by Ron Brooks
Redfish, red drum, puppy drum, red bass, channel bass, or spottail bass, whatever you call them, these coastal marauders spell plenty of great year round fishing for the Georgia angler savvy enough to follow their habits.
Spottails are members of the drum family, a family name that comes from the drumming sounds they make with their air bladders. Many people don’t know that the spotted seatrout is also a member of this family.
Red drum can be found along the entire Georgia coast, from the St. Mary’s River to the Savannah River and everywhere in between. But exactly where along the coast they will be and how you fish for them is dependent on what time of year you fish. Reds follow a definite cycle during breeding, brooding and growing.
Knowledge of this life cycle coupled with a like knowledge of the Georgia coastal geography can help you catch fish all year long.
The entire coast of Georgia is comprised of salt marshes divided by hundreds of small creeks, rivers, shallow mud flats, and oyster bars. Protecting these marshes are the barrier islands. Often as high as thirty feet above sea level, these barrier islands were created by thousands of years of sand-pounding surf building up the beaches. Jekyll, St. Simons, Sapelo and the many other barrier islands offer this marsh protection.
To understand the life cycle of this fish, you must understand that red drum don’t reach sexual maturity until they are at least five years old. They will be from twenty-seven to thirty inches in length and weigh over fifteen pounds at this stage in their life.
Many people think that the red drum needs brackish or freshwater in which to breed. While they do need this backwater, it is not for breeding, but for brooding.
From July through September, large fish migrate offshore out of the cuts and inlets to breed. Large females may spawn several times during these months, broadcasting several million eggs into the water for the accompanying males to fertilize. Huge schools of drum have been sighted offshore just under the water surface by surveillance aircraft during these breeding periods. This large-schooling habit during the breeding season, and relative ease of detection have made them easy targets for commercial net boats in the past, causing devastation to future populations.
Life begins for a red drum well off the coast where the eggs hatch from August through October. The hatchings begin to grow immediately, and larval stages of the fish can be found in and around the beaches near cuts through the barrier islands.
Tidal currents take the growing larvae far back into the marsh creeks and rivers. For the first winter of life, they will remain in the marsh, relatively protected from predator fish. The following spring and summer they will make their way to the lower reaches of the rivers and sounds.
At this stage of life and for the next three to four years, the red drum will remain within these estuarine waters, feeding mainly on shrimp and crabs, and growing to maturity. It is during this period in their life that the majority of fish are caught by hook and line.
Mature fish over fifteen pounds will make their way out of the sounds, through the cuts, and into the ocean waters. There they form large schools of adult fish.
These facts explain why the largest red drum caught each year are ocean going, generally caught by a surf fisherman. They also explain why so many small fish are found back in the tidal creeks and estuaries.
Given all this great information, let’s see how we can use it to catch more fish throughout the year.
Fall fishing for red drum can be some of the most productive fishing, particularly for the larger brood fish. The breeding cycle has been completed and large fish are roaming the surf looking for food. Huge schools of baitfish, including mullet and menhaden are found migrating south along the beaches to escape the coming cold weather.
Bluefish schools will be right with the baitfish, gorging themselves at every chance as they turn the water to a froth. Pay attention to the bluefish, because not only are they fun to catch, they are accompanied by big red drum.
It is not uncommon for a drum to chase and eat baitfish, but in relatively deep water, the drum have a harder time catching the baitfish. Drum are primarily bottom feeders, able to move from side to side quickly in pursuit of prey. But baitfish in deeper water can move vertically, something the drum has trouble doing.
What the big drum have learned to do is follow the bluefish and look for the leftovers. Pieces of baitfish cut up by the sharp teeth of the blues drift to the bottom where the big reds are scavenging.
This is the time of year to have some good, fresh, cut bait on the bottom. From the beach, cast well beyond the baitfish so your bait can reach the bottom without getting nailed by a bluefish. Slowly move your bait back toward the beach so that it is on the bottom below the baitfish, and wait for the bite. Often the strike with this type of fishing is a vicious one, followed by a long, strong run.
Dont be surprised if you pick up a few nice flounder with this method, because they have developed the same symbiotic relationship with the bluefish. On one recent trip to the north end of Jekyll Islands shore, flounder were seen beaching themselves to escape the overzealous feeding frenzy of the bluefish! Surf anglers were gleefully picking up four and five pound flounder as fast as they could!
Fall fishing in the creeks and rivers means staying closer to the sounds and away from the backwaters. Last year’s brood will have made the move from the creeks to the bay and sound waters. Look for oyster bars, hard bottom, and anywhere the current cuts around a point or island. These are natural areas for the drum to congregate, and they can easily be caught on shrimp, small crabs, mud minnows, or artificial baits. Float a live shrimp just off the bottom with the current and let the bait move through the point or cut. Remember, the smaller fish need to be released, so handle them with care.
Look for any of the beaches of the barrier islands to use this surf fishing method. Reds will be on all of them that have baitfish migrating cross them.
Winter can be the most difficult time to find red drum, but they can be caught when you locate them. The smaller brood fish spending their first winter in the creeks are particularly susceptible to temperature extremes. Sudden cold fronts can kill small fish if they do not move to warmer water quickly.
Look for fish during the middle of the day, in shallow water that is being warmed by the sun. Often an entire school comprised of hundreds of fish can be found in one shallow sound. And it is literally possible to catch every single fish. So, again, take care of your catch and practice an easy release. Lower reaches of the Ogeechee, Canoochee, Altamaha, and St. Marys Rivers all have creeks and feeder creeks that will hold fish during the middle of the day.
Creek mouths that empty into a sound, and deep water cuts in the larger sounds leading to the ocean will hold the larger fish. Anchor in the deep water cut and fish the edge where it comes up to shallow water. These fish seldom run the middle of a cut. They will move with the tide along the edge of a cut, more often than not in a single file line that can total over a hundred fish.
Fish right on the bottom using blue crabs for bait. Small ones with a shell diameter no more than two inches can be used whole. Larger ones need to be halved or quartered. Bring a landing net, because fish in these cuts can reach fifty pounds!
Not many anglers make it out on a cold winter day, so you can have the entire sound to yourself! St Andrews, St.Simons, Altamaha, Doboy, Sapelo, St. Catherines, Ossabow, and Wassaw Sounds all have some deep-water channels and cuts that will hold fish during the winter.
By spring, the water has warmed and brood fish have reached ten to twelve inches in length. Back in the creeks and marshes, these fish can be caught in the same places day after day on an outgoing tide. They have learned to move with the tide to the deeper creek waters to avoid being stranded in a shallow pool. This habit has them passing the same cut or point, and moving in the same channels tide after tide. When the tide changes and begins to rise, they will again move back into the creeks.
Schools of red drum will generally segregate by size. When you begin catching small fish, you can be assured that the entire school will look like they came out of the same mold. So if you are looking for larger fish, you will need to find a different school, perhaps in a different creek.
Try this. At dead low tide, locate a creek you can navigate, and identify the surrounding bottom structure that is out of the water. Make notes on channels, oyster bars and cuts. If you know where you can take your boat on a high tide without fear of being left high and dry on the low tide, you can successfully navigate the creeks and find the fish.
The creek you locate with this method needs to be “alive”. That is, it needs to show signs of baitfish and other activity. These signs are a sure bet that the junior red drum will be moving in that particular creek. Creeks with pure mud bottoms that end up on pure mud flats and that have no signs of shellfish or baitfish can be eliminated, because the drum simply will not be there. Look for the oyster bars and hard shell bottoms.
Fish the areas where small feeder creeks empty into larger creeks. Start at the head of a larger creek, and as the tide falls, move out with it, fishing each feeder creek along the way.
In this situation, use a quarter ounce jig head tipped with a tail hooked live shrimp, or a lip hooked mud minnow. Cast up into the feeder creek, and work the jig back with the tidal flow just off the bottom. An occasional flounder adds variety and great table topping to this method!
Try the waters of the St Marys, Altamaha, and Savannah River basins to find the deeper creeks. Don’t be afraid to ask at local bait shops which creeks are navigable at low tide.
The larger red drum are still out on the deep cuts to the ocean, preparing to make the move offshore for breeding. The same winter bottom fishing techniques will work here until the weather warms. At that point, the fish will begin moving offshore to breed.
Summertime fishing for red drum means following the baitfish. Just as seatrout school and follow baitfish with the movement of the tides, so do the red drum. You won’t catch as many fish over 27 inches during the summer months inshore, because those fish have matured to breeding status and will be offshore doing their biological duties.
Fish up to fifteen pounds can be caught in the sounds and creeks that hold bait. They will move with the tide and can be caught on an outgoing tide.
Use the same quarter ounce jig heads with shrimp or mud minnows, casting up into the feeder creeks. Deeper channel fish can still be caught bottom fishing in the sounds, but most of the fish are following food into the creeks and rivers.
Live shrimp under a float will work well where you have a deep outside bend in a creek. As the drum move out with the tide, they stay in the deeper water because that is where most of the tidal flow occurs. Put the shrimp just off the bottom under the float, and let it drift with the tide. Expect some seatrout mixed in with drum when using with this method.
For artificial lures, try a swim tail grub on a jig head. Pinks and reds are the best colors, imitating shrimp. In shallow water, red drum will occasionally hit a top water plug, like a Dalton Special. Streamers are the ticket for taking drum on fly in these conditions. Just make sure you strip fast enough to keep the fly moving naturally with the tidal current.
Just about any creek going through any marsh area from Saint Marys to Savannah has the potential to hold fish. The key is finding the tidal flows that are carrying bait. The fish will be right behind and under the bait.
Summer is usually the time we experience more rain than any other time of year. Younger fish in the headwaters of the creeks are vulnerable to severe salinity changes, and heavy freshwater runoff from rain can hurt the population.
