Pumpkins in the Salad

Pumpkins in the Salad
Tony Dallas of Orange is all smiles as he proudly displays a nice Sabine Lake redfish.

If you spend any amount of time with a fisherman or hunter it usually won't take you very long to find out what they are all about, what really "winds their watch" so to speak. The sight of giant fish crashing a plug, a wide main framed 10 pointer strolling down a sendero, or possibly the regal outline of a bull sprig dropping into the decoys comes to mind.

Any of the aforementioned will you get your heart pumping and pulse racing to be sure but, for me, the sight of a redfish standing on its head while rooting along the bottom in a shallow marsh pond is certainly near the top of my list. Seeing those tails and backs exposed above the surface of the water and oblivious to the surroundings is what shallow water anglers dream about. A willing and receptive fish that offers the angler an opportunity to watch the whole episode play out right before their eyes in real time and clearer than HD TV could ever hope for is the "high" that keeps folks like you and me going back for more.

This month will start a run of prime fishing for those "pumpkin colored" redfish in all of the marshes on the upper coast and across the Sabine River into Louisiana that will be unmatched during the rest of the year. I anticipate the good fishing we have now to just go off the charts the farther we get into the summer season. We were certainly blessed earlier in the year with some much needed rain which just absolutely rejuvenated the estuaries on Sabine and Calcasieu. Last year the salinity levels got so high we saw a big die-off of vegetation from cattails to widgeon grass and everything in between. Most all of the marshes I fish and hunt were absolutely void of any decent vegetation which changed the whole outlook. The lack of grass kept the clarity down in much of the shallow lakes and ponds which in turn made it much more difficult to see fish. Also the high salinity really did a number on the crab population and that made finding concentrations of redfish far more difficult.

Fast forward one year to today and the situation has taken a turn for the better, a lot better. Over the past month we have just had an explosion of widgeon grass in the marsh and it's not in isolated areas, it's everywhere. The various species of grasses and bushes that line these ponds and lakes are lush and green like the backyard of a house that borders a golf course. Rosseau cane is also making a big comeback and that is important for erosion control as the vast root systems will strengthen levee's and hold soil in place as the constant battle for real estate goes on between water and solid ground. Make no mistake the drought took a huge toll on the marsh and it will never be the same but that's okay, the marsh is an ever-evolving world that very few spend enough time in to fully appreciate. No it's not the same, but it could actually be better in the long run.

So far this summer we are staying on good numbers of upper-slot fish by targeting these areas that support clear water and have a good population of crabs, especially those smaller ones that the redfish just demolish when they find them. Clear water certainly helps you see those fish but without good polarized glasses you will miss far more fish than you ever see. I recently stopped in at the new Fishing Tackle Unlimited and picked up a new pair of Smith Optics polarized fishing glasses and I absolutely love them. Smith Optics has made a name for themselves in the skiing and motorcycle world with their performance goggles that many extreme athletes have used for years. Their sunglasses seem to be carved from the same quality as the goggles. I was swayed to change from my old reliable brand once I compared them side by side due to the fact the Smith's were much brighter than other brands which will be a real help in low light and overcast conditions. The ability to see in the low light conditions also plays well here on Sabine where the water is clear but still a much darker color than other venues on the coast due to the fact that we have very little sand to offer contrast. The muddy bottoms and tannic water are almost an optical illusion as most anglers believe the water is dirty until they drop a white colored bait down and can see it clearly all the way to bottom. It's this type of water that gives those redfish the beautiful color that makes them stand out from other fish caught in the lake. Those beautiful bronze and copper colored fish swimming through the grass look just like a pumpkin in a salad bowl, unmistakable.

Now for several years I have written about my affection for the Stanley Ribbit, a plastic frog that is my go-to bait during the summer months when the vegetation starts to grow and makes fishing other lures nearly impossible. I still am a huge fan of these baits and will not leave the dock without a plentiful supply. I will also be stocked with a variety of spinnerbaits since they are so versatile and allow me and my clients to cover a ton of water. On days when the wind blows and clouds up the water you can count on a spinnerbait to help you dig out those fish as the vibration from the lure gives the redfish a target to seek out and in most cases destroy. If I have the option and enough water to fish them I will always tie on a small topwater even when I know I could catch more fish on a subsurface offering. The vicious strikes from an unannounced redfish are second to none and often leave everyone in my boat slack jawed and wide eyed. The smaller profile lures like the Flush Jr and Little Dummy from TTF are great choices since they seem to be the perfect size and you can cast them a mile. The She Pup from MirrOlure and Skitter Walk Jr from Rapala are solid choices as well.

Perhaps one of the greatest things about chasing these fish in backwater lakes is the fact that it doesn't take a boat full of tackle, a small box with a few choice baits is all you need. Interpreting the fish and how it's acting as well as being quiet upon approach are much more important than deciding if your "Swazzle Dazzle" worm has enough flake in the tail or is it just the right shade of a particular color. If you haven't figured it out by now our redfish are not that picky. If you are in Florida where these fish get pummeled daily by every tourist in a flats boat then you may need to get a bit more technical. In Texas and Louisiana you just need to get the bait in front of the fish and not fall out of the boat, period.

This is truly the beginning of the best time of the year to target redfish and more specifically to sight-cast to them. I can honestly say I get a bigger kick out of watching a customer or friend on the front deck of my boat catch a fish than if I had caught that fish myself. That feeling is definitely high on my list and I don't think that will change for a very long time.