by Gritter Griffin
Words are funny critters. Sometimes they are solid, definitive, and bold. Other times they are shady, weak, and fickle. But words are how we communicate with each other in speech, reading, and writing. SO, how do we keep up with this conundrum that words sometimes create?
We DEFINE them.
We give words specific definitions, so everyone knows exactly what each word means – right?
Often words have many different meanings depending on the context of their use, so it is extremely important to understand exactly how a word was used in relation to the other words around it to really know what it means.
Now I say all that to say this – the topic of “burning” shorelines with boats, specifically “tower” boats is a subject of great interest to a lot of people. And, frankly, it should be a topic of interest to a lot more people than it is. If you are a competitive angler, it should be in the very forefront of your mind along with a plan to DO something about it.
I have stated the obvious here before and I’ll repeat it again – if we don’t police our own ranks and hold the culprits responsible for their actions it will be done for us and it will be done in a way that suits the fancy of bureaucrats who may not even know which end of a rod to hold on to. This issue has become a hot button with people who don’t know a redfish from a mullet. The reason for that is that it is not being touted and decried as an “illegal” way to find and/or catch fish. No, it is on the chopping block because it is causing irreparable harm to the ecosystems of the marshes and estuaries of our coastal regions. And THAT, dear friends, is something a whole lot of people care about.
I can clearly remember 10-15 or more years ago when I was trolling along through back ponds and flats in Louisiana looking for reds and they would literally come up to the boat and swim right along with me making happy grunts all the way. I have had, on many occasions, redfish come right up to the spinning prop of my trolling motor to see if it was something to eat. I have sat my boat in one spot and caught reds without making a cast. I would simply have a few feet of line out and go “dobbing” for reds by just letting the lure straight down in front of them as they cavorted around my boat.
So, tell me – when was the last time you saw redfish acting like that? Many of you will have to say ‘never’ because you came to game after the changes were wrought. Some of you have only come to the game in the last 2-4 years and you may never see that kind of behavior. And it is we, my friends, it is WE who have done this. And it must be WE who correct it.
With these thoughts on our mind let us look at couple of words. Let’s examine “burning” and “tower”. Most of the rhetoric I have heard and read has centered around the word “how” – as in, “How do we stop people from doing this?” or “How do we define burning?”
I am about to help you with that.
But first let’s see if we can define a “tower” boat. Top drive? Dual helm? Six feet? Ten feet? Flat bottom? Vee hull? Shallow draft? Deep draft? Specific make? Model?
The more people you ask, the more complex - and obscure - the definition becomes.
Well, ok then, let’s have a go at “burning” shorelines? Fast? Slow? Ten feet off the bank? Twenty yards off the bank? Using a TRP? Standard lower unit? Can ONLY done by “tower” boats? Can be done by ANY style boat? What exactly IS this thing called “burning” to locate fish.
Same result. The more people you ask, the more complex – and obscure - the definition becomes.
Now we get to the meat of the matter – How do we define “burning” so we can make a rule to stop it. This also brings us to an interesting quandary because the more we try to define “burning” in this context, the more complex the definition becomes and the more vague and obtuse its meaning. In fact, the only thing you can honestly say about the practice is that it is a method of using a boat under power, usually on plane, to cover large areas of water with the express purpose of locating fish.
Now we have something to work with because purpose means intent. And, there is no question in anyone’s mind that they did or did not perform an action with the purpose, the “intent”, of locating fish.
Each one of you knows, in your own mind, what “burning” is. SO, if you do it you simply cannot hide from that intent and it will sink your boat on a polygraph because you WILL fail the question. You see, your intent to perform an action is a powerful thing and it cannot be diluted or refined. It is INTENT, it is in your mind, it is a part of your conscious will, and you simply cannot subjugate that intent when asked about a specific action.
Now, and without a specific written definition, we can hold people accountable for their actions by indicating that the purpose and the intent are illegal in tournament activity including ALL prefishing activities.
I would submit to you, whether you agree with my little word trial or not, that you CANNOT defeat a polygraph if a question is phrased about an “action with intent”.
All that needs to happen now is for EVERY angling competition, tour, and trail to insert a rule making it illegal to utilize a boat (any boat), on plane (yes, you know what that means too), with the intent and for the specific purpose of locating fish.
Ya’ll chew on that bone for a bit. I have some fishing to do.
by Gritter Griffin
Long, long ago on waters far. far away a middle-aged outdoorsman named Gritter Griffin was introduced to the world of competitive redfishing. He had never seen a redfish much less been compelled to fish for them. And, in the beginning, he was pretty terrible at it. He simply didn’t know what he didn’t know.
BUT – Ol’ Gritter is an intelligent fella and was already pretty well known in his home state of Alabama as one of the best deer and turkey hunters in the state. Hell, once he even took a deer from a ground stalk with a hand thrown spear. He was also cursed with a highly competitive nature and a don’t quit attitude.
He set about learning everything he could about the redfish. He knew that if he could learn the critter’s life cycle - where it mated, ate, swam, traveled, slept, rested, and the “why’s” of all those – that he could always find them and catch them.
Over many years I traveled with the ever-changing pack of renegades that called themselves redfish anglers. It was a different breed of competitive angler – singular, independent, a little rough around the edges -but loyal, dependable, and fiercely competitive. These coastal boys could hold their own with anybody, anywhere. And I became one of them.
My independent nature led me to compete in the truly old school manner of searching for and finding the fish completely on my own. I eschewed partnering with anyone because that would, in my mind, blunt any success I might have. I wanted to be solely responsible for everything that happened to me on the water and in competition, good and bad. I was almost always “in the mix” but never quite reached that pinnacle of success called winning. A perennial top 10, top 20 guy, I was uncompromising in my belief that I would one day achieve that difficult task of winning. But I would do it my way.
I watched as groups of anglers teamed up to take advantage of their numbers and ability to cover more water in a shorter period of time. I watched as winning became the all-consuming mantra of many of these competitors. I watched as the prize purses continued to rise. I watched as organizations rose up to take advantage of the frenzy and make money off the backs of this rough and ready crowd. I watched as America slowly took notice of this new brand of fishing and companies began to realize that there was a new arena to market their goods and services. And, I watched as ethics gave way to ego and cheating to gain an advantage became rampant.
The ways that unethical people have devised to cheat in a tournament are truly legion. Forcing weights down fish throats, trimming tails, injecting water into fish bodies, penning fish in cages, penning fish in tiny lagoons with blocked entrances, forcing mullet and/or shrimp down fish gullets, having allies hand off fish out on the water, non-competitors blocking entrances to small bays, and more, much more. There is no limit to the devious methods to which unethical anglers will stoop for that moment of false glory when all will regale them as the “Winner”.
I watched as the equipment changed too. The gear, lures, and boats all became more specialized to specifically target redfish.
Enter the tower boat.
The advent of pursuing redfish from a tower on a boat specifically designed to go into, and run in, extremely shallow waters was probably the most significant event in the history of competitive redfishing. This type of boat and equipment allowed anglers to cover vast areas of water in a very short time by simply running the boat along the shorelines – burning banks – looking for numbers of the right size redfish. The ability to find, and then catch, quality redfish was magnified hundreds of times over the “old school” way of researching, methodically planning, and slowly working your way through a system of water. Tower boat captains were soon winning nine out of every ten events.
The tower boat became the very lifeblood of competitive redfishing.
It may also soon become the death knell.
Not so much the boat itself. Boats don’t pilot themselves. Boats have no intent. A boat is an inanimate object that requires human intellect to perform its duties. It is those humans that have pushed the envelope too far. A boat, tower or not, is just another tool in the arsenal of the competitive angler. How it is used is the source of a growing consensus of concern and an increasing volume of outcries that the boat itself be banned from the marshlands and fragile estuaries of the coast.
