dawn broke on a May morning I poled the flat bottomed skiff across the
still surface of Haymark Marsh. The water was low and backs
were high. Danny Williams stood on the front of the boat
watching as dozens of redfish "showed their cleavage";
working their way into water so shallow their backs were exposed high
above the surface. We tracked one, stalking it after spotting it
from over a hundred yards away. Finally we were within casting
range Danny made a good presentation and the fish ate the fly.
Both of our pulses raced as the redfish tore across the open flat,
then well into Danny's backing, the fish found a log covered with
barnacles. A sharp turn around the log, a sharp edge against the
leader and the fish was gone. Fortunately there were many more
willing targets that morning, and before our day was done we had both
boated good numbers of nice fish, another great morning of Louisiana
kind of action repeats itself in shallow water estuaries all along the
North American coast line. From high on the Eastern seaboard,
around Florida and across and down the gulf coast to South Texas,
redfish range. Once looked upon almost with disdain the
"Blackened Redfish" craze of the early to mid 80's tossed
redfish out of the proverbial frying pan, and into the fire.
Under tremendous commercial fishing pressure to fill restaurant frying
pans with fillets, and a renewed recreational interest redfish numbers
dwindled to the brink. Fortunately state and federal agencies as
well as sportsmen recognized the crisis and moved into action.
Organizations were formed, regulations and limits were enacted and the
redfish responded. States such as Louisiana, Texas, and Florida
have seen the return of the reds. Redfish stocks in most
Southern states have rebounded dramatically, and anglers have taken
notice. Redfish are now prized by anglers, both as table fare,
and as an unparalleled sports fish.
When targeted in shallow water, redfish provide fast, powerful
runs on light tackle, and present one of the most visual targets in
all of fishing.
fishermen who want to target redfish in shallow water should equip
themselves with a 9 foot 7 to 9 weight rod, weight forward
floating line, and a reel with a smooth drag that can handle 100 yards
of backing. Some
effective flies for redfish include the Clouser
Minnow, Seaducer, Ron's
Redchaser , epoxy spoons,
Dorsy's Kwan Fly, Danny's Shwimp,and even
poppers. How you need to get
to the redfish will depend on where you are.
In some areas of South Texas and Florida, redfish inhabit
sandy, hard bottomed flats that you can walk out onto from your car.
In some South Louisiana marshes the bottom is so soft that you
would sink waste deep in mud if you tried to wade, but the water is so
shallow that the only way to access it is in a flat bottomed skiff,
canoe, kayak, or one of the new generation of super shallow skiffs.
A simple john boat and a push pole can often times provide the
has been my experience that the factors that most effect redfish
movement are availability of food, water temperature, and salinity.
I always look for areas that will hold food.
Marshes with a lot of oysters are a 24 hour buffet for redfish.
Grass can be a major factor in holding bait as well.
While juvenile redfish can survive in water down to near
freezing, their larger sibling prefer temperatures over 50 and are
happiest in water between 60 and 80 degrees.
Juvenile redfish are also more tolerant of lower salinity and
can often be caught on alternating cast with species like largemouth
bass. When I find an area
of marsh with oysters, in a part of the estuary that holds its
salinity level, and nearby deep water that lets the fish escape
extreme temperatures, I know I am looking at a spot that will hold
good numbers of big redfish through most of the year.
That is not to say that areas farther up into the fresher part
an estuary system wont be a redfish bonanza at times when salinity
are aggressive feeders that at times will eat almost anything they can
fit into their mouths. At
other times however they can be as picky and selective as spring creek
trout. Redfish often
visibly display feeding behaviors that can tip you off to what they
are feeding on. First
make note of where the redfish's mouth is.
The redfish's mouth is on the bottom of its head, making it
most adept at feeding down. That
is not to say that a redfish won't pursue prey on the surface or can't
be taken on top water flies, but simply to illustrate where a redfish
is most likely to spend the bulk of its time feeding.
Redfish often gorge themselves on forage found on the marsh
bottom and at the base of marsh vegetation, including crabs, and
shrimp, as well as mud minnows, mullet and other baitfish.
Redfish readily eat crabs from about the size of a quarter to
half the size of a dinner plate.
One redfish that I had the pleasure of catching had recently
been dining on both.
studies show that in the early spring months, the diet of redfish in
shallow water is made up in large part (80%) of finfish, the majority
of which are shad, with the remainder of their diet being decapods
like crabs and shrimp. In the fall the converse is true, with
redfish in the marsh feeding primarily on shrimp and crabs and only
about 30% of their diet being made up of fin fish.
contents of a 4.5 pound red
commonly observed redfish feeding behaviors are tailing while moving,
tailing standing on their head, crawling or showing cleavage, cruising,
and blowing up. Each of
these behaviors can tell you much about what a fish is feeding on.
tailing while moving. This
is a behavior where a fish or often group of fish are moving, swimming
at a slow to moderate speed with their heads down and their tails above
the water. Any behavior
where the fish is head down and tail up signifies that the fish is
either eating or looking for food on the bottom.