Red drum can truly be caught at any time of the year. They are relatively easy to catch, and we have lots of anglers fishing for them, more very year. If we are to continue to have replenishable stocks of red drum for future years, we must pay strict attention to the conservation efforts that the Georgia DNR Coastal Resources Division has put in place. The fact that these fish don’t reach breeding maturity until five years of age means that we must make sure we return to the water unharmed the majority of the smaller fish we catch.
According to John Pafford, Biologist in charge of inshore finfish research with the DNR Coastal Resources Division, over two million red drum have been harvested in Georgia waters over the past ten years by recreational anglers. Recent samplings of large red drum reflect the low numbers of juvenile fish that are reaching reproductive size. Most of the adults sampled were between twelve and twenty-five years of age. In fact, the ideal sampling would show most fish in the four to twelve year age bracket. The lack of fish in this lower bracket means that we may be harvesting too many fish before they reach breeding potential.
So, it’s up to us. While we have a tremendous red drum fishery and we prohibit harvest of breeder fish over twenty-seven inches in length, we need to be very careful with the smaller fish we catch. Take your five fish limit, and enjoy the catch and release resource. But be sure to carefully handle the smaller fish when you release them. And if it’s table fare you are after, consider practicing catch and release on the red drum while you keep the few seatrout and flounder that are always mixed in with them. It will help preserve the resource for future generations.
by Capt. Erick Despirt - Reel Cranking Charters
One of the great things about redfish -- other than the fact they taste great, put up an amazing fight and are beautiful looking fish -- is that you can find them year round in good numbers and size. Of course there are times that are better than others; when they are in bigger numbers and are larger. The summer can be a tough time of the year to catch fish but its one of my favorite times to fish for redfish.
The first thing to watch for is the tide.
Specifically, for high tides that are two feet or higher. This allows the reds to get up under the mangroves where they are more protected, out of the heat, and have a large abundance of ambush points. The high water allows the fish to get deep into the mangroves. This can make those deep-seated fish difficult to get to the edge to eat bait. The best way to get these fish to come out from this hiding place is all about the bait.
This leads me to the second key to getting redfish out from under the mangroves.
My bait of choice is dead pinfish, though cut mullet and ladyfish will also work, but I prefer pinfish. The size of the bait can vary; if you have large pinfish, simply cut them into strips. If only small palm size bait or smaller are available, cut the tail off , put a slit in its side and crush the head. The key is getting the scent as far under the mangroves as possible to the waiting fish. Bloody and smelly bait is a must in this scenario.
When fishing with clients or speaking at seminars about beating the bushes, I am frequently asked how I pick spots to cast to and how close the bait need to be. This is not a simple task. Some of it comes from time on the water and a lot of trial and error. Let me answer the question of how close does the bait need to be, which will lead me into how to pick a place to cast to. The bait needs to be as absolutely as close as you can get it or under the mangroves. The closer to the fish you can get the bait the better your results will be. Even when you're getting as close to the bushes as possible you are still depending on the scent of the bait to draw them to what you are offering, so when working a mangrove edge, I look for places that have cuts, openings that allow me to cast, or in most cases spots where I can skip baits deep into. I also like the mangroves to come in and out and have points and creek mouths. I find these much more productive then simple straight shorelines.
Something that I have noticed over the years of fishing this way is that -- more often than not -- as long as the tide is moving it doesn't matter what the conditions are. I have hammered them in all kinds of weather; windy, sunny, high pressure, low pressure and no wind. It doesn't seem to matter. Now don't misunderstand there are still days that are far better than others but it is much different than when they are on the open flat.
Last but not least there is the tackle selection. I say this depends entirely on you and your skill level. If you are looking for a bit of a challenge then go light, but if you don't deal with losing fish well, then heavier tackle will be a better fit. I use seven-foot medium action St Croix Avids with 3000 Daiwa Ballistics. For line and leader I am throwing 10 pound test Fins PRT and 20 pound test Seaguar fluorocarbon with a 1/0 Trokar hook. Your tackle selection is entirely up to you. There is no right or wrong, per say, but I recommend something that you can cast accurately. Be sure to bring plenty of hooks cause if you're not hooking the bushes you're not fishing close enough!
More great fishing info at - www.theonlinefisherman.com
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.
It is early morning and I am on my way to the launch site for a redfish tournament. I am stopped by the local constabulary and given citations for speeding, no tail light, expired tag, failure to yield, and reckless driving. So, I file a lawsuit against the folks that are hosting the tournament because it is, quite obviously, their fault! I would never have been in that situation were it not for the fact that I was heading to their tournament. Therefore, they must be responsible. Right?
Everything about that entire scenario is wrong but it brings to mind the absurdity of saying that the tournament organizers are responsible for anything else that you or I do on the water. It is a ridiculous concept because these are all independent choices made by individuals and only those individuals are responsible for their own actions.
The tournament organizers have been browbeaten into believing that they are responsible for any mishap if they don’t make us wear life jackets and lanyards. Really? Well then, what about when I blatantly run over another boat or drive recklessly and injure another person while in the tournament. Is the tournament responsible? No one is really sure, are they? Why not? Because when the tournaments take on the responsibility of mandating safety rules then, in my opinion, they are responsible for ALL the safety issues. So maybe they will soon mandate that we are all to become certified captains that have passed every safety course in existence.
Hopefully by now you have begun to join me in seeing the absurdity of the whole scenario.
It is simply part and parcel of the “no blame” attitude that permeates our Millennial-esque society. Someone must be to blame but it couldn’t possibly be the person who made the decision and choice to act in the way they did. Certainly, it is not my responsibility if I smoke two packs a day for forty years, get cancer, and die. No way. It is the fault of the government and the tobacco companies. They should have prevented me from being stupid.
The same goes for tournament organizers. To make it a hard and steadfast “rule” that I wear a kill switch lanyard and a life jacket is absurd. And, by doing so, they DO take on a certain responsibility for those actions. However, if these items were a “recommendation” instead of a “rule” it clearly becomes the choice of the angler and therefore the responsibility of the angler to enforce those rules on his/her boat - or not. After all, is a captain not lord of his vessel without exception?
These same anglers will go on the water hundreds of times a year. Who is responsible for their behavior all those times? They either learn and utilize safe habits or they don’t. Mandating such behavior is not only silly and meddlesome but reverses the responsibility for a behavior pattern (like smoking being someone else’s fault).
I would submit to you that tournament organizers would be wise to alter their perspective of their responsibility to the anglers that participate in these events. In my mind, tournament coordinators are responsible for nothing other than defining the rules of play, choosing a venue, collecting and holding the cash, providing an accurate measuring and weighing station, ranking the participants by performance, and disbursing the funds – that’s it! Nothing more.
When a group makes it compulsory that you sign a disclaimer that they are not responsible for any bad thing that happens to you and then mandates that you behave in a certain manner, there is an inherent conflict from a legal and logical perspective as to who is responsible for what. Whereas, if the organizers said, “we recognize, endorse, and recommend all these safety behaviors but all these items are the anglers responsibility”, and THEN you sign a disclaimer, it is crystal clear that YOU are the responsible party should anything go awry.
Furthermore, I would like to see the anglers take on the responsibility of policing their own actions and being responsible for same. When I am on the water, my boat is my castle and I am the captain of my boat and the king of my castle.
I am responsible!
by Gritter Griffin
America - the 1960’s.
The Cold War is in full swing. Khrushchev promised to bury us. The Cuban Missile Crisis ended. And, the US government is sending agents all over the country to subject high school students to nefarious testing procedures.
Well, ok, maybe not so nefarious but it got your attention didn’t it?
The truth is that various agencies (like the CIA) were looking for the brightest young minds in the country. The plan was to bring these brainiacs into various government agencies to develop the technologies that would keep America ahead of the curve and in first place in the techno race. They tested tens of thousands of students with IQ and math exams and invited only those that tested “off the scale” into the program.
Glenn Shurr (standardmapping.com) was one of those.
Glenn was recruited into a well-known agency (which shall remain un-named) and began a career that would span decades. He was a little reticent at first but then the recruiter said, “Well, son, you can go to work for us and stop Commies or you can go to Nam and stop bullets”.
It was a done deal.
Glenn began his career in the analyst department by working out algorithms for solutions to computer programs. Later, he began working in computer design and utilization. He was specifically interested in image processing and management.
Fast forward to the 1980’s.
Glenn had now retired from agency work and reconnected with a high school chum. This was another brainiac who had been working in the government for a different agency. They reached out to old contacts and then worked together to build an image processing system. They sold this system and business to the government but maintained a relationship with the agency that purchased it.
Glenn was an avid fisherman and often lamented the fact that there was no accurate mapping system for the maze that was the Louisiana marsh. He got lost all the time. The existing maps were completely inadequate and were no help at all. Then, one day as he was bemoaning the fact that he was once again lost in the marsh, he looked all around at the endless view of sameness - and began to think about using aerial imagery for maps.
He began using “resources” from his past and acquired aerial images of the ‘downriver’ area. This expanse of images included Venice, the Wagon Wheel, and the various Passes. The difficulty came in stitching all the images together to create a single image to use as a map. But, with his background in image processing, it wasn’t long before the first Standard map was born and released in 1986.
The map was a huge hit and was soon followed by other areas of the Louisiana coast that were popular fishing destinations. These hard copy, laminated, maps would become the mainstay of mapping for the Louisiana marshes, bays, and bayous and remain so until 2010.
The years encompassing 1986-2010 were spent sitting down for hundreds of hours with charter captains, tournament anglers, shrimpers, crabbers, marina owners, bait shop operators, and weekend fishermen. He asked them all what they needed to navigate the areas in question and wrote down everything they told him. Then he added these items to his maps. He used the common, local names for bayous, bays, ponds, and rivers. He added coordinates for specific points, so anyone could find major landmarks. The task was immense and required that over 200 individual hi-res photos be reviewed, edited, and then stitched together to create a single map.
Some people would later say, “Hey, that looks just like Google Maps”. Not so, my friends. Glenn was creating these images 13 years before Google was even a company!