There is growing concern by those in charge of maintaining the integrity of the coastal waters and lands that the practice of running shallow draft boats very close to shorelines is damaging to the already fragile ecosystem. There is a growing voice condemning the practice of using tower boats to find fish in this manner. And, there is a growing voice to simply ban redfish competition altogether as a means of controlling the havoc.
I have noted many changes in the sport over the past twenty years but one of the most significant differences I have noted has been in the “dock talk” over the past two years. Dock talk comprises everything from weather patterns, to fish patterns, to bait selection, to outboard motors, to the sly little white lies we all tell to throw our competitors the wrong bone. But, a disturbing pattern has emerged. Nearly 100% of the dock talk (and stage talk) over the past two years has now centered on the fish being “spooky” and “skittish” and “won’t eat anything”.
Redfish have exhibited more and more avoidance behavior around boats. Is this because the fish have repeatedly, and continually, been run over by legions of bank burning boats?
“Land” owners that control the marsh are suddenly, and seriously, up in arms over anglers running boats on their “property”. Is this because of the practice of burning?
Legislative action has even become a part of the controversy. Is this, too, because of the practice of burning?
There will come a time, and it is rapidly arriving, when these controversies will come to a head, decisions will be made, and consequences imposed. The end game is upon us.
There is a solution.
But we must act. We must make the right decisions - and stand by those decisions -before others do it for us
Before redfish tournaments are banned from the marshlands, before every relationship we have built over twenty years is forever changed, we should electively ban bank burning from competitive redfishing.
Not the boats – the practice.
by Jerry LaBella
One look at a redfish and you know it's built for brute strength. With its blunt face and broad-shouldered look-it's a fish with a fight even before it's hooked. Unlike the speckled trout with its long, sleek look and ability to throw hooks, the redfish is honed to test your tackle and strength. So to many anglers, the redfish rules the marsh.
As with anything, the more you know, the more likely you'll succeeded. The rule is just as applicable with fishing. Yet as popular as the redfish is, it is surprising to know that Gulf Coast anglers know little about the species. But don't take that personally, this is partially due to new research by biologist. One main factor contributing to this revised knowledge is the participation of many anglers in the tag-and-release programs.
In Louisiana, the mighty redfish has made a comeback. Fishery authorities attribute this to stricter regulations since the 1989 freeze. Consider this: In 1983, when size limits were not yet instituted and the limit was 50 fish per person, anglers caught 2.5 million redfish averaging only 1.63 Ibs. per fish. Between 1987-1992, five years under current regulations, anglers boated 2.2 million redfish. But here's the clincher: the average fish weighed four pounds.
Dan Lambert, 40-year-veteran angler and professional guide of the Point A Hache area, is one fisherman that's noticed the improvement since stricter limits. "'In the Point A La Hache area where I fish, the average redfish was 8 or 9 lbs.; but now, 10 to 20 lb. redfish are not uncommon,"' he said.
Ironically, Lambert was referring exclusively to inside-marsh fishing. "'There're many days that we've got to watch our 27 in. size limit. We've caught one in May that went 22 lbs. ... all caught in the marsh,"' Lambert exclaimed.
Obviously, the rule is clear: conservation and stricter limits equate to more quality fish!
When we talk about redfish, fall seems to be the primary season that comes to mind. Thus, it has been said that redfish come inside during this season. The simple fact is redfish have been inside the whole time. The reason for thinking otherwise is that during summer months, when tides are often high, redfish migrate into shallow ponds off the beaten path. As a rule, how many anglers do you know that fish these areas during that time?
On the other hand, north winds force tides lower during the seasons of fall and winter, consequently causing redfish to move out into deeper channels, bayous and canals. Here redfish are more accessible to most anglers, leading them to believe that they have "'moved in."'
In regard to "'inside"' redfishing, perhaps the furthest season from your mind is summertime, particularly if you're a marsh angler. This is because most anglers would much rather be out on the breezier, open bays and beaches in pursuit of fish. But according to professionals like Lambert, redfish can be easy targets even during summer months, if you know where to look. "'During the summer months, you're going to find them in the marsh, over the reefs, in shallow ponds and out in Black Bay at the rigs where I fish,"' Lambert authoritatively stated.
However, among renowned redfish anglers, it is an established fact that limits can be had in the months of July and August just as commonly as October or November. But the choicest months for those in the know are May or June when the weather is more moderate in comparison to wintertime. This is when there's a lot less wind and a lot more redfish to be found, as many redfish enthusiast can attest to.
As a rule, redfish are predictable to weather changes. In comparison to trout, redfish are much more tolerable of very cold weather. Hence, during such conditions redfish continue to feed in their usual haunts, while trout and other species head for deeper waters with lockjaw.
This, of course, doesn't mean that redfish are impervious to weather changes. Such things as cold temperatures, dirty water and low salinity levels can cause redfish to react either favorably or not.
To underscore the point, redfish are known to bite like there's no tomorrow a day before a front, and even while a front is moving through. The opposite, though, occurs a day after the front when high pressure starts to build. This the dreaded time when redfish get a bad case of lockjaw, and you would swear that the marsh is devoid of them--only to be made a fool of as they show off their backs in shallow water.
To avoid such harassment, follow the rule of the pros: it is best to fish for redfish the second day after a front passes, when the tides are returning water to the bays. This is the time to look for the first good falling tide after a front. During such conditions be at your favorite spot early, and you can be assured the redfish will have your arms throbbing.
Any redfishing veteran is well aware that severe cold fronts can be an angler's most welcomed delight. This is when redfish compact into tight schools, and not necessarily in very deep water. A good example of this is what takes place in dead end canals in very cold weather. The water in these areas are frequently less than eight feet in depth, yet numerous redfish are caught in this relatively shallow water when temperatures plummet.
Another condition that will bring redfish together for easy target is an extremely low tide that flushes them into deeper spots in the marsh. Once the school is located, a redfishing extravaganza can take place.
This was exactly what took place several years ago when fishing inside Buras, Louisiana. For several hours we fished a marshy bank area on a severely low tide. When I say bank area, I mean as close as the water would allow us to fish since the actual marsh grass was set back away from the dry bank. We reasoned that we caught redfish the previous week under similar conditions in the same spot, so we would try it again; but to no avail.
Out of frustration I made a cast toward the middle of the canal and worked the bottom with a 3/4 oz. jig head and queen-sized minnow lure-not to catch redfish, but to try for trout. Using a stiff rod I was able to work the lure with an up-pop method, feeling the lure contact the bottom on each rebound. To my surprise, I hooked a ten-pound redfish. Soon after, we repositioned the boat and everyone aboard was into redfish.
The question was, "'What was the difference between the two weeks?"' It was the tide. The previous week we fished a falling tide. This particular day the tide had already fallen, forcing the fish out to the middle of the canal where all the bait was congregated. The fish finder also verified this, as we could see fish (streaks) passing through bait fish (cloud images).
Redfish seem to feed best on falling tides; but redfish take feeding on low tides to an extreme. Ideal tides are those at normal stage or a slight bit below normal high that just starts to fall. As the water leaves these marshy, interior ponds it is noticeably clean. Near the end of the falling tide the water becomes murky as the lower parts of the ponds drain, reaching their muddy bottoms. As a rule, then, to give the redfish the best shot at your offering, be at your favorite pond or drainage opening when the tide first starts to fall.
Ideal places to fish are at the mouths of cuts where waters empty into larger areas, such as lakes, lagoons and bayous. As a rule, redfish prefer to position themselves right down stream from the openings. As the waters pass through, redfish have at their disposal an assortment of delectable items: crabs, minnows, and much bait fish-including your bait.
