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!