For several years Glenn had realized that his maps could make a huge difference in the mapping technology of GPS units. He also knew that the most important aspect of continuing his cartography quest was the development of the electronic side of the industry. He reached out to all the GPS manufacturers to explain his idea and process. He said to them, “If you will just give me the tools I can build your systems”.
Then, in 2010, Lowrance reached out to him and the second part of the journey began.
Now, it was time for Glenn to spend untold numbers of hours in the Lowrance computer and simulation labs creating, testing, and re-testing. The result, which continues to be refined and improved, is the electronic map cards sold by Standard Mapping today.
Glenn’s goals have broadened.
He now wants his maps to cover every lake, pond, river, and creek in the US. He wants his maps to be on every GPS platform which makes them available to every angler from the pro to the weekender. This will allow every angler and boater to safely navigate to and from their favorite fishing areas.
I asked Glenn to tell me about some of his favorite memories from the early days. One of the things he talked most about was the colorful characters he met along the way and the stories that are behind the local names of the waterways. Once, while at Joe’s Landing on the Barataria waterway, he witnessed two locals get into a heated argument and nearly come to blows over the disputed name of a favored area.
He truly enjoyed his years of travel among the watermen of Louisiana. Many of his fondest memories in the building of his company was getting to hear all those stories and legends firsthand from the patrons and workers of the dockside bars, marinas, bait shops, boats, docks, and cafes.
His hard copy maps are still in production and are used by many anglers. But some of the older versions have become an art form of sorts. They can be seen adorning the walls of cabins, camps, restaurants, bars, and marinas all over southern Louisiana and beyond.
The people that Glenn thanks for his success are legion. He lists all the local tackle stores, bait shops, recreational anglers, marinas, and commercial fishermen that provided the information and supported him all the way. He is especially thankful to the leadership of Lowrance for their early recognition of the potential and for putting in the hours and hours of R&D work to get it done.
Glenn Shurr on being Glenn Shurr – “I love life. I love people. I’m the greatest grandfather in the world and I’m one hell of a poker player. I am kind of happy go lucky but I’m also very competitive. I like to see people succeed and just live life to the fullest”.
Glenn’s final thoughts and advice – “Take a kid fishing - especially a teenager. I’ve never seen a kid become a thug or get in trouble with a fishing rod in his hand”
SCOOP ALERT! April 6, 2019 - Garmin has reached an agreement, in principle, to use the Standard Mapping chart format. You can expect to see the introductory card by the first of the year 2019.
by Gritter Griffin
Every pro in every sport knows that there are "good days" when everything goes right and there are "bad days" when all is misery and failure. We have all heard of, and most likely experienced, being "off your game".
What does this mean and why does it occur?
Way back yonder in the dark ages when I was in college I played and excelled at nearly every sport. I was also darn good in the outdoors and was an avid hunter and fisherman. I learned the ways of the critters and became one.
But it was golf that I truly loved and excelled at far beyond just being “really good at it”. It was golf that paid for my college education and it was golf that taught me all about being “on your game” and “off your game”. I have finally come to realize that this same principle applies to every endeavor.
It doesn’t matter if you are hunting, fishing, playing golf, baseball, football, basketball, hockey, or water polo - every time you compete, every cast, every swing of the bat, every throw of the ball, every shot at the hoop, every swat with the stick, every swing of the club has an impact on how the “game” will go that day. Some days you are invincible. When you do things that shouldn’t work, they do. When you make a mistake, it doesn’t hurt you. Even when you make a bad decision it works out for the best.
And then there are those days when, no matter what you do, it turns out all wrong. The best decisions, made from the most logical viewpoint possible, not only fail but fail miserably. The best swing, the best shot, the best throw, the best cast all turn out to be errantly directed with negative and sometimes disastrous results. No matter what you do, it just isn’t going to work out.
Competitors that learn to recognize this “on or off your game” phenomenon not only save themselves a lot of unnecessary stress, but they also learn to roll with punches, make the best of it, and move on to the next day. And sometimes, wonderful things happen. It is from these very situations that the great comebacks, the charges, the incredible come-from-behind last minute victories that we all live for come from. It is the stuff of legends.
Competitors that learn to recognize their “game” are the cream of the crop, the true professionals, who always seem to be at the top of their game. It’s all about adapting to the “game” phenomenon. It is all about recognizing this unconscious pattern and using it to obtain the best results possible on that day. No ne really knows why or how this “game” thing happens but it does. Maybe it’s what you had for supper the night before. Maybe it’s the moon and the stars and gravity. Maybe it’s any number of things but it is very real and can be very destructive.
On a bad day, a pro that understands this “game” thing will not try to over-compensate. He will not get angry when his best efforts continually fall short. He will not press harder and make things worse. He will be patient and just very gently tweak the edges of his performance to get every possible benefit out of a day that is obviously going to be “off” from his usual performance. Then, hopefully, the next day of competition is one of those days when everything goes exactly as it should and his performance is once again stellar.
There’s no real solution other than recognition, patience, perseverance, and a stubborn belief in your own abilities. Bad days come, and bad days go. It is your belief in yourself that must be the constant.
By Danno Wise
For most inshore anglers, spring means sow specks. But, the warming weather of April also ushers in outstanding redfish action. There is one caveat to spring redfish action, however. That is, changing conditions due to spring winds, tides and constantly changing temperatures means that fishing for reds can change from day to day – or even several times within the same day – during spring.
The constantly changing conditions is somewhat of a good news/bad news scenario. On the one hand, virtually every angler is assured of being able to fish for reds in their favorite manner -- whether that be sight casting, soaking bait on the bottom or anything in between -- at some point during the spring. The downside is just the opposite of that -- at some point during the spring season, pretty much every inshore angler will be presented with conditions that rules out their favorite way of fishing for reds. Anglers can see this as a cup half full or a cup half empty. For the optimistic angler, they will embrace the opportunity to fish in a variety of ways over the next few weeks. The pessimistic fisherman, on the other hand, will bemoan the conditions which prevent them from employing their beloved techniques. But, by being adaptable, fishermen can find consistent success while fishing for redfish during spring.
One thing that will impact every type of fishing over the next few weeks is the warming temperatures of spring. Because the water temperature is generally "comfortable" for the fish, they are feeding more actively. This allows fishermen to use more "power" fishing techniques, which allows them to fish faster and cover water at an increased clip. When power fishing for reds, one lure comes to mind – the weedless spoon. Spoons can be used to cover water quickly and will draw fish from a great distance, especially with decent visibility and sunlight. When the water is too stained for using spoons, paddle-tail plastics, either fished straight-lined or under a popping cork, will produce good results.
Although spring is notorious for strong winds, there will be times when the winds lay down, the water clears and sight casting is a very real possibility in mid- to late-spring. Clear, calm conditions and plenty of active fish on the flats equates to excellent sight-casting. Whether wading, drifting or poling, if they are fishing over shallow flats inshore anglers can expect plenty of sight-casting opportunities for both speckled trout and redfish over the next month. Both conventional tackle anglers and fly fishermen can get in on the sight-casting action when the conditions are right during April and May.
As is always the case when sight-casting, using smaller, soft landing lures and flies is the best bet. But, since fish are quite a bit more active and will swim a greater distance to attack a bait, anglers don’t need to be near as precise with their casting. In fact, when fish are active, it is often better to cast beyond the sighted fish are reel back in front of them to prevent them from spooking. Spoons are outstanding for this type of duty, while anglers using the traditional sight-casting approach of placing a lure close to a feeding fish will do well with DOA Shrimp or 3 1/2 inch soft-plastics on 1/16 ounce jig heads.
When fish aren't regularly being sighted, anglers can cast into sand pockets or "potholes" on grass flats. By selectively sight-casting at these fish holding structures, anglers can often pull fish off the flat even when they haven’t been seen.
When the wind or tides kick up, as is inevitable during spring, or when huge amounts of water move in and out of the bay by spring tides, the water often turns dirty. However, even when the water on shallow flats turns dirty, anglers can still experience good fishing by adjusting their lure choices and techniques.
Most often, anglers fishing dirty water for the first time resort to live bait, believing artificials won't produce in such conditions. While live shrimp, croaker and mullet will catch plenty of specks in off-color water, so will plugs and plastics. The key is choosing the right colors - usually darks and brights work best - and the right action - a paddle tail plastic will give more vibration than a straight-tail bait. Also, since visibility is reduced, baits - natural or artificial - should be retrieved fairly slow to allow fish to hone in on them. With plastics and live baits, a cork can aid anglers with a slow retrieve and also induces fish attracting sound. With plugs, patience is the key - work the lure as slowly as possible and practical.
Full buffet, but fishermen still need to match the preferred menu item
Spring generally means a varied diet for redfish. Recent hatches of a variety of prey items means fish will be feeding on a wide variety of baitfish and crustaceans, such as shrimp, finger mullet, pinfish, shad, marine worms, sand eels, crabs and glass minnows. The key to finding success on many days is figuring out the preferred meal of the day. Although it may seem as if fish are enjoying a never-ending smorgasbord during late spring and gorging on anything that swims, the target prey is actually usually very specific at any given time. For instance, when glass minnows are freshly hatched and covering the bay surface, it is often hard to get fish to strike a shrimp or mullet imitating lure. They tend to key in on whatever is the dominate bait source at that moment. During late spring, that can vary widely and change often. Fishermen should make observations of active bait from day to day and even from area to area within the same bay.
Flood tides can spread fish thin
More often than not, tides determine when, where and how inshore anglers fish. But, there is no other season which sees tidal flow has as much impact as spring. As a rule, spring tides have higher highs and lower lows. With such water level extremes, anglers must remain flexible in order to find fish.
