Riding Barataria bulls

Steve Neece caught this big bull on a Gulp Swimming Mullet in Barataria Pass at Grand Isle. Fishing a catch/photo/release tournament, the angler took the red to the beach to take the required photo before reviving and releasing it.

It’s prime time for a ‘cajun sleigh ride’

Kayak anglers are always looking to catch big fish out of their tiny boats. In coastal Louisiana, bull redfish easily fill the bill. They are hard fighters and regularly weigh up to 40 pounds. Plus, bulls are easy to catch in the right locations — and there’s no better time than the present.

Catching bull reds from a kayak is where the term “Cajun Sleigh Ride” originated. Once hooked, they will engage you in a hard-fought battle, which often leaves an angler wondering who really caught who.

September is a great month for catching bulls that gather near the passes in South Louisiana in preparation for the spawn. They are there throughout the late summer months, and remain in good numbers until regular fall cold fronts push through.

The strong tidal action and high salinities of the passes in Grand Isle and similar areas are great places to target bull reds from a ‘yak. Caminada Pass on the western end and Barataria Pass on the eastern end of Grand Isle both provide bull red opportunities for kayak anglers. But Caminada is shallower, more protected and does not get traffic from large offshore vessels like Barataria does.

However, under the right conditions, Barataria Pass can safely be fished with a kayak as long as common sense and good safety precautions are used. First off, always wear your PFD. And in Barataria, stay out of the main channel and constantly be on the lookout for large vessels. Be aware of the current, and do not get into situations where it’s so strong that you can’t make headway or control the path of your kayak.

Although Barataria Pass is deeper than 100 feet in many places, the sweet spot for bull reds is usually about 15 to 25 feet. A depth finder is a must for consistently locating the schools that randomly roam the area. When the screen lights up with big arches, you can pretty much bet you are going to get bit.

Bull reds aren’t very picky, and hit a variety of artificial or natural baits. Chunks of cut mullet, pogey, shrimp or cracked blue crab all attract a hungry bull. If fishing artificials, large curly-tail grubs get their attention, and a local favorite is a 6-inch Gulp Swimming Mullet in chartreuse, pink or white. Rig the grubs either Carolina-style on a circle hook, or on a 1- or 2-ounce jighead with a strong hook.

Bulls reds don’t have teeth, but their rough mouths and crusher plates can easily fray or cut thin leaders, so use at least 60- to 80-pound mono leaders. Conventional or spinning gear with heavy mono or braid and a stout rod helps bring these hard-fighting fish under control.

If you’re fishing natural baits, a 10/0 circle hook helps keep from hooking the fish deep in the throat, and is much better for a healthy release.

Typical bull reds found in the Pass will be 25-plus pounds and 3 feet long, although larger ones are routinely caught, as well. The fight can last up to 15 minutes or more and tow a kayaker quite a distance. Although regulations allow one fish over 27 inches to be kept, bulls are not great table fare and are generally released.

During your sleigh ride, the red often dictates where you go, so just hang on and enjoy. Fighting the fish this way helps get it under control sooner, as both the drag of the reel and pulling the ‘yak tire the fish faster.

Proper revival techniques help ensure that the big red gets to take another angler for a ride. After carefully removing the hook, tow the fish alongside the kayak to revive it. A good lip-grip tool allows you to hold the fish with one hand and easily release the big red when it’s ready.

A bull red in a kayak is likely the largest fish many coastal kayakers will catch. And Grand Isle is a perfect location to go for a “bull ride.”

Chris Holmes
About Chris Holmes 173 Articles
Chris Holmes has kayak fished in the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and many places in between.