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High Tide Redfish Hunting

June 30th, 2017

soule redfishing High Tide Redfish Hunting

Jeff Mckee with a 28 inch red caught on a Kickin’ Chicken Down South Lure during an ultra high tide.

By Capt. Steve Soule  |  www.ultimatedetailingllc.com

DSLkickin High Tide Redfish Hunting

Down South Lure in Kickin’ Chicken.

Redfish Love to explore! Well, I’ve made that statement many times, truth be told, it’s probably much more accurate to say that they like to hunt in the cover of heavy structures and that they will follow food nearly anywhere it goes.

Every year we have periods of extended onshore wind flows, causing elevated tides. During these periods redfish can often be very difficult to locate in shallow waters around the bay. They just seem to disappear into the fringes of the marsh. Higher water levels can make chasing skinny water reds a very challenging affair. I’ve said I would much prefer a low tide to a very high one. Low tides tend to concentrate fish into much more limited areas and make targeting them considerably easier. High tides tend to scatter fish, they spread out following small food sources deep into areas that are nearly unaccessible.

Think about the typical marsh shorelines on the Upper Texas Coast and this will start to make perfect sense. We have marshes and shorelines that are typically fringed by Spartina Grass, a relatively tall grass that does not grow under water. This grass is a shore plant that grows near and at the edge of the water all along the Gulf Coast. Spartina is the plant that first comes to mind when I think of marsh along the gulf coast.

Redfish are not slackers; they don’t have any objection to moving quite a bit to feed and traveling into heavy cover structure never seems to bother them.

At normal to low water levels, it doesn’t offer much more to the angler than a border to the water. Often providing the edge along which hungry predators feed. As tides creep ever higher during windy periods or around astronomical high tides, The roots and bases of the grass slowly flood with water. Here’s where we have to stop and think about the typical marshes along the coast. Though many marsh areas have oyster shell, as you travel farther into the back reaches, water that is typically too shallow, or doesn’t maintain the proper salinity balance, there is virtually no shell. What you will find is a predominantly mud bottom that really is devoid of structure other than bottom contours carved from tides and water flows. Knowing this, it becomes easy to imagine the difficult life that small fish, crabs and shrimp live, trying to find protective cover and sanctuary from predatory animals.

Marcos Enriquez with a stud trout that measured just over 29.” The fish ate a small kwan toad fly.

So we know that there is little structure for the smaller prey animals to hide in, which makes them very vulnerable to attack and predation. The game completely changes as the tides rise. The home of these prey species becomes a dense and food-rich jungle of lush grasses and the decaying plant food that they need to survive and grow. At the earliest moment when these small species can get to the cover of the flooded grass, they will go. It provides nearly everything that they need to thrive.

Redfish are not slackers; they don’t have any objection to moving quite a bit to feed and traveling into heavy cover structure never seems to bother them. Let’s be clear about one thing that I think is a misconception in fishing. Fish aren’t necessarily what we would call smart; they have instinctive programming. They know things happen at certain times, they know that small animals will seek out cover as it becomes available. As a matter of fact, most of the reds that follow food into to this dense cover, only a few short years earlier did the same to hide from predators as well.

Here’s where the game gets tricky. Redfish have to have water to swim. The small animals that they prey upon can get to many places that the fish simply cannot. So early in this rising high tide scenario, the fish just don’t have great opportunities, and for that reason you won’t see much feed activity. Slightly later in the tide, as the water around the grass roots and over formerly dry ground reaches 3-4 inches in depth, the feeding activity begins. This isn’t a schooling behavior with lots of fish together feeding. This is a single fish slowly stalking its meals one at a time. The fish will meander through the maze of grass patches in areas that are typically dry ground, hunting and eating one small meal at a time. You will see random small explosions followed by periods of inactivity as they move stealthily through the cover.

Quite the interesting parallel, we must stalk them in nearly the same manner in which they stalk their prey. Move too fast or make too much noise and you will alert them to your presence. These fish aren’t charging down food so they become very aware of what is going on around them. Stealth and patience are the key to chasing high tide reds, coupled with a well placed cast using flies or small soft plastics. Though there are many challenges, and surely many failed attempts to catch these fish, the successes more than make up for it. Explosive eats in super shallow water. Close range and tight quarters casts are nothing short of spectacular when the fish eat. And the fight when they have some much cover and are in very shallow water is definitely something to experience.

Don’t let the high water deter you. With thoughtful scouting and utilizing a stealthy and tactical approach, these fish can be an absolute blast to target.

Fools Rush In

May 3rd, 2017

fly fishing reds Fools Rush In

By Capt. Steve Soule

www.ultimatedetailingllc.com

It isn’t always a question of right or wrong. Sometimes it becomes more a matter of better or worse. Everyone has their own idea of how to approach each fishing situation, some well thought out, others are much more haphazard. The “approach,” the level of stealth, and knowledge of the area you are fishing can have a huge impact on success or failure when it comes to catching fish.

