By Guest Columnist and Pro Angler Kris Culpepper
May is a windy month. Not that it’s a bad thing, especially if you want to catch some big redfish. Spring tides and southerly spring breezes flood the backcountry bringing tons of bait to the shallows. Redfish will follow.
Life is hard for a shrimp or crab in the thin, clear waters all along the Gulf coast marshes. Redfish move in with an appetite for crustaceans that would shame the Saturday night crowd at the local seafood joint. They eat anything in sight; constantly moving and rooting around with their tails in the air. They are hungry and focus on the prey in water so shallow that at times their backs are exposed. When they do this, they are hard to miss.
Redfish make it easy for the fishermen like us that pursue them. They make it easy for us to hook-up that is. Landing them? Well that’s another story.
During May I use two basic methods to catch them. I’m either sight fishing for them (my favorite, and by far, the most fun method) or I blind cast for them. But sight fishing is not always as easy as it sounds.
You might see the fish as close as 10 feet, just swimming by or as far as a few hundred yards if they are tailing. Sometimes I wade to them; sometimes I’ll use a trolling motor, but most often I’ll use a push pole. Once I get set up on them I’ll use a Power Pole to keep my boat in position. That frees me up to fish.
This water may be no deeper than 18 inches—or even less—so most any fish you see is a little spooky. And heavily pressured fish can spook at the sight of a bird. But it’s not hard getting on them if you’re careful. Banging around or even talking too loud can send then zigzagging redfish to deeper haunts with no thought of eating. Just go slow and keep the noise down—it will work out.
The hard part is getting a lure or bait out in front of them in the most natural way possible. You know that they are mostly eating shrimp and crabs so that makes bait selection easy. I use Gulp! Alive! not only because it looks like the real deal but because it offers scent and flavor that redfish and every other fish in the gulf just can’t help but to eat.
Match the color of the local bait and you’re set. I mostly throw it on a 3/8-ounce screw-on jig with a big 5/0 hook. I don’t use stainless hooks. If a hook gets dull I will sharpen it, but if it gets bent I’ll tie on a new one. Bending the steel ruins the integrity of the hook. Sharp, strong hooks are a must. So is strong ling. I’ve found that 50-pound test Spiderwire UltraCast is perfect. I use Moss Green line and I tie a Palomar knot directly to the jig—no leader. I know a lot of fishermen feel they need a leader but I just don’t see that it helps me so I don’t bother with it.
I also don’t use spinning rods. When it comes to landing a redfish I’m a control freak. I want the fish in the boat. That’s how I make my living and I can do a better job with bait cast tackle. I prefer a 6-foot, 6-inch medium action rod. It has the perfect balance and action to cast, work the bait, set the hook and control the fish. The Revo Inshore bait-casting reel that Abu Garcia introduced last year is the best thing I’ve seen for this kind of fishing. It’s small but powerful, holds plenty of line and the long handles give me the control I need.
When I see the fish, I just cast in front of it so the moving fish intersects the bait. When sight fishing, you really don’t need to move the bait much but you do need to move it some. The scent trail works better the slower you move the bait. Redfish hit hard so there will be no doubt when you get a bite, none what so ever. Strike them back hard and hold on.
Sometimes, even in my best areas, I don’t see any fish. Now I have to turn to Plan B: blind casting. But it’s a big ocean. Where do you start?
First, start on the leeward side of barrier islands. Here the water will be clear. Look for transition areas such as drops where shallow water falls off to deep. Two feet to four feet can be very significant and hold fish. Also, look for points with oyster shells, sort of an exposed shoal. Another good area might be where a sandy bottom turns to grass. Potholes out in the flats are also favorites of mine. Basically any transition is worth a look. If you don’t get a bite in 15 to 30 minutes, move. You’ll find them. But while you’re looking for transitions keep an eye out or tailing redfish as well.
The tackle that works best for me when I’m blind casting is exactly the same as when I’m sight fishing for reds. The only thing that changes is the lure. I use a 3/4-ounce Johnson Silver Minnow gold Sprite Spoon about 90 percent of the time. I may drop down to a ½-ounce spoon if the fish are real spooky and running from the entry splash. Some fishermen will even go smaller, but I rarely do.
One of the key things to remember when you are fishing blind is never give up on the sight fish. They will show themselves sooner or later, particularly during the month of May. You’ll catch more and have a much better time doing it.