When I Caught My Own Tagged Redfish

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Redfish populations have skyrocketed in recent decades and we are learning much about them.

 The species is fast growing, reaching approximately 11 inches and 1 pound in its first year, 17-22 inches and 3-1/2 pounds in two years, and 22-24 inches and 6-8 pounds in three years. The world record red drum weighed 96 pounds and hailed from North Carolina. The current Texas record is 55 pounds.

Red drum reach sexual maturity between their third and fourth years when they are about thirty inches long. They spawn in the Gulf, possibly near the mouths of passes. On the Texas coast spawning occurs generally from mid-August through mid-October. Eggs hatch within 24 hours and are carried into the bays by tidal current. The larval red drum seeks quiet, shallow water with grassy or muddy bottoms,” according to TPWD.

For the first three years, redfish live in the bays or in the surf zone near passes and jetties. Evidence from TPWD’s tag returns show that they remain in the same area and generally move less than three miles from where fisheries officials tag them. I know this firsthand.

In June 1999, while fishing the Texas side of the Sabine jetties with Bill Killian of Orange, I caught a redfish that I had tagged more than three weeks ago at the cluster of rigs located just east of the jetties. I was hoping other anglers would catch some of the fish I had tagged, but never thought I would.

Nasty green algae covered the tag, but it was easy to read after I wiped it off. The tag’s number was 31. The big red was caught and released like all others that day and perhaps to be caught again by another angler. The chances of catching one’s own tagged fish has to be miniscule, but it proved these fish do not always move much.

 TPWD notes that as they mature, they move from the bays to the Gulf of Mexico where they remain the rest of their lives, except for infrequent visits to the bays. Although there is little evidence of seasonal migrations, anglers find concentrations of red drum in rivers and tidal creeks during the winter.

Another phenomenon is “tailing,” which involves the reds tails sticking out of the water as they feed in the shallows. In some areas, anglers should call this “backing” because you see a lot more back and dorsal fin than spotted tail at a 45-degree angle. Either way, it is awesome.

TPWD has successfully stocked them in several freshwater reservoirs including Fairfield, Braunig, and Calaveras. They cannot spawn in these lakes, but they grow to immense size and take to the habitat like, well, a fish takes to water. Instead of feeding on crab, they eat crawfish and terrorize the perch, shad, bass, and other wimpy freshwater species.

Redfish are highly adaptable, and this allows them to survive in many habitats and live to great age. According to the North Carolina Department of Environment and Fisheries, the oldest recorded specimen was 62 years old, caught in the Atlantic Ocean.

Chester Moore, Jr.

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