As anglers, most of us start each day with some form of a plan on what we want to catch and where we plan to try to catch it. With experience, these plans get better and more detailed. The bottom line is that we all benefit from having a goal in mind to accomplish each day on the water. If we give more thought to what that goal is, and how we might be able to tilt the scales in our favor when it comes to achieving that goal, we all stand to catch more fish, or at the very least, gain more knowledge that will lead to more fish in the future.

I feel certain that most experienced anglers have a plan of attack for each day that they fish. A location picked based on experience, knowledge of an area, or information about an area. Novices, or anglers newer to an area, the plan is likely not so well thought out.  This isn’t to say that a novice angler can’t or won’t catch as many fish, just that they don’t possess that level of experience to know exactly where to go or when to go to certain areas.

As an experienced angler, your goal should be to refine your knowledge and hone your fishing skills. As a novice or less experienced angler, your goal should be learn areas and develop an understanding of the structure, tides, and other factors that will influence the location and movements of the fish.

Take your time, use stealth when arriving and working the area you intend to fish.

As many times as I’ve talked about structure over there years, I realize that there is still a lot of confusion surrounding the topic. Structure goes well beyond just what we can see above the water; sometimes its obvious and sometimes its very subtle. Some of the many things that I consider structure can often be hard to detect. There is obvious structure like shorelines, reefs, rocks but sometimes the little things like grass, guts, humps and very subtle depressions are the keys to finding fish holding points and movement pathways. Finding these in shallow clear water is much easier than in open water. Wading and having actual contact with the bay floor can be a big help, and for those fishing deeper waters from a boat, learning to read a depth machine can be crucial.

Something interesting to remember, is that it isn’t just the contours of the bay floor, but also what’s on the bay floor that will impact when and where fish will be. Mud, grass, shell, clay, sand and many other things determine what type of prey will be in an area during different seasons and their predators.

Don’t just show up to an area and rush through it. So often I watch people on the water rush into an area, only to turn around and leave 15 minutes later. There is very little that can be gained in this approach. Unfortunately, in most cases the fish aren’t just waiting for us to arrive and throw things at them. In fact, most of the time we scare fish as we arrive and often shut down feeding behavior with our rapid and noisy arrival. This will spook fish in an area, slowing or stopping the bite temporarily.

Take your time, use stealth when arriving and working the area you intend to fish. Though it has become increasingly popular to run boats shallow and look for fish, this approach has significant short and long term impact on the environment and the fish. Starting with the obvious, sea grass and boat propellers do not mix! Some grasses recover relatively fast while others can take long periods to regrow. Prior to Hurricane Ike, there was very little natural grass growth in Galveston’s West Bay. Through man’s intervention, grasses returned and had a positive impact on bay habitat and water clarity. Fishing the same areas without the grass, was a world of difference. If just enjoying and appreciating the grass habitat isn’t enough, there is a Texas law in place that prohibits destruction of sea grasses.

Beyond the habitat impact, there is a huge short and long term impact on the fish. The sound of an outboard motor can not only be heard, but also felt by fish at a great distance. Knowing that fish are sensitive to vibration and sound should make us all aware that a hasty approach, using the big motor, doesn’t usually result in great catches.

Lets take this a step further. I know all too well how cool it is to see fish moving and feeding in shallow water, having spent over 35 years fishing shallow water from poling skiffs and other shallow water boats. I’ve seen a lot and learned a ton about fish behavior and their reaction to different things that enter their environment. Moving too fast in a poling skiff, a slight stumble when wading, and many other subtle sounds can alert fish. The practice of “burning shorelines” has way more negative impact on fish. A slow, and methodical approach will lead to much more productive fishing.

Take your time, use stealth in your approach, use the day as an opportunity to study, not just fish, and you may just learn how many things are missed by so many fishing around you. Fishing from a more methodical perspective will help you shorten the learning curve and improve your fishing not just today, but in the future as well.

Summer School: Schooling Redfish in the Marsh

July 1st, 2015

summerschool Summer School: Schooling Redfish in the Marsh

By Capt. Steve Soule

Normally, when we hear those words, it’s not a good thing, but in this case, it’s about as good as it gets.

Summer heat has set in and sunshine is abundant on the upper Texas coast. Our seasonal crops of shrimp and crabs have reached their summer destinations of back marshes and shallow shorelines, where they will spend the warmer months growing to maturity. Other seasonal visitors, like glass minnows, ballyhoo, pinfish and numerous others, are settled in along the shallow shorelines and back bay areas.

As we already know, these animals tend to gravitate towards areas rich in their primary food source, decaying vegetation. On the heels, or rather the tails, of these smaller animals are the predatory army of redfish and others that thrive on these prevalent food sources and the relative shelter of shallow water.

Not only does the abundance of small baitfish and crustaceans in the shallows make life easy for the fish, but equally, it makes life easier for us as anglers. Typically, with this greater source of prey species, predators will be equally abundant. The sheer numbers of both prey and predator make for the foundation of great fishing. I’ve always been a firm believer in locating abundant food sources, since predators will rarely inhabit an area where they cannot feed readily and easily. Fishing areas lacking in food sources for the predators we seek, typically result in very poor catches.