When a huge flood tide rolls into the bay, areas that had been too shallow - or, in some cases, high and dry - during low tide, will be in play. Fish will take advantage of this new real estate and spread out over the newly flooded bars and flats. Often times, these fresh patches of water also benefit anglers in that they are in areas that are somewhat protected by the wind, giving fishermen more options when the wind is really howling. Conversely, some of the mid-depth and deeper areas of the bay will become too deep - and at times too rough - to fish on high tide.
A big influx of water also impacts the back bays and marshes, often filling these areas to fishable levels. But, with all of this “new” water that arrives with an incoming spring tide comes complications, as fish simple have more areas to spread out over. So, it is essential for fishermen looking to locate fish during high water periods to key in on active bait and other signs to help pinpoint productive water.
Too much tidal flow can hinder fishing
Stronger current doesn't always mean better fishing. In fact, some areas close to major passes may become unfishable during periods of peak tide movement as the current may be rushing through too fast. Those areas are better fish as the tide first begins moving or as it slows right after peak movement. But, some of the back bay areas that rarely see a noticeable tidal flow will often benefit from a strong, sustained flow during spring. So, when the water is really flowing, anglers simply need to pick the right location to take advantage of the water movement.
When the tide turns and begins dropping, the water from the back lakes and marshes comes flooding back into the bay. The channels that drain these back water areas can be very productive when tides flush out, washing out hordes of prey items such as shrimp, finger mullet, crabs and marsh minnows. Redfish will often congregate in front of these drains taking advantage of an easy meal as these prey items wash out of the bay. Anglers can position themselves to cast into the drain and allow their lures and baits to wash out naturally with the tide. When the happens, the action can often be fast and furious.
Low tides lead to concentrations of fish
Just as spring “bull tides” can flood previously dry areas, super low spring tides can also drain bays as fast as they fill them. When the water level bottoms out, channels and holes on flats can serve as hangouts for concentrations of redfish. In fact, low tide fishing during spring can be reminiscent of fishing low tides during winter, after a north wind has blown all the water out of the bay. Often when a pod of reds is found in one of these areas, there is little reason to move. Instead, anglers can anchor, stake out or simply stand in place if wading and catch good numbers of reds from a single location.
In short, redfishing during spring can be extremely productive. But, as has been detailed above, there are a number of factors that can affect when, where and how fishermen should fish in order to be consistently productive during the latter stages of spring.
Visit Capt. Danno Wise at www.lonestarsalt.com
I confess that it was rather darkly humorous in a stupid sort of way several years ago when Bill Clinton asked the court to define what “is” is. But it wasn’t a unique or supremely arrogant blunder on his part. It was, actually, rather ingenious. The efforts to define “is” presented such a conundrum to the court, and the gaggle of high-powered high-dollar attorneys, that the actual discussion of guilt or innocence was lost in the massive legal struggles that followed during attempts to define “is”.
It’s kind of like trying to define “water” or “land” in Louisiana.
You may think you know the difference in land and water. You may even think that any normal human with walking around sense would know the difference too.
And, you would be wrong.
Because in Louisiana “water” is whatever a group of senseless politicians defines it to be. This also applies to the definition of “land”.
I find it increasingly difficult to understand why and how the “landowners” in Louisiana are being allowed to continue to operate under archaic Napoleonic “laws” thereby claiming “ownership” of navigable waterways all over Louisiana. They can do this because the kangaroo courts have ruled that “land” is defined as whatever was noted as land on a survey map from over a hundred years ago. As we all are acutely aware, that “land” is now covered by water which, in most places, is many feet in depth.
Worse, the various governmental agencies seem to be completely unconcerned about the sham this rather senseless “law” perpetrates on the very public that supports their coffers. In a time when freedom to access what should be public waterways is being reduced daily, these agencies have turned a blind eye to the plight that affects thousands of recreational anglers. Apparently, the “land” owners have lobbied their dollars to politicians that care more for their personal pocketbooks than for the needs of the constituents they are supposed to represent.
It is a travesty and a fool’s errand to promote the idea that navigable waterways are “land”. Worse, many of the landowners have coerced the local Sheriff’s departments to patrol these private “lands” at public expense and issue citations for “trespass” on the owner’s property. Many have placed hidden cameras to capture these egregious criminal anglers and some have even stooped so low as to fire a gun in the direction of the interlopers. Seems to me that the firing of guns at other humans is frowned upon and would constitute a crime by the “land” owner. Oh wait, this water is land – right?
I have a solution.
Let’s vote all the “land” back to the original owners – the tribes that were there long before the theft of their property when it really was solid land. I suspect they would be more than happy to allow fishing and boating on the property thus returned.
More later. I’m not done chewing this bone.
It was late Spring in 2015 and Benny Sanchez was looking at his fishing calendar for a tournament that he and his partner could enter. He noted with some dismay that there were no competitive events scheduled during a large part of the middle of the summer.
He decided to do something about that.
And, Tito’s was born.
Benny noted that there was a big gap between late May and early August with no scheduled events. He put the word out to his friends and fellow anglers on Facebook that he would hold an impromptu event out of Campo’s Marina in Shell Beach. It was to be a “fun” event and he didn’t really expect more than a handful of anglers to show up. The day of the event he was quite surprised to find that 26 boats had registered to compete! And, although he didn’t have an arrangement with them, and they didn’t really sponsor that first event, Benny named the event after his primary sponsor – Tito’s. He even had the Tito’s girls come out that day.
Interestingly, Benny says he also learned a valuable lesson that day – “You can’t compete in your own tournament!” He and his partner got stuck three times that day and by the time he got back to the dock there were anglers waiting for him to get the weigh in going.
Benny realized that there was a need for additional redfish competitions, but he wanted to produce a different kind of event. He wanted to create an event that was fun and family friendly. He wanted to build an event that the entire family could come out and enjoy. An event where the competition was important but having a really good time with camaraderie, food, family, and fun was the focal point.
The next year, 2016, he held an event at Sweetwater Marina in Delacroix and 43 boats registered to compete. Despite horrendously stormy weather and a start time delayed until noon, almost all the competitors stayed and played. He knew then that his instincts had been right and that he had found a niche. In November that year LASS was going away and Facebook lit up with “what will we do now” comments. Many anglers asked Benny to step in and do more events. Although he had not approached Tito’s yet Benny’s reply was, “Tito’s will do it”. He was immediately flooded with questions about the “Tito’s Series” even though it didn’t exist yet. At this point, it is an understatement to say that Benny was a little nervous.
The following week he sat with Tito’s management and presented the idea. They called him back and said they were intrigued by the idea. They came to an arrangement and agreed that the concept of the events would be family and fun oriented. To this end they came up with shirts, swag, beer sponsors, food sponsors, and competition grilling to foster the family, food, and fun part. Their promotion to these sponsors? – “Come along with us and have some fun”.
As Benny was planning for the inaugural 2017 year an angler called and suggested Coco Marina as a location for an event. Thus, the first event of the Series was set for that venue on April 01, 2017. Benny had a lot riding on this first event and he really wanted it to be a success. He really wanted to hit a home run for all the sponsors of the event but mostly for Tito’s because they had believed in him. And, as Benny noted, “As a company, they do everything right”. Benny was “extremely nervous”. He was really, really, hoping that he would get 50 boats to sign up.
Ninety-Five boats registered for the event!
The Coco Marina event was a huge success. Mike at Coco’s worked incredibly hard to make sure everything went smoothly. He arranged for tables, chairs, setup, takedown, and innumerable other tasks so necessary for an event to work right. But perhaps the most amazing thing Benny saw, the most telling occurrence, was that over thirty people stayed over until midnight after the event to help with the takedown and cleanup.
“It was truly a family atmosphere”, Benny said.
There was a camaraderie and a fellowship that he had never experienced at any other event. After all was done, he sat there fatigued beyond words but with a huge smile on his face. He had done it. It had worked. And, it was far better and much more satisfying than he could have ever imagined.
So, was 2017 a success? You bet it was! The next several events had well over 100 boats registered and competing in each event. By the end of that year, and five events later, 184 different two-man teams had participated in a Tito’s event! When asked about the drive behind the success of the first year Benny’s modest reply was, “I didn’t really do anything. I just had an idea”.
By the end of that year Benny felt that he truly had his finger on the pulse of the anglers. He talked to anyone that would listen. He listened to everyone, asked questions of the veterans, and then distilled all that information into useful components to keep improving the events.
All of which brings us to 2018 and the creation of America's Redfish Cup.
One of the things that he heard often was that many anglers wanted to fish a higher entry fee event. He contemplated this idea and consulted anglers that had been competing for many years. Armed with angler demand for a product, information from veterans, and a desire to keep building, Benny created the Tito’s Top Shelf event for 2018. This event will have an entry fee of $1500 and a payback that is unparalleled in the industry. With a full field of 75 boats and a payout to the Top Ten finishers, the winner will receive a check for $25,000 with tenth place receiving $3000.
For more information and registration visit the website at //www.americasredfishcup.com
We wanted learn a little more about the Tito’s Series so we had a Q & A session with Benny Sanchez:
RC: What lessons did you learn early on that have helped you achieve success with the Tito’s Series?
BS: “My dad was in the military and he always quoted the 6P rule to me - “Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance”. I learned that I needed the right people to staff the event and the right reason to do an event. It needs to be about the anglers and the charity (Wish to Fish). I learned not to do things for me personally but to do things for the right reason. Most importantly I learned to separate being a ‘friend’ from being a ‘manager’. I had to learn to put my foot down and make a management decision when needed without considering the personal relationship involved.”
RC: Who or what influenced you the most to create a series of this kind of event?
BS: “It was the collective group of anglers out there who wanted to have an event that was competitive AND fun. They wanted an event that would be “theirs” and would relate more to family, friends, and fun. And it worked out. More families and people show up at every event just to be a part of something they feel has a more personal and less business-like atmosphere.”
RC: Who would you like to thank for helping you along the way?
