Hit The Flats For Redfish
October 04, 2010
Redfish feeding on the flats of the Gulf are prime targets this month, and these spots are prime locations for getting in on the angling action. (May 2010)
Phil Brannan caught this big redfish on a topwater lure fished in shallow water at Port O'Connor.
Photo by Robert Sloan.
As we head deeper into May you'll notice three things. One is that we're re-entering a time of summer weather patterns. Two more are that water temperatures are warming, and that fishing on the flats for shallow-water reds is good and getting better.
And the great thing about fishing the flats for redfish is there is no shortage of places to fish. In fact, you can find excellent fishing on the flats from Sabine Lake to the Laguna Madre. Three of my favorite areas to find skinny-water reds in late April and May are on the Middle Coast at Port O'Connor, at East Galveston Bay, and on Keith Lake, on the Upper Texas Coast.
That last one might have you stumped. Keith Lake is part of the Sabine Lake estuary flats. Everybody knows where East Galveston Bay is located; Port O'Connor can be found between Matagorda and Rockport.
I like to fish the clear-water flats for tailing reds. And that's why my favorite place to fish is at Port O'Connor, a.k.a. POC. From the small fishing town of POC you can cross the Intracoastal Canal and enter what I call skinny-water fishing paradise. The islands and clear-water flats are everywhere. It's a kayaker's dream world. And if you're into catching tailing or waking reds with light tackle or on fly-fishing gear, this is your place!
Some of the more popular areas to fish at POC include Barroom Bay, Mule Slough, Big Pocket, Farwell Island, Pringle Lake and miles of protected shoreline along Blackberry and Dewberry islands. We're talking miles and miles of shallow flats.
The best way to fish them is from a shallow-running skiff. I use a 17 1/2-foot Caimen with a hull that weighs less than 500 pounds. It runs supper shallow, floats in inches of water, and is easy to pole across the flats. Other anglers opt to run big and heavy center-console, tunnel-hull rigs across the flats. Those boats will run shallow, but you can't pole them too well. That leaves you the option of running the flats, staking out the boat and wading. Another option is to transport kayaks to shallow-water flats with a big boat.
The key to fishing POC's clear-water flats is to be able to see the reds before they see you. That's when a shallow-running skiff with a poling tower is worth its weight in gold. The person on the tower poles the boat over the flats, sees the reds and gives the angler directions for a cast. It goes something like this:
"Two o'clock, 30 feet, three reds moving from right to left." That gives the angler on the bow a heads-up on where to look and cast for the targeted reds. It's very exciting fishing. Of course, if you're on tailing reds it's simply a matter of getting the boat in position for a cast.
One of the best lures for POC reds is a 1/8-ounce gold or copper spoon. A Super Spook Jr. in chrome/blue or chartreuse is an excellent topwater option. So is a bone-colored Bomber Badonk-A-Donk. That's a new topwater plug that is deadly on big reds and trout. And the latest go-to plug for reds is the Mann's Waker -- a small lure that runs on the surface with a steady retrieve. The croaker pattern is best.
Hurricane Ike hit East Galveston Bay was hit hard, but once the storm passed, the bay was cleaned up and the fishing is great again. The best ramp on the bay is located at Stingaree Marina on the middle of Bolivar Peninsula. It's located next to Stingaree Restaurant. From those ramps you have two very good options for finding shallow reds. One is to fish the marsh on the bay side of the Intracoastal Canal. The other is to fish the small estuary lakes along the IC.
My favorite option is to fish the marsh shoreline and ponds on the bay side of the IC. They cover miles of shallow flats that get very little fishing pressure. If you opt to put in at Stingareee Marina, you can cross the IC, enter East Bay, and hang a left. From there you can pole or wade the marsh shoreline that leads up to Big Elmgrove Bayou. From there you can enter the shallow estuary lakes. The cuts that lead into the marsh can hold lots of reds. Guide Jim West, with Bolivar Guide Service, recommends fishing soft plastics rigged on 1/4-ounce jigheads in cuts that can run anywhere from 3 to 6 feet deep.
"Once you get into the back marsh lakes, you can drift the flats while fishing MirrOlures Top Dogs or She Dogs," says West. "During May, the reds will move up on the marsh flats. You can catch them with topwater lures or soft plastics. At times you can see the reds waking along the shorelines."
Another working boat ramp along Bolivar Peninsula is located on the first road on the right as you head west past Rollover Pass. Turn right and go all the way to the end. The ramp will be on your left. It's not much to look at, but it's a good place to put in a small skiff, john boat or kayak. From there you can fish the backside of Rollover Bay, or cross the IC and fish the marsh on the east side of the cut leading into the bay. On most days the reds in this area will be feeding along the edge of marsh grass. Best lures are bone-colored Super Spooks and black/chartreuse spinnerbaits.
I've been fishing Sabine Lake for the better part of 20 years. And one of my favorite areas to fish is on Keith Lake, located west of Sabine Lake off of Highway 87. The only ramp on Keith Lake is located about three miles north of the town of Sabine. It's called Junior's Landing, and it was the only one left after Ike.
Keith Lake is the beginning of a chain of shallow-water estuary lakes that lead you into what I call Amazon-like adventure. From Junior's boat ramp you can head west on Keith Lake to Johnson Lake, Shell Lake, Mud Lake and Salt Lake. They go on forever and these flats get very little fishing pressure. But from about May through October they will load up with reds. By the way, this is excellent kayaking territory.
My favorite thing to do on these lakes is to fish the shorelines. I've got a little john boat with a polling platform. With an angler on the bow I'll pole along and look for waking reds. You won't see too many tails on those lakes due to brackish-colored water, but you will see lots of wakes.
There are plenty of small bayous and cuts leading off of Keith and Johnson lakes. They lead to very shallow flats that reds just love to feed on. This is great fly-fishing water. Best flies are poppers and big chartreuse bend backs. Other lures you might want to try are a chartreuse or black Super Spook Jr., a bone/gold She Dog, and on the shallow flats a 3/4-ounce weedless gold spoon
is tough to beat.
When running the backwater lakes out of Sabine, it's always a good idea to use a GPS. It's very easy to get turned around and lost.
Regardless of where you fish for shallow-water reds, remember that they will always blast off on topwater plugs. Another good choice is a spinnerbait with gold blades. And don't forget the killer of the flats -- a Mann's Waker.
One other thing: When fishing the flats, always steer clear of other anglers that got there ahead of you. The worst thing you can do is "burn" across a shallow flat looking for reds. That's not only against the law, but destroys the aquatic vegetation that holds the marine creatures that attract redfish.