YOU KNOW TIMES HAVE CHANGED for the better when anglers are complaining that most of the redfish they catch are too big for the slot.
I am not talking in the surf during the bull red run or even at the jetties. I am talking about in the bays and surrounding canal systems.
Anglers who want to catch bull reds in the fall do not have to venture offshore, but they can start near the Gulf and work their way north. Look for reefs and large rock deposits along shorelines north of the jetties. The reds in these areas tend to move through in small schools or hold over one piece of rock in large numbers.
I use large, lipless crankbaits such as the Bomber Saltwater Grade Super Pogy and start by seeking out menhaden (shad) suspended over submerged rocks. The key here is to look for the “cover on the cover.” In other words, the jetties themselves represent a type of cover, but the fish will bond to certain kinds. Reds tend to like large boulders that have fallen off the main wall holes carved into the rocks by the current.
Once I locate the bait on these spots, I throw out the Super Pogy, let it sink down to the level of the baitfish and rip it. I will pull a few feet, reel. Pull a few feet and reel. Most of the times the reds will hit just after the first pull and will even hit on the fall.
Something to keep in mind, if dolphins are feeding in the area consider yourself fortunate. In my logbook, I have noted that every time I have caught lots of bull reds there have been dolphins feeding in the vicinity. The few times we had few fish there were no dolphins feeding. The presence of dolphins is a great indicator of the presence of menhaden. This in my opinion, is the key to success on bull redfish, especially at jetties, but it can also be an indicator in the channel.
Another option for big reds is in the Intracoastal from the just past the Gulf and upwards of two miles north. If you run this area on your depth finder, you will notice large pods of baitfish that sort of stack up.
Most of the time it is menhaden but often it can be mullet. Both will draw in these big reds, which tend to suspend below the bait.
Deep diving crankbaits are the key here as these reds will suspend as deep as 20 feet of water. Anglers can cast smaller crankbaits or use trolling plugs run through the baitfish schools at a medium pace. Live baiters can simply fish a Carolina-rigged croaker or mullet.
If you do not want to troll for these fish, drifting is a viable option. Drop some marker buoys around the baitfish schools and then drift over them while throwing the lures you choose.
Be mindful of the depth you are getting strikes and mark it. Most of the time, these reds will be in a very specific area and may not deviate even a few feet.
A highly under-fished area is the river systems north of the bays along the Gulf Coast. They are loaded with redfish and oftentimes, huge ones.
These reds tend to roam in small “wolf packs” and feed along riprap, docks and drop-offs. They will not always feed aggressively on the surface. It is important to wear polarized shades and watch for reds pushing wakes or simply sitting around key pieces of cover.
In these river zones, coastal marsh frequently pours into the rivers, intersected by large manmade canals. Reds use these canals as travel corridors, and they find feeding easy as tides dump from the marsh into the bays.
Target the areas where these canals empty large marsh ponds or dump into a bay on outgoing tides. These canals typically range from three to six feet deep. Reds gather in the deepest holes and absolutely hammer the menhaden, shrimp and crabs coming out of the marsh.
Where you have adjoining canals or the edge of a pond, tidal flow creates potholes. They can be as shallow as six inches or as deep as two feet, and they are like magnets for reds.
A Gulp! Shrimp or Swimming Mullet fished under a popping cork is hard to beat. For live baiters try the same rig with the biggest shrimp you can find.
These are also great places to fish square-billed crankbaits, which are perfect for shallow water and can cover lots of water. This is key in these kinds of ecosystems. Simply throw them out and reel them in as fast as possible. Most are designed to “walk” most efficiently at a high rate of speed.
You should keep in mind that reds have what can best be described as a “cone of vision,” a term that was first coined by late outdoor writer/redfish guru Ed Holder. Reds can see about 180 degrees, and the most likely strikes will be found in front of the red and perhaps just off to the side.
If you have a visual on the reds, remember precision casting is important. They will rarely turn around to strike at something they only hear.
If you happen to find these super-sized reds schooling, be prepared for a chase. Big reds move fast when in the bays and river systems, so don’t get upset if you get skunked a few times. Be patient and they will eventually surface again and give you another shot at hanging into one of these tackle-testing brutes.
Saving the Vaquita
That is the number of days in an average month.
There are 30 teams in the NBA.
And there are 30 tracks on The Beatles’ The White Album.
It is also how many vaquitas scientists believe exist on the planet.
The vaquita is a type of porpoise, the world’s smallest in fact. It is also the single most endangered marine mammal.
Living only in the upper reaches of the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez), these small, strikingly marked cetaceans are the very definition of critically endangered.
The problem is a gill net fishery that is now heavily centered on another endangered species-the totoaba (fish). Vaquitas often end up tangled in the nets and are either killed or left to die.
“The issue facing the vaquita is emblematic of larger impacts that humans are having on our oceans,” said world-renowned marine artist and conservationist Dr. Guy Harvey.
“From unsustainable fishing practices to marine pollution to changing ocean chemistry, human behavior is negatively affecting ocean health. As the human population continues to increase, we will depend on our oceans even more and need to ensure that we are using these resources in a sustainable manner to benefit future generations.”
Harvey has partnered with Sea World to raise funds for Vaquita CPR. This is an international effort to save the species by creating a “Save The Vaquita” line of items that will be sold at Sea World Parks and through Dr. Harvey’s properties. Fifteen percent of proceeds from these sales go directly to conservation efforts.
“I was proud to paint my first ever vaquita porpoise in support of SeaWorld and Vaquita CPR’s efforts to save this species that is on the brink of extinction,” Harvey said.
In addition Sea World has donated an additional $120,000 to the project.
“The plight of the vaquita porpoise illustrates the devastation the illegal wildlife trade can inflict on a species,” said Dr. Chris Dold, SeaWorld’s Chief Zoological Officer.
“We are proud to partner with Guy Harvey to help educate people about this crisis and raise money toward a solution. The Vaquita CPR effort is an extraordinary, last ditch attempt to prevent the extinction of a porpoise species that is only found right here in North America. We at SeaWorld care deeply about the ocean, and we care especially about the animals that live there. We can not sit idly by as another animal goes extinct.”
According to Vaquita CPR, which is spearheaded by the National Marine Mammal Foundation, the Mexican government has determined that emergency action is needed. The plan is to temporarily remove some of the remaining animals from their threatening environment and create a safe haven for them in the northern Gulf of California.
An emergency conservation plan has been developed by an international team of experts, with field recovery operations set to begin in May 2017. Catching and caring for vaquitas may prove impossible, but unless we try, the species will probably vanish.
A project like this might indeed seem impossible. After all, is there any hope for a species that only has 30 representatives?
In 1987 there were only 22 California condors. Now there are more than 400.
The black-footed ferret was thought extinct in the early 1980s and then a population of a few dozen was found. Thanks to captive breeding and active monitoring efforts, around 1,200 black-footed ferrets now exist in the wild.
Yes, the fact that vaquitas are ocean dwellers complicates things, but hope still exists. The common denominator for all endangered species success stories is people taking action.
And that is what a coalition of people is doing right now.
Let’s do what we can to help the vaquita by supporting those who are supporting efforts to save this beautiful, severely endangered marine mammal.
—story by CHESTER MOORE