BS: “Mostly, I would say that it would be the many anglers that have shared their thoughts about how events went and what I could do to be better. It was a collective really. But I do owe a special thanks to Barnie White, Gritter Griffin, and Chris Kennedy for helping me to become a better tournament director. Their years of experience both in management and as competitors has been a great resource for me.”
RC: Do you have a pet peeve?
BS: “People that don’t read the rules or listen to them during the Captain’s Meeting then come and ask me questions about things that are clearly written and explained.”
RC: Any final thoughts?
BS: “I get to meet all the great names in this sport and I have found that they are all approachable and helpful. I also get to meet all the new people that are joining the ranks. One part of the group has many wins and high finishes while the other part of the group has never won. But they all keep coming back for the fun part because it really is “their event”. My goal is to have as many participants as possible and to have as much fun as possible. The objective is not to put limits on people rather it is to include people. I want these events to be something people choose to do not something they have to do.”
The long and short of it is that the Tito’s events are here to stay and they are the most fun-filled, exciting, approachable events in the redfish competition world. Check out the tournament schedule right here on the Redfish Connection and join in the fun.
To most inshore fishermen today that would seem to be a very odd question. BUT, not so very many years ago, it was a reality!
Red drum have been a popularly targeted fish for over a century. Although not officially designated as a protected “game fish” until the 1980s, catching redfish has been a hot ticket item for a very long time. Unfortunately, they were really easy to catch in the bays and estuaries of the coastal regions of the US and most of those caught were of the 1-2 year old stock which began to decimate the offshore breeding populations by a significant degree. This decimation of the inshore juveniles led to fewer offshore “breeder” fish which, in conjunction with an offshore commercial frenzy of netting the huge schools of adults, led to a massive decline in the population.
Obviously, this decline of population led to great concern among anglers and to an increasingly sophisticated study of the redfish life cycle. Interruption points were defined, methods to increase numbers of breeders were more clearly stated, and angler education programs were instituted. Slowly, one by one, over the next 20 years, rules and laws were enacted by the coastal states to preserve that life cycle as much as possible.
We now have a very vigorous red drum fishery numbering higher than ever before historically documented. And I, for one, am very grateful to the marine biologists and environmentalists that brought the plight of the redfish to the forefront of conservation efforts. These efforts now extend throughout the coastal states and include massive education programs that inform the fishing public of the “whys” that the regulations are in place. This has led to a greater conformity by an educated recreational angler population that ensures the safety and continued propagation of the red drum for generations to come.
The formation of coordinated redfish competitions has served to further popularize this incredible game fish and to further the catch and release philosophy that is so important in maintaining the redfish population. As the popularity of competitive redfishing has grown so has the intensity of the competition.
Beginning about 15 years ago, redfishing as a competitive sport began to gain some real traction. Over the ensuing 10 years several organizations would spring up around this competitive frenzy. Most of them were doomed to a short life span due to poor management plans and agendas that were often in conflict with the anglers that were the very lifeblood of the sport. But, over time, a few would emerge that survived the fiery crucible that was to become the birthplace of competitive redfish tours and trails.
And while we are all out there searching for, and finding, those lovely reds that we know so well, don’t forget to offer up a silent thank you to the legions of concerned anglers, biologists, and legislators that have helped us to have this incredible resource in our lifetimes.
Also, don’t forget that it is our duty (and should be our passion) to promote the protection of our favorite species of game fish by educating our clients and the general fishing public with our words, our actions, and most importantly, with our deeds.
By Gritter Griffin
(The topic of this article may be a bit controversial but, with the popularity of redfish competition and the advent of an unprecedented number of events, it is a subject and discussion that is long past due.)
I have been catching, handling, and mis-handling redfish for a very long time. I was proud of my actions as a “catch and release” angler and thought I was being cognizant of our resource. I thought I was making a difference in the great scheme of things by releasing these fish to live, breed, and continue the legacy of our incredible sport fishery.
I was wrong.
Sadly, I have been ignorantly guilty of killing many of those “released” fish.
As most you are already aware, I am a strong advocate for the study of redfish in their natural habitat. I have learned a great deal about Sciaenops ocellatus, their life cycle, habitat, reproduction, and general behavior. I have also noted, with an increasing awareness, that our “catch and release” programs are somewhat of a farce.
That last sentence is, without a doubt, going to be a very unpopular statement but I can assure you - it is truth!
Oh yes, we pat ourselves on the back and talk about what a great job we are doing for the conservation of redfish by holding catch and release tournaments, but I would submit to you that we aren’t doing nearly as well as we may think. It all comes down to how the fish are handled. And that, my dear friends, is where we fail miserably.
Over the years I have paid attention to fish that suddenly “decide to die” in my livewell for no apparent reason. I have spent many hours contemplating these fish and making suppositions as to why they just “decide to quit”. I have spent a great deal of time replaying in my mind the entire story from hookup to death (including transport, weigh-in, and release) to see if I could come up with a common thread to explain the death of these fish. My conclusions are simple, accurate, and backed by scientific study.
In no particular order some of the things I have noted to be detrimental to the survival of the fish are:
Hanging Fish Vertically
Fish are conceived, born, grow, and thrive in an environment that is, essentially, weightless and nearly free of friction - think outer space. Due to these conditions, they can to move about with minimal effort and are not subject to the vagaries of gravity and friction in an open-air habitat. In their world if something is dropped it gently floats downward (or upwards) and does not crash to the ground. This is, quite obviously, due to the difference in the density coefficient of water versus air. It is this very environment that allows them to live a “horizontal life”. Their bodies and internal organs are supported and protected by the surrounding water and when lifted from the water they are subject to the full effects of gravity.
If the fish is supported properly and maintained in a horizontal posture there is almost no risk of permanent damage as long as the slime coating is protected as well.
But, when lifted from the water or off the deck in a vertical posture, these fish are subjected to extreme and abnormal forces that can damage their internal organs as well as the ligamentous structures of the mouth, gills, and jaw. This abrupt change in body posture with the associated downward G-forces that are further accentuated by the upward raising of the fish causes a sudden and harmful change in position of the internal organs with a high potential for damage.
Hanging fish vertically, usually for weighing or photos, also dramatically increases the risk of them being dropped from a height that can easily cause a potentially lethal injury. Bear in mind that a human only needs to fall four feet to generate enough force to rupture the aorta and cause instant death. Imagine the potential damage to a redfish falling onto a hard deck or the ground from five or six feet. It behooves us to stay down on the deck when we are handling our fish. Furthermore, it is not difficult to devise an apparatus in which the fish can lie horizontally and be completely supported while being weighed and subsequently placed in the livewell or released.
Placing Fish on Hot or Dry Surface
This is a topic that shouldn’t even really have to be mentioned. Just place your hand on the hot eye of a stovetop (or even your hot boat deck) for a second or two and you can quickly feel what you are subjecting your fish to – for several minutes!! The slime layer literally cooks, the eye is damaged, the scales themselves are damaged, the filaments of the gills are damaged, and depending on the time and temperature the combined injuries sustained means that laying a fish on a hot surface can become a lethal action in less than one minute.
Always have a location on your boat that is both cool and wet where you can safely lay the fish while determining whether you will release or keep the fish.
Using a Cloth, Towel, or Dry Glove to Handle Fish
This is a universally damaging method of handling fish. If you use any of these methods, you are removing the important and protective slime coating of the fish. In many cases this allows bacteria, parasites, and viruses access to the fish through the damaged area.
If you have been chasing reds for any length of time you have caught fish that have dark areas of scales that appear to be “dried up” or oddly shaped. These are areas where they have lost their slime coating and been attacked by opportunistic infections. Although not immediately lethal, these infections can eventually kill the fish.
This is a truly simple fix. Keep the fish wet, keep your hands wet, and handle the fish as little as possible.
Keeping Fish Out of Water
How long can you hold your breath? Don’t guess. Try it. Time it. One minute? Two? A redfish can’t “hold its breath” any longer than that either. From the very second you lift that fish from the water you are causing it to hold its breath. How long do you keep fish out of the water for measuring, weighing, and pictures? It is doubtless much longer than the minute or two you timed for yourself. Not only that but the fish is already exhausted from the fight to resist being brought onto your boat in the first place.
It doesn’t take too many minutes for the fish to become irretrievably exhausted to the point that the gill structures simply cannot recover. Short fights, short hook removal time, proper handling, and early return to water (livewell or release) are the keys to avoiding damage to the fish.
Handling by the Lower Jaw Only
This is one of the primary causes of delayed death in redfish. It is also the maneuver that very few anglers are aware is damaging to the fish. Almost universally, anglers will hold redfish by the lower jaw with the thumb in the mouth and the knuckle of the index finger under the jaw. This causes the joint of the jaw to act as a lever with more than the full weight of the fish being supported at that joint. Remember the breath holding experiment we did a bit ago? This time imagine yourself being held in a similar posture with your entire body weight being levered upwards at the joint of your jaw. Unpleasant thought, right?
The ligamentous structures, joint capsule, and anatomy of the jaw simply cannot tolerate this pressure and universally (yes, that’s 100% of the time) there is damage to the jaw joint creating a disability of varying degree for the fish to use its mouth. These fish are released and appear to be “healthy and alive” but some are doomed to die a death of starvation if the damage is significant enough that the fish cannot use its lower jaw to catch and eat food.
Grabbing a Fish Through the Gill Plate
There is a proper and relatively safe method to perform this maneuver, but it is very rarely done properly.
Somehow this crazy practice became an alternative to picking a fish up by the jaw and it is worse, far worse. The damage potential when lifting a fish by putting fingers through the gill area is vastly higher than with any other method and the damage caused is far more permanent and disabling.
It doesn’t require a long explanation regarding why we shouldn’t use this method because the answer is far too obvious. If you damage the capability of the fish to breathe (the gills) you have damaged the ability of the fish to survive – period.
Simple solution – Just don’t do it.
Extended Fight Time
This is another area with a simple fix. Use tackle and line that will allow you to have an unfair advantage. Yes, I’m saying to make it an unfair fight. Of course, it already is but it needs to be made an ironclad, guaranteed win for you and therefore for the fish as well.
