by Danno Wise
There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that August is a summer month. However, the red hot redfish action that is generally associated with fall fishing actually begins in the weeks leading up to Labor Day. That means August through October is prime redfish time. And, this includes a variety of areas along the coast. In fact, late summer begins a period of angling excitement when fishermen tackle redfish of all sizes in a variety of venues, with a variety of techniques and using a variety of baits and lures. So, although we are only talking about a single species, the diverse places and ways to catch redfish this time of year means that anglers can literally do something different every single day of the month.
Shallow flats and shorelines
Contrary to popular belief, not all inshore fish are found deep during late summer. In fact, August is the time maturing reds in the back bays will begin ganging up and working their way down to the Gulf passes for their annual spawning ritual. And, as single become doubles, doubles become pods and pods become schools, they we be more and more common in shallow water – over skinny flats and along shorelines.
Keeping with the theme of variety, shallow water fishermen are presented with a myriad of methods that can be productive on late summer reds. When found on the shallow flats, redfish can easily be taken with a variety of natural baits, such as shrimp, mullet, and crab. A variety of artificial lures, including topwaters, spoons and soft-plastic jigs, will also work – not to mention the streamers, attractors and poppers cast by fly fishermen.
Regardless of what bait or lure is being thrown, there are a variety of ways to target redfish in shallow water this time of year. For natural bait fishermen, they most basic method is to anchor down and fish bait on the bottom, general in sandy potholes or along the edges of grass beds. A modified bottom fishing method that has developed in Deep South Texas is known as “humping.” The basic purpose of humping is to cover water while bottom fishing. This technique involves casting downwind of a drifting boat with a bottom rig, then reeling steadily, but just fast enough to keep slack out of the line as the boat drifts toward the location of the bait. Once the boat gets close to the bait, it is reeled in and recast. This method can also be used by wade fishermen walking toward their bait while reeling.
A number of natural bait fishermen choose to freeline their baits instead of anchoring them to the bottom. This method can be used with live or dead bait, but is most commonly used with live shrimp, finger mullet or crab. It involves using either no weight or just enough weight to cause the bait to get below the water’s surface. Anglers then allow the bait to swim naturally around structures such as potholes while maintaining enough tautness in the line as to detect strikes.
Another method of natural bait fishing pioneered on the shallow grass flats of South Texas is casting mullet strips. Essentially this involves hooking a mullet fillet on a 4/0 Kahle hook and retrieving it like a soft-plastic jerkbait.
Popping corks and maulers can also be utilized on flats from 12 inches to 4 feet deep. The larger, oval and cupped faced models should be used in deeper, darker waters, while cigar shaped versions are better for shallower or clearer water. Both natural and artificial baits can be hung beneath corks and maulers. Good examples of lures and baits that can be effectively used beneath maulers and corks include live shrimp, finger mullet, pinfish, live crabs, artificial shrimp, soft-plastic jigs and lipless crankbaits.
When fish are not sighted on flats, anglers should employ fan casting – casting at small angular increments in front of the boat drift or wading direction in order to effectively cover as much water as possible. This method can be employed by both artificial lure and natural bait fishermen.
Another effective method to use when fish aren’t sighted is selective blind casting. This basically involves casting lures and baits to potholes, grass edges and other likely fish-holding structures. Anglers should also cast toward slicks, nervous water, active bait and any other sign of active fish.
Of course, for many fishermen, there is only one satisfying manner in which to catch redfish in shallow water – sightcasting (this is what most people relate to fly fishermen, although long rodders can be productive both sight-casting and blind-casting). When sightcasting, anglers may see tailing fish or may see fish beneath the surface when visibility is good. Later in August, it is also possible to see entire “herds” – giant schools of redfish – working the flats.
Which brings us to another point -- how to work a school on the shallow flats. It is critical to be able to work school efficiently to catch multiple fish from one school. To do this, anglers should first determine the direction in which the school is moving. Then, look for any “stragglers” that may not be tight against the main “herd.” Casting to fish that are not right next to other fish is the first preference. If the school is bunched tight, anglers should attempt to cast to fish that are at the near edge. Hooking fish on the edges allows anglers to “steer” the fish clear of the remaining school without spooking them.
Jetties & passes
Again, the annual redfish run starts in late summer and that means Gulf passes and the jetties that line them will be hot spots for both slot-size redfish as well as big “bull” reds.
Of course, knowing redfish are found in Gulf passes this time of year and actually finding and catching them are two different things. In order to fully understand how to locate schools of bull redfish during the annual run, it is important to understand why they migrate to the beachfront each year. In short, bull redfish run has everything to do with the continuity of the species' life cycle – it is a spawning ritual that must be fulfilled every year.
Redfish are unique among Texas inshore species in that they do not live, grow and die in the same body of water. Redfish are born in backwater estuaries and marshes. As they grow, they move out into bays and saltwater lakes, where they will spend the next few years of their lives. Once they reach sexual maturity - usually around 28 to 32 inches - they move into the open water of the Gulf of Mexico. They spend the remainder of their lives in these open, deep waters. But, each year they return to the Gulf passes to spawn, giving Texas inshore anglers a great opportunity to tangle with “oversize” reds.
As is the case on the shallow flats, there are a variety of lures, baits and techniques that will account for redfish in Gulf passes and near jetties. Around the jetties and in passes, most reds are taken on natural baits such as mullet, jumbo live shrimp or crabs. Each of these baits can be fish on the bottom or, when fishing around jetties, freelined. However, artificial lures such as ½-ounce jigs, swimbaits, 1 oz spoons and lipless crankbaits will take their share of redfish near the rocks as well.
The beachfront is the most accessible of all redfish venues. And, every stretch of beach from Boca Chica to Sea Rim will be producing redfish during late summer. Again, variety is the operative word when talking about targeting redfish in the late summer surf.
Both natural baits and artificial baits will produce fish in the surf. At times, anglers choose to combine the two. When pursuing bull reds, some fishermen opt to pin a big live bait - either mullet or shrimp - to the bottom and wait for a school to pass by. While waiting, they will often pass the time by throwing spoons, jigs, sinking plugs or topwater plugs into the first two guts.
In areas such as Boca Chica, South Padre Island and Padre Island National Seashore, where the surf is clear enough to allow schools of redfish to be easily sighted, anglers pursue schools on foot, in boats or in vehicles and toss artificial lures to them. Heavily weighted, fast sinking jigs and swimbaits are the best choices for casting to cruising schools of beachfront bulls.
As you can see, there is no reason to wait until October to get in on outstanding redfish action. After all, the legendary fall fishing for reds along the Texas coast actually begins in August. So, any anglers growing weary of fishing deep structure for schoolie specks during late summer can always sight-cast the shallow flats or probe the close beachfront or pass for redfish of all sizes.