by Bob McNally
As a general rule, redfish are obliging predators… abundant, not difficult to find, and much of the time willing to hit lures and baits. But there are times when redfish can be difficult to dupe. It’s at such times that the following tactics can turn a poor day of fishing into a memorable one.
Tip 1: Rock ‘Em
Redfish love rocks, says veteran angler Capt. Bo Hamilton, of Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Rocks, he says, alter current and tide flow, and holds baitfish, crabs and other food.
Many of the best redfish-holding rocks are comparatively nondescript, often not visible above the surface. Bo advises to thoroughly check for rocks around inshore roadways, railroad embankments, marinas and other man-made sites. Even small residential canals, dredged areas and bridge overpasses can have productive rocks for redfish. Some places have great riprap structures near ramps, but rarely do anglers launching boats work these redfish magnets.
To consistently catch the most reds from rocks, Bo believes anglers have got to locate key changes—or breaks—in bank features, things like little points or bulges, an old sunken boat, etc.
The slightest thing different along riprap can hold fish. Another key spot along a rock jetty is anywhere a gouged-out place exists where water washes swiftly through during windy weather or in strong tide. It’s a good bet reds will be nearby waiting to ambush hapless bait swept along. Usually the down-current side of such rocks is best.
Tip 2: Weed ‘Em Out
Fishing deep weed edges for redfish is a deadly method of catching them. But the nature of fishing such water presents problems, contends Ken Chaumont, of Lake Charles, Louisiana. In water 3 to 6 feet deep, weedless lures, including jigs and spoons, don’t have a high hook-up percentage.
Standard jigs with exposed hooks barb redfish well, but they snag weeds. Many weedless jigs can be “redfishless,” as well, he contends.
For deep weed fishing, Chaumont uses an innovative lure by Egret Baits called the Ultra-Light Jig. It’s uniquely shaped and designed to slide over and through weeds without fouling, yet hooks nearly every redfish that strikes. Ken likes the 1/8-ounce model with a 3.5-inch Wedgetail grub. With it he says it’s possible to work a weed edge without fouling vegetation, while keeping the lure near bottom through a retrieve.
Ken positions his boat right on deep weed-bed edges, casting parallel to a weed line while maneuvering along with an electric motor. He allows a jig to sink to bottom on a tight, braided line. While keeping his rod tip low, he imparts a snappy, erratic retrieve, which allows the lure to spearhead through sparse vegetation. He also pauses a lure retrieve often, so it maintains contact with bottom where most redfish feed.
The lure works through weeds because the jig head is shaped like a wedge and knifes through most snags. Hook sets are sure, and Ken can feel every little bump along bottom or strikes from redfish.
Tip 3: Bow-Line Redfishing
Capt. Joel Brandenburg, from Apollo Beach, Florida, learned a few years ago about a lure-retrieving technique that goes against everything he knew about redfishing—yet the tactic catches more big fish than he ever thought possible. Joel says it’s a system many anglers overlook because it’s contrary to what most fishermen have learned about retrieving lures in tidewater.
“It’s simply allowing a ‘bow’ or ‘sideways U’ to form in my line during a lure retrieve, which I previously thought was a disadvantage,” explains Joel. “When I fish a creek and cast across current, the first thing that happens is I get a big arc or a wide turn in my line as the lure swings. My thoughts about a bowed line had always been that I’d lost control of the lure, didn’t know where it was going, and couldn’t feel lure action or fish striking.
“But I’ve now learned that the wide arc in my line—or ‘bag’ as some people call it—is a very important part of being far enough away from big fish that I don’t scare them. It also enables me to use light lures deeper without extra weights that big fish rarely see presented in such a natural manner. Small soft plastic shrimp or crab imitations, or near weightless soft-plastic jerkbaits are very deadly fished this way because as they swing and settle with current they look just like real shrimp, crabs or baitfish being pulled with a tide.”
To get a bow or U in fishing line, anglers generally cast up-current or up-and-across current, which starts a lure sweeping with a tide as a slow retrieve is begun. As the lure swings with tide or current, an arc or bag in the line is formed. This makes a small, light lure flicker and flutter lifelike in the water—like real bait. It also allows a lure to settle deeper in the water column, which is advantageous when employing many lure styles in flowing tides.
Tip 4: Pointing To Redfish
Points are a major source of redfish forage, said Florida inshore fishing guru and D.O.A. Fishing Lures owner Capt. Mark Nichols. And he said where food is found, reds usually are nearby. While broad points harbor the most forage, and therefore draw the most redfish, they also are the most obvious for anglers to locate and so receive the heaviest fishing pressure. On-the-other hand, small or narrow points—especially ones out in open water—are overlooked by many anglers and can harbor unmolested reds.
Finding such subtle points is not as difficult as it may seem. Often a quality inshore chart reveals points extending far from shore not easily seen by even the most observant angler. This is especially true in less clear, or turbid waters, where depth changes are not so easily discerned.
Sometimes even an easy-to-find submerged point has redfish-holding spots not so obvious to average anglers. Occasionally a point branches into “fingers,” or forms a “Y” or series of “Ys,” that are not shown on even the best charts. Only by carefully fishing a point, and all its turns and bends along contour drop-off edges, will anglers locate fingers, slight rises or humps, slots and depressions in a point that most fishermen overlook.
Tip 5: Rollin’ And Tumblin’
“Rolling” lures along bottom can score on redfish that can’t be caught any other way, says Capt. Jim Romeka, a redfish tournament angler from Middleburg, Florida. The tactic works well with jigs and spoons, in water shallow to deep.
Rolling lures works best in strong current, and one of the most important keys to perfecting the technique is to employ just the right lure weight to maintain bottom contact—but not so heavy that it inhibits a lure’s ability to tumble, or roll, along bottom.