This makes a lot of sense in competition because you don’t want to be breaking off that winning fish. Neither do you want that fatty to be dying in your livewell. So, use heavier line, heavier rods, strong reels with excellent drag mechanisms, and get that fish to the boat, in the net, and to the livewell as rapidly as possible.
There are several very good studies indicating that the fatigue factor is a strong contributor to delayed death in fish that are subsequently released. If you add to that fatigue by further delaying returning the fish to the water the detrimental effects are compounded.
Always remove hooks as quickly and gently as possible. Fish that are hooked deep in the throat, back of the tongue, gills, and roof of the mouth require special care and a decision to perhaps leave the hook in place and cut the line as close to the eye as possible.
Hooks left in fish mouths, throats and tongues are not nearly as damaging as a poor removal. There is good evidence that a fish can dislodge a hook from its mouth in as little as one to three days and continue about its business whereas the damage sustained from a difficult removal may very well prove to be lethal.
I am amazed at how many people do not understand how important an appropriate livewell is for maintaining the health of the fish. Size of the well, water flow, temperature, frequent water change, and aeration are all of paramount importance.
Constant high-volume water flow and repetitive water changes are absolutely necessary to remove waste products that accumulate as well as to allow the fish adequate dissolved oxygen to “breathe” while in this confined environment. Keeping the water relatively cool and properly aerated are also extremely important aspects of maintaining healthy fish in the livewell.
Neglecting even one of these components can stress the fish enough to cause a delayed death. Be as studious about your livewell as you are about your tackle and gear and all will be well.
In the end, we can all improve our methods of handling fish and most especially those that we intend to release. If we are true to our beliefs and wish to honor our responsibility to be good stewards of the environment and our beloved fisheries, then we must try to give every released fish the very best chance of survival possible.
I have already confessed that I was indeed ignorant of the damage I was doing to our beloved redfish. But I have made, and continue to make, a concerted effort to treat my fish better in the hopes that I am truly respecting the animal and its environment.
by Gritter Griffin
October 1997 – Longbar, Sarasota Bay, Florida
On that fateful day two men are fishing Sarasota Bay running their boat along the deep side of Longbar looking for snook. A cold front has just passed and a hard wind is kicking up whitecaps. As the men ease along the bar in their boat they can see snook lying in the deeper potholes up on the bar. The technique for stalking these fish is to stay on the deep side, sight the snook, stop the boat, and cast to the snook. They could see the bar. They could see the potholes. They could see the snook. Their challenge this day was stopping and stabilizing the boat.
With the bar on the leeward side of the boat, the wind was constantly pushing the boat onto the bar and spooking the snook before they could be caught. Even when they hooked one of the snook the rest were scattered by the boat drifting up on the bar and over their hiding places in the potholes. The men tried every trick they could think of but even with an anchor in the water the wind would gust and push and twist their boat around the anchor line inevitably spooking and scattering the snook.
One of the men in that boat on that day was John Oliverio.
His frustration mounted throughout the morning at seeing so many fish and being able to catch so few. As he struggled once again to keep the boat steady so a cast could be made he began thinking - What kind of device would hold the boat steady? What would it look like? How would it operate? Why wasn’t it already done?
It was right then that John Oliverio had a moment!
A singular thought process that would change his life and define shallow water fishing forever. It was a moment that, ultimately, was the birth of the Power Pole.
John Oliverio is not an engineer by any degree. He is not a hydraulics specialist. He is not a certified mechanic. He is not an electrician. He is not a computer geek. He is not a welder. He is not an electronics specialist. What John is, though, is a man with an insatiable curiosity about how things work and a desire to build things that make sense.
At the age of twenty he began his first job when he started his own business designing, building, and delivering custom hot tubs. This what he was doing for a living on that fateful day in 1997 and he was doing it well. But he just couldn’t shake the idea of a deployable anchor system.
John went home and immediately started thinking of ways to accomplish the task and began drawing and tinkering with various designs. His first thought was to use a multi-stage hydraulic cylinder like the hydraulic ram in a dump truck. He realized that, while it would work statically, it would not handle much in the way of the stress of a side-load.
Then he saw, on the back of an old boat, an outboard motor lift of the old scissor type. This formation made sense to him so he set about building a prototype. The very first design was built in his living room from a Lego kit. Then came challenge after challenge to create a product that would work, withstand the elements, and last. After he was satisfied that his model would likely work he gathered up some aluminum parts – mostly angle – along with some bolts, washers, pins, and a hydraulic pump. He then got some friends in the welding business to tack it together for him.
It worked! It actually worked.
But all was not blue sky and light breezes just yet. Much taming of the original beast was necessary before this gadget would be functional on a boat. The first few times John hit the down button on the hydraulic pump the spike punched holes in his driveway. After getting the creature under control and taming the hydraulics to a point that a controlled descent and ascent were possible it was ready for a sea trial. It was large and loud and clumsy and slow and needed significant refinement but it worked. John used this original for about a year on his own boat.
Subsequently, he asked Len Mriscia his longtime friend and driveway/garage companion during the many-faceted efforts to build and perfect the device if he would like to get involved in the financing of a company to build the anchors. They negotiated, a deal was struck, hands were shaken, a business plan was drawn up, and JL Marine Systems became a reality.
Over the next two years while perfecting the design of the Power Pole, John continued to deliver hot tubs to pay the bills. Then, in the fall of 2000 John introduced the Power Pole at a redfish tournament hosted by the IFA. A well-known, no nonsense, angler by the name of Greg Watts was intrigued by the device and, after seeing how it worked, bought the first Power Pole for the exorbitant sum of $247. Greg’s twin brother Bryan didn’t immediately see the need for such a device but after they fished a tournament in Titusville the following month Bryan became the second person to purchase a Power Pole. John knew then that he was onto something potentially big. The Watts boys were very well known and highly successful anglers on all the redfish tours and it wasn’t long at all before many others noted the advantages of the Power Pole and orders began to pick up significantly.
In 2001 John took to the road and traveled all over the Gulf Coast with the Watts brothers to every redfish event. He carried Power Poles and ice chests of Gatorade, water, and beer to lure the anglers to a stopping place so he could expound the virtues of the Power Pole. At the end of that year and after many, many, days away from home and family John had sold 200 units. Power Pole had become a force to be reckoned with.
After that year on the road, the growth and popularity of Power Pole expanded at an almost logarithmic rate far outstripping anything John had envisioned. But he never stopped working. He never stopped perfecting the Power Pole. He never stopped improving every aspect of the device. He developed an extremely robust R&D department and gave them the latitude and freedom to work without boundaries, to build, to try, to seek, to find – answers and results. The consequence of his easygoing style of leadership is a crew and a company that runs almost by itself. John empowers people to be their own motivation, to grow and develop themselves within a matrix that nurtures individuality and, yet, thrives on teamwork. This team has successfully continued the development and distribution of one of the most popular and useful marine accessories in the world. In fact, after I saw a Power Pole in action for the first time my comment was, “The Power Pole is the best fishing invention since the hook!” I still stand by that statement all these years later.
Shortly after Bryan Watts purchased his Power Pole John obtained a 3000 square foot building to become the home of Power Pole. He then brought Robert Shamblin on board to run operations. Although, in the beginning, John thought the 3000 foot building was too large for their needs by 2007 they were in need of more space and expanded to an 8000 square foot facility. Then, in the fall of 2012 Oliverio purchased a state of the art, 40,000 square foot facility that is the current home of Power Pole.
Q&A with John Oliverio
RC: What advice would you give someone to help them duplicate your success?
JO: People have ideas all the time. To make them a reality you just have to make it, use it, believe in it, search for and find resources, and always, always, be true to the people who have helped you get there.
RC: What was your inspiration to start a hot tub business?
JO: I saw a niche market that I thought I could fill and my dad, who was genius enough to realize that I was not student material, helped me get started in my own business.
RC: How would you describe John Oliverio?
JO: I am a very laid back person and I believe in managing people in a hands off way. I let people find their own level without interference from me. That’s why I have such a committed, driven team – because we are all in it together.
RC: You are considered quite the accomplished competitive angler in your own right. DO you still compete?
JO: I still enjoy the challenge but I am so very busy with new projects that I don’t really have the time to compete much these days.
RC: What is your life advice for the folks reading this article?
JO: The only thing you have in this world is your honor and your word – don’t ever lose either.
RC: What is your pet peeve?
JO: People saying they will do something and then not following through.
RC: Where do you see JL Marine and Power Pole in 10 years?
JO: My goal is to stay focused on the future and make JL Marine Systems the largest marine accessory manufacturer in the world.
RC: What would you say to your customers?
JO: That we appreciate their support and a promise that we will never lose sight of one of our founding principles – loyalty to our customers.
JL Marine Systems and Power Pole have risen from an idea in one man’s head to a world class operation with a worldwide distribution. It is truly a unique product that has changed the very methodology of tournament and recreational fishing. And that’s not all. There is more, much more, on the horizon from JL Marine and that entrepreneurial maestro - John Oliverio.
(Ed Note: So, is the Power Pole really “the best fishing invention since the hook”? I certainly think it is. And you should beware that if you ever put them on your boat you will be hooked for life which is not really a bad thing at all.)
I have the answer.
I have noted with interest many discussions on various forums that offer opinions on the definition of a “professional angler”. These opinions have ranged from those that believe a professional angler is one who fishes exclusively for a living to those that occasionally participate in a local tournament and win a hundred dollar prize (pro by default).
I think there is much more to the term “professional” than I have read in these forum discussions. I believe that a person who can legitimately carry the title of professional angler is one who is very skilled in the sport, adheres to a rigid and immutable set of personal, ethical, moral, and performance standards, and consistently competes on a strong competitive level.
