10/01/2009 - 11/01/2009 | Fishing the Americas...a sportfishing journal

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Bull Reds on the Beach

How does one make the connection from “Giant” Mexican Largemouth Bass and the “Explosive” Peacock Bass of the Amazon to the “Brutish” Bull Reds of Venice, Louisiana? Here’s how, take a quiet evening on the veranda of Trophy Bass Lodge overlooking Lake Huites, Mexico and add a cold cervasia or a chilled margarita to the conversation between a group of guys, all veteran Peacock, Largemouth and Bull Red chasers (save one…ME). Veteran Largemouth and Peacock, well perhaps, Red Fish…no.

I was simply amazed, and quite frankly a bit skeptical, at the conversation I had entered into with friends Gary Clark and Dan Basore, with talk of their “best kept secret on the Gulf Coast”, a Captain Keith of Venice, Louisiana and his uncanny skills at locating Giant Bull Redfish. I mean, what would you expect, except fishing “yarns” from a group of guys at a fishing lodge?

It would be another 18 months before I would make the acquaintance of one Captain Keith Kennedy and be introduced to the Bull Reds of his nautical domain in and around the marshes, rock jetties and beaches located around and just outside of the Mighty Mississippi’s south pass.

Gary and I would rendezvous for lunch at the New Orleans International Airport on June 22, 2009, and then spend an enjoyable two hour drive on down to Venice, Louisiana, where we would meet and get acquainted with Captain Keith. I knew in an instant we were in for a great evening of camaraderie, fish stories and the low down from one who had endured the devastation of Katrina. The evening would be long; the stories both exciting and heartbreaking and wake up would come early. Sweet dreams.

All that Gary had told me on more than one occasion over the course of a year and a half, “David, we just gotta’ do this….you won’t believe me until you try it…” came to a rushing confirmation in a matter of perhaps 30 minutes the next morning on a beach just outside south pass. Or was it a dream?

A cup of hot Joe in hand and a 45 minute run down the river at first light found us at the last stretch of beach before exiting the river. After a few minutes of rigging and some last minute instructions from Captain Keith, we began casting in earnest. My first reaction to this type of fishing was muttered under my breath,”I haven’t fished with a cork in years!”

Now I need to be straight up…I’ve not spent any serious time fishing for Reds…Bulls or otherwise. What few times had been several years earlier on Florida’s Gulf Coast and frankly, those were Snook trips with a few legal Reds thrown in. So I’ll admit I was a Greenie when it comes to tangling with a Bull Red.

The Greenie moniker would change promptly at 9 am while popping a Tsunami Split- tail under a cork in 4’ of water near the second beach of the morning. To say the cork “went under” would be a gross understatement. I recall the cork was within 45’ of the boat when the boil erupted and the cork suddenly disappeared. And in a matter of a few very short minutes I was confident that the Pflueger Medalist would be “spooled.”

The fact that well over a hundred yards of 30# PowerPro was rapidly closing to its end and my redundant discourse of “will she ever stop” was having limited affect on this Brute and then it was as if someone hit the pause button. She, that’s right SHE, (I’ll get back to that in a moment) was paused, actually moving a bit laterally, as I regained both a small modicum of composure and a scant scrap of line. But pause didn’t last long and she was off again with an incredible surge of newfound power!

This author will admit to being green in more ways than one when it comes to Bull Redfish…(Sciaenops ocellatus), these bulls aren’t of the same sex as the those found under the seat of a professional bull rider or running through the streets of Pamplona, Spain. That’s right, although commonly known as “bulls,” these big brute red drum (Redfish) are, ironically, females.

Captain Keith would also suggest that for those anglers with the stamina to stay the course through the heat of the summer and the early fall months, this is prime time for red fishing. Bulls on the Beach are nearly as predictable as the annual running of the bulls at Pamplona and they provide the opportunity for some spectacular world class light tackle action close to shore.

I learned a long time ago, many angling quests removed, that when you have the opportunity you set a course to seine the Captain for all he’s worth…gaining every tidbit of information to be used another day. I had three days with Captain Keith for a redfish primer session and I planned to extract every morsel of information available.

First, Keith had recommended some dates for Gary and me to plan around. He knew the time frame of the annual ritual when the bulls would make their beach appearance. It all links back to the species’ life cycle and their intent on procreating.

As I said, these mature brutes are females and they move from their deep water for one reason: to spawn. The annual ritual usually begins with foraging forays into shallow waters in the early summer months of June and July. Spawning season begins usually in mid-August and ends in the fall around October then to the deep waters they return. The Redfish’s eggs incubate for 24 hours. A female can lay up to two million eggs a season. Redfish can live to be 60 years old unless caught.

