REDFISH ON THE HALF SHELL by Chester Moore by Chester Moore

TEXAS SALTWATER by Calixto Gonzales
March 25, 2017
March 25, 2017

Though redfish are year-round hitters, with the warmer weather, there is even more potential for some action-packed fishing in Texas. Captain Chris Martin, owner of Bay Flats Lodge on San Antonio Bay, provides his best tips for successful half shell fishing.

“At the start of your trip, look for the reds atop the shell near the crown of the reef or in shallow guts cutting through the upper portion of the reef, especially during periods of high tide,” Martin said.

“Times of higher tide will allow wading anglers to get closer to the reef on their initial approach,” he said, “which should be done on the leeward side of the reef when possible, as most of the baitfish will have been pushed against the windward side of the reef.”

As is the case in most coastal angling strategies, the number one thing to remember when hunting for redfish among the oyster reefs is the necessity for anglers to first locate active baitfish. The presence of bait typically coincides directly with the presence of predator fish—in this case, the redfish. Focusing your efforts on the down-current end of the reef will also tend to pay dividends more times than not, according to Martin.

Thad Dayly likes to fish shell reefs in the Sabine area for big redfish.

“Microorganisms, small crustaceans, and baitfish are all relocated by the current,” Martin said. “That is why it is recommended that anglers focus attention on the down-current end of the reef. That is where the redfish will be staged as they await the presentation of their next meal.”

Begin your reef wading efforts just within casting range of the crest of the reef. If the crown of the reef is within casting distance entrance to the water, cover as much real estate as possible with your top water plug before setting off across the top of the reef with heavy footsteps, and always step gently and quietly. Try not to move more than about twenty feet at a time.

“Everyone has his own preference, but a method which has proved to be productive is to toss your favorite surface walker atop the shallowest part of the reef prior to walking across a lot of the shell,” Martin said. “The noise you make as you trek across oyster shell is magnified substantially beneath the water’s surface. It’s always a good idea to start shallow, and then work out to deeper water.”

Position yourself where you can overshoot the crest of the reef by several feet, and then work the bait slowly across the shallowest point of the reef’s ridge. “I’ll work the area immediately in front of me completely by making several casts from 10 o’clock to 2 o’clock,” Martin said. “If I have no results, then I move down the reef in either direction, and repeat my previous routine.”

Start your approach with a smaller top-water of choice, something like a Skitter Walk Jr. or Super Spook Jr. If the reds aren’t hitting top water, look to the middle and lower portions of the water column, and work your bait from deep water to shallow water.

“While standing in your place of choice atop the shallowest part of the reef, tie a dependable plastic tail to the end of your line,” Martin said. “Cast for distance, as your intention should be to gradually work your bait back up along the tapered base of the reef. If the bite just isn’t happening at the bottom of the water column, and if top waters didn’t produce any results, look for the reds to be suspended somewhere in between shallow and deep.” 

Low tides expose oyster reefs, which are full of life and usually full of reds.

This can be accomplished in more than one way, but a general practice is the use of plastic suspending baits. Experiment within the various water columns over the hard shell with other baits like the Super Spooks, Corky’s, Fat Boys, and plastic tails.

“A few of my favorites include the original Corky, the Corky Fat Boy, the Catch 2000, and the Catch 5 suspending twitch bait,” Martin said. “My favorite spots to work these slow-sinkers are along flat spots in the reef, particularly at the tips of the reef on the down-current end during a high tide.”

A quick tip is to fish the solid shell of San Antonio Bay on calm, cooler days, but don’t limit your fun with the reds to the shell of the mid-bay reefs, Martin says.

“There will always be days when you are simply unable to access the reefs of the open bay due to high winds and less than stellar weather conditions,” Martin said. “On these days, look to the abundance of protected shorelines provided by the expanse of San Antonio Bay and its neighboring waters. Scout for shell pads mixed within the sand, mud, and varying grasses along shallow flats lining the main bay system.”

These brief shell pads sprinkled along area shorelines serve as structure for baitfish to hide in as the reds search for their next meal.

The mere hardiness of the redfish typically provides coastal anglers with chances for success pretty much year-round. Exceptions to this, of course, are those rare occasions of extended periods of extreme and severe cold along our Texas coastline.

For your best chance at success, familiarize yourself with the area in which you will be fishing with a fishing buddy or even a local professional fishing guide. When possible, aim for the third morning following the passing of a more notable frontal passage, and work from the peak of the reef and back along the downward contour of the reef, and vice versa.

It all comes down to one key fact: where the baitfish are, there the reds are too.

—story by Chester Moore


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