Mention “sight-fishing” and a few thoughts that immediately pop into your head are tails, clear water, and shallow. None of these conjure thoughts of Texas’ upper coast. Sight fishing is a lower coast activity, and can only be done down there. At least that’s what a lot of people believe.
Well, if you subscribe to that line of thinking you could have a rude awakening coming or, you are cringing because you have already figured out how good this style of fishing can be and you’re not terribly anxious to see the cat leaping out of the bag. Regardless which group you might represent, here’s hoping the next few paragraphs will help you take advantage of this incredible style of fishing. It is one of the most exciting methods I’ve ever witnessed 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 the sight-fishing enthusiast is a white sand flat with patchy areas of grass that break up the background and, of course, clear water. These conditions do not exist in my world, the bottom is dark and the grass is thick. But, contrary to popular belief, we do have clear water.
The biggest myth about the upper coast is that the water never gets clear; this is not true by any stretch of the imagination. The problem with the upper coast is that we don’t have the background or contrast that shows how clear the water really is. On a white sand bottom it’s easy to see the difference as everything jumps out at you from a white background. Flip the colors around and things get a little more challenging. Your eyes have to be convinced that you are looking at a dark bottom and not muddy water. The first time I have a client throw a spinnerbait or a spoon in this kind of water it’s funny to see their reaction as they cannot believe the water is actually that clear.
So, now that you have gotten past the whole, “I can’t see into the water,” problem, it’s time to go to work. Unlike our neighbors to the south, the upper coast fishermen have to read a little more water in order to be able to see their fish. Everybody loves to see that big red stand on his head and wave his blue-fringed tail in the air, 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 just give away their position with a slight ripple or push of water that changes the surface just enough to pinpoint their location. Being able to see these subtle signs is made much easier from an elevated position like a casting or poling platform. The elevated position allows one to see farther into the water by cutting glare and light refraction. It’s always fun to put a new angler up on the poling platform for the first time and let them see just how much better the view really is, especially when you are looking at fish.
Speaking of looking at fish, quality polarized glasses are an absolute must if you are going to be successful in sightcasting; you almost cannot do it without them.
I recently started using a new brand called Bajío, (pronounced bah-HEE-oh) which is a Spanish word for the shallows. So far I have been completely pleased with all aspects of the glasses, they are light and comfortable with ridiculously clear lenses and fantastic polarizing qualities. There are plenty of great brands on the market to choose from but the most important choice is to be sure and have them when you fish. Without a good set of polarized glasses you can almost forget about seeing the fish and you can count on having a nasty eye-fatigue headache at the end of the day from staring at the surface of the water. Polarized glasses are easily one of the most important pieces of equipment you can take along on a sight-casting trip.
Another crucial piece of equipment is lure selection, for not only this style of fishing, but this particular area as well. The majority of the time I am back in the shallow marshes we throw topwater plugs and 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 Pup, Spook Jr, Skitter Walk Jr, or Spit’n Image seem to work best because they are the perfect size and imitation of the shad and mullet that are so thick in these backwater lakes. The only drawback to these smaller plugs is that the really big redfish, fish in the 12- to 16-pound range, tend to take the plug so deep that you really have to be careful removing it from their throat in order to avoid injuring them.
Now there is one more lure that probably provides the ultimate rush and most vicious strikes you can imagine, and that’s the Stanley Ribbit. This soft plastic frog rigged weightless and thrown into the nastiest grass can draw incredible strikes that are heartstoppers to say the least. 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!
On the subject of gear, we must also include fishing line and that is where the upper coast folks may have an advantage over their more southern neighbors. Back in these brackish marshes, line size doesn’t seem to matter as much as it does on super-clear flats where fish can see everything. I have been throwing Suffix braid in a variety of sizes, both 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 fishing in really thick vegetation where a feisty red can pull off or even break off given half a chance. Fishing braided line tends to work best in the thicker areas by allowing you the ability to put more pressure on the fish and pull them out of the cover. The ability to land these fish quicker also helps out in the summer months because you can land the fish sooner and release it healthier, instead waiting for the fish to tire, causing extra stress and making it much more difficult to revive in the warmer water. For those 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. For many saltwater anglers there isn’t much of a need to be super accurate with your casts; much of the time we are throwing into wide open areas just covering water. Our freshwater fishing brothers and sisters are much more target oriented than those of us who stay in saltwater. Becoming an accurate caster is important because an errant cast can spook a fish in the blink of an eye. The ability to accurately present a lure or work a stretch of shoreline is paramount to becoming a successful sight-fisherman. Nothing is more frustrating than working the boat into position to get shot a good redfish and having a bad cast blow the whole deal. Everyone in the boat feels the letdown, including the caster and the guide on the poling platform.
Practicing your casting at known targets and distances can greatly increase your chances of success. When my son Hunter was six or seven years old we would play a game in the yard. Hunter would cast from the poling platform at me pretending to be a fish. I would walk slowly out in front of him and he would have to cast in front of me, far enough not to spook me, but close enough to where the plug would still be within the strike zone. My neighbors got a big kick out of our little game, especially when I would stop, lift one foot, pretending to be “tailing.” 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. 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; I think you’ll agree it’s well worth the effort.