See Red In August

No, we aren't inviting you to get mad. It's just that this month is a top time for seeking redfish around our eastern barrier islands. (August 2008)

Just 12 miles or so off the eastern end of Mississippi's mainland lie two barrier islands. Kissed by the Gulf of Mexico on their southerly surf-caressed shores, and facing the expansive nutrient-enriched Mississippi Sound on their northern shores, Petit Bois Island and Horn Island hold plenty of fish, and especially redfish despite the storm's savage beating.

The isles still show scars of Hurricane Katrina -- extreme erosion is apparent on their beaches and eastern ends -- but still, a magnificent paradise awaits those willing to explore their beautiful sun-bleaches shores. At these pristine isles, anglers are blesses with all sorts of marine environs that redfish like to frequent, and fishermen can take the challenge of finding and catching reds using a variety of tactics. Try wade fishing, surf fishing, drifting or poling, or simply arm yourself with rod and reel while walking along the isle's sandy shores.

According to Bobby Raynor of D'Iberville, one of the area's seasoned anglers, redfish are common catches around the isles if you know how to find and fish them. Topwater baits are his favorite lures for barrier island reds, because he loves the surface explosion when they hit the lure.

"Since I use light tackle, smaller surface baits like the Top Dog Juniors and Skitter Walks are a bit easier to throw," he said. "Also, since tossing a heavy topwater bait can place a lot of stress on the line just above the knot, a foot length or so of double line made by using a spider hitch is used. Just an extra bit of insurance since the single line receives so much stress."

It seems as if these islands offer something for everyone -- and in these clear waters, anglers can expect spectacular sight-fishing when reds are encountered prowling in the shallows all along the islands' perimeters. Gin-clear waters, vast patches of dark-green grassbeds, sandbars, flats, gullies, lagoons, points and holes are all plentiful -- and all frequented by summertime redfish.


Gin-clear waters, vast patches of dark-green grassbeds, sandbars, flats, gullies, lagoons, points and holes are all plentiful -- and all frequented by summertime redfish.
 

August is an excellent month for stalking these barrier island redfish -- and generally, the action gets better as September approaches.

As for tackle, Raynor employs Ambassadeur 4600 or Shimano Calcutta 150 baitcasting reels spooled with 10- or 12-pound-test, mounting them by preference on 6 1/2- or 7-foot fast-action rods. For an extra challenge, he breaks out ultralight spinning gear when plenty of slot-sized redfish in the 3 1/2- to 8-pound range are running. Generally he's fishing with 4-pound-test line with a 2-foot length of 25- or 30-pound-test fluorocarbon leader material to prevent breakoffs of the thin line.

"Most of my best fishing in those waters is near the peak of either a rising or falling tide," Raynor noted. "However, I prefer a rising tide, because the fish are roaming closer to the beach and are easier to see over a bare sand bottom. Over the darker colored grassbeds they can be much harder to see, and don't stand out like fish on a sandy bottom.

"At the islands you'll see most of the fish cruising, not tailing, and when active they'll generally be chasing baitfish," he added.

Some spots in the shallows are more dependable. "Along the beaches look for deep troughs where redfish often lay up to ambush bait," Raynor stated, "and especially on the isle's inside shores along areas of dark patches where roots may protrude out of the mud. Even if you aren't spotting the reds themselves, always be looking for signs of baitfish -- and that would generally be mullet. Also, schools of sheepshead are a promising sign. Redfish are often spotted following the sheepshead as they feed along the bottom."

Raynor also mentioned that a school of redfish will often push a wake as they swim near the surface. According to the angler, this shows up as a surface disturbance that just doesn't match anything else out there. It can be a slight change in surface or wave patterns.

Finally, schools of mullet much too big for most redfish to eat are a more-promising sign. The reds can be found leisurely swimming under a large school of baitfish, taking advantage of the shadow it creates.

TOSSING BAIT
At other times, Raynor opts to fish with live bait for barrier island reds -- as when he's presenting one of his favorite offerings, a 3- to 4-inch "finger" mullet.

"To fish live mullet," he stated, "I go with a Carolina rig, using just enough weight to get to the bottom, and a 2-foot length of 20- to 25-pound-test fluorocarbon leader finished off with a 2/0 hook. The mullet is hooked through the nose, and one of my favorite hooks for this type of fishing is a SC15 Gamakatsu -- a rather lightweight hook that's strong, and allows the live bait to easily swim about in a natural fashion."

The angler doesn't like using a cork or freelining when fishing for reds in these environs because those styles allow no control over the bait, so it can swim off anywhere.

Raynor concluded by suggesting you keep a close watch for reds around structure like stumps and downed trees, and that if you see fish in these areas, stay put for a while, because reds often pass back by such structure throughout the day looking for a meal.

AUTHOR'S PERSPECTIVE
When fishing either of these beautiful islands, my preference is for quite literally getting my feet wet: By wade-fishing the tepid waters, it's easy to sneak up on unsuspecting redfish. Having targeted the waters around these scenic isles for more than 40 years, I've found that a number of lures have consistently produced redfish during that long span of island wading.

When it comes to catching redfish, I'll take a spoon any day of the week. A number of these shiny metal baits produce a wobbling action that reds pounce on, yet being old-school, my favorite is a silver- or gold-hued Mr. Champ in 1/2- to 3/4-ounce size. Those always seem to catch fish consistently.

Spoons are ideal, because they can be tossed for great distances, even into a stiff wind, enabling an angler to target redfish without getting close enough to spook them. Also, plenty of water can be covered quickly by fishing a spoon. Although it can be tough -- or impossible -- to fish a spoon over shallow grassbeds without getting it tangled in the ve

getation, a fast retrieve at least allows you to work it over those in deeper areas.

