I just returned from my third year in a row of fishing for Redfish along the Gulf Coast and am already looking forward to 2016. If you haven’t gone for Redfish yet, it’s a trip that’s really worth putting on the list. In general, they are a “hungry” fish that can get up to the 40+ pound size range in shallow water. Sight fishing to these beasts will make even the most experienced angler shake a little bit when they see the take.
Redfish can be found throughout the Gulf States and up the southern Atlantic coast. They spend their juvenile years inland, feeding on crabs, shrimp, and seemingly anything that they can get in their mouths. Once they reach maturity, they head out to the open water where the typically spend the majority of their lives with the occasional jaunt back into the shallows to rest, escape predators, and to feed. The large “Bull Reds” can be found inland throughout the year, but they are most accessible to the fly angler in areas that have eroded or poorly developed barrier islands.
The coastal regions in Louisiana are prime habitat for Bull Red as the Mississippi Delta has a sporadic and porous barrier island system that surrounds the area. The large, ocean going individuals return to the shallower protection of the outer marsh in the fall and generally stay around through the spring. These areas afford easy escape back to deep water if the fish need it while also being home to an incredible array of Redfish food biomass. It’s a place that’s hard to imagine until you see it for yourself. Crabs, shrimp, and seemingly every type of baitfish literally are under every rock and around every bend in these outer marsh areas.
The fishing, for the fly angler, is similar to what one would imagine as they pursue any flats species. Shallow water and their large size make for easy sight fishing when the weather conditions are right. Bright skies with a quiet wind is exactly what I hope for as a trip nears. Clouds make for tough spotting, as there is little backdrop in this type of country. High winds stir up the soft bottoms and make for difficult navigation and poling conditions. The ideal way to go about fishing these areas is on a platform at the front of a flats skiff while the guide (or experienced poling buddy) expertly maneuvers the boat along banks, ledges, and across sandbars while keeping trained eye out for fish moving around both on the bottom and surface. Even the sedentary fish will move to a fly when properly presented and oftentimes less than a few feet away from the boat. Vigilance to the water is needed to maximize success.
Some of the most enjoyable fishing occurs in small creek channels and cuts that fracture these outer islands. Smaller fish in the 3-6 pound range are commonly found in these areas and they rarely turn down a fly when presented with 10’ of them or so. The larger fish are there too but reliably are found on the edges of the larger islands with deeper water nearby. Sometimes this deeper water is only 2’ deep, while others it may be up to 6’…either way it’s pretty shallow. I’ve seen 30+ pound fish with their backs out of the water in less than 3” of water on several occasions.
Redfish are not known to be particularly picky when it comes to fly selection. They have relatively poor vision for a shallow water species, so I opt for something bright and gaudy with a stout hook in the 1/0 – 2 size range. Having some flies with varied weight is really helpful as the depths of where you find feeding fish can change rapidly. Though they are not particularly fussy, a six-inch streamer with giant lead eyes and a chartreuse body can spook a whole lot of fish if it’s not presented softly and well in front of a cruising fish. I like to have a lighter rod rigged with something smaller with bead chain eyes and a heavier rod ready for the deeper water and larger Bull Reds. I’ve thrown a lot of different flies at Redfish over the years and the only thing that really seems to turn these fish off is anything that plunks on their head. A marginal to good 10-20’ cast is not too much to ask, but requires a little different presentation that most flats fisherman are accustomed to.
In terms of gear, take you favorite 7-8 weight rod for the smaller fish and a 9-10 for the days when you plan on targeting the larger fish. I’ve landed fish up to 30 pounds on the lighter rods but it’s a lot of work as the big ones pull hard and make long runs. A 9-10 weight rod gives you much more leverage to wear these fish out quickly while still putting a serious bend in the rod. I’ll discuss rods in a future article as I do have some recommendations based on the experiences over the years from a group of guys that I fish with on these trips. A reel with 150 yards of 30’ backing, a solid drag system, and a stiff saltwater line are all mandatory tools of the trade and are versatile enough to be used in any saltwater adventure.
As with any premier fly-fishing destination, local knowledge is vital for success. There are a lot great fishing guides in Louisiana, but guides that cater exclusively to the fly angler are harder to find than one would expect. Definitely do some research before booking a guide and make sure that they are fly fishing guides, not bay boat guides. You want a guide that understands the area, but also understands the various challenges that arise while fishing for Redfish with a fly rod. Make sure that you will be fishing out of a traditional style skiff with a standing platform on the front which helps you get a little higher, thus increasing your range of vision while spotting fish. Some areas to help get you started on your research would be around Hopedale and Venice Louisiana. There is a great fly shop in New Orleans called Uptown Anglers and they book fly fishing trips with experienced fly guides throughout the region.