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Going Coastal for March Redfish

There are Gulf redfish out there waiting for you right now! They're in the marshes and bayous and just off the beaches. Our experts tell you how to catch them.

by Robert L. Brodie

As many well-seasoned anglers residing along the Gulf coast know quite well, the month of March can be a tough time to catch fish. During March - a transition month full of diehard cold fronts - temperatures can fluctuate from the 30s to the 70s practically overnight. But knowledgeable anglers across the Gulf use their angling skills to keep their rods bowed with lots of redfish action.

During this often cold and always unsettled period, the majority of redfish are hunted in more inland waters, particularly in rivers and their tributaries; inland bays and coves; and the vast expanses of coastal marsh networks made up of bayous, ponds, sloughs, canals and various other small ditches. Gulf anglers have to consider lots of factors when trying to locate and catch redfish.


Although the situation can be complicated, it's not impossible. Ben Benoit and Richard Schmidt have found ways to put the odds in their favor when chasing March redfish.


BEN BENOIT: DEEP THINKING FOR REDS
Ben Benoit is an avid angler who has spent countless days in search of inner-marsh redfish. Experience tells him that March can deliver excellent catches of spottails, if you know where to find them.

Benoit suggests concentrating on deep holes, especially the sharp bends in bayous. Since March is usually windy, cold and rainy, and the redfish lurking in the shelters of these deeper coldwater environs are somewhat lethargic in their feeding pace, Benoit recommends working a bait or lure slowly across the bottom. "Often the redfish will just tap at the offering, so you need to be patient in your retrieve and hook-setting," said Benoit.


Photo by Tom Evans

As for artificial baits, Benoit recommends tossing soft plastics such as grubs and shrimp tails. In March, Benoit likes these baits in dark colors. Some of his favorites are chartreuse, purple and motor oil hues. According to Benoit, a lot of his success comes from the use of a "sweetener." A good supply of small fresh dead bait shrimp is his ace in the hole.


"By tipping our jigs with a small piece of shrimp, not only are reds enticed into biting, but white trout, flounder, black drum and even sheepshead fall for our plastic offerings," said Benoit. "If available at that time of year, live shrimp or cocahoe minnows (bull minnows) worked slowly in the deep holes are excellent baits also," Benoit added.

In addition to advising anglers to fish deep holes and bends, Benoit suggests that anglers fish the mouths of bayous, ditches or other waterways that drain out of bigger ponds or lakes. On a falling tide, baitfish are swept out of the confines of the marsh and shallower bodies of water. The baitfish tend to congregate at these junctions while waiting for a rising tide to take them back into the more protected confines once again. According to Benoit, redfish often stack up at these junctions, gorging themselves on the likes of crabs, shrimp, mullet and bull minnows.

Every March we enjoy at least a little mild weather. "If the sun comes out and the wind dies down, reds may start to ease out of their deeper confines, slowly working the shallows for their next meal. When these conditions arise, we ease along the banks using a trolling motor, looking for fish swimming in the clear shallows. When a red is spotted, I like to cast a popping cork or a clacking cork with a shallow-set jig ahead of the red and then work the jig back to the fish," said Benoit.

Since most of the redfish Benoit catches are in the 3- to 8-pound class - typical estuary-size fish - he keeps his rods and reels simple. A light spinning reel spooled with 15-pound-test monofilament and seated on a matching 6 1/2- to 7-foot light- to medium-action rod is Benoit's ideal setup.

RICHARD SCHMIDT: FLY ROD FUN
Another Gulf coast angler well-seasoned in the art of catching March redfish is Richard Schmidt. Schmidt is the owner of Chandeleur Outfitters, a fly-fishing specialty store. As you might guess, Schmidt prefers to pursue the bottom-rooting redfish on the long rod. Most of his March redfish stalking is done on larger bayous that dump into big bays.

