It’s redfish time in Texas, with October being the peak of their spawn. The bulls are known to stage near passages to the gulf waters usually very willing to bite. These brutes are a blast to catch and release – and catch and catch again. Get it?
Don’t get me wrong though, I have no problem with anyone keeping a legally tagged oversized fish. I have found that fish as large as 32- to 33-inches still offer decent table fare. Anything larger tend to have much coarser flesh and a very strong fishy taste. Many of my customers that retained a larger red on a prior outing now choose to release them due to the inferior quality on the dinner plate.
If it is a fish dinner you are angling for many other fish make better table fare. In the same areas that bull reds are targeted, smaller table-fare opportunity abounds. Slot-sized redfish or black drum, blacktip and bonnethead sharks, and the ever-present gafftopsail catfish fill the bill. A couple of slots, a shark, and a few slimers can fill a gallon ziplock quite handily.
RODS and REELS
On my charters we typically utilize heavier tackle when targeting over-slot redfish. Preference being larger reels with a strong drag and line capacity to accommodate 30-pound or heavier monofilament line. The rods should be capable of handling the weight of the fish and force of the current where these fish reside.
Standard “jetty tackle” consisting of Abu Garcia Ambassadeur 6500C reels, medium-action rods and 20-pound mono line can often be too light. A long and tiresome fight on less than adequate tackle can cause serious stress or even kill the fish.
This summer season I’ve experienced great success using PENN Warfare (WAR20LW) and PENN Squall (SQL20LW) level wind reels. These star drag reels have a 30-pound monofilament capacity of approximately 240 yards and a reliably smooth drag.
Pairing these reels with the Shakespeare Ugly Stik Tiger Rod (USTB2050C701) has proven very effective and reliable. The rods have plenty backbone, a soft tip to detect bites, and are virtually indestructible. These combos have worked very well for us on kingfish, jacks, cobia and nearshore red snapper. Pulling double duty on bull reds and big black drum should work just fine.
Monofilament leader material of 60- to 100-pound test works well and is preferred in this style of fishing. Steel leader material is discouraged due to the possibility damaging the fish’s gill plates or bodies.
I construct leaders with a Mustad 39941 circle hook, 6/O- to 9/O-size, depending on the size of baits being used. I have experimented with other styles of hooks like the Kahle and Octopus with poor results. These two styles of hooks have a tendency to hook the fish deeper in the roof of the mouth, the gullet or the crushers. Round circle hooks are designed to latch into the corner of the jaw or through the lip. These areas are much kinder to the fish and also greatly simplify hook removal.
When fishing channel edges or open-water areas without snags, the Bait Stopper Rig is a great choice. This rig puts the bait on the bottom in the strike zone. When a circle hook is included, the hookset is automatic as the fish pulls away – nothing for the angler to do except wait for the rod to bend sharply. Deep-hooking the fish is less likely as the sinker stops and slides the hook toward the corner of the fish’s mouth or lip.
The Bait Stopper incorporates a 12-inch straight leader with swivel on the opposite end from the hook, another 24 inches leader material tied between first swivel and another up the line. The sliding weight is added to this stretch of leader, egg weights are popular as well as pyramid or bank-style weight on a sinker slide.
In and around snags and jetty rocks, a “knocker rig” works best. The knocker is basically an egg weight riding directly above or very close to the circle hook. By keeping a taught line you can occasionally lift the rig and drop it back down to tap the rocks or bottom. The weight placement, short hook lead, and tight line help minimize snags while keeping the bait in the strike zone.
Fresh dead or frozen baits – menhaden, Spanish sardines, mullet and large white shrimp are all good choices. Cutting off the tail from mullet and menhaden and peeling the shrimp both keeps baits from spinning in the current and releases more scent.
A supply of live blue crab is recommended if you really want to catch a large quantity of bull reds. Reds will follow the sweet smell and flavor into the current from long distances. Remove the carapace and use the body of the bait directly on the bottom. I prefer to remove the legs when fishing in heavy current and leave them attached when the current is light. Snipping the legs off near the shell with shears helps keep the meat attached internally.
Chumming definitely increases the odds of hooking up or holding a school nearby. I like to toss a handful of bait scraps up current as soon as a fish is hooked up. When using cracked crab I chum with the carapace and legs. The claws are especially productive when cracked to let the juice out.
CONSERVING THE BREEDERS
A long battle in heavy current puts undesirable stress on the fish during this important part of their life cycle. Additional time may be required to revive these big fish caught in deep water. Holding them by the lower jaw while facing into the current forces water through their gills and helps them recover.
Thank you in advance for exercising care in handling your “bull” redfish. Accomplishing a healthy release is the best guarantee that our red drum fishery will remain strong into the future.
Please keep these recommendations in mind when targeting spawning-size redfish:
- Adequately-sized tackle and circle hooks.
- Snap a few quick photos and revive the fish ASAP.
- Do not remove the fish from the water if and when possible.
- Modern taxidermy can create excellent replica mounts.
- Coarse and strong-tasting flesh of larger spawning-size redfish does not usually provide the best table fare.