Follow this guide to put limits of redfish in the boat all spring long.
“There he is, just to the right of the blind. See him?”
“Make sure you lead him.”
Then, instead of a ¼-ounce load of steel shot blasting at a fat greenhead, a 3/8-ounce gold spoon quietly sailed a few yards past a big redfish. Perfect. The red turned and charged the spoon.
So began another battle in a South Louisiana duck pond.
By this time of year, all of the decoys and shotguns have been packed away, and most of the waterfowl are headed back north. But the duck ponds shouldn’t be abandoned.
Experienced shallow-water anglers know that these ponds can provide some of the most productive and exciting action for Louisiana’s marsh redfish.
These are not all rat reds either. While there are some fish under the 16-inch minimum size limit, many of the fish caught in the duck ponds and shallow marsh areas are within the 16- to 27-inch slot, and it’s not uncommon to catch a few over the 27-inch maximum limit. (Anglers are allowed to keep one fish over 27 inches out of their daily five-fish limit.) If you’ve ever had a 30-inch redfish hooked in a foot of water, you know how exciting a fight it can be.
While South Louisiana boasts an endless array of duck ponds and shallow marsh areas, anglers who take the time to learn certain patterns and techniques will prove much more consistent in their quest for these bronze-backed beasts.
While many ponds may seemingly look the same, variations in their size and design can often make a big difference in their productivity.
Some ponds are more affected by tides than others. Differences in tidal flow will vary the bottom structure as well as the growth of submerged grasses. These features help dictate where reds will most likely be found, and that’s where you should concentrate your efforts.
January and February can prove to be tough fishing in South Louisiana. Frequent cold fronts and ever-changing weather patterns can make the fish sluggish and hard to catch with any consistency.
However, as March starts coming around, anglers looking for some hot redfish action are in luck. With speckled trout still in their transition mode, redfish can provide some great shallow-water action.
The approach of spring brings warmer temperatures and longer days. Get your boat and your gear ready because the redfish will surely cooperate. Even on days more suited for flying kites, the protected ponds can offer a break from the wind and some great redfishing opportunities.
Capt. Ben Leto has more than 20 years experience fishing the marsh areas of Southeast Louisiana. In fact, his website proclaims that he is a “marsh fishing aficionado.” Leto says that spring redfishing can be very productive.
“In March, the bait begins to show up and be more active. The ponds really begin to produce some great catches of redfish,” he said.
When choosing which pond to fish, Leto looks for areas that provide good tidal movement.
“Find which bank the tide is moving down, and that’s where you’ll find the redfish,” he said.
Leto prefers larger ponds that are connected to big bays.
“These ponds will provide good tidal movement, and the reds will hang there as long as bait is available,” he added.
Having to fish with customers of varying experience levels, Leto says that a weedless spoon is his go-to redfish bait.
“I use a Norton Brass Rattler, and it works well with my customers because it’s so easy to use and the redfish eat it up,” he said.
One technique Leto uses for locating productive ponds is put into action after the day’s fishing is done.
“On the way in, I ride a hundred yards off the bank and watch my wake at the shoreline, looking for signs of fish as I motor by,” he said. “You’ll be amazed at how many fish you can locate using this method.
“This shows me areas that I want to fish in the coming days.”
When the tide is falling, Leto will seek out ponds that have small drains and ditches in the back where the bait will be pulled from the flooded marsh. Redfish are not shy about shallow water, and can regularly be seen tailing while they grub around for food.
“Sometimes you can see their whole backs sticking out of the water,” he said.
When working a pond, Leto recommends constantly scanning ahead in the direction you are fishing.
“By watching forward, you can see the fish or their wakes, and this will allow you to plan and make your casts before you get right up on them and risk spooking them,” he said.
The basic techniques of shallow-water redfishing can be employed throughout the coastal areas. While the ponds down in Venice are a little different with their sandy bottoms and roseau-cane shorelines, redfish there are still redfish.
Capt. Jeff Fuscia has fished South Louisiana from Grand Isle to the Rigolets, but made a determined choice to call Venice his home port.
“Venice is the only place for me,” he said.
He tailors his trips to what his customers want, and an increasing number of them are requesting redfishing trips.
“I prefer ponds with multiple entrances/exits,” says Fuscia. “The way I look at it, those areas provide more spots to find the fish.”
He will concentrate his efforts on all potentially “fishy” areas of a particular pond.
“Points, cuts and any type of structure are where you need to look for reds,” he said.
Fuscia says the best time to fish these shallow areas is just when the tide turns and starts falling.
“This is the most predictable time, and the reds will be feeding,” he said.
Fuscia likes areas where underwater structure will provide a break in the tide flow and provide cover for redfish waiting to ambush unwitting bait.
“Areas where there is a raised edge or an eroded cane patch are my favorites,” he said.
When fishing these areas, he regularly rigs his customers with shrimp-tipped plastics under a popping cork.
