by Tony Gaskin
After a long month of being on the road, only being home four days in the month of April, I’m proud to say home is no longer on my mind. As I write this blog I am in the comfort of my recliner, home sweet home! It’s always nice to return home after an IFA Redfish Tournament and just be home. This was the first time some type of event, or the combination of events or Tournaments, kept me away for nearly the entire month. I find myself conflicted with happy to be in my own space and separation anxiety from where I just left.
Anxiety may be a slight exaggeration. I departed from my home away from home as I affectionately refer to Quality Inn Georgetown. With a big cup of hot coffee and an awesome night’s rest I’m ready for the three hour drive to get home. With music turned up loud in my Durrence Layne Chevy I find myself in a great mood with time to reflect on my trip. The end result of our Tournament plays a factor in my cheerful demeanor for sure. Eighteenth out of sixty-five was not where we wanted to finish the IFA Georgetown SC event but considering all the hurdles we had to overcome, finishing better than three quarters of the field doesn’t feel too bad.
It was nice to sit at the weigh in and watch team after team weigh in their catch as in the early stages we were in the top ten and that lasted until we got bumped out the money near the end of everyone weighing in. It was a long week seeking out the perfect Redfish. I would have to say the weather was better for this tournament other than some windy days during pre-fishing. One such day changed our chances dramatically.
On Thursday, fishing a very small canal with the wind whipping, my partner Dan Connolly and I had really got on some nice fish BUT... as we made our way out it was so narrow I had to find some kind of wide spot to get turned around to not have to back out on the trolling motor. I have become quite efficient doing this but today was not my day. As I carefully aligned the rear of the boat to make this happen perfectly, a gust of wind caught the boat. This put me off my mark as the tail of the boat stopped short of the opening necessary to pull off this turn-around off. Throwing the bow into the opposite bank in a matter of seconds. Before I could turn around and even get my hand on the stow button of my Minn Kota it was too late, and the crunch was gut wrenching as I realized I had just cracked the shaft of my trolling motor.
It happens to us all eventually, the ones who fish at this level. I am far from the first, but it seems my number was up. It is rare that at least one team per tournament is not going through this, reason being we go places we shouldn’t looking for that big boy Red that’s gonna be a winner on tournament day. These practices explain having an extra trolling motor with you on the road. Tournament fishing without a trolling motor in twenty-five mile an hour winds is impossible so our day was over.
Y’all pray for me because I said a few cuss words (few being a reverse exaggeration) knowing on the way back to the landing and after making a few despite phone calls that this was gonna take us out of the event. No one close had time or parts to get us fixed in time for the tournament. After loading the boat on my Magic Tilt trailer and fighting almost feeling like throwing up from my current situation an amazing thing happen that made me realize what a close-knit fishing family I am proudly a part of.
I had fellow anglers trying to help me out from all over! One offered to make repairs to get me by until he could get the parts, two hours away. One of my fishing partners got his repair guy who had the parts to offer to fix it while I went and ate breakfast, but he was five hours away. Both of these options were on the table and I was considering them both. The good Lord was looking out for me although I may not have deserved it. As I told some of my new friends who have recently started fishing the tour what happened his reply was “ya need to borrow one?”
As luck or blessing would have it, my friends had an extra trolling motor for me to use and was on their way with it. Needless to say, all these friend efforts to help me will not go unrecognized and I am very thankful to them all.
I enjoy sharing all that it takes to be a professional Angler. Most people have no idea about the things that happen behind the scenes like changing out a trolling motor until ten o’clock the night before a tournament.
The portrayal of sunny skies and beautiful on-the-water scenery being played out like a good Beach Boys song and catching tons of fish all the time is not reality. I certainly don’t share this for pity because I truly am living the Dream with all the highs and the lows that this profession brings. I am hopeful that this blog is found to be enjoyable to read and gives a perspective to those that never think about such events.