Fish the shorelines of canals, marsh ponds, lakes and anywhere the water is as shallow as six inches in depth. Redfish often pursue crabs and minnows that lurk around these grassy, shoal areas.
During periods of low tides or when the weather is very cold, look for deep holes near shallow water which make for excellent territory to try.
Many successful marsh redfish anglers prefer using live minnows when available, or second choice, artificial plastic minnows. The live bait is either fished under a popping cork or sliding sinker rig. The latter is mostly preferred when fishing brisk moving tides in deeper water.
Though live minnows work very well in catching redfish, biologist that have surveyed redfish stomach samples, most frequently find small crabs as part of their main diet. This is not unusual, they claim, as the shallow marshes are nursery grounds for such like crustaceans, and redfish are masters at locating and feasting on them.
Naturally, when fishing for redfish, choose artificial baits that best mimic the real thing that they're feeding on. Some of the most well respected redfish anglers, like Lambert, use nothing but artificial baits. One of his favorites is a 1/2 oz. gold spoon (not weedlees) with a Mr. Wiffle trailer. "'I slide a baby chartreuse Mr. Wiffle (curly-tailed, minnowlike lure) on the hook of the gold spoon, and this gives the spoon a much better action or wobble. My theory,"' Lambert continued, "'is that this gold spoon is imitating a crab, and this is one of the favorite foods of a redfish."'
With new data coming in on redfish and their migratory patterns, biologist have had to revise certain rules about the species. For instance, LDWF marine biologist Harry Blanchet said, "'Redfish begin their spawn about the end of August and runs until November, with a peak in late September or October."'
Basically the spawn is routine: after the eggs are released and the males fertilize them, they become buoyant. Then, they develop into larvae and are carried by tidal currents into coastal marshes.
"'It maybe as early as two years, but it can be as late as eight years...typically about three to five years,"' Blanchet said in regard to the spawning age of redfish. During this time they'll move toward the open Gulf and will join the spawning schools.
Through their first winter they remain in the shallow marsh. Around the following June they may attain six inches in length. By springtime a rapid growth spurt takes place, as the interior marsh becomes abundant with food. "'On the average, they'll reach approximately fourteen inches by the first year,"' Blanchet said.
Their rapid growth will continue for the next three years where they will stay within two miles of their home territory. The only thing that will prompt them to move beyond this range are environmental conditions, such as a severe salinity drop, hard freeze, hurricanes, etc. However, while biologist believe that the actual time for migration beyond their territorial range varies with each fish, they are conclusive in the theory that by the age of seven they have moved offshore.
But in the meantime, head for the marsh and find out why the redfish rules!
by Joe Wares
Sometimes a buzzing fly becomes so annoying that you lose sight of everything else to accomplish the task of eliminating the source of irritation. Such was the case with Keith McBride and Martin Simmons and the standard kill switch lanyard. Frustrated beyond words with his lanyard constantly wrapping around the wheel and getting caught on just about everything on the console, McBride decided to do something about it.
He designed a lanyard that would attach to his ankle. He used his new lanyard and liked it so much that he was encouraged to actually use it every day. He also got many requests from fellow anglers asking him to build them one. At that point, it didn’t take much to get him thinking about producing his new design for retail sale.
Enter Martin Simmons.
Simmons and McBride had been best friends for a long time and had fished many tournaments together. The new lanyard idea was something they could really get involved with as a team. Their journey to present day was not a completely smooth one. After extensive research and untold hundreds of miles and trials, they realized that bass guys needed a different design due to the nature and design of their boats. So, they designed a lanyard for them. Then there were the tiller boats - they designed a lanyard for them.
They also discovered that most of the common lanyards on the market today consist of a tiny string coated with plastic and costs in the neighborhood of $19.99. These were extremely cheap and inadequate materials which simply don’t last. They knew they could build a better mousetrap. So, they set about building what would become the Lifeguard Lanyard from very high-quality materials that would hold up to a marine environment and would last. They bulked up the connections, added swivels to prevent tangles, and used connectors that will outlast your boat.
The most important aspect of the Lifeguard Lanyard is that, because of the design, it becomes a lanyard that you will want to wear every single day you are on the water. What started as an idea born of frustration has become a product that promotes boating safety on every boat every day.
by Capt. John Kumiski
(A chapter from the book "Redfish on the Fly")
Redfish have moods. Their behavior gives you a clue as to how catchable they might be on any given day. Your goal as an angler- observe and learn to interpret that behavior.
The fish have a limited range of behaviors. They might be lying in one place. They might be tailing, very aggressively or much less so. They might be cruising, at varying rates of speed. They might be pursuing bait. That's pretty much it.
A fish might be by itself. Or it might be with one, or three, or a dozen, or 50, or more, others of about the same size. Generally, all the fish in a group of any kind behave in a similar fashion. The size of the group definitely affects their catchability, for better or worse.
Let's examine the behaviors more closely. The hardest redfish to catch lie motionless (or darn close to it) on the bottom. They're down deep, or as deep as they can be in a foot or two of water. These fish lack all interest in eating or food. They just sit there looking for trouble. They see you coming. They usually start swimming off before or during your cast. Simply showing them your lure is a problem.
A rare exception to this is the fish that's asleep. I have only found a few of these over the years. These fish (always singles) also lie motionless on the bottom, completely oblivious to everything going on around them. If you put your lure right on their nose you can sometimes wake them up. They usually spook off of it, but sometimes they just wolf it down. Sometimes they respond to nothing until you poke them with your rod tip. They really are that out of it.
Sometimes you will find schools of fish that simply maintain their position, finning lazily high in the water column, apparently sunning themselves. A few may have their fins poking through the water's surface into the air. Don't mistake these for tailing fish. They are finned out fish, relaxed and happy. A good cast will usually garner a strike.
Redfish often cruise. Sometimes they follow a more or less circular route (usually single fish), sometimes they're apparently moving from point A to point B (singles to hundreds of fish). If you make it easy for them to take your offering by putting it directly in their path, they usually will take it.
The fish swimming in a circuit almost always takes a well presented fly or lure. When they swim in a circuit there are usually small minnows they're feeding on in shallow water. They come in, crash the minnows, swim back out a ways, turn around, swim in and crash the minnows again, etc. A good cast usually gets a strike.
I've had the good fortune on a couple of occasions of watching snowy egrets and redfish playing Pong (Do you remember Pong, the first video game?) with mosquitofish. The reds chase the minnows to the birds, who chase them back out to the fish, who chase them back to the birds, etc. These are circular route redfish at their finest!
I see redfish swimming in rough circles in sandy potholes in seagrass beds sometimes. These fish frequently roll on their side and flash. Again, these relaxed, happy fish will almost always eat if you make a good cast. You can cast to the near side of the hole while they're on the far side and wait to move your fly when they come back. You will almost always catch this fish.
Flashing is a wonderful behavior to see, since fish that do this are usually relaxed. When you find a large school, the flashes give you good indication of their mood. Tense fish seldom flash. Flashing, relaxed fish usually eat well. Flashes are easy to see, allowing you to keep track of the school's location while they cruise.
We love to find tailing fish. Tails tell you exactly where the fish are, and you know they're eating. What they're eating can sometimes be a problem for those occasions when they're feeding selectively. Ordinarily when they tail shrimp or crabs are the target item, easy enough to imitate. I've encountered redfish digging small brown marine worms out of the mud, and only a lucky fly choice that more or less matched the size and color of the worms finally turned the trick.
Some days if you bother the fish they just leave. When they are schooled this is a heartbreaking event. You're unlikely to find singles (all the fish are in the school), and when the school leaves, it's over. Other days they want to stay right where they are, and if you make them move they will circle like rabbits and within a few minutes come back to the same spot. This never happens often enough. You can (and should) keep fishing this same spot over and over until the fish finally wise up or it's time to leave. Again, their position in the water column gives you a good idea of how tolerant they might be. Up high is good.