“When we catch a redfish, we can usually find more by getting several baits in the water quickly,” he said.
Fuscia believes that the strong smell of the added baits brings in additional fish and leads to multiple-hook ups.
“When we hook a red, we get the anchor in the water and get the lines out,” he said. “I’ll even fling out a handful of crushed-up shrimp to add some more scent in the water.
“By doing this, we’ll often pull eight to 10 fish from a single spot.”
What to throw?
One good thing about hungry redfish is that they are not very picky. Reds primarily feed on crustaceans such as crabs and shrimp, both of which are found in abundance in these shallow ponds. They will also readily dine on small mullets and other baitfish.
Any artificial bait that presents some semblance of any of these creatures will likely draw a vicious strike from a redfish. Oftentimes, it is the mood of the fish and the day’s conditions that will dictate which bait is best.
While not finicky, reds in these shallow conditions can sometimes be very spooky, and a misguided cast can cause a stampede that may ruin the area for quite a while.
Stealth and accuracy in presenting bait can often be more important than which bait. Many times while fishing shallow ponds, the fish is actually spotted before a cast is made. Too many anglers get excited and quickly cast at the fish, and the result is usually a missed opportunity.
Wearing a good pair of polarized glasses will allow you to spot fish farther out, before you spook them. Also, keep the sun to your back if possible, to reduce glare.
By taking the time to observe what the fish is doing and most importantly, which direction it is facing, the angler can place the bait in a manner that the red almost can’t resist. A bait landed with little splash and pulled through the water at a crossing angle will get the fish’s attention and trigger its strike mode.
Remember, prey doesn’t swim toward the predator. It’s much better to have your bait appear that it is trying to flee and, therefore, cause a reflex attack by a red not wanting to let dinner get away.
Many of the baits used for redfishing have their origins in the bass-fishing world. Like largemouth bass, reds are structure-oriented fish, and use similar tactics for hiding and ambushing their prey. These bass-bait adaptations are generally constructed of stronger and more corrosion-resistant materials. This helps the baits withstand the crushing mouths of redfish and the corrosion brought on by their saltwater use.
Pack a variety of these baits, and you’ll be armed with all the ammo necessary for a limit of shallow-water redfish.
Spoons, spinners, jigs
The gold spoon is one of the most productive shallow-water baits for redfish. The weedless versions easily go through the submerged vegetation, and the flash and vibration are irresistible to a red.
Another great quality of the spoon is its simplicity. Simply throw it out and reel it in. Spoons cast easily, which can be a big help during those windy spring days.
Professional guides like Leto and Fuscia regularly rely on spoons to hook their customers up on reds.
Many saltwater versions of the spinnerbait are now being produced and are very effective on duck-pond redfish. These baits sport beefier wires and larger blades to stand up to these bulls of the marsh. Whether paired with a skirt or soft plastic tail, spinnerbaits deserve a place in your arsenal.
The new Stanley Swim Jig is a hybrid bait that takes the best characteristics of a spoon, spinnerbait, jig and a crankbait and rolls them all into one. The bait can be fished at various speeds and depths, and provides sound, vibration, flash and a redfish-attracting wobble. The bright gold head and blade provides flash like a spoon, and the weed guard lets it be fished anywhere a red can be found.
Many anglers are surprised that topwater baits can catch redfish. Although a redfish’s under-slung mouth is primarily designed for rooting around the bottom, reds just can’t resist blasting through the surface on slow-walking bait.
Due to its mouth design, a redfish may hit a topwater bait several times before making a connection. It seems that on each attack, the water pushed at the bait by the red’s forehead actually shoves the bait just out of its reach. Don’t fret. Hold on because he’s sure to explode on the bait again. This type of fishing is not for the faint of heart, and will tell you more about your cardiac health than any stress test ever could.
There are dozens of topwater baits made specifically for salt water. Walking models such as the Top Dog, Zara Spook and Skitterwalk will all produce massive surface explosions by hungry reds.
These baits are hard to land softly, so cast well beyond sighted fish and work the bait within range. The clicking and clacking of a surface bait will drive a redfish crazy.
Bass fishermen love to bounce crankbaits into brush and sticks where the bass are waiting in ambush. This same technique will also produce well on redfish.
Stocky crankbaits such as Mann’s Baby 1-Minuses can drive a pond red crazy. Fished near sticks, stumps or the legs of a duck blind, a crankbait will put reds in your box. With their shallow running depths and buoyancy, they can be stopped and started as necessary to get a red’s attention without spooking wary fish.
With their exposed treble hooks, crankbaits are best suited for areas with less vegetation and deeper channels.
Varied retrieves will run the bait at different depths, and a few rhythmic rod twitches will generally present an offer that a red can’t refuse.
Oftentimes, the old standby soft plastic beetle or cocaho minnow can’t be beat. One of these baits on a light jighead can be crawled across the bottom right up to a hungry red’s nose.