In closing I ask you to consider this...The next time you see an Angler in any venue, on stage with tears in his or her eyes overcome with emotion or two sunburned guys sitting on the sideline after giving their all in a tournament just hoping their weight gets them a check know that their path to victory or getting paid enough to come back to compete in the next one didn’t come easy. Be proud for them, respect their effort, their passion, and their love for the sport of tournament fishing.
I am fortunate to have the great Sponsors and friends who support me in this industry. I truly can’t express how thankful I am to have you all in my life. Thank You all for your support of all the great men and women that make our sport awesome. Until next time!
by Danno Wise
(This article first appeared in Texas Parks and Wildlife June 2018)
Red drum, more commonly known as redfish, have always been a popular target species among anglers along the Texas coast. In fact, at one time, their popularity almost did them in — and at the same time led to their resurgence.
Gillnetters and commercial fishermen sought redfish to feed the blackened redfish food craze that started in the 1970s. Scarcity gave rise to the creation of the largest saltwater fishery conservation group in the country, the Coastal Conservation Association, which famously started as the Gulf Coast Conservation Association in a Houston tackle shop.
After decades of conservation, wise management and aggressive stocking programs by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, redfish are plentiful in every bay in Texas.
In large part due to the mystique surrounding this bronze beauty, it seems as if everyone wants to catch redfish. There are just as many opinions on how best to do so. There’s no single path to follow to consistently tangle with redfish. As this popular gamefish has multiplied, so have the methods that anglers have perfected to catch them.
As a result, the common question of “How do I catch a redfish?” can hardly be answered in a single sentence. But, that’s one of the great things about the official state saltwater fish of Texas (as designated by the 82nd Legislature) — they can be caught in a wide variety of ways and in different habitats. While reds can present a tactically challenging target for technically advanced anglers sight-casting on the skinny flats, they can also give a good pull for inexperienced fishermen. Along the Texas coast, anglers and guides have preferred methods and areas for targeting spottails.
Back lakes and marshes
The Texas coast is peppered with back lakes, marshes and bayous. These small offshoots from the main bays are particularly prominent along the middle and upper Texas coasts. Although they are relatively small bodies of water, they can hold a surprising amount of redfish.
Captain Greg Verm, a Galveston guide, says he spends as much time as possible looking for redfish in these backwater areas.
“Our back lakes and bayous are loaded with reds, beginning in spring,” Verm says. “When water is flowing out of backwater areas, fish will stack up in front of the drains and fishing can be phenomenal. Really, the back lakes hold fish throughout the year, but spring and fall are particularly good.”
Fishing the flats for redfish is as iconic as it gets for Texas coastal fishermen. Sight-casting with artificial lures is the preferred method for Baffin Bay husband-and-wife guide team, Captains Aubrey and Sally Black. They don’t get to fish together often, but when they do, they work efficiently, helping each other sight fish. Although Baffin is best known as a big trout destination — and the pair still target trophy trout — they’ve begun spending more time chasing what Sally refers to as the “ghosts of Baffin Bay.”
“Our fish don’t leave like they do in most other bays,” Sally says, “so we end up catching some really big redfish in shallow water. That’s what makes fishing for reds in Baffin so cool. There are not many places where you can catch fish in the upper 30- to mid-40-inch range in a foot or two of water. But you can here!”
Most people think Baffin’s water is too murky for sight-casting, but that’s not true, Sally claims.
“Our grass has really flourished and, as a result, we have some really nice, clear flats that are awesome for sight-casting,” she says.
Port Mansfield guide Captain Steve “JR” Ellis also loves to sight-cast but prefers to use a fly rod.
“Fly fishing takes sight-casting to a whole different level,” Ellis says. “It’s a more direct connection to the fish.”
Anglers can use a fly rod when wading, drifting or poling, even if the water’s not completely calm.
“It’s actually easier to see the fish with a little riffle on the surface,” he explains. “When it’s too slick, the surface of the water reflects and makes it hard to see beneath. When there is a little riffle or even a slight chop, you can use the face (front) of the wavelets like windows to see down into the water. So, while you do want it to be kind of calm for fly casting, you do want some wind to help you see the fish.”
