Bama Redfish In June

Reds now are one of the most prized inshore species along the Alabama coast. So where can you catch a few this month? Let's have a look. (June 2009)

Some of the bigger reds show up in Perdido Pass at Orange Beach each summer.
Photo by Polly Dean.

It's pretty hard not to appreciate the beauty, power and stamina of hard-charging redfish hooked in shallow water. The strong pulsating runs and the brute strength of the red puts a smile on any angler's face. It's also hard to believe that up until 25 years ago the redfish was thought of as by-catch instead of the highly targeted species it is today.

Then an ingenious chef out of New Orleans came up with the recipe to blacken redfish and it started a craze that made the once lowly redfish into a superstar.

There were a couple of reasons the reds had such a small following before the blackening craze. First, the fish were difficult to clean with their tough scales protecting their bodies. Second, the redfish has a smaller yield of meat due to its skeletal structure and large head. With a smaller reward for the extra difficulty in cleaning compared with similar sized fish of other species, redfish were more of an afterthought while fishing inshore waters.

But the species' sporting qualities have now changed that view.

Along the Bama Coast in June, redfish are feeding heavily as waters warm and bait becomes more plentiful. Whether roaming over natural shell reefs, manmade reefs, pier pilings or grassy shorelines, redfish are eating machines this time of year.

Known for its fondness of crustaceans, such as shrimp and small crabs, the opportunistic redfish won't turn down an easy meal if it presents itself. This willingness to feed makes the redfish mighty popular to anglers looking to get their lines stretched.

The real beauty to redfish angling is their abundance and the multiple places where these battlers can be caught in and around Mobile Bay. Let's take a look at a few places to find the hearty redfish.

PLACES TO TARGET REDS
Dauphin Island is one of the best places to target redfish this month. Starting at Sand Island's east end, --located south of Dauphin Island -- anglers can get into great redfish action when the tide is moving swiftly. Redfish stack up in the current waiting to pick off an easy meal being swept by. Live shrimp or live croakers fished on the bottom both take reds waiting to ambush a meal in the strong currents.

Anglers can also catch redfish with gold or silver spoons fished while wading along the island's beach.

Moving north of Dauphin Island, there is a place known to local anglers as The Shoals. The Shoals are an abundance of shell material on the west side of Dauphin Island Bridge that has gathered over the years, forming small islands. These small isles are magnets to redfish patrolling the shells for shrimp and small crabs that are hiding in the debris. Known mainly as a great destination for speckled trout, the shell islands produce reds on a regular basis this month.

Gaillard Island is a manmade isle built to hold spoil from periodic dredging of the Mobile Ship Channel. Located on the western side of the ship channel and just north of Theodore Industrial Channel, Gaillard is at the intersection of two fish highways. All around the perimeter of the island there are large limestone rocks placed to battle erosion. The presence of these rocks makes Gaillard a prime place to target reds in June.

By using a popping cork or regular float with a live or dead shrimp 18 inches below, anglers can target these rocks with little fear of getting tangled or hung up on them. Simply toss your cork rig within a few feet of the rocks and let it sit for a few seconds. If you get no takers, start popping the cork with a quick wrist action to make a little noise. This noise attracts fish in the area to your offering. Don't be surprised to take speckled trout or sheepshead as well as reds using this technique around Gaillard this month.

You can also find redfish at the north end of the island around an old sunken barge that has been there for years. The barge is revealed by a large pipe sticking out of the water. Reds seem to hang around the north and south ends of the barge. Toss a shrimp at either end on the bottom to entice the redfish. This is also an excellent place to pick up flounder in June using this technique.

Farther to the north, on the west side of the bay, is Dog River. Dog River is a haven for redfish when Mobile Bay is salty, which is the norm in June. The river is full of twists and turns with a variety of structure available to hold reds.

There are many houses on the river complete with boat docks. These docks attract baitfish, which in turn attract redfish. By casting artificial lures along the dock pilings, river anglers can connect with redfish and match wits with them as they try to wrap the line around boat docks' legs. Using braided line results in less break-offs.

