Chasing Channel Bass, More Popularly Known as Redfish
Long ago, bass anglers fishing in coastal waters discovered that a different bass sometimes tested their mettle and tackle with powerful runs and devastating strikes.
As a result, many switched from fresh water impoundments to brackish water estuaries to tempt channel bass, more popularly known as redfish. Although they changed venues from fresh water to salt, old habits died hard.
With thousands of dollars invested in lures and equipment, they simply brought their bass lures and tactics into the new environment and they worked. Redfish feed on many of the same forage species as largemouth bass and often share the same tidal waters. They eat the same forage, so they hit the same lures, often in the same place.
“Fishing for redfish is a lot like fishing for bass,” said Stephen Browning, a Bassmaster Classic veteran from Hot Springs, Arkansas, who also fishes professional redfish tournaments. “A redfish will hit anything that a bass will hit,” he said. “I’ve caught redfish on conventional safety-pin style spinnerbaits and many other bass lures.”
Anglers frequently catch redfish on topwater baits, spinnerbaits and spoons. Reds also hit jerkbaits, crankbaits, buzzbaits or even worms and jigs. Just like in bass fishing, many anglers slowly and stealthily glide along shorelines tossing these lures into cover.
Ambush predators like bass, redfish cruise marshy banks, lurk in pockets along broken shorelines, burrow into weed patches or hover near other structure. Frequently, they feed in water less than a foot deep.
Often, anglers spot redfish tails, dorsal fins or movement along shorelines and sight-cast to specific fish. “In clear water, we sight fish,” said Greg Watts, a professional redfish angler who won the 2003 Redfish Cup championship with his brother, Bryan. “If we see a redfish cruising, we have about a 50 percent chance of making it bite. In water that’s not as clear, we throw to targets like matted grass, stumps, points, the ends of logs, etc.”
In shallow water, topwater baits offer exciting angling action. Making a commotion like a concrete-filled tire dropping into the water, redfish don’t just hit topwater baits; they demolish them with vengeance.
Many topwater baits resemble mullets sticking their heads out of the water, a prime redfish food. Some examples include MirrOlure Top Dogs, Rebel Spit’n Images and Excalibur Super Spooks. When jerked, they bob and weave from side-to-side with a scintillating “walk the dog” action.
Keep working walk-the-dog topwater baits side to side constantly, but slowly. Once it starts “walking,” it usually keeps going with just a little effort. Walk such lures all the way back to the boat because sometimes a big redfish might follow a bait for a long distance.
“I started fishing smaller topwater baits after reading a stomach content survey done by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department,” said Capt. Kris Kelley of Coastal Waterfowl and Fishing Guide Service in Seadrift, Texas. “The survey indicated that redfish mostly feed on finfish less than two inches long. I switched to smaller topwater baits and discovered a noticeable increase in blowups.”
Around weeds, spinnerbaits or buzzbaits slice through grass more easily than topwater baits or crankbaits. Anglers can work these baits with a stop and go motion or a steady retrieve. If a redfish holed up in grass noses up to a topwater bait, but doesn’t really hit it, sometimes, a buzzbait will aggravate it into striking.
“We use a lot of spinnerbaits when fishing for redfish along shorelines that drop off more than two feet,” said Keith Hartsell, a professional redfish angler from Perryland, Texas, who partners with his brother, Greg. “If we get in deeper structure or if we get into water that’s off color, we throw a lot of spinnerbaits because they give off good vibrations that are good for attracting fish.”
In matted weeds, even spinnerbaits or buzzbaits sometimes foul. Thick weeds call for either weedless spoons or Texas-rigged soft plastics. Redfish smash gold or chrome weedless spoons that dance across grass tops like topwater baits.
For added action, tip spoons with curly tail grubs or pork chunks. With a little flavor added, a redfish might hold onto a bait longer. Throw the spoon to the shoreline and rip it out. As it hits grass, let it bounce along the surface in enticing gyrations. In more open water, reel steadily to let it wobble near the bottom.
Texas-rigged soft plastic jerkbaits combine attributes of fast topwater action, the fish-finding abilities of buzzbaits, and the weedless enticement of worms. They closely resemble eels or other natural prey that might slither across the weed tops.
Keep the rod tip high and move the bait with the rod instead of the reel. Keep the bait moving or hopping in short spurts. Aggressive redfish may erupt through the grass to attack these baits silhouetted against the sky.
Around the edges of cover, drop a Texas-rigged worm or jig and slowly work it over the bottom, just like in bass fishing. Craw-worms often attract redfish because they resemble crabs kicking up mud on the bottom.
Most bassers own thousands of dollars worth of rods and lures. At one time or another, a redfish may hit just about any lure in that stash. Just keep doing the same things as for bass, except use heavier line and fish a little closer to the Gulf of Mexico.
To book a charter with Capt. Kris Kelley, contact him at Kris@coastalwaterfowl.com or call (888) 618-4868, (218) 352-9753.
—story by John N Felsher