"These fish have been getting hammered," said Payne as he trolled into the back of a small pocket east of Delacroix Highway. Five tails were sticking above the water's surface, and if they knew we were within casting distance they didn't show it.
"The schools have really been ganged up, but when you get one boat after another coming through looking from up high it breaks them up. I'm surprised to see five grouped up like this. A week ago this school would have been 10 to 15 reds."
As we began casting spinnerbaits, gold spoons and tightlined soft plastics in front of the moving fish, it became immediately obvious that these fish, while still in a nice little school, had been picked at just a little bit too much.
Our casts had to be even more precise than normal, as misplaced lures either got no attention or ruined our chances by spooking the fish. Anything more than a foot or two in front of the fish was too much, and more often than not we had to put our lures within inches of their noses to get them to react.
"I think it's a little too grassy in here to effectively throw a spinnerbait," Payne said after noticing me cleaning what he called "snot grass" off my blade. "They've been on a spoon really good, but that's changed a little bit, too. The best thing I've found the last couple of days is rigging a YUM Samurai Shad... black/chartreuse or purple/chartreuse... upside down on a jighead and just swimming it like that."
Payne continued to spot tailing fish from the front of his flats boat, and after figuring out exactly how the reds wanted our lures presented, he began to coach my son and me in the finer points of sight casting to spooky, visible redfish.
"With all this grass in here, you've really got to start your bait coming back to you before it even hits the water," he explained. "If you let it sink very much, it's going to get clogged up with snot grass. If you get it coming back to you before it hits the water and keep it just under the surface it won't get all messed up. And even though they're not very aggressive this morning, it seems like they want it up high and moving fast."
Although Payne had predicted we wouldn't see the best schools until about 11:00, the action actually tailed off by then. Whether they were broken up too much to show up, or the conditions had changed enough to make them school earlier in the morning, we didn't really know.
It didn't matter, though, because we were able to come in early with a box full of redfish that our young angler definitely didn't mind showing off to all the tournament pros back at the ramp. "We smoked them," he bragged. "But we let some out there for y'all."