Foods often found on the bottom include many types or life stages
of shrimp, as well as all crabs. My
experience has been however that when the fish are tailing, but
continuing to make forward progress, they are most likely feeding on
small shrimp. These fish
are very catch-able particularly if they are traveling in a group.
Cast a small to mid sized fly ahead of and slightly past the fish or group, let it
settle to the bottom, and when the fish approach the fly give it a
small relatively slow strip so that it crosses right in front of the
will often see single redfish tailing in a fashion of standing on their
head. That is to say,
tailing in one spot, often assuming an almost totally vertical position.
If you repeatedly see a tail pop up in one spot without moving
off it is an indication that the fish is trying to root a specific prey
out of a specific spot. It
is a good bet that the fish is trying to root out a crab, or possibly a
burrowing type shrimp such as a mantis, or snapping shrimp.
While these fish are definitely in a mood to eat, they can often
be hard to catch because it is difficult to get their attention short of
spooking them. The water in
their immediate surrounding also has a tendency to be muddied from their
rooting activity. In this
situation I like to throw a fairly bulky fly, either a Redchaser or a
large crab pattern near the fish. When
the fly hits the water I give it one good strip, then let it settle to
the bottom. Hopefully the
size and bulk of the fly will cause enough disturbance to get the fish's
attention. Wait and see if
the fish moves to your fly and tips down.
If I can't get his attention that way, it is often helpful to go
to the other extreme, throwing a popper or Dahlburg Diver just past the
fish and stripping it by him. Sometimes
the noise and disturbance of a top water offering will draw their
attention away from the buried prey long enough to get a bite.
that are crawling or showing cleavage are fish that are in extremely
shallow water, either on a flat or up near the bank, that are wallowing
around with their back exposed out of the water.
These fish are on the feed, often exploiting areas of the bottom
that have just been covered by the tide.
When fish are crawling, they are again seeking morsels on the
bottom. Fiddler crabs are
often the intended meal of crawling redfish, however shrimp and larger
crabs can work into the equation too. To target these fish, cast
ahead of and barely past the fish, wait until the fish is almost on top
of the fly, then give the fly a VERY slow strip so that it just crawls
along the bottom. Your cast must be accurate, and
presentation good, because redfish that are in water this shallow tend
to be very spooky.
is a behavior exhibited by redfish where they are not exposing any part
of themselves above the water, but you can track their movement by the
wake they push. First be
aware that cruising is defined as a fish pushing a wake at a slow to
moderate speed in a deliberate manner.
If a redfish is pushing a wake away from your boat at full speed,
you've spooked him and he probably won't eat.
You will often see the wakes of cruising fish working a grass
line, bumping the grass, most likely to dislodge juvenile shrimp.
Cruising fish will however sometimes be on the prowl for finger
mullet or mud minnows. Here
is what one cruising fish had been eating.
fish filled himself with over 40 shrimp cruising a grass line.
fish will readily take a fly, and will often aggressively attack
almost any pattern you present them.
When you cast to a cruising fish, remember that the wake is
coming off of the back end of the fish, so figure the fish's head is a
foot or so in front of the wake, then lead that appropriately.
When trying to catch a cruising fish I usually try to use a
retrieve that will keep the fly up off of the bottom.
final redfish feeding behavior I will address here is Blowing Up.
When you see redfish blowing up in shallow water, you will
probably recognize it immediately because it is dramatic.
As my friend Roger Cormier puts it, when redfish are blowing
up, you get the impression that someone is lobbing grenades into the
marsh. The behavior of
blowing up is when redfish charge bait, often streaking across the top
of the water, then causing a loud and large explosion of water as they
turn on, open their mouth and snap it shut on the bait.
When redfish are blowing up it has been my experience that they
are probably feeding on schools finfish such as mullet or shad, or
larger shrimp. Out of
these however I have most often witnessed this behavior when redfish
are feeding on finfish, and even more specifically, shad.
Streamer fly's like Lefty's Deceiver, and Seaducers are
effective in this situation however this could be your best
opportunity to experience the excitement of catching redfish on a
topwater fly. If you see
redfish blowing up on schools of bait toss a popper or Dahlburg diver
out, make a lot of racket with the fly, then hang on.
It's almost chilling the way redfish approach a top water
offering. First you see
the wake, then the top of their head and eye, and then they launch
themselves upward so that they can come down on your fly (remember
their mouth is on the bottom of their head so they have to be above
what they are eating). Often
times they charge so aggressively that the wake they push will push
the fly away from their mouth, but keep stripping it because as likely
as not, they'll make a second pass.
the opportunity to get out and pursue a remarkable game fish.
Challenge yourself with redfish in a shallow water environment
on fly or light tackle. Because
once you catch them, you'll be the one to get hooked.
more information on learning to spot redfish in shallow water.
See the Redchaser.com article Subtleties.