Brock Miller made a splash on the kayak-fishing scene several years ago when he won the world’s largest kayak-fishing tournament, Ride the Bull, out of Grand Isle. He was only 16 years old at the time, and defeating nearly 600 competitors was a big deal for the teen. Although he was using a live crab since live and natural bait are allowed in the tournament, Miller has perfected some techniques to target bulls on artificial lures.
Miller has expanded his participation into several other kayak fishing tournaments, most notably, the IFA Kayak Tour.
“The IFA tournament only allows artificial bait, and catching a bull red is a must if you want to finish in the money,” said Miller, who made the Top 10 in two Louisiana IFA tournaments earlier this year.
Where he fishes
On a recent trip to Grand Isle, Miller provided several tips and tactics that he uses to target big bulls using artificial lures.
“The bulls gather from late summer into early fall in deep coastal passes across the state for spawning,” he said. “With Caminada and Barataria passes at each end of the island, Grand Isle is a great spot to target big bulls.”
As we pedaled out of the pass, Miller kept a constant eye on his depth finder; electronics are invaluable for locating schools of reds that wander randomly throughout the area. Looking for areas out of the main channel, Miller generally concentrates on water in the 15- to 30-foot range.
“It all depends where the bait is, and I usually find them between those depths,” he said.
One of Miller’s favorite hard baits for bull reds is a Rat-L-Trap. Developed in the 1960s, the Rat-L-Trap was named after lure-manufacturer Bill Lewis’ old station wagon. He decided the lure was just like his vehicle: “…noisy and dependable like no other.” The Rat-L-Trap remains one of the top-selling hard bait brands made. They come in a wide variety of sizes and colors, including the saltwater-strong Super Trap that Miller prefers for catching bulls.
Generically known as lipless crankbaits, Rat-L-Traps have a tight wobble that puts off strong vibrations and lots of noise. They can be cast and retrieved, vertically jigged or trolled. It can be used to cover all aspects of the water column.
IFA tournaments don’t allow trolling, but if Miller is fishing for fun, he trolls a lure behind the yak while pedaling around scouting with the depth finder. Often, he will get a hit just blind-trolling.
“When you run over a school of bull reds, the screen lights up with large red arches,” he said. “Get your bait below the kayak as soon as you can.”
Miller likes using a large Super Trap to vertical jig down into the school.
“The Trap is heavy enough to get down quickly, and short strokes up and down cause it to vibrate and give off a loud rattle that almost guarantees a bite,” he said.
The tapered shape of the Rat-L-Trap makes it easy for a bull red to suck it into its mouth. Two strong treble hooks provide good holding power for a battle that is sure to last a while. Bull reds are hard fighters and regularly weigh 25 to 40 pounds. Catching them from a kayak is where the term “Cajun Sleigh Ride” originated. Once hooked, they can take you on an exciting thrill ride.
Bull reds are voracious feeders, but when using hard, artificial lures, it helps to use something with sound and action to better mimic live creatures. If using soft plastics, large Gulp! tails or other scented baits also provide an edge. If you want to use live or natural bait, pogies, cut mullet, crabs or large shrimp are a good bet. Natural and live baits work well with a bottom rig or Carolina rig using a large circle hook.
Most hard lures, including Rat-L-Traps, have multiple, stout treble hooks. This can be dangerous when trying to land and get control of a large fish like a bull red in the confines of a kayak. Many anglers have taken to modifying such lures by swapping out the trebles for one or two in-line, single hooks. This does not seem to affect the hookup ratio and drastically lessens the chance of getting a hook imbedded in your arm or leg.
Although they can be fought and landed on light tackle, it’s best to use a heavy rod and line to subdue the fish quickly so it has a better chance of surviving being caught and released. Although state law allows anglers to keep one bull red longer than 27 inches, most opt to release them. After the fight, it is a good idea to tow them along side of the kayak until they revive to the point where they easily swim off. A Boga or other lip grip tool makes this easy.
Next time you’re looking for some yak excitement, tie on a Trap and go rattle up some bulls.