Pro Tips: June 2008

Pro Tips: June 2008
I write very few articles about redfish simply because I concentrate most of my fishing effort on speckled trout. This started because one could keep more trout on a guided trip when I started guiding in 1980. We caught plenty of redfish back then but I think we have even more redfish today. One thing is certain, we had fewer people trying to catch them back then. Of course with freezes and increased fishing pressure it did not take long for the Texas Parks and Wildlife to take action and reduce redfish limits from ten per day to five and now down to three.

Along with the CCA, SEA, and our TPWD hatcheries and stocking program, redfish abound today in every bay system on the Texas coast. The rubber-lipped carp as some call them has been elevated to the status of king and I for one am glad to see it. Sure I prefer to chase large trout but there is nothing that can save a day quicker and more impressively than a few of these bronze-backed knuckle busters.

Over the past few seasons our trout bite has suffered from causes we cannot control. The drought a few years ago hurt us, then in 2007 we had so much rain and run-off that our choice reefs held more channel cats than trout. Honestly… channel cats in the bay. Not too hard to get on a stringer but, boy howdy, getting them off is a chore! Just kidding, I never kept any but I saw some that did.

With our trout bite off, I had to do something. Sorting through my mental data banks I retrieved what I needed from my early guiding years and began searching for redfish on an increasing number of trips. I found that many of my trout enthusiasts had no problems catching and releasing redfish when the trout would not cooperate. This leads to the often asked question… What are the key elements to consider when searching for redfish?

The first thing I try to explain is that they need to know a little about the makeup of the red itself. Redfish are designed to feed close to the bottom. The mouth is turned downward and the eyes are situated with a downward angle. Redfish are broad-tailed, built for power and maneuverability. Always remember that fish with forked tails are built for speed and agility.

Due to a redfish’s body shape it makes sense to me that the shallower the water the easier it is for them to feed. Do not misunderstand, I catch my biggest redfish over deeper structure but, the reason for that comes later in the article. By feeding shallow the redfish can drastically reduce the area it has to hunt. The smaller the strike zone the more efficient the feeder. All predatory species; fish, fowl or mammal like to work less and eat more.

The second bit of information you need to consider concerns the fish’s diet. What is it we see in most every redfish we put a knife to? Crabs, shrimp, mud fish and small perch are what I see most. Mullet- believe it or not- are way down the list. I have seen snakes, rats, shotgun shells and bottle tops but these are isolated instances.

If it moves in front of a hungry redfish chances are they will snap it up. We find the most crabs, shrimp and especially mud fish in our back lakes and estuaries as well as the small ditches or drains that feed them. Ditches, drains creeks or sloughs, whatever you choose to call them, are simply pathways that keep the redfish connected to the areas where the choicest of forage species hang out.

Our third thing to consider is water movement. Redfish, to me, are more current sensitive than most of us give them credit for being. Many believe that once redfish move into a back lake or marsh they stay, never leaving. This is not totally true but, there is some truth to it, and I’m probably confusing you. Don’t feel bad, I was for years until I actually was able to observe just what they really do. When the water level falls, the reds actually move into the shallows, not leave with the water as lots of people believe. During high tides the reds often turn and move out of the lakes as the waters come up.

Here’s why I believe as I do. As tides fall the actual acre feet of water is decreased, leaving less water for everything in the shallows. The redfish move in and eat as the residents of the shallows are vacating. On an incoming tide the acre feet of fishable water is dramatically increased, making hunting much harder due to countless new areas of flooded grasses. The effort spent searching for bait does not outweigh the rewards so they pass on that option. By heading out of the shallows, a lake let’s say, the redfish push up along the outside shorelines. This response to water movement allows them to push the bait up against a wall, the shoreline is the wall.

I have noticed over my many years of wading shorelines that redfish seem to congregate on areas of the shoreline where there is an actual beach, not flooded grass. Here again, at least to me, the reason is simple; here they can push the bait up against dry land. The bait can only go so far, and then it must fight its way off the shoreline to the safety of deeper water.

The vibration and commotion created by that commotion this attracts redfish. I have seen and have photos of redfish that have knocked the bait right out on dry land, and then slid up there on their side and ate the flopping fish. Hey, it’s true, hard to believe but true.

Now we know where the feed, how they feed, the foods they prefer and the effect current and water level can have, but we still haven’t made a cast. Hey, the work is locating the fish and playing the tides. The catching is usually one of the easiest pieces of the puzzle.

Here is how I approach a likely looking redfish area and how I catch them. First, I prefer to wade. Wading in back lakes and along some shorelines can be grueling business due to softer than normal bottoms. Crabs, shrimp and especially mud fish, prefer softer bottom conditions. All three bury somewhat in the soft top layers of the bottom as protection against predation. Moving WITHOUT SPOOKING is the key. If you’re spooking mullet, you’re spooking redfish. I have to laugh when I see a guy tromping across a shallow fl at headed to the back of the cove. With the noise they are making the fi sh will be in the next county before they get to where they thought the fish would be.

I do a lot of standing and listening as I creep along. Feeding redfish are noisy; they crash and bust the surface making it hard NOT to notice them. But hear this… once they suspect that something is up they’ll disappear instantly without so much as a ripple.

Redfish have incredible senses. I believe they can sense your presence even when you’re standing still. I often kneel to reduce my silhouette and get the right angle for the cast. Sometimes I kneel when fighting one to avoid spooking others nearby. This pays off when a fish follows the one you have hooked. If you’re lucky and land your fish without spooking others you can get two from the same spot. You have to be in stealth mode when fishing shallow, especially on days with little or no wind.

Bait selection for me is simple; I downsize to the 4-inch or 3-inch Sea Shad Assassins for shallow applications. If I am on a deeper, outside shoreline or drifting, I like the 1/2-ounce spoon. Gold, silver, black, and even chartreuse, I use them all. The vibration of the spoon is critical in my opinion. The luxury the spoon brings to the game is the ability to cover lots of water very effectively.

As always these are my tactics and they work well for me. I know on the tournament trail I hear tons of theories and most of them sound OK but I find myself sticking to what I know best and that is just what I have written about for you. Always stick with the plays that have the best blocking!

May Your Fishing Always Be Catching.