1. a: characterized by or conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession
b: exhibiting a courteous, conscientious, and generally businesslike behavior in the workplace
2. a: participating for gain or livelihood in an activity or field of endeavor often engaged in by amateurs
b: having a particular profession as a permanent career
The definitions above came directly from the Merriam-Webster dictionary. It appears that there are a number of ways to define the word “professional”. More importantly, and relating to the subject at hand, there are a number of aspects that can define a “professional angler”.
Definition 1a and 1b say that a professional is characterized by conforming to the standards of the profession and by exhibiting courteous, conscientious, and generally businesslike behavior in the workplace.
So, it appears that the first aspect of defining a professional angler is to define the behavior of the individual.
Definition 2a and 2b give us two ways a person can be defined as a professional. One can participate for gain or livelihood in an endeavor usually engaged in by amateurs. This implies a separation of amateur and professional status with the professional level being delineated by consistently participating for gain or livelihood. Webster also offers the definition that one can embark in a given profession as a permanent career.
A picture begins to emerge of a professional angler.
A professional angler is an individual who consistently competes on an expert level of competition for gain or livelihood and strictly follows the rules of engagement. This includes rules of action as well as rules of ethical and honorable behavior. A truly professional angler is above reproach as he/she goes about the business of competing. The rules of engagement are sacred and are followed without question or quarter. To even consider the idea of cheating or gaining an unfair advantage is repugnant to a professional.
The professional angler may be participating for financial gain, notoriety, or perhaps a permanent career and livelihood; neither one excludes the other. In other words, the definition of a professional angler does include those that fish exclusively for a living but it does not exclude those that obtain intermittent financial gain by consistently competing at the same level and exhibiting the other characteristics of a professional in the field.
Further defining the situation is the professional field of competition. Professional baseball, hockey, football, and basketball have leagues and competition schedules that allow competition exclusive to the professionals of the respective sport.
Golf and fishing have tours with scheduled competition venues for the professionals only. This is where the individual professional competitors vie with one another for monetary prizes and to measure their standing among their peers. If an event contains contestants that do not meet the defining criteria of a professional angler than the field is “mixed” or “open” and it is not a truly professional event.
Therefore, professional anglers consistently compete in expert level events at a professional level for monetary gain, notoriety, and to gauge peer standing.
This would mean any event that consistently has expert level competition at multiple venues. Tours/events/trails may include full and/or part-time participation but all would be considered as competing at a professional level.
Now, back to the original question. - Does the “Professional” Redfish Angler Exist?
The answer is, yes, it does.
by Capt Chad Dufrene
Common Mistakes Made by Tournament Anglers and How to Avoid Them
Over the last 17 years of tournament fishing I have made, and seen, many mistakes that have kept myself and others from winning a major redfish tournament. Many of these mistakes were made early in my career and I have learned from them. Today, though, I still see and hear of people making the same mistakes I made. Some are young anglers just starting out but some of these folks are veterans. In this article I want to share with you a few of the most common mistakes tournament anglers make and how to avoid them. What follows is a list of critical mistakes that, if corrected, will help you finish closer to the top.
FAILURE TO PLAN
A certain percentage of anglers in every tournament field will probably never win a tournament. They are simply there to fish and have a good time. There is nothing wrong with that because these folks are usually swamped with a full-time job, kids, family and many other responsibilities that keep them from putting together a proper plan for success. But, in failing to put together a proper plan, they are essentially planning to fail. For instance, some of the things you need in planning are done long before you leave home.
You need to check all the trailer hubs for grease and check the tires for proper air pressure before you leave the house. Check all engine mounting bolts on the transom before and after every tournament. Make sure you have a spare prop and extra oil. Check all battery connections for tightness and corrosion. Make sure all livewell pumps are functioning and aerators are working. Check that the running lights on both boat and trailer are working properly. Neglecting any of these routine checks can cost you a day or several days of precious prefishing time.
FISHING OR SETTLING ON THE WRONG FISH
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard stories from anglers during prefishing about how they caught 50-100 redfish most every day. I have also noted that people get on stage after they weigh their fish and during their interview say how it was an epic day and they caught 40-70 fish. Most of the time these teams weigh in 14-15 lbs, finish deep in the field, and are happy with their performance.
The question I have in both of the above scenarios is “Why?”. Why catch 50-100 redfish during a prefishing day? Why catch 40-70 fish on tournament day? Is it because it was fun? You can go rip some lips anytime you want. This is a trap some people get caught up in that I call “CATCHING”. They love to fish and catch fish so much they cannot control themselves and they become their own worst enemy. Until you learn to control yourself and be more selective with your fish you will be hard pressed to win a tournament.
Some teams get in an area during prefishing and start seeing fish immediately in every direction they look. They get what I call googly-eyed-fish-drunk and start ripping lips. The problem is that most of the fish tend to be 4 to 7lbs. But there are so many fish in the area they won’t leave. They just keep catching and searching for better fish. Soon, they have wasted a whole day in the wrong area. But they had fun.
They start out day 2 of prefishing in a different area and find nothing through mid-morning and begin to panic. They make the mistake of going back to the same area as the day before. They keep searching for better fish only to find more of the same 4-7lb fish. Now they might have only one more day to scout before the tournament starts and are scrambling for information from other anglers and friends. In the end they wind up going on a wild goose chase on day 3 and find nothing tournament worthy. Now they are stuck with the area that has epic numbers of the wrong fish and finish near the middle of the field on gameday.
OVERFISHING YOUR FISH
I am often amazed at how many teams I run into at the dock during prefishing and hear them say “we caught 17+ lbs 3 times today”. Sometimes I get “we caught 50+ fish today and had over 18 lbs”. Again, I want to ask the question, “Why?”. What possible good can that do for you? Pump up your ego? I have asked why a couple of times and I got the same answer both times. They reply with, “There are 100’s of fish where we are fishing and you can’t hurt ‘em or mess them up”. Then on tournament day, at the weigh in, I hear some of the same teams saying, “Our fish would not eat, dammit! We had them locked down and to ourselves and they just would not eat”. They get caught up in the “Catching” trap and cannot control themselves. They become their own worst enemy and usually finish in the middle of the field.
FAILURE TO UTILIZE ELECTRONICS PROPERLY
Electronics are something that almost everyone has on their boat but most tournament anglers fail to use properly. Anglers primarily use their electronics to lay down trails and routes to get back and forth from the marina to their fishing grounds.
There are many other features that can be utilized with the newer model gps units. For instance, Humminbird makes a mapping card called the Louisiana Lakemaster Delta that is an aerial photo of the entire Louisiana coastal marsh similar to google earth. Anglers that have only the generic basemaps in their units are missing out on the advantages of this detailed mapping feature. Units equipped with aerial photography mapping can help anglers navigate quickly, safely, and more accurately through the marsh.
The Humminbird Helix unit provides anglers the ability to pan around the Lakemaster map and zoom in and out quickly. You can clearly see if there is a pond, creek, ditch, or potential fishing spot without pulling out the old fold up map in windy conditions.
The newer units even allow you to search google earth via a laptop or pc and then transfer data, routes, and waypoints straight to the units. All these features may be intimidating and the seeming complexity may keep anglers from employing the power of these electronics. But I always thought of the new technology this way - a man of average intelligence will be able to work it or it would not sell.
The key to learning these features is to go fishing more often and use the product.
NOT BEING TOTALLY COMMITTED TO WINNING
Being totally committed to winning means you have a plan for everything. I often see people leave the dock with reels spooled half full of braided line that looks too old and frayed to be fishing with in a money tournament. I see knots and leaders from the previous day or trip that have not been changed or retied. I have seen some anglers getting to the dock at 10 am to go out and some returning to the dock at 1pm to call it a day. I know several people who never, ever, check their measuring device against the measuring device used by the bump man. Don’t assume all Check it Sticks are the same!
I have seen teams scouting areas and know for a fact they did not look at the weather forecast. Because, in the end, that particular bank they are looking at will be blown up by the 20 +mph winds that will blow right into that bank on tournament day and the school of studs they were catching is gone. They think they have winning fish but what they fail to realize is - that spot is going to be a mudhole with whitecaps by tournament day. Some teams just don’t plan for the weather and adjust their prefishing to areas that are fishable on tournament day.
I have also seen some teams come off the water early and then stay out all night drinking. Then they roll into the dock at 6 am to go prefishing. How can they focus and put in a long day in that condition. That kind of stuff would not sit well with me if my partner pulled that stunt. You are either committed to winning or just being a donor to the pot – it’s your choice.
HOW TO AVOID THE MISTAKES OTHER ANGLERS MAKE
Now I will tell you how to avoid and correct the pitfalls and mistakes I have discussed above. Avoiding or correcting these mistakes will save you precious prefishing time, allow you to cover more water, put your team in the right place by tournament day, and help you finish higher in the field.
PUT TOGETHER A PLAN
A plan starts well before the tournament and continues throughout your prefishing and into tournament day. Study the tides and pay attention to what the fish are doing each day according to the tides. Look at the long range forecast and determine what kind of weather you might have on tournament day. This will give you an idea of the wind direction so you can use Google Earth and decide what areas will be protected and fishable with those winds. Also look for, and make a list of, other places to check in case the weather changes.
Have a checklist of what to do and check before you leave the house. Things like check tires and hubs, running lights on boat and trailer, livewells working, measuring board, spare prop and oil, rainsuit, lifejackets, etc. Make sure batteries are fully charged and all connections are tight and free of corrosion. A blown tire or hub on the highway, dead battery, or a bad connection can delay your trip and cost you a day of prefishing or fishing time on tournament day. Think of everything you need and everything that can go wrong or has gone wrong and make a list. Remember that you are dealing with a boat and a trailer and it can be a love/hate relationship.
