Bull Reds On Top

Few things are as exciting as watching a large redfish annihilate a topwater bait. Fortunately for Louisiana anglers, plenty of places in the state make it possible to enjoy such activity.

Bull reds over 30 pounds are not at all uncommon across the coast this month. This large redfish, which took several minutes to boat, likely weighed more than 25 pounds.
Photo by John E. Phillips

When given a choice of which guide to fish one day, two anglers made a decision they'd soon regret: They chose to go with Capt. Jeff Poe, owner of Big Lake Guide Service on Lake Calcasieu. I, on the other hand, chose to go fish with Poe's wife, Mary, also a captain, and raised on the banks of the lake.

Mary Poe looked at me and winked as she and I went to her boat for a day of fishing on the lake. Then she said, "We're going to kick their butts today. I know where there's a big school of redfish in shallow water. We're going to limit out early, and Jeff will have to hunt fish this morning. We're gonna have a good time."

There's nothing worse than '¦ well -- the rest is common knowledge. Captain Mary planned to prove that she could find and catch redfish as quickly and in numbers as big as any guide on Lake Calcasieu. She'd particularly enjoy outfishing her husband. These male anglers had thrown down the gauntlet when they picked Jeff.

When we arrived at a shallow bank, Captain Mary explained, "These reds are holding on a shallow-water oyster reef that's just under the surface. They're here every morning, and they'll hit a popping cork on top with a Cocahoe Grub made by H&H below it." Poe fishes with a 2-inch slotted popping cork on 12-pound-test line. Then, 18 inches below the popping cork, she ties a 1/4-ounce lead-head jig with the 3-inch long soft-plastic Cocahoe Grub.

As I prepared to make my first cast, Capt. Mary said by way of instruction, "Cast the cork to the bank, pop the cork two or three times, and then let the jig sit dead in the water."

As soon as the jig hit the water, I saw several giant swirls, and thought that I might have spooked the reds. But after I popped the cork twice, I let my bait sit still in the water. Instantly my cork dove for the bottom, my rod bent, the drag screamed, and I had just about all the redfish I could handle.

For 45 minutes we enjoyed nonstop action, catching redfish weighing from 12 to 22 pounds each on almost every cast. Interrupting the excitement, a voice rang out over the CB radio: "Mary? This is Jeff. Are y'all doin' any good?"

Mary picked up the microphone and, with a big grin, answered, "Yeah -- we're wearing the redfish out."

After a long pause, Captain Jeff said, "We haven't found any fish. Do you mind if we come over and join ya?" Before she keyed the mic, Captain Mary laughed and told me, "I said we'd beat 'em."

Regaining her composure, Captain Mary said into the microphone, "Come on over. John and I are just about tired of catching these redfish."

In a few minutes, we spotted Captain Jeff and his party coming. Mary told me, "OK, John -- let's get two on our lines."

Each of us cast to the bank, popped the corks, let our baits sit still in the water and then held on tightly as the big redfish attacked both grubs. Captain Jeff and his party used their trolling motor to get in close to us. By the time we'd boated both redfish, Captain Jeff had positioned his boat less than 10 yards away. Mary and I both released the two big reds, weighing from 18 to 20 pounds each, all the while giving Jeff and his party a good look at the fish we'd been catching all morning.

"Y'all can have this spot," Captain Mary announced. "There's still plenty of redfish here. We're going to look for speckled trout now." With that, she weighed anchor and used her trolling motor to move out to deep water, where she cranked the big engine.

TAKING REDS ON SPOONS AND DOGS

Captain Mary Poe has learned that swimming a gold spoon just under the surface will attract plus-sized shallow-water redfish when they bite on top. "When I'm fishing a gold spoon, I tie a double surgeon's knot from my 12-pound-test line to about 2 feet of 20-pound-test fluorocarbon line that I use for a leader," she said. "You can swim that gold spoon on top of the water or in the middle (of the water column). But one of the most-deadly techniques I know is to cast the spoon into shallow water, swim it just under the surface, and then stop your retrieve if you see a redfish following it or swirling behind the spoon. If you'll allow the spoon to fall, the redfish will usually attack."

She also uses topwater baits when reds show a preference for feeding on top -- mainly the MirrOLure Top Dog. "When I cast the Top Dog out and walk it from side to side, I generally can see the redfish attack. During July, we do a lot of sight fishing for the big redfish. We'll often see the fish move near the bank and occasionally spot the tail of a redfish. The redfish will be feeding right up against the bank, rooting in the weeds for shrimp."

The average redfish Mary Poe catches using this tactic will weigh 15 to 20 pounds. During July, the redfish often travel in schools, and when Poe and her anglers catch one, often all the fishermen in the boat will hook up with big reds.

"As one redfish starts to come to the boat, you'll often see two or three more reds following the fish that's hooked," Captain Mary explained. "So you need to be ready to cast to the following fish when the first angler hooks up with the first big red."

