exist in my world, the bottom is generally dark here and contrary to popular belief we do have clear water. The problem with the upper coast is that the predominantly dark bottom tricks people into believing the water is muddy. I always enjoy the reaction of first time clients when they throw a spinnerbait or spoon into that dark water and it remains plainly visible all the way back to the boat. It is amazing how that dark bottom changes the perception.

Now that I've gotten you past believing you cannot see fish in our water it's time to go to work. Unlike our neighbors to the south, upper coast fishermen have to learn to read things a little differently in order to see their fish. Everybody loves seeing a big red standing on his head waving that blue-fringed tail as if to say, "over here." Tailing fish are the top of the list for the sight-caster but they are not the only target. Knowledgeable sight-casters will take full advantage of fish that give away their position with just a slight ripple or push that changes the complexion of the surface. Being able to see these subtle signs is much easier from an elevated position like a casting or poling platform. The elevated position reduces surface glare and the distortion that comes with light refraction. It's always fun to put a new angler up on the platform for the first time and let them see just how much better the view can be, especially when you are looking at fish.

Speaking of looking at fish, quality polarized glasses are an absolute must for this game; you almost can't do it without them. In the last couple of years I have fallen in love with Maui Jim glasses and I wouldn't dream of climbing into the boat without them. Without good polarized glasses you can almost forget about seeing the fish and you can likely also count on having a nasty headache at the end of a day from staring into the constant glare.

Let's talk a bit about lure selection, not just for this particular style of fishing, but this region in general. We throw surface baits the majority of the time we spend in the shallow marshes. We throw them for the simple fact that it's just a whole lot more fun to see these fish come to the surface and kill a plug. Smaller offerings like the She Dog, Spook Jr, Skitterwalk Jr, or Spittin Image seem to do the best as they are the perfect size to imitate the shad and mullet that are so thick in these backwaters. The only drawback to these smaller plugs is that the really big redfish, fish in the 12 to 16 pound range, tend to take them deep and you really have to be careful during removal to avoid injuring the fish. Other baits that produce well are of course spoons and soft plastics in a variety of sizes and colors. Two of my favorites are the Bass Assassin Sea Shad and tube jig, both of which we rig weedless. Spinnerbaits in both safety pin and in-line versions are also great because they can be worked in many different ways to cover lots of water when you can't see the fish. Now there is one more lure I'd like to mention and it probably provides the ultimate rush and most vicious strikes you can imagine, the Stanley Ribbit. This soft plastic frog rigged weightless and worked in nasty grass can draw heart-stopping strikes. If you have never seen a redfish come up through a mat of grass and destroy a plug you don't know what you are missing, it's incredible.

Requirements for fishing lines can vary as you travel the coast and this is where the upper coast folks may have an advantage over their south Texas neighbors. Back in these brackish marshes line size doesn't seem to matter near as much as it does on those super-clear flats. I have been using Suffix braid in a variety of sizes with and without fluorocarbon leaders and it doesn't seem to spook the fish. Monofilament in 10 to 12 pound test also works well provided you are not in really thick grass where a strong fish can pull off or even break off given half a chance. Fishing braided line gives you the ability to put more pressure on the fish and pull them out of the cover. Another good point to consider is post-release survival, especially in warm summertime water. Braid helps us to land the fish quickly and then make a good release whereas lighter mono-filament usually means a long drawn-out fight. The long the fight will stress them to a far greater degree and reduce their chances to survive. For these reasons I am sold on the braid for this type of fishing.

There is one more area that we must cover in order to make this journey complete and that's casting accuracy. In many saltwater angling situations just getting the lure out there is enough, covering wide open spaces with many casts will get the job done. Our freshwater fishing brothers and sisters are much more target oriented than those of us who stay in saltwater and their development of casting accuracy shows this. Becoming an accurate caster is important in sight-fishing. Nothing is more frustrating than working the boat into position to get shot a good redfish and having an errant cast spook the fish and blow the whole deal. Everyone in the boat feels the let down, including the caster and the guide. With practice at specific targets and known distances you can greatly increase your chances of success. When my son Hunter was 6 or 7 years old we would play a game in the yard. Hunter would get on the poling platform and cast at me pretending to be the fish. I would walk slowly in front of him and he would have to cast in front of me landing it far enough not to spook me but close enough to where the plug would still be in the strike zone. My neighbors got a big kick out of our little game, especially when I would stop and pick one foot up pretending to "tail." Our little game has paid big dividends as Hunter has become a great caster and someone I always enjoy having on the bow of the boat.

I hope I have dispelled some of the myths about sight-fishing on the upper coast and I hope that sometime in the near future you get a chance to experience it for yourself. Far too few anglers from our part of the coast have ever gotten a chance to chase fish like this and experience the thrill that this style of fishing offers. Give it a shot because it's well worth the effort.