Thursday, May 31, 2012

Redfish: Lessons Learned

Alternate title: How to get High-Fives from Redfish
My regular readers may have noticed a recent increase in the success of my redfish expeditions.  Looking back at my blog archive, there are some old posts with a depressing lack of redfish.  I was starting to get legitimately frustrated at one point.  Its taken me about a year but I'm finally starting to catch reds with some consistency.  And not only am I catching them, but I'm sightfishing them from my kayak with my fly rod.  I've decided to record my thoughts on things I've learned during this process and maybe even give a little bit of advice.

Back in December, I read John Kumiski's book, Redfish on the Fly.  It has been a very useful book.  Probably the most important advice I received was in his section on fishing from a kayak.  He says, "The main strength of the kayak is accessing areas that skiffs cannot."  He follows up by saying he looks for "water that's eight inches deep or less."  In order to find these places, I spend a lot of time looking at Google satellite images.  I look for places that are in the middle of nowhere, out of the way of boat traffic, and I look for places that are extremely shallow.  As a hint, if the water is shallow enough, you can typically see the shape of the marsh bottom in a satellite image.  From my experience, the best places are ones where a small branch of a bayou opens up into a wider, shallower area, with a channel running through it or adjacent to it.  In the right place, the redfish will move from the channel to feed on the flat even if just a few inches are covering it.

Until recently, I simply wasn't paddling in the right areas which meant I wasn't seeing fish and all of the other information I've read about looking for subtle clues and how to stalk fish was completely useless.  Now that I've found the right areas, that stuff is finally useful.  Again, from Redfish on the Fly, I learned to always paddle with the sun at my back.  This has a two-fold purpose.  It makes it harder for the redfish to see you, and it makes it easier for you to see the redfish.  My most recent fishing outing, the sun was very high, and I decided it no longer mattered which direction I paddled.  I was wrong.  I ended up spooking a redfish within touching distance from my kayak that I know I would have seen if I had been coming from the opposite direction.  Even the slightest angle from the sun makes a difference.

Along the same line of thought, stealth is of utmost importance.  Every movement should be slow and deliberate.  Paddles should be set down quietly; movement should be kept to a minimum.  Redfish can be surprisingly spooky.  Yeah, I've paddled right up to redfish before they've spooked, but I've also paddled into a pond that was exploding with multiple redfish only to have it go completely dead as soon as I entered. 

The final piece of the puzzle is figuring out if that disturbance on the surface of the water is a redfish or if it is a mullet or other baitfish.  This is very difficult, and the funny thing is I've never read anything about it.  When I first moved down here, I cast at every mullet that jumped out of the water.  Even after I learned that they are vegetarians, I still spent a huge amount of time casting at swirls caused by mullet before I figured out what was going on.  I actually developed a passionate hatred for mullet.  I'm slightly more in tune these days, but even now it can be difficult to tell what is a redfish and what is not.  There can be so much action in the bayou that is completely unrelated to any predator activity.  My best advice is that a cruising redfish is fairly slow and deliberate compared to the random, spastic movement of baitfish (although baitfish that are being chased is obviously a good sign).  Besides that, sound can be a good indicator.  Redfish make a huge amount of noise when they crush bait in shallow water.  And if you ever spook a redfish in 4 inches of water, you WILL NOT confuse it with a mullet.  Maybe an alligator.  But this is by no means all inclusive.  The best answer is just to spend a lot of time in the marsh studying surface disturbances and casting at them to find out what is causing them.  In other words, go fishing a lot.

Hope this helps.  It has taken a lot of effort on my part to catch just a few redfish, but I can promise that its worth it.  Now lets just hope those redfish won't punish me for getting cocky and giving out advice like I'm an expert...

Monday, May 28, 2012

Tearin' It Up

This weekend, a morning trip to the marsh resulted in a repeat performance of last week, only better.  I set off for my "secret spot" around 7:00 am on Saturday.  Like last weekend, the tide was rising, but high tide was much later in the day meaning the mud flats I had been fishing would only have a couple inches of water on them.  This had me concerned that the fish wouldn't be up on the flats yet, and that I'd have to wait several hours, but the shallow water ended up working to my advantage.

In this section of the marsh, there are small branches off the main bayou that open up into large, shallow ponds.  I entered the first pond and slowly crept along the shallow edge, literally dragging my kayak through the mud in spots. My first shot came when I noticed a redfish cruising slowly along the bank.  It had its back and dorsal fin sticking out of the water!  I've read about this, but this was the first time I'd ever seen it.  The wind was whipping up small waves that made the fish surprisingly difficult to spot.  The fish was very close and spooked as soon as I raised my rod to cast.  After that I spotted several more finning fish from a distance, but they disappeared by the time I moved within casting range.  Changing my approach, I essentially beached myself in the mud and waited for the fish to come to me.  It didn't take a long time before I noticed a redfish feeding behind me, disturbing the surface of the water and chasing bait along the edge of the pond.  One backwards cast and he was on.  The fight that followed was quite entertaining because the water was so shallow, he was wallowing in the mud more than he was swimming.

A small, muddy redfish

After a period with no luck I moved onto the next pond.  Immediately I noticed a disturbance near the edge that didn't look super likely but was worth a cast. One cast resulted in an explosion.  This one took off like a racehorse. After several spirited and exciting minutes, I brought a 24 inch beast to hand.  My biggest redfish to date!  From what I read and hear, 24 inches is about the biggest redfish you'll find in the Mississippi marsh this time of year.

