5 Tips for Redfish in the Marsh

If you plan to target redfish back in the marshes along the Gulf coast, here are some things you need to know. They may just put you on some fast action!

by Pete Cooper Jr.

The waters within interior salt and brackish marshes across virtually the entire Gulf coast hold red drum throughout most of the year. However, these fish are not pushovers. That is entirely a result of their environment and the main reason why so many anglers have trouble successfully fishing here. If you are one of those but would like to solve the riddle and experience the exciting action found in these areas, try adhering to the following tips.

Interior marshes are typically comprised of broad stands of various emergent grasses pocked with shallow ponds - with or without submerged grasses - and laced with small, shallow creeks and cuts. As the tide rises, it floods these ponds and shoreline grasses along the cuts or creeks. The rising water makes these sites accessible to various prey species. Those creatures now move into these nutrient-rich areas, and the redfish follow.

In interior areas it is almost always best to follow the fish into the shallowest water that you can operate your boat. As the tide continues to rise, continue to look for shallow spots. Water over 1 1/2 feet deep quickly becomes a detriment, as it masks signs of a fish's presence.

Periods of slack tide - either on the low end or the high end - are usually best spent taking a nap or returning to the marina for a bite. Just be sure you are back on the water when the tide begins to move again. When it starts to fall, target the creeks and cuts.

These can be worked effectively by either moving along their shorelines where the falling water is pulling bait from the recently flooded grass or by anchoring at the point where a cut drains a pond. There, the current created by the water falling through the cut pulls prey from the pond. Redfish are well attracted to these feeding stations.

Being at the right place on the right tide phase is a key to finding Gulf coast redfish. Photo courtesy of Pete Cooper Jr.

As a rule, redfish in open water aren't all that bright, and some of them can act like they want to be caught. However, if you assume the fish you encounter in the marshes are so afflicted, you won't catch many of them.

You must move about very stealthily while fishing shallow ponds and creeks. Paddling is best if your boat allows it. Push-poling ranks a close second and provides better visibility, but it's rather difficult to make a quick, accurate cast with a 16-foot push-pole in one hand. Unless there's a buddy aboard who is willing to alternate rod and push-pole with you, sculling while sitting on the boat's bow is the better option if at all possible.

If you are averse to paddling, the water's depth is sufficient and there isn't a profusion of submerged grass in the area, a bow-mounted trolling motor can be used effectively. But it should be set on the lowest speed that produces headway.

Whatever method of propulsion you decide on, go slowly. While that allows you to search for fish more effectively, the main reason is to prevent the boat from creating large pulses through the water that can be detected by the fish, alerting them that something is not quite right. Reds often simply swim out of the way of a boat that is just creeping along, not in the least bit alarmed. Others caught unaware may bolt, but after they dash off a ways they occasionally seem to forget what all the fuss was about. A cast at fish that respond to the boat's presence in these manners can result in strikes you would have not received had your boat been pushing a large wave through the water.

One of the most exciting things about fishing the waters within interior marshes is that much of it is done by sight. As you move stealthily along, always look and listen for signs of fish.

A large wake moving slowly along the edge of a small pond or creek channel is definitely worth a speculative cast. A much better bet is the tip of a tail intermittently puncturing the water's surface beside a patch of submerged grass. An entire tail waving merrily at you anywhere you might encounter one is almost a sure thing.

Then there are "crawlers" - fish which move with some purpose in water so thin that their dorsal fins and part of their backs are exposed. These fish might also appear to be almost a sure thing, but they demand a very precise cast. Unlike a "tailer," which is a stationary target, a crawler must be led just far enough to prevent the lure's impact from spooking the fish, yet close enough for the fish to detect it. Knowing just how much to lead the fish is determined in great part by experience and blind dumb luck! Do not expect consistent results with crawlers - but then, that's what makes fishing for them such a hoot.

In clear water, redfish can be detected relatively easily beneath the surface. For best results, work the up-wind shorelines where emergent vegetation creates a calm surface. Move along in the direction allowing the best sub-surface visibility. Wear amber or yellow polarized sunglasses and a cap that is dark green on the underside of the bill. If you are moving along slowly and stealthily, you can spot these fish quite close to the boat, so be prepared for a short, quick cast with minimal movement.

On first inspection, a pond, creek or cut may seem to be relatively featureless. This is not the case. Irregularities abound and are often quite attractive to bait species seeking nourishment or shelter. In such places, redfish are likely to be nearby.

Small grass points in a creek's shoreline may extend into water that is slightly deeper than that found along the adjacent bank. Here any current may be slightly stronger, causing bait to be carried along by the flow. Such a feature makes a good ambush point and should be prospected with a cast or two wherever found.

Other good spots are at intersections, especially where one cut or creek is much different from the other. It can be larger, smaller or shallower, just as long as the two channels differ. These sites are usually best on a falling tide, but they can be productive during the low end of a rising tide. Particularly target any shoreline shallows located there.

During low tide you may notice some shells on the bank of a creek. These may extend well out into the waterway, providing protection for prey species. Never pass up an accumulation of shoreline shells without making a cast or two across the water next to them.

Finally, fish may be found anywhere in ponds where the bottom is carpeted with thinly growing submerged grasses. But places where the grass grows in thick patches - often matting on the surface - tend to limit the area used by the fish. Take plenty of time looking around and casting a pond that has clumps of matted grass scattered throughout it.

Some of the hottest lures going these days for reds in interior marshes are spoon flies. They are not really flies but were created for use with fly rods. These lures do look and act like a single-hook spoon. They are very light and sink quite slowly, usually have a mono weed guard. The lures wobble and flash about, emitting audible as well as visible imitations of a baitfish. Though small at 1 1/4 inches, the redfish absolutely love them!

Of course, spin-fishermen can employ very similar lures. In this setting, especially with clear water, a small and loud 1/5-ounce, single-hook spoon can be a good choice. In areas where submerged grass presents a problem, try a 1/8-ounce buzzbait dressed with a 2 1/2-inch soft-plastic grub. In the slightly deeper cuts and creeks, junior-sized surface lures can produce some very entertaining strikes.

But day in and day out, the most reliable lure is a spinnerbait created from a gold, No. 3 1/2 safety-pin spinner, a 1/8-ounce jighead, and a 2 1/2-inch grub. With that you can make a relatively delicate presentation to a crawler, buzz it past a tailer at the edge of a thick patch of grass, or prospect the intersections, points and accumulations of shells along a creek's shoreline.

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