Schools of fish offer great possibilities, and great hazards. A single fish works on his own- one pair of eyes, one pair of ears, one pair of lateral lines. If you spook him he's gone, but he has relatively little effect on other fish that may be in the same area. A school works as a unit. One hundred fish mean two hundred eyes, two hundred ears, and two hundred lateral lines. If you spook one, they all spook.
Many anglers approach these schools much too aggressively. If you push too hard on the fish they usually vacate the premises. A much better approach requires the application of liberal doses of patience. Try to stay about 50 feet off the fish. They usually tolerate this quite well. Any decent saltwater fly fisher ought to be able to make a 50 foot cast with ease, and it's no problem with other types of tackle.
Instead of casting right into the middle of them, work the fish on the edge, or better yet, cast the fly or lure to where they're going and only move it after they get there. Take the time and trouble needed to obtain the position from which you get a good shot.
Especially when fly fishing, casting from behind a school that's swimming away from you only serves to speed up their departure.
Once the fish have decided to vacate, when the water is calm you can often follow a school of fish if you have an electric trolling motor. They move too fast to follow them with a pushpole. Stay far enough from the fish that they cannot tell you're there.
Sometimes after swimming a distance the fish, who have notoriously short memories, evidently forget why they're swimming so fast. They then slow down and start to relax. If this happens immediately put the trolling motor up and approach them with the pushpole again. I have followed schools for literally miles this way, and while sometimes it simply wastes time and effort, it pays off often enough that I try it every single time the opportunity arises.
Redfish Moods and Fly Selection
Sometimes a red will track your fly, following it, evidently trying to make up his mind whether he should take it or not. If you continue retrieving the bait you lead the fish right to you, and after he sees you he's not taking that bait, oh no. If you stop stripping and the fly hovers in the water column the fish usually turns off. If the fly dives to the bottom though, they frequently pick it right up. For this reason I usually prefer using weighted flies when fishing for reds.
Weighted flies, especially those with dumbbell eyes, and almost all lures, make a distinct plopping noise when they hit the water. Aggressive, feeding fish hear that plop and come looking for the groceries, but nervous, spooky fish think the plop is death from above. The first couple of fish you throw to will let you know how they're feeling that day.
You can pretty much throw anything to hungry fish and they accommodate you. The fussy ones frequently require an unweighted fly that comes down softly onto the water, like a #18 Adams parachute would. I like bendbacks or flash flies for this work, but other patterns will score, too. Let the behavior of the fish tell you what they want.
When spin fishing in this situation, cast the lure in front of and beyond the fish. Start reeling before the bait hits the water, keeping the rod tip high so the bait stays on the surface, where you can see it. When it gets to where you would have liked to cast it if the fish weren't so spooky, stop reeling and let it sink. The slightest twitch at that point is usually enough to turn the trick.
The visual aspect of sight fishing for them is what makes redfish such an exciting target. Learn to observe and interpret the behavior of the fish you seek and you will find more copper at the end of your leader, a gift from God for the astute angler.
Visit Capt. Kumiski at www.spottedtail.com
by Gritter Griffin
I have been specifically targeting redfish in competitive venues for almost twenty years now and I’m pretty sure I have seen just about everything there is to see about this sport. I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly!
When I first started competing in redfish events I didn’t know what I didn’t know. But I figured out pretty quickly that what I didn’t know was a heck of a lot more than what I did know. At first, this was a bit intimidating but as I pressed on through the years and enjoyed some modicum of success I began to realize that there isn’t really a magic potion. And there sure as hell aren’t any shortcuts. It is work. Work and time. Work at the craft of learning everything about these fish and use your time spent on the water observing them in their environment. Study what they do and why they do it. Learn their travel patterns and how the weather, tides, and seasons affect their actions and activity. Take notes. Keep a log. Your future in competition is written in those pages.
At every event I hear multiple anglers say things like –“Man, they just wouldn’t eat” or “Oh boy, they were so spooky” or “We caught ‘em all day but it just wasn’t the right ones” or “ We had to let him go because he was struggling” or “We had ‘em yesterday but they were nowhere to be seen today”.
I, too, have voiced each of these laments over the years. But afterwards I would always relive my tournament day and realize that it had noting to do with the fish at all – it was me! I had failed in my job as an expert angler in not recognizing the events that were happening in THEIR world. These are the things that make or break a competitive angler and will determine how well you do in competition.
Study, work, learn. Do not always go out there catching. Go out there learning! Go out there watching! Go out there waiting!
And do it repeatedly and constantly.
The results may surprise you.
By Danno Wise
It was an outstanding October day. Fellow guide Capt. Steve Ellis and I decided to head out on the shallow flats of South Texas’ Lower Laguna Madre for a little ‘fun fishing.’ Our intent was to wade for redfish. However, as the boat drifted onto the designated flat, we spotted a huge school of ‘finning’ mullet. Steve decided we should pole a little closer to the raft of baitfish before hopping overboard.
As we got within casting distance of the mullet, it was apparent they weren’t alone. Large boils and occasional surface eruption indicated big redfish were taking advantage of the slowly advancing platoon of mullet. However, after repeated casts returned empty, it seemed as if Ellis and I were going to be unable to capitalize on this nearby feeding activity.
We threw plastics. We threw spoons. We threw topwaters. Each offering gleaned the same result – it was completely ignored by the redfish which were feeding gaily on mullet scant yards off our bow.
“Wait a minute JR, I think I know the problem,” I offered between casts. “Stop casting and listen for a minute.”
Against the backdrop of the near-still October afternoon, the noise created by the finning mullet seemed deafening.
“You think we’re being seen but not heard,” queried Ellis.
Rather than reply verbally, I tossed a Silver Shore Minnow pattern Heddon Torpedo to the edge of the pod of baitfish. A few hard twitches of the rod tip caused the Torpedo to jerk forward, spraying water before being inhaled by a healthy 26-inch redfish. It was a classic example of choosing the proper tool for the job. In this instance, it was a matter of selecting a lure that could make enough noise to be noticed among the commotion-causing mullet. It was the perfect situation for a ‘bay blender.’
ANATOMY OF A BAY BLENDER
Most baits referred to as blenders are floating plugs with one or more propellers attached. But, this isn’t always the case. Some metal baits, such as spinnerbaits and weedless spoons are also fitted with props to ‘cause a stir’ as they move through the water. So, a better definition of a bay blender would probably be any bait that can be brought across the surface, churning water as it goes.
However, although they all do essentially the same thing – create commotion on the water’s surface with rotating propellers – not all bay blenders are equal in size or ‘stir.’ The number and size of propellers varies from bait to bait. Thus, the amount of commotion caused varies as well. This is an important consideration when choosing a bay blender, as not every situation calls for a pureeing of the water – at times a gentle stir is all that’s necessary.
EXAMPLES OF BAY BLENDERS
Ironically, although there are plenty of baits that fit the bay blender description, not many of these baits were designed for use in the bay at all. The vast majority of prop-fitted lures on the market today were designed with bass fishing and freshwater lakes in mind. However, virtually all of them can be easily converted for duty in the brine.
‘Buzzbait’ – Buzzbaits are simply spinnerbaits with one or more propellers instead of the traditional Colorado and/or willow leaf blades. Upon hitting the water, these lures sink, but soon ‘crawl’ to the surface once a steady retrieve is begun. Over the years, buzzbait designs have become quite elaborate, with twin props, multiple inline props, beater blades and other ‘features’ being added. However, for salt water use, the original style buzzbait – single, two blade prop – is still the most effective. Virtually all buzzbaits come fitted with a silicone skirt. They are certainly effective with the skirt, but at times it pays to replace the skirt with a small soft-plastic, such as a DOA CAL Series paddletail grub.