SLICK REDS IN THE MIDDLE

In the hot summer months, those schools of big redfish will follow and feed on schools of mullet. To locate the fish when they're on the prowl, she often looks for sea gulls diving onto the water, usually a sign that fish are working bait below. "Speckled trout will often be under birds, too," Captain Mary noted. "However, you usually can tell by the speed at which the school moves if the school of fish is made up of redfish or trout. Generally, the redfish will travel much faster than the school of trout will.

If the birds aren't working at the surface, another way to locate these schools of reds is to look for the oily slicks that appear on the surface of the water. Created when the redfish kill and eat baitfish like mullet, the slicks consist of oil from baitfish being eaten by the reds floating to the surface. When anglers see slicks occurring rapidly, they can determine the direction and speed of the school's movement. Once fishermen have this information, they can try to get ahead of the school.

Anthony Randazzo, owner of Paradis

e Plus Guide Service, fishes the entire Mississippi River Delta from Empire to Venice, including the last 50 miles of the Mississippi River on both the east shore and the west shore. In July, when the enormous schools of bull reds enter the shallow coastal bays to feed on finger mullet, Randazzo has a blast catching these fish. Cruising around until he sees schools of mullet, he then puts his trolling motor down to get close to the schools without spooking them. Many times he'll see big bull reds blowing up on the mullet before he gets within casting distance. Randazzo's two chief topwater lure selections are Mann's Tailwalker and the MirrOlure She Dog. He also likes the Spook Junior by Heddon.

"The real secret to getting those big reds to bite is to fish some type of walking bait with rattles in it," Randazzo said. "You want to walk the dog with these baits as slowly as you can so that you'll keep the bait moving in the redfish's strike zone for as long as you can. Those big redfish can't stand to hear and see those walking baits coming across the water. They'll often come up out of the water and land on top of these lures."

Using this technique, Randazzo catches reds weighing up to 35 pounds. Places that get the nod from him this month include Main Pass, Pass-à-Loutre and South Pass.

"During the month of July, huge schools of redfish will come up the river to feed on the finger mullet," Randazzo explained. "You can generally catch and release as many reds as you want in a day of fishing. However, most fishermen have had all the redfish action they enjoy after three or four hours of constantly battling those big bulls."

Schools of big reds typically don't move much in the summer, and Randazzo and his anglers often can drop anchor and catch fish out of one school all morning. "We usually just catch reds until we don't want to catch them anymore," he stated.

Randazzo, who fishes with reels loaded with 30-pound-test braided line or 17-pound-test monofilament line, says that large reds will pull off 10 to 15 yards of drag before he's able to check their charge. They may make 10 to 20 rounds like this before they tire enough to come to the boat. Fortunately, these fish are caught in open water, and so will very rarely cut the line.

"We enjoy this kind of fishing for reds just about every day during the month of July," Randazzo emphasizes. "The only condition that really shuts the redfishing off is if a 30- or a 40-knot wind hits the lake in July. But the redfish will only be shut down until the mullet bunch back up."

When you fish for these big bull reds at this time, you may also catch gator-sized trout a bonus, according to Randazzo. In the course of a day of redfishing, he and his party often will catch 15 to 20 big speckled trout besides all the redfish they want. "The big speckled trout don't have any problem intermingling with the schools of big redfish," he said. "We have often caught 8-pound speckled trout when we've been fishing schooling bull reds."

With the weather so hot, bass fishermen often want to take a break from freshwater fishing, so Randazzo regularly hosts a number of largemouth enthusiasts who, interested in a change of pace, are looking to test their tackle against the big bulls. Needless to say, it's not a fair fight. A bull red can -- and typically does -- bend a bass rod into the water with ease. They aren't much nicer to reels, either, which can easily end up with innards twisted from a trip catching 30-pound reds this month.

BUZZING REDS

Most anglers regard buzzbaits as a lure unique to bass fishing. Not so, asserts Randazzo, who has caught numerous bull reds using the lures. "Color isn't too important -- as long as the color you're fishing is either white or chartreuse," Randazzo offered with a smile. "When fishing a 1/2-ounce buzzbait, an angler can make the bait gurgle on top of the water much like he'll fish it slowly for bass. However, the big difference occurs when a bull red blows up on a buzzbait, because there's no bass strike to compare with the violence and savagery of these big bulls, since a redfish often will try to kill the bait before he eats the bait."

To experience mile-a-minute top-water action, test your tackle's breaking point as you learn what the excitement of angling for the redfish feeding all along the Louisiana coast this month is all about. Remember to look for the presence either of birds working the water or of oil on the surface. If you spot either, pull out the topwater lures -- because you'll find no greater thrill than a big bull blowing up on a topwater lure.

For more information on fishing Lake Calcasieu, contact Captains Jeff and Mary Poe, (337) 598-3268, or visit

www.biglakeguideservice.com, or e-mail biglakegs@aol.com. To learn more about Anthony Randazzo, call (504) 656-9940, go to

www.paradise-plus.com, or e-mail anthony@paradise-plus.com.

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