By Capt. Steve Soule
This year has been one of the most inconsistent years, with regards to weather and conditions that we haven’t seen in a long time on the upper Texas coast. With flooding rains, high winds, high tides and just generally different conditions, fishing hasn’t been as consistent compared to recent years.
For those new to fishing the upper coast, I’m sure it seems like a very difficult fishery. For those with years of experience, it has taken a lot of work and effort to keep up with fish in shallow water. We have grasses growing that don’t normally grow, due to heavy rainfall. Our shoreline erosion is accelerating to an alarming rate with the constant high tides. Water clarity has been greatly reduced when compared to recent years. Fishing the marshes and shallow shorelines has just been plain challenging.
In an inconsistent year, being prepared and having the right gear in tip top condition can make all the difference.
With all of this change and challenge, every opportunity counts. The gear that we use, the lures that we fish and the way that we rig can help us capitalize on limited shots at fish.
Let’s start with the fishing rods. For spinning gear, my preference is a 6-7 foot medium to medium-light rod. The rod should have enough power, or backbone to battle the fish we target. Redfish, even the bigger ones, don’t make incredibly long runs, but they will try to get to the cover of shorelines and almost always try to go under the boat near the end of the fight. Be prepared with a rod that can help you prevent this.
Conversely, the rod tip still needs to be light enough to allow casting with 1/8 or even 1/16 ounce lures. Your reel should have a capacity of 150 yards of line, but don’t overdo this with a large, heavy reel. Lightweight is better. I have switched to braided line on all of my reels. For my spinning reels, I use 6 pound diameter that has a break strength of 20 pounds. The diameter of these lines helps with casting and the strength provides more than enough to battle the biggest marsh reds we see.
If you prefer bait-casters or casting rods, the set up is very similar. I prefer casting rods in the 6’6”-6’10” range. Again, they should have a very light tip section to allow you to cast well with lightweight lures, but maintain enough power lower in the rod to maneuver fish as they get near the boat. Reel capacity again, should be around 150 yards or a little more, but light weight is key as you will be holding and casting all day when fishing in shallow water. Again, use braided line, for abrasion resistance and durability. On my casting reels, I have found that 8 pound diameter, with a break strength of 30 pounds, seems to work very well. For a very experienced caster, the lighter line mentioned for spinning reels might work, but I have found that it will break more readily if you get a backlash. Don’t forget that you need to pick a reel with a very smooth drag system to handle the “burst” runs of bigger redfish.
If you prefer to fly fish, you should pick a medium-fast to fast action 8 weight rod with matching line. I almost exclusively use floating, weight forward fly lines designed for saltwater fishing. This can get a little technical on the Texas coast; we see more temperature change than most other redfish habitats. Generally speaking, the lines designed for tropical species are great in our summer temperatures, but will leave a lot to be desired in the cooler months. Most of the lines designed specifically for redfish work well as the coring material used is not as stiff and won’t cause excessive coils in the cooler seasons.
So, use weight forward saltwater or redfish taper lines matched to your rod. In other words, if you buy an 8 weight rod, use 8 weight line. Our leaders should be 10-16 pound tippet strength and of an abrasion resistant variety. Our redfish aren’t very “leader shy” like in some heavily pressured, clear water fisheries, so I tend to fish heavier leaders here, on the upper end of the range of what I mentioned. As for the fly reel, pick a reel designed for the weight line you are using. Most will have way more line/backing capacity than we will ever need fishing for redfish, but it will make for a great travel rod when you head to the tropics for longer running or more powerful fish.
The Things We Throw
When it comes to shallow water redfish lures, I keep the selection fairly simple. A small variety of spoons and soft plastics will work day in and day out for catching not only redfish, but trout and flounder as well. Because I’m primarily sight fishing, I rarely utilize a cork and prefer to fish soft plastics on a lightweight jig head.
Presentation is everything with this style of fishing. I rig with 1/4 ounce or less, typically 1/8, screw lock style heads, and utilize smaller swim tail or paddle tail designs in the 3-5” range.
For colors, I prefer the darker shades in most situations, especially in the marshes. Dark colors silhouette better in dirty water and have worked well for me for many years. Here’s my short list of colors; purple, dark blue, and “Texas Roach.” You may want to keep some light colors like white or bone on hand, but I’ve been very consistent with the darker shades. I especially like the blues and purples for the hint of crab coloration they provide.
Retrieves with soft plastics can be steady, as the tail vibration will help fish locate the lure. I often impart a bouncing or “jigging” action with the rod tip to help make the lure more visible in the water column.
Looking at spoons, I prefer to use weedless spoons in most situations, though in slightly deeper water, or when water is “off color,” I will use a sprite style or treble hook spoon. In very shallow water, under a foot, spoons don’t really require much added action on the retrieve. A steady and constant speed without added rod tip movement works very well.
The trick is to find the speed range for the spoon that you have tied on. You want to see that spoon wobbling or rocking from side to side, without turning full rotations. This retrieve gives the most vibration without causing line twist that can come back to bite you later in the day. You will find that this speed can be slowed to nearly a crawl, or sped up by adjusting the angle of the rod tip up or down. The key is to maintain the wobble.
When it comes to color choices for spoons, gold is my standard. I fish weedless gold, 1/4 ounce spoons more than any other, but occasionally need a 1/8 when fish are very shallow and spooky.
A Few Quick Tips On Maintaining Your Gear
All lures should be rinsed with clean fresh water. Rods can be rinsed as well. For your reels, I recommend that unless they get splashed or dunked in saltwater, they should only be wiped clean with a soft cloth dampened with clean fresh water. Excessive spraying of water can often force salt and dirt deeper into the reel which will cause problems later down the road. If you rinse down your fishing rods, take a moment to wipe them off after with a soft cloth to remove the water. Not all rod guides are designed to withstand saltwater, so the wipe down will help remove any remaining salt.
Good luck and tight lines! Don’t miss out on what the shallows have to offer this fall and winter.