As the name implies, buzzbaits are quite loud and should be used when fish aren’t likely to be spooked by constant commotion. They are also a good choice for covering vast amounts of water when fish are aggressive.
Heddon Torpedo – One of the original prop-fitted plugs, the Heddon Torpedo has long been a favorite among bass fishermen. However, it is equally effective in salt water.
Torpedoes are fitted with a single propeller in front of the rear hook. This single, small propeller makes them among the quieter bay blenders, making them an ideal choice when you just need to make enough noise to get noticed.
In addition to being offered in a wide of colors, Torpedoes also come in 4 sizes, which helps anglers further refine how disruptive they want their retrieve to be.
Smithwick Devil’s Horse – Crafted from wood – which helps it land softly and float nice and high – the Smithwick Devil’s Horse is an elongated, double prop plug that’s fairly versatile. It can be retrieved slowly, barely disturbing the water’s surface or it can be brought back to the boat in a rougher manner, thoroughly churning the water in its path.
Because it floats so high in the water, the blades on a Devil’s Horse begin to spin the moment a retrieve is initiated. This makes it an ideal candidate for working ‘tight spots’ where it is necessary to be able to get the props churning with a minimal amount of horizontal movement.
MirroLure 5M – Like the Devil’s Horse, the MirroLure 5M is a dual prop bait. Unlike the Devil’s Horse, the 5M was designed specifically for salt water use. The counter-rotating props of the 5M cause quite a commotion, making it best suited for low light or rough water duty. However, the familiar shape and color of the MirroLure family can add a bit of confidence to salt water pluggers trying a bay blender for the first time.
Artificial frogs – Of course, frogs are not naturally found in saltwater bays. However, the soft-plastic frog imitations favored by bass fishermen for working around hydrilla beds are also excellent choices when prospecting for redfish over vast grass flats. When rigged weedless, anglers can cast and retrieve these baits without fear of fouling, even if the floating grass on the bay surface is thick. Although in the saltwater environment predator fish most likely mistake this lure for a struggling baitfish, frog imitations are highly effective in salt as well as fresh water.
SITUATIONS THAT CALL FOR BAY BLENDERS
Bay blenders can be used in a variety of situations. And, they are perhaps the most ‘user-friendly’ topwater baits around, making them an ideal selection for those new to surface lures. Here are a few specific instances that bay blenders are ideally suited for:
Cold & calm – When the water temperature is cool enough to cause shallow water fish to be sluggish – and the surface is too calm for an exceptionally noisy retrieve – anglers can often reap rewards by slowly crawling a bay blender across the surface. If a slow, steady retrieve doesn’t produce a strike, try giving the reel a few cranks, then pausing before continuing with the retrieve. By using the reel and not the rod, anglers can achieve a stop-and-go retrieve without causing too much commotion.
Windy & rough – When the wind kicks up and gets the bay surface roiled, anglers must make even more noise than the water itself if they hope to get the attention of any nearby fish. This is an ideal time for a double-prop bay blender ripped aggressively across the surface. Jerk the rod tip to cause a sudden, violent charge by the bait. In this instance, it is almost impossible to cause to much noise, but be sure to pause the lure long enough to allow fish to find it.
Dirty or dark – When the water’s dirty or the sky is dark, noise is imperative to attracting fish. If the surface is relatively calm, the steady churning of a buzzbait will likely get plenty of attention. If the water’s a bit more turbid, a hard-bodied prop bait ripped across the water is a better bet.
Amid active schools – As was the case in the scenario I described above, at times schools of baitfish can make so much noise as to render silent lures ineffective. Therefore, it is necessary to make more noise than the school in order to get fish to notice your lure. However, it is important not to overdo it. In this instance, you want to make just enough noise to be heard above the din of the nearby baitfish. Too much noise will likely alert feeding predator fish that something is amiss. So, to be on the safe side, begin with a conservative retrieve and make subsequent retrieves marginally more aggressive a strike is drawn.
Although bay blenders aren’t suited for every situation, they are exciting and productive lures to fish under the right conditions. If you feel your heart can handle some incredibly explosive topwater strikes, toss a few bay blenders in your box. You never know when you may have to stir things up.
Contact Capt. Danno WIse at any of the following:
Instagram: @dannowise @lonestarsalt
By Danno Wise
Spring is known as a transition time across the coast. One transitional element which is given little thought is that of the water clarity. Although water temperatures are on the rise during the spring, it has yet to heat up significantly enough to trigger the mass algae and plankton blooms that can cloud summer tides. Therefore, crystal clear water conditions, a la winter, are possible during spring, especially during periods of light wind. However, anglers are just as likely to experience murky conditions, as prevailing high winds commonly stir sediment, drastically reducing visibility.
What is rarely found during spring is a “happy medium,” where the water is “trout green” with plenty of visibility to get a visual strike, but not so clear as to cause fish to be extra cautious. As a result, fishermen are often left to fish one of these two extreme water clarity conditions - crystal clear or sand-stained murk - each of which requires a set of opposite, yet specific techniques to produce results.
Many anglers are under the impression that it is much easier to catch fish in clear water. Nothing could be further from the truth. When gin-clear conditions are prevalent, fish become easier to see, but they are also much more skittish. In order to be productive under these conditions, anglers have to be a bit more cautious and exercise the utmost stealth.
But, there is an upside to clear water. Fish can see a bait from much further away in clear water. Therefore, they are much more likely to travel great distances to intercept a lure. As a result, an angler can quickly “fan cast” a flat and determine if there are any takers in the neighborhood.
Conversely, when the waters darken, fish become more comfortable, which allows them to be a bit more aggressive - and make more mistakes. Anglers can generally get away with being a little sloppier in murky water. For example, noise doesn't frighten fish as much as it does in clear water.
However, there is a trade-off. Fish obviously don't have the same vision as they do in clear water and must rely on sound and vibration to home in on lures. As a result, you are less likely to have a fish torpedo completely across a flat to take a bait. The end result is usually more casts to cover the same amount of water - hoping you can “put it in front of their face” so to speak.
Essentially, it is important to remember that fish can be caught under any water conditions. The key to doing so is usually a matter of following a few simple rules and tailoring your game plan to the prevailing water conditions.
The first step on the water clarity flow chart is lure color. Each type of water requires a much different color scheme. Choosing the proper color can go a long way to establishing your success on any given day.
Clear Water - As was mentioned above, in clear water, fish have excellent visibility and can spot most lures from a great distance. In this situation, too much color can actually be a hindrance. While it is important that a fish be able to find your bait, it is also important to make your lure appear as natural as possible.
As a result, “natural” or subdued colors are often the most productive in clear water. Transparent baits with silver or gold glitter work well, as do translucent hues of green, brown or grey - colors that practically match the water or bottom but are just different enough to stand apart. As a rule, you want to avoid opaque baits in clear water. But, some solid colors, such as brownish hues - pumpkinseed and root beer are good examples - can produce well.
When using hard baits, “something with a little flash” works well in clear water. Silver and gold spoons, as well as silver or gold-sided topwaters and slow sinking plugs work well, as the clear water allows their reflective qualities to be utilized to their fullest potential.
Dirty Water - As the water becomes dirtier, fish have a much more difficult time utilizing their eyesight to find forage items. Therefore, it is important to choose a lure color which offers the maximum amount of contrast to the backdrop of dirty water. Bright colors are the first which jump to mind, which stands to reason. Fluorescent baits as well as colors such as lime and bright green, pink and orange “jump out” in brown or stained water.
One of the bigger surprises to anglers not accustomed to fishing off-colored water is the effectiveness of dark baits. Very opaque colors such as red and purple are among the most productive, as their dark bodies offer a well-outlined silhouette in dirty water.
