While most anglers think redfish are easily spooked, the best way to attract them is by casting a noisy lure.
The redfish was feeding head down, in the classic “tailing” posture with the dark eye-like black spot on its translucent, aqua-edged tail waving slowly above the water. It was deep inside a grass bed, feeding so intently on fiddler crabs that it was oblivious to my presence.
I had stalked the redfish for long minutes, poling a 20-foot, flat-bottomed skiff through the openings in the grass. I looked at the fly rod stuck into a rocket launcher, its long shaft slip-knotted with a piece of nylon cord to the grab rail for quick-draw action.
However, the fish was in grass too tall and thick to allow me to parachute a fly line without spooking it. Furthermore, the fly itself would not have penetrated the grass deep enough to allow me to work it, even if I could have landed it close enough. Silently, I slid a spinning rod from another rod holder. The fish was within easy casting range, about 50 feet away. Still, I had to coax it out of the thick grass and into the open.
The MirrOlure Top Dog hit the water in an open hole 20 feet away from the feeding redfish and 10 feet beyond it, making a splash as loud and clumsy as a belly flop.
After such a stealthy approach, it would seem the appropriate thing to do would be to go with a finesse lure, perhaps a fluke or other soft plastic, as well as a subtle presentation. But the redfish noticed the commotion and stopped feeding immediately. Its head lifted from the bottom as it sensed the presence of the lure. Feeling the vibrations with its lateral line, it homed in on the sound.
When I knew I had the fish’s attention, I began the retrieve. It was a classic retrieve for a walk-the-dog lure, with the lure flip-flopping back and forth like a wounded mullet. When it passed the redfish, its dorsal fin shot up. It raced to the lure, torpedoing it, mid-flop.
Anglers repeat this same scenario often on redfish grounds wherever the fish occur. It seems counter-intuitive that lures that rattle, clank, click and clack could ever be effective. Nevertheless, there are many reasons why every angler should learn to use various noisemakers to wake up lazy redfish.
Fly anglers can do the same thing. The fly tied to the tippet of my 9-weight Sage fly rod was a rattle shrimp. Several manufacturers sell shrimp flies with rattles. Fly-fishermen also create their own versions. While they certainly do not have the same decibel level as a topwater lure with a rattle chamber, they can make an otherwise blasé fly more attractive to redfish, especially in conditions such as fishing grass beds that hinder the fish’s ability to feel or see a fly.
The tactic also works when the fish has sensed the fly on the bottom and is tailing above it, trying to make out whether it is a meal. Twitching the fly when the fish is tailing on it can have two outcomes. Either the fish will hammer it or will spook away from the noise.
Other great noisemakers for fishing the grass beds and oyster beds are spoons and spinnerbaits. Several different styles of spoons are available. Some have integral rattle chambers and others have inline spinners rotating on a shaft ahead of the spoon body to make them a combination of spinnerbait and spoon.
Spinnerbaits also come in a variety of styles. They can have inline propellers, single or tandem spinner blades or they can be bent-bladed buzzbaits that churn the surface with an easy, steady retrieve. The metallic sounds of these lures attract redfish from long distances away. While spoons and spinnerbaits work well at the surface or in the grass beds, they can also be fished in deep water. Thus they allow an angler to catch a redfish swimming at any depth.
A spoon has long been a proven winner for redfish in the grass. Most are equipped with wire weed guards to prevent snagging on grass stems and other obstructions. A spoon is a great lure for sight casting, but it also works well for prospecting areas where fish are not showing.
What makes a spoon such an excellent lure is that it is noisy, and not just from the vibrations it creates when it wobbles through the water. A spoon makes a metallic clattering sound every time it brushes against something. It makes more subtle sounds as it scrapes against grass stems or other vegetation.
It also makes very loud sounds when dragged across hard structure. An angler can actually hear the sound of a spoon rattling against an underwater oyster bed or rock outcrop or clanging along a barnacle-encrusted piling as they work it. Redfish can sense these vibrations from long distances and rush to attack.
Spinnerbaits also make some attention-getting sounds when they brush against structure. However, they also are among the best lures in the self-acoustic department. A spinnerbait makes clattering sounds every time its blades rotate. It makes louder sounds when objects interrupt the blade rotation or when the angler makes hitches in the reel’s retrieve.
The noisiest spinnerbait-like baits are buzzbaits, which have a churning, clattering sound all their own. They attract redfish as well as they attract largemouth bass in grass beds.
One of the best swimming lures for redfish that makes a unique sound is the bladed jig, or chatterbait. Anglers can buy them prepackaged or create their own custom styles by mating a swimming blade with a jig. A big advantage chatterbaits have over other swimming lures is that the angler can rig the jig to be snag-free, with the hook point inside the soft lure.
A chatterbait, like the standard spinnerbait or spoon, can be fished at nearly any depth. That makes it an excellent choice for fishing in deeper channels, along oyster beds and other submerged structure. However, it will not run well in grass beds where stems and other vegetation accumulate on the blade face.
If it strikes a sandy or shelly bottom, it bounces off and swims erratically before stabilizing. The combination of metallic chattering and helter-skelter swimming angles can be the very thing that incites a tournament-wise, angler-pressured redfish to attack it.
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While the chatterbait is the newest kid on the block in terms of noisemakers, some old standbys still work as well as they always have. A top-notch lure is the Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap and its knock-offs. Collectively, anglers call these flat-sided lures “vibration lures” or “lipless lures.” Some have feather dressings on the stern treble. However, dressings tend to dampen the effectiveness of rattle chambers in the lures because they smooth out their natural wobble.
When casting a Rat-L-Trap, the most important things to know are the water depth and the type of structure. These lures are notorious for catching and hanging onto anything that gives them the opportunity.
While that bodes well for an outstanding hook-up-to-strike ratio that can put hard plastic topwater lures to shame, it also means that if the lure hangs a crab trap line, dock rope or oyster shell, the angler is going to have to expend some fishing time to free the hooks and may not even get his lure back.
One of the greatest noisemakers for catching redfish is actually a rig, and is effective with either a lure or natural bait. Anglers call it the popping cork rig, although modern versions have floats made of expanded foam, not natural cork. The foam floats are much louder and more durable. A good example is the very successful Cajun Thunder popping cork rig. It consists of a stainless steel wire through the center of the float with a loop on each end.
The top end has two plastic beads and the bottom end has two brass beads. Anglers can make their own custom popping cork rigs from readily available components or buy them from many other manufacturers. Aside from various noise-making assemblies, the biggest difference between popping cork rigs is whether the float has a concave or flat top. A concave top makes a much louder plopping sound.
The angler ties a leader with a hook to the bottom of the rig. The hook should be appropriately sized and configured to hold an artificial soft plastic shrimp or minnow imitation or a natural bait. The natural bait can be a live or dead shrimp or a fish strip, with a good bet being a mullet head because it will not come off the hook easily.
Another advantage of a float is that it keeps the lure or bait above the structure to prevent snags. Casting it over an oyster bed and allowing the wind, tide or current to carry it over the fish holding structure, the angler allows the line to come taut, then gives the rod tip a twitch or tug. The metal beads at the bottom allow the float to orient upright. When the angler tugs the line, they strike the bottom of the float. When the line goes slack, the plastic beads strike the top of the float. The two strikes mimic the sound of a flipping shrimp, which falls so tantalizingly slow any redfish attracted to the sound will strike it.