September 28, 2010
Redfish are willing biters and hard fighters, but if you really want to crank up the action, try throwing topwater lures at them.
A topwater walk-the-dog lure is deadly for redfish when fished around boat docks and grass beds.
Photo by Mike Marsh.
The boat floated like a feather across the oily slickness of a windless stretch of salt marsh. The only sounds were water dripping from a pole, the flipping of baitfish and grass stems tips scraping ever so lightly across the bottom of the hull.
"There he is," said my companion, Fisher Culbreth. "See his tail sticking out of the water?"
Culbreth was whispering, his voice shaking with excitement as eased down on the poling platform at the stern to a kneeling position. I followed his finger, which was pointing at what looked like a plastic sandwich bag with a black spot poking up from the water. Vibrating slightly, it slid below the surface.
The big topwater lure splashed down 12 feet beyond the fish. I began working it back to the boat. A twitch of the rod tip timed to the turn of the reel handle made the lure flip-flop like a wounded mullet.
It seemed strange to have stalked a redfish so silently, yet now to be using a lure that was making the loudest sound in the marsh. But it got the attention of the redfish immediately.
"Keep it coming," Culbreth said. "He's following it."
I held my breath and kept up the rhythm. The fish struck and missed twice with the sound and commotion of a cement block tossed into the water. It finally caught the lure 30 feet from the boat. Feeling the weight of the fish, I set the hook. The fight was filled with the bulldogging runs typical of a redfish.
Red drum are caught in many ways, including floating live baits or drifting dead baits along the bottom. They strike jigs fished in deep channels or prospecting along structure areas and grass beds. But these methods of catching red drum are "ho hum" compared to catching them with topwater lures. A big red drum makes the one of the most savage strikes in inshore fishing, with the rod jarring the angler's arms to the shoulders at the hook-up. It's no wonder topwater fishing has taken the redfish world by storm.
The most common way of fishing for red drum with topwater lures is moving along slowly through the marshes where they feed during high water conditions. Many places where they occur are subject to lunar tides or wind tides. As the water covers grass flats, the fish move into the grass to feed on crabs and other crustaceans.
The best conditions for using topwater lures in a flooded marsh are calm days with the sun at the angler's back. The still water allows the angler to see redfish and the sun angle illuminates the subsurface. A set of polarized glasses is standard equipment for topwater fishing. Even when fish are not spotted before a cast is made, being able to see down into the water allows the angler to see fish that are following the lure.
An elevated position can help an angler spot the fish, so poling platforms on redfish boats are common. But anglers can also catch redfish from lower positions, as the success of wade fishermen attests. In fact, the most common method of getting about the marsh today is with the use of a bow-mounted electric trolling motor. Many redfish boats are also equipped with a stern-mounted electric-powered anchoring pole to stop the boat's forward motion on a dime when a spot-tail is spotted. But other styles of anchors, such as a mushroom anchor with no chain, can stop the boat just as well.
While sight fishing is exciting, topwater lures are also prospecting lures. Anglers can move along, casting along the edges of grass beds, and across sandbars. When the water level recedes redfish move to flats and drop-offs nearby. A topwater lure is just as effective when the fish move deeper because a redfish is no stranger to chasing baitfish and will come up at least 8 feet off the bottom to strike a topwater lure.
There are many styles of topwater lures that are effective for redfish. The most popular is the walk-the-dog lure, which, when retrieved properly "walks" back and forth, imitating an injured mullet. The angler imparts personality to the lure by flipping the rod tip during the retrieve. Some anglers make a fast retrieve and others reel and twitch slowly. Either way can spell success depending upon the mood of the fish.
One drawback to a walk-the-dog lure is its treble hooks, which can hang in grass or during the retrieve or during a fight. Having a redfish snag the lure and pull free is a huge disappointment.
Other topwater lures for fishing grass beds include buzzbaits and floating soft plastics. Fly fishermen can also get in on the action by tossing surface poppers.
Buzzbaits, invented by bass fishermen to "buzz" pad beds and other areas of thick vegetation, are perfect for catching redfish.
The trick to using a buzzbait without hang-ups is to begin reeling before the lure strikes the water. Allow it to fall down into the grass and it can get hung and moving close enough to free the lure will spook all redfish from the immediate area.
Buzzbaits incite extremely vicious strikes and attract the attention of redfish from long distances. They clatter and churn the water loudly during the retrieve, which must be relatively fast to keep the lure from sinking below the surface.
But sometimes redfish are in a lazy mood, or have become wary of loud rattles and chatters in areas with intense fishing pressure. When fish are turned off by commotion, the lures to cast to them are floating soft plastics.
A soft plastic fluke style lure, rigged Texas style with the hook imbedded into the body of the lure to make it weedless, is an excellent choice when finesse is necessary. Cast into the pockets in the grass and twitched back to the boat, it doesn't move much water. But redfish eat all kinds of prey that are difficult to detect.
A soft plastic has several advantages. It can be impregnated with scent and has a natural feel that induces the fish to hang onto the lure, allowing the angler more time to set the hook. The lure is fished much more slowly than a buzzbait or a walking lure, making it easy for the fish to catch it.
The last class of surface lures is the popper. Poppers work best when cast to small pockets where working a lure with steady a retrieve would result in a hang-up. When cast beneath a dock or into a hole in a grass bed, a popper remains in the strike zone longer than a lure that requires a fast-cranking reel handle.
with fly tackle or casting tackle, the popper is plopped into a sweet spot and allowed to sit until the concentric circles of water die down. If cast to a visible fish, the fish may freeze as it determines the source of the vibrations.
But waiting is the key. Sometimes a redfish will strike the popper it's at rest. More often, the strike occurs on the twitch.
Slack is reeled in until the popper faces the angler. A twitch of the rod makes the popper "pops." A couple of pops is all it usually takes to make a redfish strike.