Exceptions to the Rules - It stands to reason that the baits that work well in one extreme won't work well in the other. Overall, this is true. However, there are a few notable exceptions. Black, white and chartreuse are the best examples of baits which will work under practically any water condition and, therefore, are usually safe choices.
Go to Extremes - Probably the one rule which holds true more often than all others has to do with color choice. Simply put, it commands going from one extreme to the other when making a switch. All colors can be categorized into dark, light and bright. Pick a lure from one color group and try it. If it proves ineffective, choose a bait from another color group. In other words, if they don't hit red go with white or chartreuse, not with purple, black or another dark color.
Once the proper color has been chosen, it is time to “size up” your lure selection.
Clear Water - Again, fish rely on eyesight in clear water and are able to determine fairly effectively between various baitfish and other prey items. In this situation, lure size should closely mimic the size of the baitfish or shrimp in the area. Again, when fish are feeding primarily by sight, you don't want to do anything to signal a dramatic difference between your bait and what they are feeding on. If anything, anglers should err on the side of caution and use a smaller bait than they normally would if the water is extra clear.
Dirty Water - As with color, when it comes to size, opposite water conditions require opposite approaches. Since fish can't see as well in stained water, anglers should “super-size” their lure offerings when the water turns ugly. Fish need a big target, which affords them a good look if they are to see from more than a few inches away. Whether throwing topwaters or soft-plastics, it is often useful to throw the biggest bait in the box when fishing dirty water.
SOUND IT OUT
The final piece of the puzzle is the level of sound - or noise - the offering should produce. This step is critical, as the results of picking the wrong sound can be just as detrimental as the right sound is productive.
Clear Water - In most instances, no sound is necessary in clear water. Most of the time, keeping the amount of noise - especially the entry sound of a lure hitting the water at the end of a cast - to a minimum is most productive. About the only situation which would warrant utilizing sound would be if there is a bit of a surface riffle or chop accompanying the clear water. In that case, a bait with a light rattle or perhaps a softly-retrieve prop bait can serve to get the fish's attention.
Always err on the side of caution when choosing the amount of sound to use in clear water. Again, clear water fish tend to be skittish. Too much noise can send them bolting off a flat in the blink of an eye.
Dirty Water - With reduced visibility, fish often rely on their other senses. “Feeling” vibration or “hearing” sound is often the method fish use to find prey items in dirty water. Therefore, don't hold back. The dirtier the water, the more noise you want to make. Chuggers, prop-baits and aggressively-retrieved dog-walkers are all good choices in dirty water. Anglers throwing soft-plastics should pick a bait with a paddle-style tail, which will emit vibration as it moves through the water.
In the end, being an effective angler equates to be a flexible angler. Very few anglers have the ability to pick and choose the days they fish since most must go when the going is good, regardless of weather or water conditions. However, by following these simple steps, every fisherman can bolster the chances for success, no matter what color the water happens to be when that all-too-rare opportunity for a day on the bay presents itself.
Visit Danno's website - www.lonestarsalt.com
Contact Danno at any of the following:
Instagram: @dannowise @lonestarsalt
by Gritter Griffin
I try really hard to be prepared. I work diligently to plan, and be ready for, any scenario I can possibly think of. I have contingency plans for my contingency plans. Sometimes, though, things happen that are not possible to think of, much less plan for. These are the kinds of things that shouldn’t happen, that just couldn’t happen. These are occurrences that are the stuff of nightmares – real life nightmares. This is tournament fishing.
We have all heard the old saying, “Sometimes it just doesn't pay to get outta bed”. Today began as one of those days.
But let me start at the beginning.
Yesterday was Day 1 of the Elite 40 Redfish Tour Gulfport Open. The wind blew hard and my fish were not cooperative. I had two pretty good fish and a little guy that I could never get out of the boat. I weighed in 20.22 lbs.
At the weigh-in, I dropped fish from the boat, at the bump station, and on the stage. I was feeling like a bumbling moron and was looking for a way to save the day. I was walking forward to present my fish to the crowd when Pat mentioned the AOY trophy at front and center of the stage. That was it! I knew what to do. I would pose with my fish and the Angler Of the Year trophy for the TV cameras and live stream video feed. But just as I was kneeling by the trophy preparing for a really great Pro Angler moment, my foot began slipping in the fish slime from the fish I had just dropped. I fell flat on my butt in a perfectly unplanned pratfall; still clinging to the scoundrel of a fish that had caused it all.
After I got over all the miscues from the weigh-in I set about evaluating my position in the tournament. I was over 4 lbs behind and in 15th place. My only chance was to hope for really bad weather conditions for everybody and a lucky big bag for me on day 2. That night and the next morning I was seriously considering changing my whole game plan and going after three 30 inch fish in Mississippi. Then, this morning, I spent too much time deciding what to do while standing at a Mississippi launch watching the lightning out over the water.
I ultimately got to the launch site late.
Everyone was gone and only Pat, Rob and the staff were there. The biting midges were swarming by the billions and everyone was taking shelter from the onslaught in their trucks. Pat offered his guys to help me launch but I said, “No thanks. I got this. I do it all the time by myself.” And, with that, the odyssey began.
I backed down the ramp and tied the boat off to the dock so I could float it off the trailer. I got in the truck and backed in a bit. The boat floated free – literally! The line I had tied to the boat gave way and the boat was floating freely on out past the dock. Oh crap!!
I threw the truck in park and jumped out hoping to catch it at the end of the short dock. But just as my feet hit the ground I realized that I had made a terrible mistake – the truck was in reverse!
I scrambled to get back in the cab but the truck was moving too fast. The door hit me in the back knocking me to my knees. This was about to be a genuine disaster. With visions of the ultimate boat launch screw-up in my mind I somehow grabbed on to the seat and pulled my way back in the cab.
The entire bed was submerged and the water was now sloshing into the door of the truck. Things were moving too fast to think. I just reacted. I hit the 4 wheel button, threw the shifter into drive and stomped it. Nothing happened. For that long moment I was filled with the dread of the unimaginable – sinking my truck at the launch.
It was too late. I could feel the rear tires dropping off the end of the concrete of the launch. I had lost my boat and drowned my truck. Then, just when I thought it was all over, the tires bit the edge of the drop off and I came out of the water and up the ramp in a cloud of smoking rubber and sloshing water like some raging denizen of the bayou. I was safe. I breathed a quick sigh of relief. And then I remembered the boat. Oh crapola, the boat!
This time I made sure the truck was in park, set the parking brake, and raced to the end of the dock. Too late. The boat was drifting free in the lagoon. In those first few seconds I thought of and rejected a hundred plans and scenarios to retrieve the boat. None seemed likely to work. Not a single person was around. No boat moored nearby. Nothing. I resigned myself to my fate and began taking off my clothes.
Now down to just my skivvies I stood at the end of that dock in the southernmost end-of-the-world bayou in Mississippi pondering just what might lay in those dark waters. It was the midges that urged me to my final decision. I felt like I had been buried in an ant hill. Fierce stings erupted over my entire body. They were in my eyes, deep in my ears, in my mouth, and in my hair. They were swarming everywhere and they were all biting flesh in a ravenous feast in which I was the main course.
I dove into the dark waters.
As I swam the short distance to the boat I conjured up images of alligators lying in wait for just such a stupid human. I thought of sharp rusting metal that would cut and maim the unsuspecting swimmer. I thought all sorts of dark thoughts but I reached the boat without incident. Clambering on board at the stern I quickly set about getting the boat to the dock. The midges had not left. The stinging was unimaginable. This torment, I thought perversely, was deserved.
