Ask Louisiana coastal fishermen what’s king, and many, many more times than not you’re going to hear “speckled trout.”
But mention Louisiana and marshes and fishing in the same sentence around the country and speckled trout are an afterthought, if that.
Redfish are what have captured the imaginations of adventuresome anglers — rod-and-reelers and fly-fishers alike. Accomplished bass champions like Bill Dance, Hank Parker and Shaw Grigsby have spread that word far and wide, and Louisiana’s marshes have become the favorite stop for competitors in major redfish tournaments.
“I went down the bank of a canal with a topwater bait and caught a bass, then a redfish, two bass, then two more redfish, another bass and more redfish,” Grigsby said after his first trip into the Barataria marshes in 1998. “I never dreamed there was a place like this. Wow!”
Dance and Parker like Venice waters: They expound on down-river redfish the way a go-to-meeting tent preacher extols virtue and condemns vices.
“There’s no way you can’t like the action a redfish provides,” Dance said at this year’s ICAST, the country’s largest fishing trades show. “Those buggers fight, and there’s lots of ’em and you can catch them lots of different ways.”
Parker’s take on reds is that he can bring the same tackle he used to win Bassmaster Classics and catch fish.
“You don’t have to have anything fancy,” Parker said at ICAST two years ago. “Want to catch redfish on topwaters? Then take topwater baits. Spinnerbaits, spoons, (soft) plastics and even crankbaits, too. I’ve had more fun catching redfish in Louisiana than, well, almost anything else I can do on the water.”
These days, when fall is trying to make a blistering summer a memory, redfish action has saved many a coastal fishing trip.
That’s because brackish water-saltwater veterans know speckled trout are in what they call “a transition.” It’s a polite way of reporting that trout are hard to find, that they’re making a move from their usual open-water summertime haunts and feeding patterns to inland bays, bayous and lakes.
Like trout and other species (flounder, drum and sheepshead), redfish will occupy waters with the most food. Unlike trout, redfish and drum feed on crabs, and there are lots of small crabs in the interior marshes in September into October.
And there are shrimp, mostly white shrimp, pogeys and a variety of minnows that become a banquet for redfish that run from under-the-16-inch minimum size limit to giant 25-35 pounds bulls — even in marshes.
The first step is to find the bait and clear-enough water (though not gin clear), a combination that is confusing because it can be found in grass-filled marsh ponds, canals, bayous, bays, lakes and roseau-cane-lined runs off the Mississippi River.
All these places hold reds, sometimes on the same day, but sometimes not.
So, you have to add subtle differences to the redfish-catching formula.
Moving water tends to concentrate redfish along points and around run-outs, and tide isn’t the only trigger that moves water.
Wind-blown shorelines will hold redfish. That’s because the wind is stacking baitfish and other food next to marsh-grass banks. Then again, if the water is too high, wind will wash water over low islands and push food through the island’s grass and out the other side to waiting and hungry reds.
Or find the water moving around the points on the ends of the same island and the redfish will position there to await a passing morsel. Even more confounding is that reds can be found in all these places on the same day, shutdown in one spot, and still be feeding in the other spots.
Moving deeper into the fall when water temperatures begin to fall, the best places to find them are shell and oyster beds, rock jetties and other structures that channel sunlight into the water. This is when small cast-and-wind crankbaits and smaller soft plastics — creature baits and plastic worms on a jighead or under a cork — or live bait (under a cork, free-lined or Carolina-rigged) become the top producers.
No matter when, where or how during the next three or four months, redfish provide fishermen with a fall-back position just in time for spectacular fall fishing.