By Danno Wise
One of the most anticipated annual occurrences along the Texas coast is the bull redfish run. Although the run can happen anytime between July and October, September is typically prime time for oversize red drum. It is during the ninth month that every day truly offers redfish aficionados the opportunity to catch a fish of a lifetime.
Anglers looking to hook into bull reds can find them in three areas during September - beachfronts, passes and bay waters. However, the central figures in the unfolding drama of the bull red run are the Gulf passes. In order to consistently be successful pulling bull reds during the run, fishermen need to understand the underlying purpose for these passes and the reason the redfish are drawn there.
For starters, as are many of nature's more glorious events, the bull red run is all about spawning. Bull reds, which are actually mature female red drum, move from the open Gulf, where they spend most of their time, close to shore and, specifically, close to Gulf passes that connect Texas' various bays to the Gulf of Mexico. Simultaneously, recently sexually matured male and female redfish begin to filter out of the bays, where they've spent their formative years, to the beachfront in order to congregate with the spawning stock. In this instance, the passes act as open doors for the redfish leaving the bays looking to start the second stage of their life in the Gulf waters.
Once these two groups get a chance to mingle, the passes play yet another important role in this ritual. According to biologists, redfish actually drop their eggs along the beachfront and rely on tidal currents to sweep them through the passes and into the protected bay waters, where they newborn redfish will have a better chance of survival once hatched. These same bay waters will be home for the first few years of each red's life, until they mature to the point they, too, can join in the annual beachfront spawning ritual.
Of course, unlike salmon, bull reds have no qualms about feeding during their spawning ritual. Therefore, anglers located schools of bulls have a very good chance to hook into them. The key is located the schools and presenting baits in the proper way.
Redfish leaving the bays typically do so in fairly large groups. These fish start 'ganging up' during late summer, preparing for their trip to the open Gulf. Over the course of a couple months, each of these large groups will meander through the bay and toward the pass. Typically, these schools will follow some sort of defined boundary, such as a shoreline or channel edge while making their way to the open Gulf.
Although these schools of freshly matured reds may be using deep channels as a road map to the spawning grounds, they will usually travel over the shallow shelves paralleling the deep channels. And, while these schools typically travel at good clip, they will stop and mill around while feeding. At times like these, anglers can wade to or stake out a boat within casting distance of a school and pluck fish from the perimeter without spooking the main school.
When working a school of feeding reds, fly rodders are at a distinct advantage in that they can quietly present their offering to fish on the fringes without causing a fish-spooking splash. Conventional tackle fishermen are best served using spinning rigs and casting weightless or lightly-weighted lures to fish around the edges of the main pod.
Cruising fish will also eat. However, they will rarely deviate far from their designated course. And, anglers need to toss something that gets their attention.
When most anglers think of bull reds, images of surf fishing come to mind. Without a doubt, many big bulls are pulled from the beachfront suds each summer and fall. By and large, the majority of fish caught from shore are subdued by fishermen armed with heavy surf sticks loaded with natural baits such as cut mullet, skipjack, cracked crab or jumbo live shrimp.
The primary reason for this is bull reds spend their time along the beachfront essentially cruising in big loops. In areas where the water clarity isn't good enough to allow fishermen to see approaching schools, laying out set baits only makes sense. However, from the mid-coast down, where beach-bound and boating anglers can both identify roving schools, lures and flies come into play.
For fishermen with the ability to spot fish moving along the shoreline, holding fire until the fish are within range is the best bet. Boating anglers are, of course, at an advantage in that they are able to position themselves in front of moving schools - and stay with a school as it moves up and down the beachfront. Beachfront and jetty fishermen are more reliant on the kindness of schools willing to move within casting range.
As schools approach, anglers should be at the ready. The biggest mistake in this scenario happens when fishermen misjudge the depth of the swimming school. Clear water tends to make fish appear closer to the surface than they actually are. Most often, even sighted fish are at least 4 feet below the surface. And, though this fish will readily eat, they won't stray far from their path to do so.
Essentially, this means fishermen need to toss offerings that will quickly sink into the fish's line of sight. Fly rodders should use heavily weighted baitfish patterns paired with sinking lines.
Whenever reds are found in passes during this time of year, they will be on the move. Therefore, anglers working inside passes should employ the same strategies as beachfront fishermen working along the beachfront. If the water is too muddy to see, set baits on the bottom and wait for passing schools. If the water is clear enough to sight fish, hold your fire until a school moves through.
In either instance, fishermen are usually able to attack fish in passes with equal success whether they are in a boat or not. The reason for this is two-fold. One, passes are generally relatively narrow and fish usually follow the shoreline to some extent. Secondly, most major passes are lined with jetties, which provide excellent perches for bull red seekers.
While bull reds don't require extremely heavy tackle, anglers wanting a realistic shot at subduing one of these brutish drum should use a little beefier sticks than what are normally employed for bay use. Conventional tackle fishermen can typically get by with 7-foot medium to medium-heavy rods paired with a reel capable of handling 175 yards of 12 pound test. The exception to this would be surf fishermen, who need slightly longer rods fitted with reels capable of holding around 250 yards of line. Fly rodders should use 9 or 10 wt sticks paired with either intermediate or full sink lines.
Whether fishing the bay, beachfront or in passes, anglers should know that every day they wet a hook during fall they have an excellent opportunity to land an over-size redfish.