Seeing Red – The Bull Reds of Fall and Winter in the Louisiana Salt Marsh
The junk-yard dog if you will of the Louisiana salt marsh is the Redfish AKA Red Drum. Its eagerness to eat with a reputation as a power house among saltwater species makes them a worthy addition to the bucket lists of anglers worldwide who travel to the famed Louisiana salt marshes to seek them out.
The lifeblood for many fish and other wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico is without a doubt the salt marsh. It is used for many species as a nursery, feeding grounds and to some a lifelong habitat. Sadly it is due largely in part to human interaction with the environment that the marsh is declining in size each and every year. Due to things like nitrogen from fertilizers and sewage draining into the freshwater rivers feeding into the marsh, plants grow larger but with less effective root systems which can't hold the plants in place as well and therefore erosion takes place much easier and faster. Add in the fact that humans have created structures to avoid the regular flooding which once took place depositing more sediment to the coastal areas and you have a series of issues which are aiding in its decline.
It is sad to see such a special habitat slowly heading towards its demise but luckily there are a number of groups fighting to stop it and hopefully, one day they will be able to make a real impact. To me the Louisiana salt marsh is special because of the large numbers of species which you will encounter on any given day poling your way along in search of your next hookup. You will see dozens of different species of birds plus Blue Crabs, Shrimp, Porpoise, Stingrays and several other species of fish. Then there are the shrimpers, crabbers and the multitude of oil company workers you are bound to encounter, it's a very unique way of life down there and to me, very intriguing. However, if you are with a good guide, you will only see those other people on your way to his secret fishing grounds.
Redfish were in danger of being over-fished in the past largely due to their popularity as table fare. Luckily in recent years action was taken to further protect the species and populations are on the rebound, in fact they are very healthy these days. Many Redfish begin their life in the salt marsh and remain there until they are roughly 15 pounds or so with most being in the sub 10 pound range; once they get larger they for the most part move offshore to feed only returning to the marsh in the Fall and Winter. This is when most anglers prefer to fish for Redfish as that is when you have your best shot at Bull Reds on the fly. Poling your way along the barrier marshes you simply watch for a Redfish and when you see them, drop your fly in front of his head and allow it to sink until he sees it and then slowly work it away from him. More often than not, the Red' will swim right after your fly and promptly inhale it.
Obviously there is more to it than blindly poling your way along a random stretch of salt marsh, things like looking for calmer water on the upwind side of the saltwater ponds littered throughout the marsh, finding the clearest water and finding areas of the marsh holding the most food. Water temps also play a key role and especially in the Winter you will find Bull Reds looking for the warmer areas. No sense in getting a super early start either as the sun needs to warm the shallows and so the fish will begin to get more active as the day goes on. You also need the sun to spot the fish in the dirty water. If you can’t see the fish, it can make for very tough fishing. It’s all about timing the tide as well. Slack tides often make for conditions which are easier to spot Redfish, but they also seem to be less active so to better your chances look for falling tides that peak later in the morning or afternoon, the lower the water, the easier the fish will be to spot. As the tide comes back in, the fish will get harder and harder to spot in the deeper and deeper water.
I have never found them to be very picky, 90% of my Redfish have been caught on a 1/0 Clouser Half n Half in Chart/White or Pink/White. On tough days you may have to switch to a Black 1/0 Clouser Half n Half. You can get as creative as you want with flies, but for the most part, those 3 flies would cover 99% of the situations you would encounter fishing for Bull Reds in the Fall/Winter. My Friend Matt Svoboda came up with a new pattern last Fall that rocked, it is nameless thus far but I have included this photo (right). Surface flies can also be effective at times, Redfish aren't very good at feeding off the surface, however, they will do so at times and it can be quite comical to watch them trying to eat off the surface. Large/bright Dahlberg Divers and Gurgler's are good choices to start with if you would like to try your hand at hooking into a Red on top.
"There are few things in angling that rival stalking a Bull Red..."
Once hooked Bull Reds will show you just how tough they are by making a long run and then bulldogging you the remainder of the fight. You typically don't get multiple long runs out of them, but they definitely know how to use their size and weight to their advantage and you are in for the fight of your life when attached to a 20+ pound Redfish. The best part about this type of fishing is the visual aspect of it. You see everything take place and it makes for a very exciting experience. There are few things in angling that rival stalking a Bull Red, making the perfect cast and watching him inhale the fly before having your ass handed to you.
In the Summer and early Fall, 7 or 8 weight rods are perfect, in late Fall and through the Winter 9 or 10 weight rods are what you want to handle the Bull Reds you will encounter. Redfish in Louisiana are not really that spooky regarding leader/tippet. I use Fluorocarbon 9' Big Game Leaders in 20 pound. They are durable, turn over large/heavy flies and have never failed me. Fly reels with a strong drag that will hold at least 150 yards of 30 pound dacron backing are a must. A good pair of polarized glasses is also a must, if you can't see the fish, you aren't going to stand a chance catching them. Fly lines that allow for the rod to be loaded in close and turn over large flies well are very helpful. Scientific Angler's has a Redfish tapered fly line which is available in warm water and cold water versions. This is a huge bonus if you fish throughout the Winter as the standard warm water Redfish lines can become very coily and a pain to deal with on the deck of a skiff. The last thing you want is missing out on a shot at a fish of a lifetime due to tangled running line.
Some Mornings can be in the 30’s so don’t be fooled despite the Southern location, it can be downright cold in the Winter when chasing trophy Redfish in Southern Louisiana. Due to the poor water clarity, you will often spot fish 30’ or less away from the bow of the boat so super stiff rods are not a great thing, you want a rod that loads easily, yet has a lot of back bone to fight these large powerful fish with.
If you are looking for an exciting new type of fishing, I highly suggest heading South in the months of November through January in search of Bull Reds. It's an experience you will never forget! If you are lucky enough you will get what is known as a 'Coon Ass Slam', landing a Black Drum, Red Drum and Sheepshead all in the same day. Black Drum are typically larger than Red Drum, but don't fight nearly as hard as Red Drum will. Sheepshead are smaller fish, but can be compared to Bluegill due to the fact they use their large flat sides to their advantage and fight very hard for their size.
"Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez"
"Let The Good Time's Roll" as the famous New Orleans saying goes! Apart from the world-class quality of the fishing, the food is also something to look forward to. The Cajun cuisine is to die for and you will love the quality of seafood - often the seafood you are eating was caught the day before it was prepared for you. You will be hard pressed to find a part of the World and a fishery more intriguing than you will in Southern Louisiana, enjoy!
"Growing up around the Family auto salvage business, I guess junkyard is a term that has always been very familiar to me. As I was pondering what to title my blog and website, I knew I wanted something short, but also something that described my life as clearly as possible. Being a fly fishing junkie and since a junkyard is what has always been the lifeblood of my Family, what better to call the site than "Junkyard Fly". The name stuck and that is what I decided to run with...!”
You can check out Kory's Junkyard Fly website at www.junkyardfly.com