I tied the boat securely and raced to the dock to retrieve my clothes. The cloud of biting things followed and became even more intense. They must have sensed their prey was escaping and all wanted just one last taste of blood. I quickly got into the cab of the truck, parked the trailer, dried off, and got into my clothes. It was time to go fishing.
I motored out of the bayou and onto Lake Bourgne. This lake is not a nice place in calm weather and it is an absolute beast when the wind blows. Today it was just a little beast.
But about 15 miles into my journey, as I was gleefully flying through the bumpy water at 55 mph, the platform of my tower came loose and went flying backwards right at me. Fortunately, it caught up against the console and stayed there while I came to a stop as quickly as one can on the water. I examined the platform and discovered that some of the screws had loosened on a previous, and very bumpy, ride through the Rigolets yesterday and now the remainder of the screws had surrendered. OK, no problem. I broke out the zip ties and was soon on my way again.
This lasted about 3 miles.
The zip ties all broke and I came to another abrupt halt. Now I was stumbling about in the rocking boat figuring how to secure the platform so I could get on with the day. Ropes! Yes. I have ropes. I got out two of my docking lines and fastened the platform securely to the base. It looked like it might have come from Red Sanford’s junk yard but it would hold.
Did I mention that I get deathly seasick when standing in a rocking boat?
It’s true and this time was no exception. My breakfast was quickly sent overboard as an offering to the gods of the sea. I confess that while in the throes of this contribution I did briefly wonder if this form of chumming might be effective for redfish. Nevertheless, I was soon on my way again.
The terrible weather I had both hoped for and dreaded did not appear. In fact, the bad weather completely missed the entire marsh area. It was a glorious day with a bluebird sky. Bright sun, low winds, crystal clear water. A sightcasters dream. Good for fishermen, bad for me. On this kind of day I would need a freakishly large bag of fish to catch up because there was nothing to impede those guys ahead of me from catching big weights again. I figured I would need 29 pounds to even have a chance at getting to the top 5. This was doable but would require some very specific fish and some very specific luck. And luck, of the good variety, had been in very short supply for me lately.
I made it to the first spot without further incident, got set up, and patiently started down the bank. The water was gin clear. I could see everything. Up ahead three bronzebacks slowly made their way around a bend. I pitched to the lead guy. He struck and missed. But the second fish grabbed the lure and it was on! I got the fish to the boat and onto the measuring board. At 26 ½ inches and 8.5 lbs this fish represented 1/3 of that freakish bag I was dreaming of. Now I just needed one more of those and a 29-30 incher that weighs 12 or more pounds and a Gritter comeback would be in the offing. I was pumped!
I passed on a couple of fish that looked like they were 6-7 lbs, smaller than I needed, and then hooked a 7.8 pounder that I put in the well just because I was getting nervous about not having three in there. Just as I climbed back up on the tower I saw a glorious sight. It was a very large red doing the “happy roll”. A happy roll is when a redfish saunters lazily along rolling this way and that. It is a sure sign that he is on the prowl and will eat just about any offering you put out there. I pitched. He ate. It was on again.
Oh glorious day, it was another 26 ½ inch fish that weighed 8.4 pounds. I now had 2/3 of that “impossible” bag. I just needed that 12 pounder now and the stage would be set.
I spent the next several hours looking at dozens of fish but pitching to none. I needed that one miracle fish but, at the end of the day, it was not to be. I had run out of area to fish. I had run out of time.
Before I set up for the long ride home I took a moment to sit down and contemplate the day, the weather, the events, tournament life, and, in general, just what the heck I was doing sitting in my boat so many miles from the launch.
I was suddenly tired. Really, really tired. The kind of bone-weary fatigue that sets in after too many hours and too many days of mental and physical strain. The kind of tired that makes you question your motivation and at the same time challenges you to go just one more step, just one more time, just……….
I stood slowly and opened the livewells. As I lifted each fish from the well I thanked them for their time with me today and gently placed them back into the Louisiana waters I love so much. I had not met my personal challenge for the day. I had not caught the freak bag I needed to make the improbable comeback. But I had battled and I had come close. Tournament fishing is a fickle sport. It is fraught with improbable events, unlikely occurrences, and close calls. The real challenge lies in the mind of the competitor – surrender or fight. On this day I chose to fight. I did not win this battle but I was satisfied, on a very personal level, that I had given my all to get there. At that moment not much else mattered.
I watched the three fish slowly swim away. As they vanished into the distance I stood looking out over the calm waters and realized that I had won something far more valuable.
by Ed Lee
Those of us that pursue those pesky redfish all over the coastlines, marshes, and coastal estuaries from North Carolina to the Mexican border will understand what I mean when I say that there has never been another species of fish that is so very frustrating and yet so very joyful to pursue.
I have spent a great many years of my life learning the shallow water methods for locating and catching redfish. I can catch them on topwater, jigs, spinners, cranks, jerks, floaters, divers, live bait, soft bait, hard bait, and sometimes, no bait. But I have never seemed to be able to get the hang of catching them in water that is over 3 feet deep. That is, until I met Cole Starr from Seabrook, Texas.
Starr is the owner of Coastline Marine, a Shallow Sport dealer and custom aluminum fabricator. At Coastline, they build some of the best looking and best performing towers and t-tops found on boats anywhere. Cole has been fishing pretty much his entire life of 34 years and redfish have been his preferred target for more than 15 of those years. But, it was the discovery of a certain subset of those reds, and subsequent on-the-water research and training, that changed this angler’s methods forever.
Cole has made a lifestyle out of targeting, locating, and catching those reds that dwell in the deeper waters of Galveston Bay. He and his partner, Brent Juarez, are perennial favorites in any tournament series held in that area during the summer months and have won many of them.
“Beginning about 7-8 years ago whenever there was a tournament in Galveston we would nearly always be in the top three and we won many of them. We literally felt like we owned the tournament waters back then. But it wasn’t long before our technique for winning these tournaments got out and the competition increased dramatically. And when others came along on the madness that is the deep water reds, it sometimes got a little rowdy. But, while it may seem like an easy thing to do, the art of finding, chasing and catching these deep water redfish is something that takes years to master.”
I had the pleasure of getting in the boat with Cole for several days of instruction about this madness called the “deep water pattern”. And, let me assure you, I was schooled in more ways than one. Trying to outfish this master of the deep is an exercise in utter futility. He has a nose, literally, for this type of fishing that is second to none.
Step One - The Slick
The morning began with light breezes and bright sun. Perfect conditions for the search-and-find we were about to embark on. We loaded up and took off in Cole's Shallow Sport 24 powered by a Yamaha 250 SHO outboard. As we ran towards the first area where he expected to find fish, Cole explained to me that it is best if there is a light breeze creating a little ripple on the surface of the water to make it easier to get the first part of the search completed - finding the slicks. A slight ripple on the surface makes seeing the slick areas a lot easier because when the water is dead calm the entire surface is more mirror-like and picking out the slicks becomes much more difficult.
Slicks occur when predators are feeding on big schools of baitfish at various depths. The oils released from the remains of those unfortunate critters and the debris regurgitated by the ravaging predators floats to the surface and creates a slick spot on the surface of the water. It is these slicks that we were looking for on that perfect morning in Galveston Bay.
Step Two - The Sniff
It wasn’t long before Cole slowed the boat and came to an idle. I didn’t see anything. Certainly, I could see nothing slick on the water. I watched and learned. For about 4-5 minutes we just stood there in the tower and drifted. Then, with a deep sigh, Cole said, “I think they are right over there not too far”.
He powered up and ran about 200 yards then shut down again. This time I did indeed see something – a broad and irregular slick was spread over the surface of the water shimmering in the morning light.
“This”, Cole said, “is not where they are but where they were”.
