(Sep. 26, 2013 - Gilchrist on Bolivar Peninsula, TX)...
A leisurely rolling surf lulled me into an almost peaceful trance with its almost hypnotic sounds and vistas of diving sea birds, trawling shrimp boats, and shimmering surf. Then my peaceful interlude quickly changed from quiet bliss to a "keystone comedy" in 2.6 seconds with screeching drag, arching rod, and sandy footsteps with cries of "FISH ON!"
Now that the air is cooler with sandy beaches all but vacated, those in the know pack their surf-gear and head for the upper Texas Gulf Coast to do battle with one of salt-waters most exciting game-fish, the Bull Red fish, which are now roaming the autumn surf on feeding sprees to build up energy levels for their long, and arduous journey to their deep water spawning grounds in the Gulf of Mexico.
Although red fish in the 30 inch class, or better, are referred to as "bulls" they are in actuality females. And during this time of year (Autumn) huge schools of these "Bull-Shouldered" females start migrating out from their summering areas to the jetties and surf, spreading out along the nearby beaches near the cuts and channels of the bays and bayous. This is when they are most accessible to surf-anglers who arrive to stake their fishing areas setting up their surf-fishing camps. These surf-rigs aren’t the usual fishing poles used for bay or boat anglers, but 12ft to 15ft long surf rods rigged with heavy duty ocean reels that can hold up to 300 yards of heavy impact line that can cast 100 yard distances needed to reach the prime red fish feeding areas within the guts (channels) between the 2nd and 3rd sandbars.
There are several things to look for when searching for promising fishing spots along the beach. Look for channel breaks in the sandbars that are used by predator fish to swim between the guts for feeding. This is where the surf criss-crosses (over-laps) into each other to mark the breaks. Look for seashell points, which are extending beach points reaching out into the surf. These prime fishing points will have ’tons’ of seashells on them washed up by the rolling surf. Watch for nervous water caused by schools menhaden (shad) or mullet that swim the surface against the tides. Menhaden, mullet, shad whiting, and croaker are prime prey for reds at this time of year. Also watch for shrimp boats that may dragging their nets close to the shoreline. This is a sign that shrimp are close in and red fish will definitely take advantage of this feeding windfall.
Piers are also good areas to target surf reds as they are natural holding areas for bait fish. But be warned that fishing too close may cause problems with pier anglers, so try to keep at least 100 yards from the piers when fishing. Old pier pilings along the beachfront are also prime red fish areas. These pilings are what was left after hurricanes or tropical storms have blown down the ’once’ standing pier, leaving a string of pilings stretching out into the Gulf. My favorite is the "Blacks Pier" area located near High Island on the upper coast of Bolivar Peninsula. This site is a favorite surf-fishing area for ’bull-red" anglers.
Birds are also prime fish locators when searching for surf-fishing action spots. You will see them either diving and feeding over a surf that is alive with bait and actively feeding reds, or actually sot the reds activiley frenzy feeding on the bait fish with explosive splashing and swirls.
So, just sidle up about 100 yards away and watch them as they’ll pinpoint where the reds are when feeding over them. If you get too close to them they’ll spook and fly off. So just respect their space and it should pay off for you.
Terminal tackle should be 2 to 3 oz surf-weights, that resemble little ’sputniks’ but have a purpose with their wire ’tentacle’s’ digging into the sand to prevent the currents by tidal waters from rolling your bait. Spooled line should be at least 30 lb test or better high impact premium mono-filament for easy casting. Use only barrel swivels for attaching your lines, avoiding snap-swivels as the huge bull reds will pull out the snaps. Tie your casting line to a 2 ft wire leader, then attach the surf-weight. Where the surf-weight is attached tie on a 3ft wire leader then clip on a 0/5 circle hook. This will help to keep your bait on the bottom where the reds are feeding. Best live bait will be a 3" to 5 inch finger or cut mullet. The best cut-baits are fresh cut mullet (large chunks) or fresh crab (cut in half). (Note; wire leaders are necessary to prevent the maulers of the reds from cutting through your line. ALSO be alert to the possibility of hooking up to the Grey ghost’ of the surf, the Bull Shark, which are also presently feeding along the surf at this time of year.
The surf-rod holders can be made of 1 1/2 inch PVC pipe cut into 5 ft sections with one end cut and sharpened for digging into the sand. On the other end wrap a piece of duct tape around several times about 6 inches from the top, then slide on a 2 ft piece of 2 3/4 inch PVC (this will be your rod holder) then just slide your rod handle down into it after casting and tighten up your line until the rod-tip bends towards the surf. Other surf-rod holders can be constructed by simply using 5 ft sections of re-bar with foot long 2 inch PVC pipes duct taped to the re-bar.
To add to the excitement keep a sport-rod rigged and ready nearby with a 3/4 oz gold Johnson Sprite spoon. Often during this time of year schools of ’bulls’ will chase bait fish near shore within easy casting distance. A well placed gold spoon within these feeding frenzies will provide a 100% probability for a hook-up. But then HANG ON as bull-reds have been known to burn off 200 yards of line on their first blistering runs.
On one memorable incident while wade-fishing the surf for specks, I spotted a HUGE school of ’bulls’ working their way down the 2nd bar towards me. After grabbing my spoon-rig, stuffing 2 more in my pocket for backup, I quickly waded out to ambush the incoming reds. As the big reds (estimated 25 lbers or better) arrived they began to feed all around me. Acting much like 25 lb Piranhas they actually startled me with the ferocity of their frenzied attack. But I had little time for fear as I was kept busy hooking and losing reds on just about every cast. I Came away from that incredible experience with a battered rod, stripped reel, and spoon-less. BUT WOW!!!!
THE BITE:; When a ’bull’ latches onto your bait it probably won’t be a meek little ’nibble’ but rather a "SLAM-BAM" tackle intimidating bite that will definitely put you and your fishing gear to the ultimate test! So keep alert and don’t get bored by inactivity and wander off looking for sea-shells, or you just might return to empty rod-holders.
My largest ’bull’ was a 48 inch beauty caught on a 3/4 oz gold spoon. After taking a quick photo of her she was then released to allow her to spawn. Although red fish are excellent eating, I prefer the smaller slot legal reds of 20" to 28" for keeping, choosing to release the larger reds. Texas Fish & Game laws allows you to keep and tag one red fish over the 28 inch maximum per year, with one extra over 28 inches allowed after purchasing a bonus tag. Daily red fish limits you to three per day within the 20 inch to 28 inch slot regulation. All anglers who fish the saltwater species are required to have a legal Texas fishing license with a saltwater stamp. The world record red fish weighed 94 pounds and was caught on the East coast. The current Texas State red fish record is 51.5 pounds.
Although netting your catch in the surf is possible ’beaching’ your catch is the safest and best way for landing your trophy.
Kayak anglers also get in on the action by launching in the surf and paddling out over 3rd bar fishing areas to test their skills with the big reds. Most catch and release but a few groups hold impromptu fishing tournaments for catch and release or kept weigh-ins. Any way you look at it it must be a thrill when hooking up to a 40plus incher that will pull you, and your craft around for awhile.
So, if your wanting to take a break from your deer season ’get-readies’ or would just like to spend a day on the beach to enjoy some really great fishing action, then it’s time folks. The fall red fish run usually starts in mid-September, but the main ’bull-red’ runs along the surf peaks in mid-October and will provide plenty of red fish action until mid November...................................Go Gettum!!