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Texas: Redfish frenzy

11/3/2009

Anyone who fishes enough times in enough places eventually will experience something incredible. This week, for anglers along a stretch of upper Texas coast at High Island, it was herds of bull reds chasing bait nearly onto dry sand.

I'm working to find the photographer whose pictures found my desk this week by way of two or three forwards of the original e-mail. If the connection is made and permission granted, I'll send the shots to my editors here at ESPN Outdoors.

In the meantime, I'll just tell you about what's happening now in the surf along the northernmost 100 miles of the Texas coast.

Fall redfish runs are well documented here and attract thousands of hopefuls once the season begins to shift. The standard drill -- deliver large, natural baits beyond the third bar either by monumental cast from the shore, by marginal cast while standing waist-deep on the second bar, or by kayak ferry -- is plenty productive. On the right day, in the right spot, hooking, fighting and releasing at least half a dozen spawning class redfish would not be out of the ordinary. A good day could produce twice that number of battles, presuming you could get so many baits into the deep-water strike zone.

Rather than having to deliver their baits to the fish this week, anglers on High Island watched as massive schools of reds to 30 and 40 pounds fed voraciously within light-tackle casting distance of pickups parked on the sand.

In a couple of those pictures I mentioned, there are mature redfish in water so shallow that half their bodies are fully exposed. On small, crimson scale, the scene reminded me of orcas ravaging seals in the shore break around some Pacific island. In another shot, a quarter acre of water is at full boil as hundreds of reds rip through an unfortunate school of forage fish.

Presuming no boat, there are two ways to take advantage of this exciting, seasonal bite. Use both.

The first is natural baits heaved into the suds, a "sit and wait" strategy that nearly always pays dividends. Rare is the October day when four grown men can set slabs of fresh mullet or menhaden on the bottom and make it through 12 ounces of casting oil each before someone's rod, standing tall in its holder, bows to a strike.

A quick tip on this style of fishing: Use circle hooks so that you don't have to rush to a bending rod for fear of missing the hookset. Circle hooks improve the hookup ratio and reduce injury to fish that, except for one that can be retained by using a special tag on the fishing license, must be released. Nearly all these fish are well beyond the 28-inch high side of Texas' redfish slot. Hook them, fight them, take a picture, then release them.

The second method, not guaranteed but impossible to ignore, is a heavy casting rig punctuated either by a ¾-ounce jig or 1-ounce spoon. Lean that rod against the truck, never far from hand. At the first sign of disturbance on the surface -- baitfish get pushed upward and show themselves just before all hell breaks loose from below -- grab that setup and deliver a strike right down the middle. If the lure lands in a school of reds, it will never reach bottom. If the first fish misses, the second will not. If a hooked fish shakes the spoon, another will pick it up. For the ultimate rush, sail a topwater plug into the fray. Just be sure it's a lure you won't miss if it's gone, because there's a good chance that will be its fate.

The bull red run is in its highest gear of the season and apt to remain so for at least a couple more weeks. Get some while you can.

Editor's note: Doug Pike spent 23 years as the outdoors columnist at the Houston Chronicle, nine years and counting on radio (he's the host of the Doug Pike Show on 790 the Sports Animal), two years and counting as back-page humor columnist for Saltwater Sportsman, 10 years and counting on the masthead for Field & Stream, two years and counting on the masthead and as columnist for Texas Fish & Game, 10 years editor of Tide magazine for CCA. He has won more than 100 state and national awards for writing, photography, broadcast and editing.