For these brackish environs, Schmidt recommends an 8- or 9-weight fly rod and reel combo, spooled with 20-pound-test backing and a floating 8- or 9-weight floating fly line. "I like to use a 12-pound-test leader for these backwater reds," he said. "To give my flies a little more action, I tie them on with a loop knot." For casting larger topwater poppers (deadly on bayou reds), Schmidt recommended a 9-weight combo for propelling the bigger flies.

"If you still have trouble turning over the bigger flies, go to a shorter leader like a 7- or 8-foot length," Schmidt advised. "The short leader usually is no problem in spooking reds, since the muddier bayou waters camouflage the fly line." Schmidt's favorite time to start searching for redfish is 30 minutes after a high tide, a time when all sorts of bait begin to get washed out of the protective security of the marsh.

A couple of Schmidt's favorite sites to fish are shallow mud flats and oyster reefs. A falling high tide is key. He recommends using a trolling motor or push pole to slowly move over the flats while keeping a sharp lookout for the wakes of reds cruising in the skinny waters. "I'll cast into the sloughs and let the falling tide bring the popper out. Short, quick strips create a lot of fish-attracting surface commotion when you're using a popper, and it's just a lot of fun to watch a red explode on a topwater bait," Schmidt confessed.

Gold Spoon Flys or olive-and-gold Rattle Rousers are other proven flies on March redfish, according to Schmidt. "For best results with the Spoon Fly, make long, slow strips and get ready for the bite on the fall. As for the Rattle Rouser, use short, quick strips to produce the rattle noise," Schmidt suggested. For fishing topwater poppers, Schmidt recommends a white hue in the morning and black and red poppers at dusk.

"It may seem a bit off the wall, but I will look for wading shore birds such as egrets or herons also. I'll determine which way they are feeding and get about 40 yards ahead of them, then work back toward the wading birds," Schmidt stated. This makes good sense since the wading birds know exactly where the biggest concentrations of bait gather, and where there is bait, redfish usually appear.

Also, if the weather gets extremely cold it can put a damper on the fly-fishing by forcing reds back into deeper waters. During these periods, Schmidt will concentrate his fishing efforts duri

ng the warmest part of the day when reds may inch their way back into the shallows. Schmidt also recommended looking for promising sites along bayous that have dense tree lines. Especially on very windy days, fishing on the lee side of these protective walls of trees and foliage can make presenting your fly much easier and safer.

ROBERT BRODIE: THE AUTHOR SPEAKS
I've been chasing March redfish for years and spend most of my time hunting them on the outer fringes of vast marsh ranges, primarily sites that face large open lakes and sounds. These are great regions to work during March because many redfish are in transition, getting ready to head offshore. Some really big bulls are working back inshore after having wintered in the deeper waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

An ideal site to look for is a large cove on the outer shores or a big cove just inside the outer shores. A cove with shallow flats on its backside and some sort of deep channel nearby offers redfish both a shallow feeding zone and a deeper safe haven to retreat into in case of a sudden plummet in temperature.

And for the ultimate stealth approach, beach your boat and walk along the edge of the marsh while looking for reds pushing water or tailing in the skinny waters. With a little luck you'll be able to flip a jig to a few slow-cruising reds as they swim right up to your feet. For best results, fish these coves at the peak of high tide and as soon as it begins to fall. In these protected coves, concentrate your efforts on areas of nervous water, usually generated by schools of mullet, and on any sort of oyster clumps or reefs in the area.

Soft-plastic baits such as Cocahoe minnows threaded on 1/8- or 1/4-ounce jigheads in either white or black are my favorite fake baits for marauding March redfish. Fish the jigs with a slow, steady retrieve, but if oyster clumps become a snagging problem, hold your rod tip high and retrieve at a faster rate. Or you might opt to fish the jig shallow under a popping or rattling cork. But if you prefer to watch a hungry redfish crush a topwater bait, you just might find some adrenaline-pumping action in the shallows.

(Editor's note: You can contact Richard Schmidt of Chandeleur Outfitters in Ocean Springs at 228-818-0030. You can contact the author at his e-mail address, which is BrodieWrites@aol.com.)



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