HOW TO AVOID FISHING OR SETTLING ON THE WRONG FISH
This may be the hardest thing for most anglers to avoid. Many anglers come from areas where fish are ultra spooky and you need to be very quiet and make 50-60 yard cast to even have a chance at a bite. Then they arrive in Louisiana where they can pitch 10-30 feet to big golden marsh donkeys over and over. It can be so good that sometimes I think the fish actually think it’s Mardi Gras and are saying “throw me something Mr. Fisherman”. Fish are everywhere, and many anglers get what I like to call “catch drunk”. They lose focus on what they are there for and just start ripping lips. Remember, you are not just looking for redfish you are looking for winning fish. Every location a tournament is held has a certain weight that usually wins. For example, in South Carolina 4 ¾-5lb fish are winners, in North Carolina 7-7 ½lb fish are winners, in Florida 7-7 ½lb fish are winners, and in Louisiana 8 ¼-9lb are winners. These numbers are not exact, but they are something I usually use based on what location I fish.
How to avoid “catch drunk”? Here is how I approach my prefishing and decide where I will fish on tournament day. I usually fish a prospective area for a few minutes and if I don’t see fish or catch fish I move a couple of times in that area. I can usually tell within the first ½ hour if this is area has potential. I am very selective about which fish I catch. I pass on all fish under 24 inches and obvious over-slot fish. In Louisiana if I catch an upper slot fish and it measures between 26 and 27 inches and does not weigh at least 8lbs then I will fish a little longer to try to catch another upper slot fish. When I catch another upper slot fish in that area if it does not weigh 8lbs, I will leave for a new area. I don’t care if there are 100’s of fish in that area I refuse to stay if they are skinny.
Once I catch an upper slot fish in an area that is under 27 inches and over 8lbs I am done catching fish in that area. I will look at the fish in the area and try to determine if they are the same body style and see what coves, points, and grass lines the majority of the fish are holding on. Then I will start working out in a circular pattern from that area for one square mile and check every cove, pocket, flat and grass mat to see which ones are holding fish.
If I get away from the original area I might check another upper slot fish to see if it has some weight. But, under no circumstance will I catch more than 2-3 quality fish during prefishing.
When you do find the area you want to fish, try to determine what the fish are feeding on. The ideal forage would be menhaden or pogies, small crabs, shrimp or mullet, minnows or crawfish. One way to determine what they are feeding on is to catch and keep a couple smaller 20 to 23 inch fish and see what is inside their stomachs. Once you have determined what they are feeding on you can adjust the bait and color to mimic what is in the area.
HOW TO AVOID OVERFISHING YOUR FISH
This mistake is very easy to avoid, but it is the mistake that some anglers have the hardest time avoiding. Many anglers, once they find what they think are winning fish, tend to go back to these fish every day and catch a couple just to make sure they are there and heavy. These are the guys that catch 17+ lbs every day up until the tournament. By tournament day their fish have been caught and molested every day and the fish will not eat. The fix is easy - once you find winning fish, leave them alone! Give them a break and let them rest until you need them.
BE 100% COMMITTED TO WINNING
Any team can get lucky one time in their tournament career and win a tournament only to never crack the top 10 again. To consistently finish near the top you have to be 100% committed to winning. Being totally committed means you leave no stone unturned. You study maps and weather and tides and then create your tournament plan based on a combination of all that information.
Have a checklist and make sure you use it before you leave home. Prefish hard and spend many hours on the water each day. I rarely ever find winning fish after 3pm during a scouting day. This could be because the light is poor, winds may be up by then, or the tide is wrong etc. he extra hours late in the day when the light is low might allow you to find an area that looks absolutely right, but void of fish. I never dismiss these areas and usually start there first thing the next morning. Sometimes an area that was devoid of fish the day before is now teeming with the right fish. Maybe the tide was wrong and the fish are there on high water, or they are only there with a certain wind, or maybe this is their morning dining spot. The point is, if it looks right sometimes you just have to go with your gut and check it again on a different tide and wind.
Make sure all your line is fresh and leaders, knots, and hooks are retied before each day on the water. Your line, leader, and hooks are the only thing that connect you to your fish and neglecting them will cost you.
Based on your prefishing, plan what areas you will go to and in what order. Plan how you will approach and fish them based on the weather, tide, and winds. Make sure you are on a level playing field when it comes to measuring fish. Talk to the bump man about how he will measure fish and ask him to check your measuring board against the tournament board. I have seen in some instances where the tournament director said they would measure fish one way and the bump man was not on the same page. How this can happen is mind boggling, but I have seen it. Fish measurement is probably the single most important thing you need to get clarified. It is critical to know that what you are doing in the boat is the same thing that will take place at the measuring tent on tournament day. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the tournament director or bump man. You are their customer and paying a lot of money to compete and you need to know exactly how your fish will be measured.
There are many more mistakes that I could have written about in this article. But the mistakes, and the solutions, I have mentioned here are the most important (and most common) aspects that keep anglers from excelling in this sport.
Good Luck. See ya on the water.
by Gritter Griffin
“Interpreting and Using a Tide Table”
The first thing you need to know is that all tide tables for a given area use the average of the lowest of the low tides (the neap tides, remember) over a period of 19 years to determine a zero point. It is from this point that all the tidal rise and fall predictions are measured.
Another way to get this straight in your head is to go to your favorite shallow water fishing spot at the time of a low tide that is noted as “zero” on the tidal chart.
The depth of the water noted as “0” at the time of that low tide under ‘normal’ weather conditions (e.g. excluding any unusual conditions – heavy rain, strong wind, approaching hurricanes, etc) is what is known as the Mean Lower Low Water (MLLW). It is the average of nineteen years of tidal observations for the lowest low tide at “0” during each moon cycle.
Simply put, this is the depth of the water you can expect to find in that area at the lowest low tide when the chart reads “0”. If it is navigable at that time by pole or trolling motor, it will certainly be navigable during nearly any other phase of the tide when the water will be higher than it is now.
This is useful information because now you know that under reasonably normal conditions, if the tidal reading is “0” or above, you can navigate (i.e. fish) in this area of the water.
The exception to this “rule” is when the chart reads as a negative number (for example - 0.8). In this case the water level at that same spot will be 0.8 feet (0.8 ft x 12 in = 9.6 inches) lower than when it was at zero reading. If the area you have targeted is 2 feet deep at a zero reading on the chart, it will be 2 feet minus 9.6 inches (or 16.4 inches) at a -0.8 reading. So it can be helpful to know what the “zero reading” or MLLW is at a particular location.
Tide tables are presented in various forms and some of them appear to be very complex and undecipherable. The important thing to remember is that you are only looking for three specific pieces of information:
Tide tables are listed by name for specific areas of the water. These areas are usually well known and easily recognized areas that are heavily navigated. Each one of these areas has a named tidal station that continuously monitors the rise and fall of the water at that location. Locate the station closest to the area you will be fishing and use the data from that chart.
A graph is produced by these stations and records are kept of the data. It is this data that is used to make tidal predictions for a specific area. The historical highs and lows over nineteen years are averaged to produce the numbers you will find on a tide table.
This is a typical graph from the NOAA site and includes the month of January, 2007. The tidal station is the Empire Jetty at Empire, Louisiana.
Note the first highlighted line. Reading from left to right you can easily see that January 9th is a Tuesday, that the time of day is 07:34 LST (Local Standard Time), that the tide height will be 0.0 and that this is the L (low tide) for the day.
So, in this example if you were fishing an area somewhere in the vicinity of the Empire Jetty station with a reasonably flat bottom and you noted the water in your location to be 12 inches deep on January 9th at 07:34 AM (the “zero” point) you can easily calculate the water depth at any other day and time of the year.
The high tide for that same day occurs at 5:39 PM at is expected to be 0.2 feet (0.2 x 12 in = 2.4 inches) higher than the low. So the water in this exact same area at 5:39 PM will now be 14.4 inches deep.
Now let’s go on to January 17th. Note that the predicted low occurs at 5:12 AM and is noted to be -1.0. If you were to go back to the same area at this time the same water that was previously 12 inches deep on January 9th would now be wet mud. This is because the tide is now -1.0, or 1 foot lower, than the depth noted at the zero reading and there is no water there.
Conversely, if you return to this same spot on January 17th at 7:22 PM, the water will be 1.2 feet higher than it was the zero reading. Now you would find that the water which we previously noted to be 12 inches at a zero reading is now 14.4 inches (1.2 x 12 = 14.4 inches) higher and will now be 26.4 inches deep.
You can use the same method to calculate the depth of the water at any time of the month throughout the year. This is pretty helpful information especially when fishing areas of shallow water. You will know when you need to be out of an area in which the water may drop too low for navigation. You will also know before you even go out on the water if you will be able to fish in a certain area.
This tidal information is also very useful because the amount of water and the speed that it moves through an area can have a significant impact on fish and their feeding patterns.
When there is not very much difference in the height of the high and low tides for the day this tells you that there will not be very much water movement. In other words, the tidal movement will be slow without a very noticeable current.
On the other hand, when there is a significant height difference between the high tide and low tide, the amount of water that moves into and out of the same area will be tremendously increased. It is this increase in the amount of water that must move through the same area in the same amount of time that results in significantly increased velocity of flow, therefore tidal currents which spells “dinner” for fish.
A notebook is one of the most important items in your tackle box because, over time, it will make you a more successful angler than you would ever believe. Your observations of fish feeding behavior during these periods of time when there is almost no tidal flow versus other periods of time when there is a significant change in tidal currents (along with weather, time of year, etc) will be one of the most important aspects of your angling arsenal.
When you can target the time, the location, and the tide that the fish in a certain area are most likely to feed, you will have exponentially increased your chances of success.
We have all had one of those days on the water when we pulled up to a spot and just slayed ‘em. Every cast produced a keeper. The excitement and adrenalin from that experience stays with you forever. These are the stories and experiences that we relive and tell over and over around the ramps and at the dinner table. But how many times were you able to reproduce that day in the same area? How many of your fishing buddies were able to?
The notebook and the tidal information will allow you to do it over and over again.
Fish because you can!