Most redfish I hoist into the kayak by grabbing them with one hand around the middle.  This one was too fat to get a good grip, and I had to tail him to bring him in.  He was so big I found it difficult to take a picture of him.  I could barely hold him with one hand, and I had to lean back to get his entire length in the shot.  This is where a fishing partner would have come in handy, but for some reason nobody seems to want to get up at 6:30 am on Saturdays...  At least now I have some motivating pictures.

After soaking up the glorious moment for a while I went back to work, poling along the most productive mud flat I know in the marsh.  Immediately, I saw 3 fish cruising in the shallow water, all of them making small wakes to indicate their presence.  My first cast wasn't super accurate but got the attention of the lead fish, which followed but did not take.  I picked up the cast and set it back down right on his nose.  He grabbed the fly before it even touched the water (slight exaggeration).  This one wallowed in the mud for a few moments before reaching deeper water and taking off like a rocket.  I was giggling like a little kid - this was too much fun.

And with that I decided to start back to the launch so I could meet up with some friends and play disc golf.  What a great way to start a day.  Why can't every day be like this?

Redfish have see-through tails...

Friday, May 25, 2012


A wonderfully blue tail from a redfish - sorry for the hairy leg ruining the shot...
Its Friday (Flyday) and that means we are finally released from the confines of the work week.  I'm still debating my plans for the weekend - should I go back to the "secret spot" or should I go exploring and try to find a new "secret spot"?  I've been searching Google earth and have some ideas...

In other news, I just ordered Scientific Anglers Mastery Redfish (Warmwater) line.  It hasn't arrived yet, but I will be sure to write a review after I try it out and get a feel for it.  This is my first time buying what I consider to be an expensive fly line and I'm curious as to whether or not I'll notice a major difference in performance.  There were several factors behind this decision.  First, my current 8 wt saltwater line is cracking.  It needs to be replaced.  Second, I've been doing a lot of fishing for redfish in the marsh lately, and it typically involves quick, short casts.  My current line works, but the line I ordered has a slightly shorter head and possibly less line memory which I'm hoping will aid in quick, short casts and decrease the likelihood of tangles at the crucial moment (this has happened before).  Finally, I've typically overlooked the importance of quality fly line, but more and more I'm starting to see it as just as important if not more important than a quality rod or a quality reel.  And, its much cheaper to upgrade.  High end line costs $70 whereas high end rods cost $700.  Improving my line quality may be a more cost effective way of upgrading my equipment.


Monday, May 21, 2012

Bayou Love

Last week I got a rare Friday off from work and made sure to use it to its full potential.  I woke up at 6:00 am just like I was going to work and was paddling by 7:00.  I had a flight to catch in the afternoon, but the whole morning was free.  As if to reward me for my efforts, the bayou finally showed me some love.  When I entered my secret spot, the place was alive.  Schools of baitfish covered every square foot of the marsh.  Wading birds were strategically positioned to spear themselves some breakfast.  And most importantly, redfish were feasting.  Every minute, I would hear an explosion as a redfish broke the surface chasing bait.  The volume of noise was shocking in this isolated, unpopulated section of marsh.  My first bit of success wasn't exactly what I was looking for, but it broke the ice.

A small speckled trout, joining the feast
The amount of activity was unbelievable.  I was being torn in different directions by all the hunting redfish around me.  Despite their high level of activity, they were still a challenge to catch.  This one struck my fly after revealing its presence with an explosion of bait. 

The next bit action occurred when I spotted a redfish cruising across the 6 inch deep mudflat directly toward me.  Before I could even cast, he swam under my kayak, bumping into the bottom as he past!  A few seconds later, I spotted two more cruising along the same line.  This time I dropped my fly in front of them, and pretty soon, line was peeling off from my reel. 

2 spots on one side
3 spots on the other
Soon after, I hooked another red, this one taking me on by far the most powerful run of the day before turning around and coming straight back at me.  I couldn't reel fast enough to keep up, and slack quickly developed in the line, which managed to tangle itself around the handle at the bow of my kayak.  I scrambled to untangle the mess, and I could see my line moving from left to right as the fish continued to swim with my fly in its mouth.  However, by the time I managed to recover and pull the line tight, the fish had managed to shake free. 

I continued to search out the explosions of water that signaled the presence of predators.  Upon seeing one such explosion within casting range, I pulled up my fly to recast only to snag one of the many baitfish.  The fish and fly sailed past and landed just behind me.  When I pulled the line tight, I was surprised by the heft of the fish on the other end.  Sure enough, a red had taken the baitfish, and it started pulling drag.  Unfortunately I lost this one as well, as I never really set the hook, and the hook was well buried inside the baitfish.  I never intended to fish with live bait, but boy is it effective! 

As a consolation prize for the two nice fish lost, I caught a couple micro-redfish.

Sooooo cute
Soon it was time to go catch my flight.  On the way back to the dock, I saw two alligators and three dolphins, although they didn't pose for me.  It was a perfect morning on the bayou.  Alligators, dolphins, and redfish willing to take a fly - pretty much everything I dreamed of before moving to Mississippi.  The only thing missing was sweet tea.  I'll have to bring some next time.

More bayou love