I n Texas, and particularly on the upper coast, we normally have a short, but glorious fall for a few days between our tropical summer and a cooler, wet winter.
During our version of fall, we can sometimes venture outside without sunscreen and might even be comfortable in long pants and long sleeved shirts on some days. As fishermen, the world is ours!
Between school semesters, hunting seasons, and spectator sports, the beaches, bays, and offshore waters are left to the truly enthusiastic fishermen among us. We reap a significant gain from the loss experienced by those of lesser dedication. Fishing is never better, and with a less crowded playing field, we couldn’t ask for much more.
There can be little doubt that the redfish is “king” of the fall saltwater season, but it doesn’t hurt to mention it again. I well remember the first time my younger brother caught a fair sized “rat” red on bay tackle. He then remarked that the largemouth bass he was more accustomed to catching were a bit lacking in strength compared to a red.
From another novice’s viewpoint, my stepdaughter was underwhelmed at the prospect of my cooking her first redfish – a reaction probably not unexpected from a pre-teen girl. However, her mother and I persuaded her that “since you caught it, you have to eat it.”
The young lady did not speak again until every crumb had been devoured.
Adding further to the appeal, is the fact that they can be caught without the use of a boat, either from piers, docks, and jetties, or while wading the bays or the surf. Billfish may be the most universally celebrated fish, but it would be hard to compare their over-all popularity with that of the much more common redfish.
The first jack crevalle I caught in the surf hangs on my living room wall. It’s next to a 24-pound bull red that was mounted for its markings, 24 spots on one side, 25 on the other, rather than its size. Also hanging there is a five foot, 75-pound alligator gar I caught off the dock of my old home on Chocolate Bayou.
I have caught many jacks since then, and never caught one I was ashamed of. Although basically inedible, few fish fight as hard for their size. Jacks don’t make the long, sizzling runs of a king mackerel, and they don’t jump like a tarpon. Instead they make shorter, but powerful runs, plowing their big and very hard heads through bottom sand and mud. Often they are not brought under control until they are so exhausted that releasing them is futile, as they will probably die, anyway.
The sight of a big school of jacks crashing through rafting mullet in the surf, throwing their prey through the air in all directions, is about as exciting as anything you’ll see in coastal waters. Such a massacre also leaves dead and injured mullet in its wake. This makes excellent conditions to hook a big red, stingray, shark, or tarpon following to take advantage of the carnage.
Speaking of tarpon, now is prime tarpon hunting time. Fish a large, live mullet with a strong circle hook through its lips, or maybe penetrating the body above the tail. This creates the ultimate crippled baitfish scenario in the deeper water between bars
Wait patiently, and you could well be rewarded by THE most impressive battle to be had on a rod and reel short of a monster shark, brutish tuna, or a big marlin. A good-sized tarpon, jumping and crashing the water between the second and third sandbars, is the kind of power and beauty only found in the best of salt water—which you can see in Texas as well as you can in any foreign destination.
Location: Surf, piers, jetties, rock groins, and the shoreline of natural passes and river outlets.
Species: If you want it, it is probably available, from specks, rat reds and founders to big sharks and tarpon.
Bait: Live bait is always best, and the best way to get it is to catch your own with cast net, mud minnow traps, seines, and light tackle hook and line.
Best Time: Morning and evening are still best, but October temperatures are mild enough for good action to continue through the day. As usual, pay attention to the tides— not so much the high and low times, but the period of water current movement, either raising or falling. Either condition moves bait.
Email Mike Holmes at [email protected]