It's best to retrieve most spoons at a slow pace, letting them bounce up and down off the bottom. With each fall to the bottom, a puff of sand kicks up. This sight, along with the flash of the spoon itself, drives most redfish crazy, setting off their predatory instinct and resulting in a strike and, hopefully, a solid hookup. A standard practice is to take three turns on the reel's handle, jerk the rod tip upward, tilt the rod tip back down for a second or two and repeat that pattern, thus allowing the spoon to rush forward and then wobble back down to the bottom with just enough action to entice rooting redfish.

Other excellent spoons are the gold Johnson Sprite, "The Secret" Redfish Spoon by H & H Lures, Gumbo Spoon by Bayou Buck Lures, Mann's Tidewater Spoon, Nemire Lures "Red Ripper," Capt. Mike's Spoon, and a silver- or gold-hued SideWinder.

Another option you might want to explore in these same shallow areas is casting a model 52MS or 52MSTT slow-sink MirrOlure. These work extremely well on reds hunting down baitfish in the clear shallows. This bait's silver coloration mimics the ghostlike appearance of island baitfish mentioned earlier by Bobby Raynor: the pale look often associated with baitfish living over a white-sand bottom. Plus, when twitched, a silver flash like that emitted by startled baitfish is given off by the lure's interior panels.

Locating redfish around Petit Bois Island or Horn Island often takes keen eyes spotting distinct bottom patterns. On both the outside surf and north side shores, identifying changes in water color is often the ticket to success. Most fishing patterns revolve around targeting dark-water areas, as those are associated with deep dropoffs along bars forming troughs, gullies and holes. Sometimes, however, the darker hue denotes mud lumps and grass beds.

At these key sites, it's always best to cast from as far away as possible, thus reducing the chance of fish spotting you before lure presentation is possible. Of course, tackle that casts easily and for long distances comes into play in this case. I employ a Shimano Spheros 4000FA or Stradic 4000MgFA spinning reel spooled to the hilt with 10- or 12-pound-test Yo-Zuri Hybrid and mounted on a 7-foot St. Croix Triumph rod for such applications.

Remember: A rig that's well balanced and relatively light in the hand makes long hours of wade-fishing more pleasant, so choose your wade-fishing gear wisely -- and keep your reels fully spooled, because big drag-stripping jack crevalle and bull redfish in the 20- to 30-pound-class frequent these shallows.

Deep gullies, holes and stumps close to the beach are my favorite early-morning redfish haunts, especially with the tide on the rise. However, in the afternoon, when the tide falls out, I often wade out farther to more-exposed bars and grassbeds. Especially where a trough running parallel to the beach has an outflow opening, redfish often stage in the surf until the water once again starts to rise. If the surf's up on the outside beach, anglers can always find miles and miles of calm water on the isles' north side.

Redfish at the isles may run from 5 to 12 pounds, and at times schools of huge bulls running 20- to 30-plus-pounds patrol the skinny waters, too. Of course, other species like bluefish, ladyfish, cobia, pompano, flounder, Spanish mackerel, stingrays and a variety of sharks make these warm shallows their home during the summer months as well. By the way, some of those bull and blacktip sharks can be quite large in size; these fish are big enough to be treated with utmost respect.

Although both isles deliver a vast array of fishing sites, a fabulous starting point for red action lies off or near the east end of either of the islands. At the eastern tips, an angler has access to the tide-swept points, a gully-filled, outside surf, and inside shores full of grassbeds, flats, deep holes and troughs.

Especially if one opts to wade-fish the inside shallows, a floating fish basket is perfect for keeping your catch alive and calm. Fish threaded through the gills on a stringer are prone to bleed and thrash about, thus increasing the chances of sharks moving in and chowing down on your catch. Team Numark and Kajun Keeper make floating fish baskets perfect for these wade-fishing situations, and both come in models with extra lure compartments and holders for toting along a spare rod or two.

Also, take along a landing net -- essential for avoiding the loss of that trophy fish. Besides, having a net keeps you from having to take the catch to the beach to be landed. And on the topic of essentials: Be sure to take along plenty of sunscreen and insect repellent, and always wear a pair of polarized sunglasses. Polarized glasses give you the equivalent of x-ray vision when you're staring down into the glare of the surface. If you plan to spot the reds before they see you, the glasses are essential in these waters.

If light tackle isn't your thing, you may want to give beefed-up bottom fishing a shot for those hefty bull redfish. Some anglers like to anchor up off the isles outer beaches or western ends, where the water drops off, and fish large chunks of mullet or blue crabs on the bottom.

Heavy-duty Carolina rigs assembled of 4- to 6-ounce egg sinkers, 3 to 5 feet of 80- to 100-pound-test fluorocarbon leader material finished off with a 6/0 to 9/0 circle hook are productive setups. Depending on the size of the mullet you have for bait, a big chunk of fillet, half a fish, or a small whole fish can be used. When using the front half, some anglers like to crush the head under heel, making it a bit suppler for a redfish to engulf.

As for crabs, a big blue is generally shucked from its shell, exposing its innards, and then either cut in half or quartered. The chunk of crab is then attached to the circle hook through a leg joint. Generally, a couple of these rigs are set out down current behind the boat; most anglers like to stagger them to cover a wide swath along the bottom.

Night-fishing is prime for this type of action, too. After dark, the water cools a bit, and big fish come into the shallows to feed. Anglers partaking in this sort of fishing often keep busy with bycatch of sharks, huge stingrays, and an occasional jack crevalle or cobia; there's even an outside chance of hooking a tarpon.

Bottom line: August is a wonderful month for fishing the eastern end of our barrier islands for redfish. So take advantage of these offshore gems this year.

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