Of course, not all anglers who use artificial lures are sight-fishing. Laguna Vista guide Captain Mike Mahl likes to power-drift the flats using popping corks with artificial lures pinned beneath.
“I like to cover a lot of water when I’m fishing for reds,” Mahl says. “I’ll work my popping corks a lot more aggressively than most people do. I also like to make long casts to cover a lot of water. A lot of times, I’ll hook a fish at the end of a long cast, so I use braided line (less stretch) to help set the hook.”
While many flats fishermen choose to target redfish with artificial lures and flies, just as many (or more) employ natural baits in various manners.
One such individual is Rockport guide Captain Scott McCune. Even Hurricane Harvey, which destroyed McCune’s home and ranch, couldn’t dampen this former rodeo competitor’s enthusiasm for fishing. His natural zeal is on full display as the “Saltwater Cowboy” and his pair of retrievers — Kona and Trigger — explore the bays surrounding Rockport in search of redfish.
“I’ll target redfish with live croaker and piggies (pinfish),” McCune says. “People think you only catch trout on those baits, but redfish will eat them, too. If we sit for 10 or 15 minutes without getting bit, we’ll move. We’ll do the same thing with live shrimp.”
McCune says sometimes he fishes these baits below corks, but he prefers to freeline them, using just a leader and hook.
“If the current is strong, I’ll add a little bit of weight,” he says, “but I like to keep my rigs simple.”
While speckled trout prefer live bait, redfish aren’t quite as picky and will readily gulp down dead baits as well. Port Isabel guide Captain Andy Salinas says his main method for catching redfish is using dead bait on the bottom.
“We can almost always catch redfish using cut bait on the bottom,” Salinas says. “Whether it is ballyhoo, ladyfish or shad, redfish are attracted to those smelly, oily baits.”
Salinas says he prefers two methods: humping and anchoring up to fish potholes. Humping involves casting downwind from the boat and drifting toward the bait, then repeating the process again. This allows anglers to cover water while fishing a bottom rig.
“You won’t cover as much water when anchoring, so you need to pick a spot that is likely holding fish,” Salinas advises. “In either instance, the key is to look for baitfish activity or wakes or schools of redfish to let you know fish are in the area. Then, just let the scent of the bait draw them in.”
Surf and jetties
One of the more fabled annual angling events — the bull redfish run — makes the surf and jetties popular venues among redfish hunters during late summer and fall. Captain Mike Segall, a Freeport guide, says anglers are missing out by targeting giant reds only at that time of year.
“There are bull reds at jetties all year-round,” Segall says. “During winter and early spring, you’ll find those bull reds in 28 to 40 feet of water. We just fish for them with sardines on bottom. They’re there and they’ll bite.”
Good bull red action begins as soon as the water starts warming up.
“Of course, they will be there in even greater numbers in summer and fall,” he says. “We’ll fish for them pretty much the same way throughout the year, except in summer and fall we’ll also see schools near the surface at times, which makes them much easier to target.”
Any time of year
It is also worth mentioning that there is no “season” — legal or otherwise — for catching redfish. While spring through fall are the most common times for fishermen to target reds, they can be caught throughout the winter as well. In fact, Captain Tommy Countz, a Matagorda guide, says some of his finest days have come in the dead of winter.
“One of my favorite things to do during winter is to run to West Matagorda Bay and look for redfish,” Countz says. “After a hard front knocks all the water out of West Bay, the fishing can be fantastic. With all the water gone, the redfish come out of the back lakes and get stacked up in the guts.”
Countz says that when conditions are right, there can be great redfish action in December and January.
“There are times in West Bay during December when you can stand in one spot and catch redfish until you get tired of it,” he says. “I’ve seen it happen.”
So, regardless of season, time, place or method used, redfish remain the most highly sought-after species among inshore anglers in Texas. Since fishermen can target them throughout the year and use a variety of methods to catch them, it makes chasing redfish an exciting, ever-evolving game of cat and mouse.