You want a lure that sinks to bottom, but slowly rolls with current. Normally the roll speed desired is significantly less than actual current, maybe 1/4 as fast. Experiment with lure weights to get the right tumbling speed.
A good rule of thumb is to start with a light jig or spoon, then move up in size. If the lure tumbles too fast, or doesn’t maintain contact with bottom well, simply increase lure weight. It takes a bit of practice learning to gauge the size lure needed. But it’s not difficult once you catch a few reds using the technique and see first-hand what you’re trying to do with making a “rolling” lure presentation.
Tip 6: Inlet Action
Capt. Kirk Waltz of Jacksonville, Florida, targets late summer and early fall redfish at inlets, because that’s where many of the biggest reds predictably can be caught.
Kirk fishes deep, near inlet channels, drop-offs and ledges, using heavy tackle and cut crab baits. He opts for heavy gear so redfish weighing 15 to 50 pounds can be landed quickly, and released without harm. For bait, he likes large blue crabs broken into quarters or cut mullet.
Kirk moves around a good bit until big schools of redfish are discovered. Inlet reds, he says, are usually in large schools. So if you’re not catching fish from an anchored position in 30 minutes or so, it’s time to move.
If new to an inlet or pass, sometimes slow drifting with bottom baits is a good way to pinpoint schools and hot spots. Once a hefty redfish or two is caught while drifting, anchoring on the spot may be a good decision.
Tip 7: Keep A Fishing Log
“Biologists have proven by tagging studies that large, mature red drum are home bodies, meaning they return to their natal river mouths for spawning, much the way anadromous salmon do,” says Spud Woodard, who is Director of Georgia’s Coastal Resources Division and actively involved with the state’s redfish tagging program. “For many years scientists have known that for the first three to five years of a redfish’s life, they reside inshore until they reach sexual maturity at about 12 to 15 pounds. At that they point they escape to the open ocean, where they school with other similar redfish and prowl the coast.
“New to that information is that escaped redfish annually return to their coastal rivers for spawning. I personally caught a 42-inch Wolf Island, Georgia redfish, tagged it, and re-caught the same fish at the same Wolf Island sandbar 364 days later. We’ve shown this is a common trait for tagged redfish in late summer and early fall when they return to their home waters to spawn. This is well-documented science, and it’s true for redfish everywhere. We even had one spawning red tagged at the Savannah River mouth that was recaptured on the same sandbar it was tagged, at the same time of year, seven years later,” Spud said.
This is why it’s wise to keep a detailed log on redfish trips. Where, when and how you catch reds today can be telling about trips you’ll make a year or more later.
Tip 8: Spinnerbait Savvy
Capt. Kirk Stansell, of Hackberry, Louisiana, has had outstanding success catching redfish on spinner-baits for over a decade, though he says employing spinnerbaits is still overlooked by many saltwater anglers.
Ninety percent of the redfish Kirk catches on spinnerbaits are via a technique he calls waking or bubbling the lure. With his rod tip held high, he makes a moderate, steady retrieve, which causes the lure to rise and wake or slightly bubble the surface. This is a shallow technique, best used in water less than 6 feet.
While all spinnerbaits can produce redfish, Kirk prefers extra-large models, with twin blades, which are best for waking the surface. Gold, white and chartreuse spinnerbaits weighing 1/2 to 3/4 ounce, with gold or silver willowleaf blades are excellent. Such oversize spinner-baits Kirk believes produce better-than-average-size red drum.
Spinnerbaits are excellent for adding “sweeteners” such as scented soft plastics or natural baits like whole mud minnows or mullet, bait belly strips or pieces of squid or shrimp. Such adornments aid in tempting reluctant redfish, especially in deep or cool water, or outsize ones in hard-pressured fishing areas.
Tip 9: Follow The Food
Capt. Skip James, a redfish expert on Sabine Lake, Texas, believes a consistent key to locating nomadic redfish is locating baitfish schools. Skip spends much of his guiding time on open water watching through binoculars for diving birds and surface-busting redfish.
“Birds lead the way to swirling balls of baitfish,” he explains. “Bait isn’t always easy to spot, but birds tip me off to where bait is found.”
Once he locates diving birds, casting sub-surface plugs and jigs quickly tells Skip what’s feeding. Often they are big schools of ladyfish, but sometimes it’s redfish, and they are caught fast in short order.
“When reds are pushing baitfish schools up to the surface it’s a melee of diving birds, surface-boiling fish, and often so many reds they turn the water color orange.”
Chasing bait and red schools feeding on it works for Skip from spring through fall on his home water of Sabine Lake, but he says the same thing can be found in many other areas where redfish abound.
“Find the food redfish feed on, and you’re going to be in the right place when schools of reds show,” he contends.
Tip 10: Electric “Eyes”
Sensitive fathometers are important in reading bottom formations that may hold redfish, according to Capt. Sam Heaton, with Humminbird depthfinders, who’s also a top fisherman and guide with worldwide saltwater fishing experience. Sometimes a sharp turn along a drop-off can be the vital spot holding a major school of reds. Using good electronics in pinpointing a rock pile, hard shell bottom, or a ledge along a bank can be a key to discovering a hot school of feeding redfish.
Not only are deep hot spots best revealed with a good fathometer, but often fish found deep are easy to catch because they may be overlooked and not harassed by fishermen.
“Frequently the availability of deep water (over 6 or 8 feet) makes a spot most attractive to redfish,” says Sam. “Find an oyster clump, old boat hull, or deep weed bed with a fathometer on an uncharted place, and you may have found the hottest redfish spot of the day.”
Tune in to “Brotherhood Outdoors” on Sportsman Channel on Sunday, Jan. 12 to watch IBEW member Eric Patrick try his hand at kayak fishing for redfish in the Gulf Coast.
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