He then explained to me that what we were looking for, at first, is the big slick and that he had found it by smelling the air and noting the direction of the wind. The distinctly “fishy” smell of the fresh slick is easily recognizable and makes finding the “big” slicks a reasonably simple task. But, it gets more complex.
Step Three - The Trail
Then Cole said, “Pop- ups, we gotta find the pop-ups”.
I’m pretty sure I had a look of utter confusion on my face because he laughed and told me that pop-ups was his term for the smaller slicks that indicate an “early” slick versus the older big slick we were looking at right then.
Once again, noting the wind direction, Cole took off in an arc that would bring us another 100 yards or so upwind. Sure enough, I began to see other slicks along the way that formed a visible trail of slicks on the water’s surface.
Once again Cole explained, “The trick is to know where they were at last. And you have to find the smaller slicks to determine the direction they are heading. Those baitfish want to be somewhere in particular and where they are going, so go the reds. The really tricky part is to figure out where it is that they ‘want’ to be. Once you know the direction they are heading, you can kind of figure out where they are going. So, I usually just watch for a while until I’m pretty sure where they are headed – towards the channel or away – and then I can get in front of them”.
Step Four - The Chase
Cole then told me that he most common mistake made by people trying to learn this technique is that they get excited and start really pushing up on the school.
“Sure they’ll catch some of em that way but what happens is that they disperse the school or push them back into the channel by pressuring them too hard and then they won’t find them again”.
He tells me over and over again that the big fail he sees by novices at this game is “pushing ‘em too hard” and “you won't see them again”. He says that these fish come out of the really deep water of the channel, spread out across the bay to locate the big baitfish pods to feed, and if they get pressured and pushed back in the channel – “they are gone!”
The right way is to be patient and follow the school for a bit until you are sure you have a direction, and possibly a destination, noted. Then, he likes to make a circuitous route to get in front of the school. When the new, very small slicks begin to pop coming at you that’s when the fun begins. Now, he can keep up with the school using the trolling motor, which won’t spook them, and it is Game On!
Step Five - The Catch
For a day of fun fishing it’s just catch and release as many of these bull reds as you can. But for tournament competition it is an entirely different process. In a tournament, the fish cannot measure over the Texas slot limit of 28 inches. Finding these fish amongst the hundreds of huge bulls is not an easy task and truly makes for a ‘hero or zero’ kind of game plan.
“Sometimes the ‘keepers’ are on top of the school, sometimes mixed in the middle, and sometimes on the bottom”, Cole told me. “You just have to use trial and error to figure out where they are. But once you find that ‘sweet spot’, you can pretty consistently catch the ones you are looking for.”
Then he added with a wistful smile, “And, maybe they are all oversized with no slots in the mix. It's a very risky business.”
He likes to use really heavy lures in the 1-2 ounce category for several reasons. The heavier lures make for longer casts which is most helpful when casting upwind or trying to get a lure on the far side of the school because sometimes the slot fish are ahead of the school and sometimes just along one side. On still other occasions they are lagging behind the school. Also, by varying the weight of the lure, he can get the lure to the bottom of the school or leave it higher in the water column when locating where the keepers are running within that particular school of reds.
Cole further explains that these are not year-round bay redfish. They are Gulf redfish. He thinks these fish come through the through the jetties about April and disperse in various sized schools and pods in the ship channel. They come up out of the channel to feed and that’s when they disperse out across the bay. They stick around until early fall when they return to the gulf waters. It is these months, May through August, that they tend to stay in the large schools. Then, come fall, they head back out to the Gulf and do whatever redfish do out there.
So, now that you have read this article, maybe you’re thinking that you can get this pattern down pretty quickly. Well, good luck with that. This is a brand and a tactic that requires long, long hours and likely years to perfect. The changing weather conditions, tides, time of day, moon phase, currents, ship channel traffic, bottom structure knowledge, baitfish patterns, and redfish temperament make this one of least dependable, most risky, and highly frustrating methods of pursuing those pesky reds.
When I asked him why every tournament angler doesn’t fish this pattern he answered with a sly smile and said,” Well, my buddy Gritter Griffin thought that way too. He worked pretty hard for a week or so learning the technique and decided to fish the deep pattern in an Elite Redfish Series event in 2015. After day one he was in second place and pretty stoked about the whole thing. BUT, on day two he came up with a big fat zero! All oversize fish that day. He knew the risk but went all in for the ‘hero or zero’ plan. That time it was a Zero. It happens far more often than you may think.”
SO, to tournament competitors I would say -Feeling frisky? Or may risky? If you have the nerve, give it a go. Just be aware that, when you do, you have a huge chance of pulling that Zero out of the box.
And, after watching Cole for a day and learning of the complexities of this kind of fishing, I would say to all the recreational anglers out there – good luck with that!
by Tony Gaskin
The professional tournament trail is hot!
I am writing this blog with my suitcase open. I say that because I am fresh off the road from being gone for ten days straight and fishing two events on different tours out of Hopedale Louisiana.
The conditions were not favorable. This seems to have become the new “normal” with wind and rain every tournament day. We fished the IFA Redfish Tour event in 35-40 mph sustained winds all day and had to cut our day short by two hours as we fled when the lightning started popping all around us. The water looked like there was a helicopter hovering above our Sportsman boat. Trust me folks, standing on an elevated casting platform on a boat is not where you want to be in a lightning storm unless you have an obsession with Benjamin Franklin. In this case holding a reel and rod would serve the same purpose as a kite and key. I have great admiration for all the anglers that relentlessly compete in adverse conditions. This time Mother Nature threw us an unexpected curve ball. Not only was the weather an interesting component but to say there was no water is an understatement.
Perhaps I should explain for those who are not familiar. I have fished this area for several years, so I have many favorite spots where I know I can get on good redfish. In the land of bayous and backwaters the wind has a great effect on tides and volume of water in these areas. This year the water was lower than I have ever seen, rendering All my ponds and secret holes inaccessible. I feel like we finished respectably considering our limited fishery. And, as an added bonus, we gained some knowledge on locating fish in different areas as well.
In addition, I have a mouth full of crow to chew on regarding “never say never”. The point is that I have said I will never leave after a tournament to travel home. We were up at 3:30 am to launch for the last tournament of the two. We fished hard all day and when done we were facing an eleven-hour drive. The plan was to drive a few hours and then get a room for the night. Before the crow taste was in my mouth good, I already knew the chance of that happening was slim. There was either no vacancy or what was available was not in the budget for my depleted wallet. So, youth took over and my son did the deal.
It was an uncomfortable run and the best I could do was to drift off to sleep a few times only to jerk awake from the bumps and dips on America’s fine roadways. I would ask my son if he was ok as I would like to think that I could take over if he wasn't – probably not. Even with all that, I was happy about the decision when we finally got within five miles of the comfort of home. All this extra effort afforded me a whole day and a half before I had to put what came out of the open suitcase back in and got on the road again. This time it was off to one of my favorite destinations.
Georgetown, SC is special to me since I have many sponsors and countless friends in this storied historic town. Your ears will find Southern charm and fishing stories for as long as you will listen in a town where it feels like time passes by a bit more slowly. It’s the only place I have ever been where each time I come back I am treated as if I never left. Maybe it's a life style that is simply South Carolina.
Along with the southern charm and hospitality is the fact that this is where I started my career as a professional redfish angler. My primary sponsor, Sportsman Boats, is a short distance away in Summerville and I couldn't be prouder to say that I represent this brand of quality boat. Just about anywhere you look on the water there is a Sportsman boat which speaks to the quality of both the people and product. I feel at home here and that is both comforting and a bit agonizing as it presents thoughts of living here with all the charm and friendship of its people.
Well folks, time to zip the ol’ suitcase and get on the road. Thank you all for reading my blog and following my adventures on social media.
Until next time, be safe and see ya on the water.