There is likely no more iconic Texas sportfishing than the red drum. This beloved species has become the poster fish for conservation across the Gulf of Mexico states and throughout the US. Much of the passion that has driven a number of the most important marine conservation victories of the past five decades has been focused on this fish. From precedent-setting gill net bans to numerous gamefish status designations, this bottomfish-gone-rockstar has garnered visionary protection and will always be an elite member of the Texas coastal angling targets. From doggedly hard fights to species-endangering dining quality, there is much to love about redfish, but likely none more than its ready presence in and on Texas flats, channels, jetties, marshes and virtually every nook and cranny of coastal waters. It is the ATV of bay species and is a reliable part of a springtime Texas bay pattern.
The Shallow End of the Pool
When looking at the anatomy of redfish, its blunt nose and heavy scales make you think of a species best suited for jagged jetty rocks and barnacle-encrusted pier piling. Indeed, those are viable habitats for redfish, but their ability to go ultra-skinny in the backs of marsh ponds and on bonefish-worthy grass flats is what lands them on the covers of fishing magazines through the states. They are truly one of the most accessible elite sportfish for both conventional and fly-focused anglers.
The regular bull tides of spring can at times make redfish seemingly disappear from coastal bays, but a journey to the farthest corners of the back marsh can yield truly epic opportunities to target tailing and rooting redfish. Let the often-erratic fluctuations of spring tides work to your advantage. When a late-season front pushes through and ushers out the tide with a northwest wind, target areas where the marsh flushes back onto bay flats and pushes the baitfish and sportfish back into range. When the tide swells, make a track for the farthest corners of back lakes and marshes. Take a moment this year to look at a map of your favorite bay, and target a new ambush point to take advantage of these intra-bay movements. These patterns can be incredibly dependable and might get you away from your normal game plan.
No Bad Choices
Redfish are not picky eaters. As willing as they are to travel all corners of a coastal bay system, they are equally adventurous in their diet. There are well-documented incidents of everything from rats to small birds in redfish stomachs. If they grew to 1,000 pounds, I think Peter Benchley might have had a different subject matter for his legendary film Jaws (maybe titled Lips?).
Remember to be versatile in your lure selections this spring. A redfish will readily explode on a top water but is vulnerable to a wobbled gold spoon or a paddle tail soft plastic. The key is to identify what bait the redfish are primarily targeting in their environment and emulate it. Honestly, as exciting as it is to catch a redfish on a top water, there are simply more times that a spoon or soft plastic will entice bottom-focused redfish. Try topwaters but do not get rigidly stuck on them. As you work a flat or drift a reef that you are confident has pods of redfish, work the water column and don’t be afraid to readily change baits until you find the right formula.
The advent of scented soft plastics changed everything. Where artificial lure purists scoffed at them as merely bait derivatives, scores of anglers have made them a regular part of their murky water as well as clear water repertoire. In dirty spring water, they can be a game changer. They are durable, come in a spectrum of dependable color combination, and most importantly, smell really bad. As a matter of fact, they can be downright nasty when the scent becomes an indelible part of your shirt sleeve or even skin. Undeniably catching fish is far more important than any fishing shirt or bodily organ for that matter, but on a recent wadefishing trip with Dr. Greg Stunz, I finally saw the solution for keeping a scented bait when wadefishing. Greg is a professor, scientist, all-around angling badass and Gulp believer. It is not his go-to bait in many circumstances, but he is definitely well aware of the stopping power a scented soft plastic can have on a redfish. To avoid having a leaky plastic bag of baits in his pocket or wading pouch, he uses a small plastic tube with a twist-top that seals the bait in with its lovable juice. This keeps the bait moist (otherwise they shrink into a hard, horror-movie-quality grub) and load the scent for the next use. The tube holds a modest amount of baits, but will usually suffice for a wade and can easily be attached to a loop on your wading belt. If you are going to wade into some truly off-color and low salinity waters, a few well-placed scented baits can be a true trip saver.
No Clarity Required
In a season that can be plagued with nagging winds and flushes of river-driven freshwater deluges, the redfish is a reliable choice when species like speckled trout often (but not always) flee for saltier pastures. Undoubtedly, redfish do not care. They will commonly stick on brackish shorelines and capitalize on the abundance of forage that is washed out of the marsh. Although anglers all have a natural draw to look for clear, salty water, you can actually use mixed salinity and poor water quality to your advantage. Focus on areas that might have received a recent push of baitfish from the marsh that have been driven out by a flush of fresh from the back marsh. Additionally, look for flats that get intermittent saline recharges from nearby channels and passes. These pushes of salty current usually usher back vital baitfish and can provide the needed ingredients to keep redfish in place even if the water looks menacing.
A Loyal Gamefish Regardless of wind, temperature, water clarity or tide, redfish are the loyal patron of the recreational angler. Decades of conservation work has been done to ensure a strong future from this important fish, and through strong state management, gamefish status in federal as well as Texas state waters, and a robust hatchery system, the population of the Texas saltwater state fish is thriving. As the winter temperatures abate and the early hatches of spring baitfish emerge, use this spring to unlock a spring pattern that may yield a Texas icon.