The freshwater redfish hit the lure just as lightly as a much smaller redfish had done moments earlier, but there wasn’t anything light about what followed on Lake Calaveras’ choppy waters.
As I turned the reel’s handle to bring the fish to the boat, the big redfish began taking more line than I could gain. At times, it was as if I had hooked the bottom of the lake, at other times the fish simply swam with the boat, refusing to give in.
I held the rod high, hoping the fish would finally tire after fighting against the strength and action of the rod. Five minutes later, the fish began to show signs of tiring but still stripped line from the reel. Steve Nixon of San Antonio stood ready with the landing net and finally helped end the battle by lifting the fish of the water and into the boat.
As Nixon held the 251/2-inch long fish in the gleaming July sun, the beauty of the saltwater transplant was awesome, its bright reddish sides over a pure white lower body were marked by a single black spot at the tail.
“There isn’t another fish in this lake that fights as hard as a redfish,” said Nixon, who has been guiding anglers through his Fishhooks Guide Service at 3,624-acre Calaveras, nearby Lake Braunig and Canyon Lake for 20 years. “It’s one thing to catch them in the shallow waters of the Texas Coast where they fight hard, too, but when you hook into one this size or larger at 20 to 25 feet it’s a different ballgame.”
Credit for the freshwater redfish fishery goes directly to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, which decades ago realized the saltwater fish can thrive in the warm waters of South Texas power plant lakes. Lake Calaveras, 20 miles south of San Antonio off Texas Loop 1604, received its first redfish stocking in 1984 and has been stocked 21 additional years since then, including 2010 with 655,141 fingerlings and this year with 197,178 fingerlings.
Another factor that has kept Calaveras’ overall fishery good is the fact that the controlling City Public Services Energy company pumps water from the San Antonio River to keep the lake’s water level relatively constant year-round, at one to two feet below conservation pool elevation.
“The redfish we stock come from our coastal hatcheries,” said John Dennis, a Texas Parks and Wildlife biologist at its San Antonio district fisheries office. “We also stock them in lakes Braunig and Fairfield. The fish are basically surplus fish (left over from saltwater stockings) and the numbers we stock are based on whatever we can get.”
Although Nixon has been limiting out his customers on striped bass at Canyon Lake by as early as 8 a.m. on most mornings for several weeks, he said he likes the challenge of hooking up with redfish at Calaveras, where the minimum length limit is 20 inches and the daily creel limit is three per person.
Nixon prefers artificial lures such as Berkley’s Gulp Ripple Mullet and Bass Assassins, soft plastic lures rigged on a lead-head jigs, as well as silver and gold spoons. However he sometimes catches them on live bait, too. If not casting the lures, Nixon uses hand-powered downriggers with a 6-pound lead ball that keeps his lures at whatever depth his sonar “fish finder” tells him where the fish are located. That is the method we used on this trip and Nixon’s graph marked several schools of baitfish above the larger fish.
Once the lures were lowered on four downriggers, Nixon let his boat drift over an area where his sonar unit had marked fish. The movement of the lead balls and lures showed up on the sonar unit as straight, horizontal lines. Nixon occasionally lowered or raised the balls as he tracked the schools of fish.
“This has been an unusual year,” Nixon said. “Usually at this time of the year the fish are at about 15 feet and above a thermocline but they are at 20 to 25 feet now. The best time to catch them is when the water’s surface temperature is around 95 degrees.”
“Redfish definitely like a hot-water environment,” Dennis said. “The action slows down in the winter. Freshwater redfish are a put-and-take fishery and although they do not spawn in these lakes but they can provide a lot of fun.”
Source: Fort Worth Star-Telegram