Into the Wild
By Polly Dean | Photography courtesy of Polly Dean and Winyah Guide Service
Too often, anglers visiting the coast overlook prime fishing right under their noses, instead opting for an extended boat ride offshore to drop a line for whatever is feeding in deep water. The locals, however, know the excitement of stalking fish inshore. It doesn’t get much better than spotting a 30-inch or bigger fish in a foot or two of water and tempting it to bite!
When visiting the shore of any of our Southern states, especially those on the Gulf Coast, redfish and speckled trout are likely inhabitants and worth the pursuit. The flow of freshwater from rivers and inlets into the salt marshes create a rich habitat for crab, shrimp and the many baitfish that these two species feed upon.
Year-round, the opportunity is present and fish are cooperative. The summer months and fall are especially good with an abundance of redfish and trout; and even into late fall when the chill in the air is noticeably sticking around longer, the local anglers know this is the time for the ‘big boys’ – actually mature females – to make the move close to shore for spawning.
Where and When to Fish
The gear, bait and methods for a successful day of inshore angling varies depending on location, habitat and conditions such as air and water temperature, water clarity and time of year, to name just a few. The best investment one can make in time and money is to visit a local tackle shop. Even the experienced anglers know there is much to gain by talking to the locals. Booking a guide for a half or full day of fishing is an even better way to learn the ropes and the guide will provide all the necessary gear.
There are some techniques and aspects that don’t vary much from place to place.
The tails of redfish – also referred to as red drum, channel bass or simply reds – can be spotted as they feed nose down in the mud. This is known as “tailing” and it can be quite exciting to cast a lure or even a fly to the feeding fish. Louisiana has a reputation with fly anglers as being a prime destination for sight-casting to redfish.
Throwing to grassy shorelines, along shell banks and oyster beds are also popular methods for finding the redfish. Indents or small openings in the grass almost always guarantee a fish.
Birds “working the water” or actively feeding on baitfish is a good indication that larger fish are likely in the area as well. Schools of reds or even singles can be seen “pushing” the water as they cruise the shallows, and sprays of bait erupting is another clue that something is chasing them.
The tides play a major role in when and where to look for redfish. The peak of the high tide is not generally an ideal time for finding them. The marshes are flooded, allowing fish to get up in the grass making them difficult to reach or cast to. They’re just too scattered in general. An outgoing tide is usually preferred. Locate the channels of deeper water and those “cut-throughs” in the grass, and that is where a redfish or trout is likely to hold waiting for bait exiting higher ground as the tide moves out.
Spotted seatrout, also known as speckled trout, are found in much the same habitat as their larger redfish cousins. Unlike the name implies they are not members of the trout family, but in the drum family. The edges of barrier islands are a good place to find trout. And the larger specimens aren’t necessarily found only in deep water, but can often be found up in the shallows. A “mixed” bottom of hard rock, grass and/or mud is also worth making several casts over.
Taking Fish Home
Both redfish and speckled trout make excellent table fare. In fact, Cajun Chef Paul Prudhomme’s popular recipe for blackened redfish in the early 1980s was believed to have contributed to the over-harvesting of the species, eventually leading to stricter regulations. Regulations vary from state to state on the number and size of fish that can be taken. Slot limits have been imposed as well, with the intent of allowing fish too small and those of reproductive age to be released. Mississippi’s slot limit for red drum allows anglers to keep three fish no smaller than 18 inches and no larger than 30 inches in length.
If harvesting fish for the table, keeping only enough for a fresh meal is the best option. If freezing some fillets for future meals, quickly getting them on ice and preparation are key. “Avoid trapping excess moisture and air when packaging fish for the freezer,” says Ken Chaumont, Louisiana native and creator of the popular Vudu Baits. “Vacuum sealing is ideal, but individually wrapping fillets in plastic wrap before placing in a resealable bag, also helps in preserving their optimal flavor.”