Donald Wayne Garretson of Mobile has been fishing Dog River's boat docks for redfish for many years. Over that span, he has developed a technique that has proved successful on the river reds.

"I like to pull up to big, square boat docks and start working the edges. If I don't catch anything on the edges, I start working underneath," Garretson explained.

Garretson's technique is very basic, but it works.

"I use one bait and one bait only to catch Dog River reds. I like a Strike King 1/4-ounce Bitsy Bug jig in the black and blue color. I am able to skip this light bait underneath the docks where the redfish are hiding. Sometimes I'll add a plastic trailer in either Electric Chicken or Arkansas shiner colors to tempt the reds," Garretson added.

Not all boat docks are the same, according to Garretson. Some are better than others for redfish success.

"I look for docks with depths of 4 to 6 feet. The better docks are near deep water or the river channel. Another plus is the addition of river clams or oysters near the dock. Finally, if the dock is near a marshy area or a drain into the river, there normally is plenty of bait nearby," Garretson said.

At the north of Mobile Bay is the Mobile/Tensaw Delta. This brackish water environment is best known for largemouth bass in the spring and summer, but as any regular Delta bass angler can tell you, redfish are regular visitors to the area.

There are multiple shallow-water bays in the lower delta that

hold plenty of bass and redfish in spring and early summer. Most of these fish are congregated around grassbeds that thicken when water temperatures warm.

Redfish, which are quite freshwater tolerant, mix with freshwater species in search of food in the grassbeds. Spinnerbaits, gold spoons and shallow-running crankbaits, such as the Mann's Baby 1 Minus, all take the aggressive redfish.

Polecat Bay, Choccalotta Bay and Delvan Bay all hold redfish this month if the grassbeds are healthy.

Over on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay is the sleepy little town of Daphne. This area has long been the playground of the successful and wealthy. Gorgeous homes along the bay dot the shoreline.

Many of the homes have been there for decades. And during these decades, the homes have endured many storms and destructive hurricanes. What have not endured are the once elaborate piers that jutted out into the bay. After so many storms, all that is left are the long rows of pilings that the boardwalks once rested on.

The Daphne Pilings, as they are known to locals, are some of the best-kept fishing secrets in south Alabama. These pilings host many speckled trout and redfish during spring and summer. Anglers dropping a live shrimp near a cluster of these pilings had better hold on, because hungry fish snatch that shrimp and attempt to take it into the haven of the barnacle-encrusted pilings.

To avoid being dragged into the pilings, you should position your boat on the downcurrent side of the structure. At the first hint of a strike, set the hook and start steering your fish away from the pilings.

Using artificial baits around the Daphne Pilings can be almost as effective as live bait for redfish. Berkley Gulp! baits are particularly effective when rigged on a 1/4-ounce jighead. The scent-impregnated baits put off a smell that gives them an edge over regular plastics. Allow the bait to fall and bounce it along the bottom as you retrieve. When a strike is detected, set the hook hard to penetrate the red's fleshy jaw.

At the mouth of Mobile Bay on the eastern side is historic Fort Morgan. The War Between the States era Confederate fort marks the site of troubling times in our country's history.

Anglers in search of reds this month should have no trouble finding them within sight of Fort Morgan. On the north side, just east of the ferry dock in Mobile Bay, there are rock jetties protecting the shoreline. Redfish roam these jetties for food and can be caught on a variety of baits. D.O.A. shrimp under a cork, MirrOlures or soft plastics all take these reds.

On the south side of the fort is the Gulf of Mexico beach. Wade-fishermen can connect with big reds by using large spoons cast into the troughs just off the beach. Mr. Champ spoons in 3/4- and 1-ounce versions are great options for surf reds. The heavy weight of the spoons allows the wade-angler to cover more water on the retrieve.

