In wisdom gathered over time I have found that every experience is a form of exploration. –Ansel Adams
Regardless of what type of fishing you enjoy there is a common thread that binds all of them together and it is discovery. Every time you head out for a day on the water there is always the uncertainty of being able to locate fish. Other questions bounce around in your head – Will the water be clear or murky? Will the tide be moving? Which direction will the wind blow? Will it be crowded?
Over the years, folks on my boat have asked dozens and dozens of times, “Why did you decide to fish this area?” Another common one is, “How did you find these fish?”
The simplest answer and perhaps best answer is that when you head out in the morning you need a plan that enables you to quickly eliminate “bad” or less productive water in favor of “better” water and angling conditions. There are several ways to go about finding fish and here are some that work for me.
As many of you know, my main focus the last several years has been targeting redfish in the shallow marsh lakes that surround Sabine and Calcasieu. The game plan I’m going to share will be associated with these areas.
First variable on my list is water clarity. The clarity factor is huge as it provides immediate feedback regarding bait supply as well as the ability to actually see fish. Clear water in marsh environs usually indicates the presence of grass or other vegetation, which basically acts as a filter, that helps hold bottom sediment in place. The grass is also a haven for shrimp, crabs and baitfish, which in turn attracts the predator species we seek.
Speaking of crabs, they are probably the most important forage species to look for when searching for marsh redfish. Crabs are without a doubt the main food item I find in the stomachs of the redfish I clean, comprising as much as 90% of their diet. In a nutshell; the more crabs you can find the greater the probability you will also find redfish in targetable numbers.
Once I locate clean water in the marsh, decent vegetation and a few crabs, I really start feeling like the odds are beginning to stack in my favor. At this point it’s time to employ one or both of my two go-to “search” lures – MirrOlure’s She Pup and the TPE Manic Shrimp by Savage Gear fished under a rattling cork. I know plenty of good fishermen who tend to turn to a spoon or even a spinnerbait to search water when the redfish are not visibly showing themselves. Whichever bait you choose, you need to be able to cover lots of water quickly in order to establish a pattern, and this is exactly where the She Pup shines.
I personally prefer the smaller topwater plugs – She Pup, Heddon Spook Jr, or the smaller Skitter Walk (M-08 – 3.5”) because they more closely mimic the size of mullet or mud minnows redfish will clamp their jaws on if they are not rooting bottom for small crabs or shrimp.
More on shrimp, I must say I am absolutely blown away by the durability of the Manic Shrimp, it’s something you need to see to believe. I have fished the same Manic Shrimp for at least a month and it still looks nearly new, even after catching dozens of redfish and largemouth bass.
Now, fishing these brackish marshes, you have a few more variables to contend with, and one is how the amount of fresh water affects vegetation growth. In some areas on the far north ends of both Sabine and Calcasieu estuaries, the grass or vegetation can seemingly grow several inches overnight. It’s not uncommon to fish a pond on Monday and by the weekend it’s so grassed up that it’s virtually impossible to run a lure through the vegetation.
Nothing is more frustrating than watching fish push around underneath a mat of vegetation and not be able to get to them. That helpless feeling of watching those fish soon went by the wayside as I pulled a trick from the bass fishing playbook by using a plastic frog and having both great success and a sensory overload at the same time. If you have never fished a frog over vegetation, you have a treat in store. A redfish exploding on a frog is one of the coolest bites you will ever witness. When redfish decide to eat your frog, rushing through a tangle of grass to annihilate it, what happens before your very eyes is as great a thrill as you are likely to experience in shallow water fishing. I am completely addicted to it.
Okay, so we have established a solid way to find fish in the event you are unable to locate sight-cast targets which, by the way, is an exceptionally effective method. If you are fortunate enough to get in the right water where you can sight-cast those redfish, it becomes a brand-new ballgame.
One aspect of shallow water fishing that many anglers overlook – if you can easy spot those fish, they can see you, too. Any unnecessary motion or movement on the part of the angler; too many false casts by fly anglers or reaching down to switch spinning or baitcast rigs, can blow your chances for a hookup quicker than you can blink.
Shadows across a fish will do the same thing. I cannot tell you how many times I have pushed my boat across a pond to get into position, only to have a pelican or cormorant fly over and spook my target fish with their shadow. Talk about frustrating. Be smart, keep your moves to a minimum, remember your lure placement, and your hookup ratio will undoubtedly increase.Hopefully what I have provided here will enable you to locate and catch more fish this summer in the marsh. Don’t be afraid to explore new water or try a new technique because you never know what may work on any given day. Exploring pays off regardless whether you catch a dozen or simply discover more lakes and sloughs to visit another day. Every day on the water makes you that much smarter and a better angler.