Focusing on Redfish

Focusing on Redfish
Jay’s redfish lure lineup; mostly spoons and soft plastics, occasionally a topwater or two.
Speckled trout own my heart; no denying that. But in this article I want to focus on redfish. True that I sometimes refer to trout as the "cats of the flats" to demonstrate my high regard. And, if you might have fished with me in the past, I may likewise have referred to redfish as "rubber heads" and in other not-so-glamorous terms.

A big part of my love affair with trout has always had to do with the fact that catching them reliably, year round, requires anglers to understand them in finite detail. Their movements as relates to changes in habitat—daily and also long term, abundance or scarcity of preferred forage, preferred structure types through the seasons, sometimes quirky feeding habits, and so forth.  Even still, knowing where and when they'll show up is by no means a guarantee that you'll catch them. These are what make this species an exceptional challenge, and what places them at the top of many angler's trophy list. Catching upper-class trout consistently has never been by chance. Put that in your book!

On the other hand, redfish for years played second fiddle in my fishing efforts and guiding career. I gave them nicknames they didn't deserve. I have since matured and now see them differently; mostly due to the fact that with today's boating and fishing pressure reds are no longer the stumble bums we once thought.

Part of that early perception probably stems from the fact that in their (then) nearly always clear and shallow habitat they were easy to see. Seeing them regularly led to being able to predict their movements. Crabs and shrimp, redfish staples, thrive on shallow grass flats where the water is usually clear, so the presence of redfish schools could be verified for weeks or even months at a time.

But the flats have changed. Tons more pressure today than ever before. The reds have changed too. Much more challenging in my book, and that's why I am writing about them.

Today, in what I call my home water (middle and lower Texas coast), redfish seem to prefer choppy to downright rough water, that contains some color. I still see them cruising the flats, but not as much. And when I do they are much harder to catch.

Let's look at this piece by piece. From Port O'Connor south, we find lots of clear water along protected shorelines. Lots of bottom grass. But while clear is great for seeing fish it usually complicates catching them.  Anglers adept with the fly have fewer problems due to the size of the offering and the stealth by which it is presented. Light tackle anglers with traditional lures often spook more than they can trick into eating.  This is why I personally seldom fish in the back lakes or spend as much time on leeward shores as I do windward.

Another point I want to make here—I have always found that larger and heavier redfish seem to hold to slightly deeper areas, and do most of their feeding during the grey hours of daylight, and/or in the cover of murky water. My best tournament reds have all come from areas where prevailing wind was blowing onto the shoreline, the water sanded up a bit, quick access to deep water if they got spooked, and especially if that is where the bait was holding.

Let's go back to that "cats of the flats" thing and compare it to how fishermen sometimes refer to redfish as "acting like a bunch of hogs." If you know anything about wild hogs you know they are quite intelligent and highly adaptable. Hogs will become almost totally nocturnal when pressured by hunters or other human activity, or they will simply vanish. I believe fish can react in very similar fashion.

In prior articles I have discussed how I use boat traffic to push fish into an area where I have created a "safe zone." The way I position my boat along a shoreline and the way I arrange my guys wading in a line will force boaters to go around, the polite ones anyway. Those boats "going around" will push fish that have been holding deeper, toward us and into the safe zone our presence creates, further up on the flat. The simple fact that this tactic has worked innumerable times is proof enough for me. Trout and redfish alike react to pressure. Knowing how fish react to pressure is one thing but, more important (I believe), is knowing where they were holding in the first place.

Redfish are known to frequent shorelines with submerged grass, back lakes, drains, reefs and drop-offs that run parallel to shallow flats. That's too much area to search during any one fishing day. So let's not make it any harder than it needs to be.

Redfish like edges and walls. Edges of grass, whether submerged or standing above the water, are ideal places to concentrate you efforts. On windward shorelines wave action washes out submerged grass leaving an area of bare bottom. I refer to these as fish highways. What I call walls, reefs and bars away from shorelines, have very similar features. Wave action pushes bait into the highway and up against the wall, where reds commonly travel and where they can also often be found holding slightly deeper offshore, in ambush mode.

In some of our back bays we have clay banks where wave action forms cut-outs into the main bank. During high tides redfish will cruise up and down, bobbing in and out of the cut-outs. It's cool to listen to them busting bait in the cut-outs.

Drains (sloughs) that connect back lakes to bays are prime areas for setting up when the tide is moving and waiting for fish to come to us. To me, a perfect drain has many twists and turns along its course. In each turn, moving water will create an eddy where bait will gather to gain relief from the moving water. These then become ambush points for predators.

Recently I watched an upper-slot red position itself into the current along an eddy and remain almost stationary with only the occasional curl of its tail to keep it perfectly positioned. I was amazed how little effort was required to perform this feat. You can bet that with one strong tail sweep it could have nailed a hapless shrimp or finger mullet fighting the current.

The newest form of redfish structure in our bays is rip-rap. Brick mats and rock laid along shorelines and spoil islands to prevent erosion. Cord grass grows up through gaps in the material above the water line, oysters and seagrass below. Crabs and other small crustaceans take refuge in the cracks and crevices of the rip-rap and this is what attracts the reds. Reds will slide up on a brick mat and have half their body out of the water at times. This structure is undoubtedly one of the easiest to fish. One can literally just ease along and cast whenever you spot a wake or a cruising fish.

I'm about to run out of space here but I want to mention again how comfortably redfish seem to hold along windward shorelines when the wind comes up enough to add color to the water along the bank. The line where deeper, greener water over submerged grass meets the sanded-up area is your strike zone. Reds love it, trout too. On days of calm mornings it is usually best to wait for midday wind to create this scenario.

My list of redfish lures isn't very long. I love my Bass Assassins and lately the MirrOlure Provoker 5" shad has joined the go-to lineup. I rig both on the new Bass Assassin swim hooks and my old faithful 1/16 ounce Bass Assassin screw-lock heads—2/0 Mustad black-chrome hooks. I also rely on 1/4 and 1/2 ounce spoons because they fly like bullets into the wind. Copper is my favorite but hard to find. Silver works well on bright days with cleaner water. In air-clear water its best to go with black, paint some if you can't find any in the store. I learned that from my dad. Bagley Bait Company no longer makes a copper weedless spoon but their gold and silver weedless (hammered or mirror finish) work very well for me.

May your fishing always be catching.  -Guide Jay Watkins