The quest for big, line-stripping redfish so highly prized by saltwater anglers has a freshwater twist. That’s especially true for those anglers familiar with two lakes less than 20 minutes from the Alamo City’s downtown area.
Photo by Ralph Winingham.
For more than 30 years, the waters of lakes Braunig and Calaveras have been stocked with millions of redfish by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department; many of those fingerlings and fry have grown to be sleek, powerful monsters of the freshwater deep.
Although the underwater predators are more commonly sought by fishermen venturing into their saltwater domain along the Texas Gulf Coast, the freshwater stocked redfish action goes on year ’round at Braunig and Calaveras. Anglers fishing both from the shore and from boats bring home their share of reds, and big bulls in the 20-pound range are not uncommon.
Someone who knows where the big reds can be found in both lakes, and who has been cruising the waters for more than a quarter of a century, is veteran guide Manny Martinez of L&M Guide Service.
Martinez holds the lake-record redfish at Calaveras — a bruiser tipping the scales at 30 pounds and measuring 41 inches. It was brought into his boat on a warm afternoon on Oct. 23, 2008.
“I was fishing by myself, just killing a little time casting for reds that were trying to spawn in the shallows,” he said. “I had been watching the area for a while and knew there were some big bulls in there.
“I saw a slick (a smelly film that comes to the surface when feeding redfish regurgitate bait) come up just off the dam and chunked my spoon right into it. The red grabbed that spoon as it hit the water. I set the hook, and he took off for a 50-yard run like blue smoke.
“When I finally got him close to the boat, he made another run, and then he did the same thing again. He made run after run after run. I wasn’t sure he was ever going to get tired.”
About 30 minutes into the fight, Martinez said he managed to work the now tired redfish close enough to the boat to attempt to guide him into his net. Because he was alone, he had to try to net the fish by himself.
“He was beat and I must have had the man upstairs watching out for me, because when I scooped him up, my net broke in half. For some reason, the red just didn’t try to get away and I managed to get him in the boat. That’s when I realized just how big he really was.”
Photos of his record catch on 12-pound-test line can be viewed at www.fishingwithmanny.com.
The record redfish caught at Braunig Lake was also in October — a 30.25-pounder measuring 35 inches caught by Jack Talbert of San Antonio on Oct. 14, 1989.
As Martinez points out, late summer and early fall when redfish are attempting to spawn is the prime time for hooking into big fish and big numbers of reds.
“When the big reds are schooled up, you will see them in the hundreds. I have seen a lot bigger fish than my record — there must be some 50-pounders out there,” he said.
“It is 100 percent more fun fishing (in the late summer and early fall). That is when you can cast out spoons and catch one on nearly every cast. Your arms just get feeling like they are made of lead.”
When the spawn is on, the tails of the redfish can be seen in about any shallow-water cove or along the rocks of the lake dams, Martinez said.
Gold and silver spoons are the ticket for casting action with the spawning redfish, and Martinez favors lighter tackle than he uses when employing downriggers at both lakes the rest of the year. Medium-action rods with baitcasting reels filled with 12-pound-test Cajun Red line are used while casting for reds, with heavy-duty 7-foot surf rods sporting Abu Garcia 6500 baitcasting reels filled with 17-pound Cajun Red line making up his downrigger gear.
The lures he uses with downriggers, heavy weights on a retractable wire that keep lures at a selected depth include Salt Water Assassin soft plastics (chartreuse or green with a yellow tail are one winning combination) on a 3/8- to 1/2-ounce Redfish jighead, Rat-L-Traps and Hogue soft plastics.
“When you have the right baits at the right depth, you can slaughter them,” he said. “But these reds really take off, and if you don’t have the right gear, you just can’t hold them.”
Even during the spawning season, using downriggers to get rattling lures down where the redfish are chasing bait or where bulls are chasing females is a good tactic.
“The crankbaits make noise and the reds can only stand it for so long before they make a run at the bait. The trick is to find out where they are schooled up,” Martinez said.
Most of the time, Martinez has four downriggers trailing lures behind his boat. Each rig is set at a different depth until the schools of redfish are located by the use of a fishfinder, and then he adjusts all the downriggers to the same level.
When the bite is on, it is not uncommon to get two or three hookups at the same time, resulting in a mad scramble by anglers trying to keep lines from crossing as they battle the big reds.
“If the lines cross, they have a good chance of snapping and you will lose both the fish,” he said. “It can get pretty hectic at times when the hooked-up reds are making runs all over the place.”
What makes both the lakes such havens for big redfish is an aggressive stocking program by TPWD biologists. Calaveras and Braunig are two City Public Service Energy power plant discharge lakes just south of downtown San Antonio.
Calaveras is the larger of the two, covering about 3,624 acres with a maximum depth of 45 feet. The lake was impounded in 1969. Since 1976 when the TPWD stocking program began, Calaveras Lake has been stocked with more than 7.5 million redfish fingerlings and fry — about 1 million more than any other freshwater lake in the state.