Over at Orange Beach, the redfish action can be sporadic this month. Anglers spry enough to walk the rock jetties at Perdido Pass can hook up with both stringer-sized reds of 16 to 26 inches, or bull reds in the pass.

Dead shrimp on the bottom at the base of the rocks can entice redfish, as well as the occasional flounder. Wade-fishing on either side of the pass can result in redfish action as well.

Spoons, grubs and stick baits are good choices for beach reds. Be sure to use black steel leaders to keep hungry bluefish and Spanish mackerel from cutting you off.

PRO'S POINTERS
One of the reasons the redfish has enjoyed such a large measure of popularity amongst anglers recently is the growth of the professional redfish tournament circuits along the Gulf Coast. Anglers compete against each other in teams of two to see who can boat the heaviest two-fish stringer of redfish within a certain slot limit. Most tournaments require the fish to be between 16 and 26 inches to keep. Some tournaments allow a 27-inch maximum length, according to which state the event is taking place in.

Much like the professional bass fishing competitions, these redfish tournaments draw quite a bit of participation and television exposure for the redfish pros.

One such professional redfish angler is Barnie White of Brewton. The 35-year-old White fishes most of the tournaments with his father, Steve White. The father-and-son team has done quite well and both admit to learning a lot by fishing competitively.

Turning his attention strictly to redfish has taught Barnie White a few tricks for taking the species.

"I love it when the water warms in June and the bait becomes plentiful. It really gives you great opportunities to find good concentrations of redfish. I look for baits dancing along the surface of the water. This could be pogies or mullet working along in what I call bait balls," White explained." "The presence of these bait balls gives me confidence that reds will be near."

When it comes to White's favorite place to target "tournament-sized" redfish, he is torn between two spots.

"My first choice to fish would be the many ditches and channels flowing out south of the Interstate 10 bridge at the head of Mobile Bay. I like it best when the tide is low, concentrating fish in the channels. I start out by using a 1/2-ounce jighead with a Gulp! Shrimp on it. I simply drift along with the current and hop the bait along till I locate the fish," White said.

"My second choice for reds would be the marshes near Bayou La Batre. The water is much clearer there and the fishing will be shallower. You can often sight-fish in these areas, making it more exciting," White described. "Once I spot a red cruising the bank, I toss a purple with chartreuse tail Flurry Minnow on a 1/4-ounce jighead in front of him about a foot or so. I then bump it slightly to get his attention. If he doesn't spook -- it's on!"

Being on the water so much in pursuit of redfish has caused White to be keenly aware of his surroundings. Little things he's picked up by paying attention have helped him catch more reds.

"I advise folks to be alert for bird activity. I noticed several years ago to watch for white egrets walking the shoreline. These egrets actually walk behind redfish along the beach," White explained. "The birds are picking up grass shrimp and tiny minnows the redfish have stirred up while feeding."

Another thing that White has learned from nature while redfishing is to be alert for stingrays. This only works in clear water, but is worth looking for.

"When I'm in clear water, I keep an eye out for stingrays. I have caught a lot of reds that are trailing these rays. I can only assume the redfish are picking up bait that the rays have stirred up as they shuffle along the bottom. I have no proof of this, but when I see stingrays, I get a little excited about my next cast," White said

.

When it comes to equipment, White was quick to point out that he's all about landing his fish as soon as possible. With that in mind, he prefers tackle that gets the job done quickly and efficiently.

"I use a 7-foot medium-action All Star rod coupled with a Shimano Curado baitcaster spooled with 30- to 40-pound Stren Sonic Braid," White noted. "One reason I go so heavy with my equipment is to get the fish in quickly, so I can make another cast. Another reason is to make sure any fish I catch doesn't get too stressed, in case it's a big fish going into our tournament creel."

CONCLUSION
Whether you are a casual inshore angler, seasoned veteran or a professional redfish angler, Alabama's coast offers you multiple opportunities at scoring on redfish this summer. Use the tips provided above and you should improve your odds of hooking up with a few of the Cotton State's reds this summer.

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