So, as we find these areas rich in both prey and predator, it’s easy to see our catch percentages increase. Many times this is due to the visibility of the fish that we seek, especially in the case of redfish. Redfish often feed in a very aggressive manner, making themselves visible as they “crash” baitfish and shrimp along shorelines. When redfish feed more aggressively, and we as anglers can more readily determine where they are, it becomes much easier to present a lure or fly correctly.

mikeattis1 Summer School: Schooling Redfish in the Marsh

Mike Attis picked off this red from tailing school.

Cast Placement: Fly vs. Lure

There is always a “bite window” for every species. It varies with water conditions and the size of the offering we present to a fish. For the sake of retaining our sanity, let’s stick to a fairly predictable species, like redfish for this discussion.

The food source that redfish are feeding on plays a huge role in the size of our “bite window.” If they are feeding predominantly on 1-2-inch-long shrimp, they will typically not be in the mode of moving far off course to eat the next morsel. We see this commonly while fishing shallow grass flats and back marsh waters in the summer and fall.

The fly, which is similar in size, needs to be within a 1-2-foot radius area, in front of and at nearly the same depth as the head of the redfish. Flies don’t move much water and they don’t typically rattle or have other factors that help redfish hone in on their whereabouts.

On the other hand, if we are casting with conventional gear and fishing a slightly larger soft plastic or spoon, the presentation window may be increased slightly due to the larger profile and greater vibration of these lures moving through the water. This tends to make nearby redfish more aware of the lure’s presence. The downside is when casting to the fish, more caution must be used.

A well presented fly can typically be cast within two feet of a redfish without spooking the fish. Try this same cast with a 1/8th ounce jig and plastic combination or 1/4th ounce weedless spoon, and you will find yourself watching lots of spooked fish swim away unhooked.

alishared

Alisha Soule with a 31-inch marsh red.

Shallow Water and Sight Casting Situations

In water with greater clarity or visibility, fish will become somewhat more spooky and require more “lead” or distance from the fish when making your cast. In dirty water, we may be able to cast a weighted lure like the spoon within two feet of the sighted fish. In clear water, we often have to cast five or six feet beyond and ahead of the fish and retrieve it back to a crossing position to find success.

Flies excel in clear water, as most are unweighted or weighted so lightly that they can be presented gently within a very close proximity to the fish without scaring them. Lures, with their larger profile and vibration emitting qualities, will excel in dirty water because they tend to help fish locate the offering. Clear water, especially during periods of light wind, can complicate this even more by making it more difficult to get within casting range of the fish.

As a general rule, I tell anglers that with a fly and a slow moving fish, the cast should both lead the path of the fish, and go beyond the fish’s current location by a two-to-three-foot margin. This allows the angler time to start a retrieve and adjust speed as necessary to bring the fly across the path of the fish. In the case of lightweight lures during sight casting situations, this cast often must be increased to as much as five feet of lead space to prevent spooking a fish.

Keep in mind that the closer you are to presenting an offering at a perpendicular angle, the better your chances are of convincing the fish it’s worth eating. Don’t ever present a lure at a closing angle, or one where the lure or fly is coming head on at a predatory fish. This will scare even very large and aggressive predators like sharks.

Predators aren’t brilliant, but they do know from experience that small prey animals never swim directly to their mouth. If you present your lure of fly in a way that crosses effectively through their bite or feeding window, and then proceeds to move away, you will likely be rewarded with bites at a much higher rate.

marshschoolredsoule

Kristen Soule with a school size red.

Schooling Redfish

When the heat is really turned up and the shrimp and crabs crops are at their peak, significant schooling will begin. Redfish primarily school in shallow water when feeding on one of these two types of crustaceans. We mostly see them grouped up and chasing shrimp, but there are times when they are schooled and feeding on crabs. When feeding on shrimp, reds tend to be fairly aggressive and visibly moving along flats and down shoreline. On the grass, you will usually see them tailing in groups but moving along at a slow pace. This movement is typically punctuated by an occasional pop or fast movement by some of the fish within the school.

When feeding on crabs in schools, the reds tend to move along much more slowly and are sometimes easily spotted by the muds they create while rooting in the substrate. There is a distinct difference on how they feed on each species.

Schooling fish make our lives as anglers eminently easier! There is safety in numbers and there is also an inherent competitive nature when predators feed in groups. As competitive feeding heightens, fish tend to not only become less aware of what is around them, but also they tend to charge down close meals with reckless abandon. We can get closer to them, as well as make casts much closer without spooking the fish. It is equally important to note that there is an obvious increase in the likelihood that our offering will get eaten when casting to a school of 10-20 fish, versus casting at a single fish. When casting to schooling fish with a fly, the need to lead the fish is almost completely eliminated and with conventional gear, offerings can be cast at a much closer range.

Aggressive schooling behavior on the Upper Texas Coast will be present throughout the summer and into the fall until the majority of the shrimp and crabs leave the shallow waters for winter. If you are ready for a whole new level of fun in your fishing, don’t miss out on Summer School.