As Game as Anything Swimming the Shallows!

As Game as Anything Swimming the Shallows!

Picture yourself stepping into the cool water of a shin-deep, sandy-bottomed flat at first light. It is dead calm. You stop to take it all in, spellbound as the big orange ball punches through the horizon. You are alone except for flipping mullet, pelicans, and a squadron of small triangular flags wagging in tight formation just above the water line. You notice wakes meandering in almost every direction. Right now life is good. Your first pitch is met instantly with a pull and the silence is interrupted by the froth of an upper-slot redfish protesting a curved piece of steel driven deep into its rubbery lip. Hey, wait a minute did he say redfish?

In the eyes of some, redfish are "carp" and subordinate to the Holy Grail of big trout. So we're fishing for "also rans"right? Well, no we're not. And to digress just a bit, let me say that I too was once guilty of this perception disorder that seems to increase with the northerly designation of latitude along the Texas coast.

I know many readers have been enjoying these light-tackle challengers for years and are darn good at it, but as for me, I am relatively new to this game. Reds were just never a specific target, but now that I'm in the Redfish Riviera, let's just say that more than the color of my mustache is changing. If you put my increasing maturity together with the fact that targeting trophy trout in August is kinda like hunting for a pink elephant, we need to shift focus and try for red elephants because that's what we've got down here. In case you haven't noticed, redfish are as game as anything swimming the shallows of this great blue planet.

Of course, finding fish is always the first part of the mission and you must understand that there are reds, and then there are REDS. Small resident redfish exist almost everywhere and can even be a nuisance at times, but locating and stalking schools of thick-shouldered bruisers is a whole 'nother deal. Trust the tournament guys who rightfully call these "money fish" and despite their extreme skill they often get skunked with the rest of us.

A big part of this game is understanding the patterns. Whatever you think you know; redfish can humble you repeatedly and often. That's fishing, and that is how it should be, otherwise it wouldn't be a worth messing with. One of these patterns includes working dirtier water, the same as when we are looking for magnum-sized trout.

Sightcasting in the clear shallows, as described in my opening paragraph, is obviously the ultimate. However, this is very situational, so we'll reserve that discussion and other cool aspects of fishing for these bulldozers for future stories. As for now, let's look at another way, perhaps not as glorious, but still an exciting hook-up of a truly beasty kind.

Early morning redfish that are holding shallow are often scattered, spooky, and downright hard to catch. Waiting until these fish drop off to the next water level change can give us more of a "concentrated" opportunity. Bigger reds seem to enjoy nasty little holes and like to be "cloaked" with the security of off-color to dirty colored water. As they pull down to various holes, guts, and other deviations, even though they may not be feeding aggressively, there can be enough of them piled up together that their competitive instincts take over. They will eat a good presentation simply because if they don't their schoolmates will. Walking into these holes, as we have been doing lately, has been some of the most rod wrenching action we've found.

Like anything else, timing is everything. Ridiculous summer boat traffic can alter the fish clock so a lot of this has evolved into a water-borne type of chess game, and "castling" around boat congestion is as important as working around nature. Waiting until after lunch for the Bimini top crowd to leave and then going back into little bail-off spots has been quite productive.

Think about it. Watch your boat traffic on flats, see where they might have pushed you if you were a fish, and then getting in there with determined effort can pay some hefty bronze dividends. Areas we are talking about are slightly deeper potholes where the mid-day wind covers them with a color change, wind blown guts near shorelines that turn muddy, small depressions on the flats proper, or any number of places where you would hide if you were a fish and wanted to be left alone. You don't always see visible bait either, just look for those bail off spots next to prime areas which make sense. They are everywhere, and by thinking about it, we can find them.

When we do find them, the actual catching of these "lay-up" fish is either easy or specifically skilled as far as presentations and retrieves go. When things are easy and aggressive, a topwater is a most excellent thrill tool. That obnoxious She-Dog can cause some serious mid-day wreckage when they are in the mood for it. However, most of the time, it's the lowly soft-plastic tail pulled near the bottom that will produce the most consistent results.

We are still loving those Devils from Brown Lure Co. They don't spin like some of the others for one thing, and you'll never go wrong by pulling a swimming plastic bait near the bottom. Color is often not that important, but darker baits seem to work well in darker water. The key is putting something correctly sized in the right zone at the right speed. Next is the hookset. The bite is often extremely subtle mid-day, so good equipment coupled with an attentive mindset is crucial. You won't believe how many times I get folks complaining they aren't getting hits, and then when you examine their lure; it's completely peppered with teeth marks.

Good equipment means a good rod, and this part of the overall equation is huge. Your stick needs to have enough spunk to hurl a 1/16th oz. jig head with authority, yet have enough backbone to keep a big fish from running through your legs with an exposed topwater in tow. We chose Fishing Tackle Unlimited's All Pro rods, and depending on action preferences, either the 6'6" APXL1 or the M1 is getting the job done quite well. I don't worry about breakages or hooks in the calf anymore because I can control both.

Let's talk about the hook-set. Of everything we can do during an outing, the technical part of hooking of a fish is often sorely underrated. You've done everything right–found the fish, gotten them to address your lure, but the final answer remains about getting them to stick. Very often, especially during these mid-day hot summer conditions we are catching these fish in, the bite can be extremely delicate. Sometimes your line just goes slack, or moves ten feet sideways before you understand what has happened. More often though, it's just a tiny tick or the line resistance builds like you're pulling through grass. Anytime you feel something even remotely different, point your rod toward the offender, reel down to the weight, and if it's still there, ease back on the rod.

We don't need to do a Bruce Lee roundhouse hookset on them, and in fact, it can be easy to take the lure away from them if they are just gumming it as they often do. Keep your line tight so you can feel the smallest of deviations, let 'em eat for a second, then slip the hook home. Bite detection and proper timing on the hookset makes a huge difference between people going home happy or frustrated. Remember, fishing with lures is and will always be skill based.

Fishing is a wonderful indulgence, but if you really want to get good at all of this, consider what nature has to offer for the moment and go for it. Make sure your equipment is rightly matched, make good decisions where to expend your efforts, and learn to be confident fishing in that dirty water. Even though I am fishing most days, I am certainly no expert at redfish (if any truly exist), but I am certainly enjoying the learning part of all of this and especially the productive results from working hard for a hard pull. No matter what, when your line gets pulled, life is good, agree?

You big trout snobs might need to re-evaluate Mr. Redfish. Get good at catching them and your trout fishing will improve. It's all about understanding the workings of nature, and redfish will help you get closer. Speaking of closer, you see that black tail behind those reds? To everything there is a season. I think I read that in a good book somewhere. See you there.