It should be noted that these bull redfish are not native to deep water however. Quite to the contrary, they enter the life cycle in the back waters of the marsh, estuaries and bayous. Juvenile red fish typically inhabit bays and coastal marshes until they reach maturity between 3 and 6 years of age and gain in size up to perhaps 28-32 inches. At this point they begin to migrate to more open and the deeper waters of the Gulf or the Atlantic where they prefer to spend their lives.

Redfish, unlike other migrating species returning to spawn, have a ravenous appetite and, as well, have no interest in abstaining from feeding while in the spawn mode. They will readily accept any bait but prefer Menhaden, Shrimp, Mud Minnows and crabs as well as a vast array of artificial baits.

Staging for the ritual requires a combination of tidal conditions and the proper water temperatures. The run to the beaches encounters all kinds of readily available baitfish and the bull reds are intent on consumption until Mother Nature issues the call.

Bull reds are searchers and cover a lot of distance in short order. It is the skilled angler that seeks out the dominate patterns of local bull redfish beach activity and plans accordingly with tidal conditions to encounter the true brutes. Without delving more deeply in this article, suffice it to say that the ideal alignment of rock jetties, passes and water depths enhance the opportunity to encounter schools of giant reds along the beach fronts.

Back to the big, bronze, feeding bull on the end of my line…this girl was carrying the mail so to speak but as determined as she was at moving in opposition to my direction…I was gradually winning the test. Now my concern was hook strength and knot performance. The fish had initially run from hook up at 3’ to perhaps a depth of 8’-12’ but now was back in 5’ of water and coming, ever so slowly, my way.

Captain Keith had positioned the boat in 4’ of water and near a cut in the beach. The cut seemed about two foot deeper and was a natural trough closest to the beach yet extending out perhaps 100 yards to the first sand bar. This fish had nailed the Tsunami as it moved across the trough and then exploded towards the deeper water. Reds not only forage in these cuts and troughs but also look for those unique places to drop their eggs.

We were fishing an incoming tide and these fish had certainly moved in to feed on the bait as it traveled the trough…yes, these fish. Gary was now hooked up with the second bull from the same area…this time on a live Cocaho minnow under a popping cork. A double on…and two brutes for sure!

Of important note is the fact that we were fishing near the pass and the rock jetties. Passes seem to play a very important role in overall redfish activity during this summer and fall period. The bull redfish forage in the moving water and activity is enhanced on the falling tide as fish move to the outside near the color change of the water where the natural forage is increased due to bay water outflow. But during inflow, as we were experiencing, the fish move in tighter to the beachfront.

When the actual spawn develops, it is during these inflows that the bull females will sense the opportune conditions to drop their eggs and the eggs will then travel into the shallow bays and marshes where again conditions are enhanced for distribution by virtue of the fertile interior waters.
I was sensing a landing of this first bull red at 30 feet from the boat when I heard Gary commenting on his loss of line to the near base of the spool…this bull red hadn’t stopped for a rest as yet either and from all indications Gary’s fish was seemingly matched size for size with mine. And my first glimpse of the mad Toro that had engulfed the Tsunami was EYES WIDE OPEN!

WHAT A FISH and in that brief moment the words of Gary that evening on the veranda of Trophy Bass Lodge came back, “you won’t believe it…you gotta’ try it”…a bronze torpedo was at the boat and way too long for the net…and Gary’s words were now confirmed, yet I just for a few seconds didn’t believe it. And truthfully, I don’t think Captain Keith believed it either.

You see, when we finally had the nerves calmed down a bit and set the fish to scale it read 49 pounds! It was a new boat record for Captain Keith and only 11 pounds shy of the Louisiana state record of 60 pounds. In fact, this fish was larger than several other state records. She was a Giant Bull Redfish and yes, I’ll take beginners luck any day!

The second bull was now boat side as well and it too was a giant. Gary’s brute wasn’t going to net either but we managed to hoist her in the boat as well. The tale of the scale revealed another giant bull of 40 pounds…that’s 89 pounds in two fish!

Photo’s were in order…high fives were in order…and I now felt that confirmation of what Gary had been trying to communicate to me over the prior 18 months…”David, you just won’t believe it!” And we had only been fishing a little over three hours by this time…I quickly calculated we easily had two and one half days of fishing remaining!

I’ll save those stories for another time, suffice it to say that over the remaining time with Captain Keith we had many more doubles and triples with bull reds up 36 pounds! The little cuts and troughs were the magnets for the Bulls on the Beaches. Points produced “specs,” sea trout up to 5 pounds along with several Jack Cravels and a Shark or two.

To top off this “fishing adventure of a lifetime” we also enjoyed the table fare of Chef Keith Kennedy with dishes like fresh boiled shrimp, crawfish étouffée topped with an awesome blackened redfish filet and deliciously tender filet mignon.

If you are interested in some world class light tackle action and tackling these Bull Reds…I have just the captain and an all inclusive package in place. Give me a call or drop me an email for all the details.

Perhaps we’ll meet at the mouth of south pass someday. Until then…tighter lines are in order!


Google+ Back To Top