Fall is prime time to catch redfish along the Texas coast.
However there is no single, particular strategy that works. There are several, and we dig deep into the best, or at least my favorite strategies, taught from simple experience and some of the best redfish anglers who ever lived.
Retired guide and one of my mentors Capt. Skip James said school reds sometimes feed the outside edges of speckled trout schools instead of on the surface. During fall, if you pick up a couple of reds in a school of trout, a bunch more are probably lurking in the area.
“For a guy who’s looking to bag some big reds and maybe has already caught his trout or would rather try something different, look to the outside of trout schools,” James said.
“Game fish feed in four distinct phases: packing, corralling, ambush, and mop-up. Packing involves the fish coming together to terrorize the baitfish population. This usually happens early on.”
It’s during the next phase, corralling, that we start to notice some action, like nervous menhaden, scurrying shrimp and jumping ladyfish. During the ambush period, the feeding reaches a feverish frenzy, as the fish turn from passive to highly aggressive. This is the phase that the birds work, and that’s when you want to have your bait in the water.
“To catch schooling reds, I recommend a lipless crankbait or a big heavy spoon. Use something that you can chunk out there and reach the fish with, and that can get down toward the bottom fast.
Additionally, have a few extra guns ready to shoot with. If you catch the fish on the feed, do not bother to unhook your fish if it’s a legal one. Just lay it down for a second and fire another shot. It’s important to maximize your time during the feeding frenzy.”
James said that when targeting reds, it’s crucial to avoid the small trout. He recommends backing off of a school if you catch a couple of small trout. They will get your bait before the reds do, so leave them be: “If I go in and catch a couple of little trout right off of the bat, I circle where I think the school is and try to find the reds. Often they will be on the outer edges of the trout, but you may have to search a little to find them.”
The final stage of feeding phase is mop-up. This occurs after the main feeding is over, and the fish seemingly get lockjaw. This is a great time to move into an area where trout have been schooling to locate reds. More often than not, they will move in on the remnants of a baitfish school and start biting when the trout leave.
“When the main bite is over, I will switch over from a lipless crankbait or spoon to a soft plastic swimbait rigged on a jighead and bounce it along the bottom, trying to rattle any roving reds attention. Glow and chartreuse are the best colors,” James said.
James believes a common mistake is to leave an area during the mop-up period. The best bet is to set the trolling motor on low and cruise the perimeter, making 45-degree fan casts so that you can cover every angle. Think of redfish as scavengers waiting to attack the remnants of the trout’s prey.
There are thousands of marker buoys and barnacle-encrusted channel marker poles in the Intracoastal, and they are good spots to find reds this time of year. These poles make up their own mini ecosystems in much the same way oil and gas platforms do offshore. They are obviously not as pronounced as rigs, but they do draw in fish.
The first thing you need to do is check to see if the poles have many barnacles on them. Those spots are good ones to fish because they are likely to draw in lots of baitfish and crustaceans, which reds of course dine on.
In addition, the ones located near shorelines with shell are great places to fish. The markers typically designate where the channel and shallows meet, so setting up between the shell along the shore and the marker puts an angler in a great position.
Chunk one line in the shallows and another in the deep, and there is a very good chance you will score on redfish. Live bait such as mud minnows or finger mullet works good in the spring, but so do crankbaits like Rat-L-Traps or even freshwater plugs like the Bomber 9A.
All of the jetty systems in Texas will hold redfish this month. The action ranges from lukewarm to excellent, depending on the presence of cold fronts and tidal flow.
On the passing of late cold fronts target the eddies that form at the end of jetties. Typically all jetties have an area at the southern tip where the current washes out a large bowl area. When the tide is strong, and in particular when it is going out, eddies form and a lot of the smaller baitfish gather in these spots. Redfish will stack up there and gorge themselves.
Probably the all-around best easily accessible bait at bait camps in the fall is a live mud minnow (the bigger, the better) hooked through the tail and fished on a drop-shot rig. Croaker is killer for the bull reds, but for slot-sized reds, mud minnows are great.
With the fish hooked through the tail, it will swim upward and struggle a lot, which draws the attention of the reds. The disadvantage is tail hooking makes it easier for the red to take the bait without getting hooked, but it tends to draw more strikes.
Free-lining a mud minnow with a split shot rigged six inches above the hook is also good, but sometimes currents even in the eddy can be such that it’s hard for the bait to get down to the fish.
Another spot to try at the jetties are the boat cuts. They are good on both outgoing and incoming tide and can be full of reds of slot size and epic proportion.
—story by Chester Moore