Scented plastic baits such as Berkley’s line of saltwater Gulp products can provide an edge in tricking a fat red into inhaling your offering. The Gulp baits are highly scented and mimic a variety of shrimp, fish and crabs.
Crab imitations such as the Rip Tide Realistic Crab and the Berkley Gulp are very effective on marsh reds. They can be rigged to walk along the bottom or swim through a grass bed just like a small blue crab.
When you clean your redfish, check the contents of its stomach, and you will most certainly find some pieces/parts of a crab.
Texas-rigged plastic worms are gaining much favor as very effective and weedless redfish baits. As many redfish tournament anglers are proving, this bait can be presented with almost no splash or noise.
When the reds are shallow and spooky, an unweighted plastic worm can easily be presented with a spinning rod and reeled into the strike zone with fantastic results. Texas-rigging the bait makes it totally weedless, and plastic worms come in a multitude of sizes and colors. They are also available in scented varieties.
While tricking a redfish into taking your fake offering can be a big part of the challenge, don’t overlook the effectiveness of the real thing. Reds will readily take live shrimp and minnows.
If the water depths allow, a feisty live offering under a popping cork will surely attract a curious red. When a red takes one of these offerings, the cork will usually move in a sideways direction as the red attempts to swim off with the tasty morsel.
Reds feed heavily by smell, and dead shrimp or a soft plastic bait tipped with a bit of shrimp can be one of the most effective baits available. Fuscia regularly arms his customers with a popping cork and a dead shrimp to ensure a boat load of redfish.
While reds can put up an impressive fight in shallow water, no special tackle is necessary. Your favorite trout or bass rig will suffice. While most inshore saltwater fishermen use spinning reels, many who regularly chase reds in shallow water prefer baitcasters.
These are a little harder to get used to, but offer more precise casting. With a little practice, a baitcaster can land a spoon or topwater plug just as sure as a shot from a scoped rifle.
Whatever method you choose, just make sure that your reel has a strong, smooth drag. These reds have broad shoulders, and will send your drag screaming as they dash away leaving a trail of muddy water.
Fighting a redfish in shallow water is very exciting. With no depths to head for, the red will make blazing horizontal runs that will sometimes pull the whole boat in the direction they are headed. Steady pressure and keeping the rod pointed at the fish during the fight will subdue a wild redfish in reasonably short order. A good landing net will help finish the capture.
Line choice is more personal preference than necessity. Any tough 12-pound monofilament will suffice, although some anglers prefer to use braid. Redfish have rough mouths with strong crushers, and their fins and scales are stout. All of this can easily wear through your line after only one or two battles. The easiest way to keep from breaking off is to use a heavy leader.
A 3-foot length of 25- or 30-pound leader won’t affect your bait’s performance, and will keep you connected. The quickest way to add a length of leader is with a double surgeon’s knot. This knot is quick and easy to learn, and is great for joining two different sizes of mono together. For easy knot tying instructions, visit www.netknots.com
Most braid manufactures will provide a list of preferred knots to use when attaching a length of mono leader. Since braids are not transparent, the length of clear leader can help increase your chances of a redfish strike.
The good news is that all but the deepest draft boats will allow access to some shallow-water redfishing. Springtime brings generally higher water levels, making access easier to these areas.
You will encounter fishermen in everything from large bay boats all the way down to pirogues. One of the fastest growing segments of saltwater fishing is the use of a kayak. These tiny vessels are stable, quiet and allow access to water mere inches deep.
Certainly, the shallower the draft, the more areas you will be able to access. One key to successful redfishing is not attempting to run through the ponds with your main motor. Plowing through a pond will muddy the water, shutting down the bite and sending the fish scattering.
With your motor trimmed up, you will be able to access vast areas with a good trolling motor. Another tactic is to drift down shorelines using a parallel tail wind to slowly and quietly move you past productive areas.
For an extra edge, many anglers are outfitting their boats with poling and casting platforms. The extra height helps spot milling reds at greater distances, allowing for more precise presentations. Although poling in soft bottom duck ponds can be difficult, the quiet, slow movement it provides is well worth the effort.
Whatever boat you choose, always work to keep noise at a minimum. Sound waves travel well through water, and it won’t take the reds long to know you’re in their pond.
The milder days of spring are here, and the reds are waiting. Grab an assortment of baits and your favorite pole, and head off to the nearest duck pond. You’ll be rewarded with some exhilarating shallow-water battles and some great table fare.
Capt. Ben Leto operates out of Hopedale. His Pelican Roost lodge was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, but has been completely rebuilt. The lodge can sleep eight people, and is available with a charter or you can bring your own boat. Call (985) 630-2066 for more information.
Capt. Jeff Fuscia fishes throughout the Mississippi River delta. Overnight accommodations are available on request. Call (504) 382-5488 for more information.
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