The summer doldrums are the perfect time to cozy up with shallow-water reds that swim in water as clear as what comes out your tap.
I was hooked on sight fishing for redfish before I even set foot in Capt. Charlie Thomason’s Triton boat.
As a teacher, my alarm clock had been going off way too early since school started up last August. Only this year, it kept buzzing throughout June as I had been selected to teach the summer LEAP Remediation Program in St. Tammany Parish.
It finally stopped buzzing on June 28 — the day before I was supposed to meet Thomason dockside in Hopedale. My first day of summer freedom, and I was reaching over to set the alarm again.
I figured I better call Thomason to see what time he wanted me to meet him. I had already set the hour to 4 a.m., and was only trying to figure out what the minutes should be.
“Can you be here for 8 a.m.?” Thomason asked.
Realizing I was the butt of a cruel joke, I asked Thomason what time he really wanted me there.
“If 8 is no good, we can shoot for 9 or 10,” he replied. “It really doesn’t matter what time we go because this kind of fishing doesn’t get good until the sun is up in the sky anyway.”
Glory be. I have fished all over Louisiana for every fish this state has to offer, and I can’t recall ever meeting my partner at 8 a.m. This was it — my one true love. This was what I had been looking for all my life. Getting to fish excited me enough, but getting to fish without having to wake up before Grandma’s rooster was more than I could stand. I was giddy.
I didn’t realize what giddy was, though, until I met Thomason at his dock the next morning. He started telling me all about what we were preparing to do, and like most excitable people, his voice went up an octave and his arms started flailing around. I couldn’t wait to see just what it was about sight fishing for redfish that had Thomason so excited.
“I’ve fished in a lot of different states, and Louisiana is the only one where anglers are so into catching limits,” Thomason said. “Here, it’s catch as many as you can, and be back at the dock at 9. Every time I come home from fishing another state, I really do slow down and realize just how good we’ve got it here.
“I’ve heard anglers who have just caught 100 trout and 20 reds say they had a good day. I have to explain to them that it wasn’t a good day — it was an unbelievable day. And this sight fishing for redfish is about as unbelievable as it gets. Anglers in other states would get all fired up to be able to go out and sight fish three or four reds in a day. Here, we have the opportunity to go out and sight fish 100 a day if the conditions are right, and 15 to 20 under less than perfect conditions.”
After Thomason got me all inspired from his motivational speech, he fired up his big Honda outboard, and took off south from his dock. Ten minutes later, he was idling into a pond that was more spirited than Tiger Stadium after a touchdown.
There was a lot of stuff going on in this pond. Scarred mullet were jumping, alarmed cocahoes were swimming in tight groups and ravenous redfish were pushing. It was exactly what Thomason was hoping to find.
“The No. 1 rule for sight fishing reds is that you’ve got to have grass because you’ve got to have clean water,” Thomason said. “There are some areas maybe along the Gulf where you can find the clear teal water, but the grass is where it’s at.
“When you get around grass you’re getting in clean water, and redfish get really bronze in that kind of stuff, so they show up better and they are a heck of a lot easier to see.”
Thomason also suggested that redfish in a grass situation tend to be more aggressive because they are used to feeding more from an ambush situation than having their bait brought to them by the current. Redfish living in grassy areas also aren’t as spooky as those in open areas like a bare bank. Both characteristics lend themselves well to sight fishing.
On the east side of the Mississippi River, Thomason pointed out that the closer an angler gets to Delacroix and Carnarvon, the clearer the water gets because of the increased amount of grass. Specifically, he suggested places like Bayou La Croix between the river and Oak River. Wreck Bay, Second Bay and Third Bay get really clean, and they hold a lot of reds.
Moving toward the mouth of the river, five-time redfish tournament winner Anthony Randazzo suggested areas like the Highline Pond off Tiger Pass and the ponds off Pass A Loutre.
“Those ponds off Pass A Loutre can be tricky, though, because of all the shoals and sandbars you’ll run into going in and out of them,” Randazzo said. “And sight fishing for reds down here is at the mercy of the Mississippi. A high and muddy river will wreck it. Late summer and early fall give the best sight-fishing opportunities because that’s when the river is the lowest.”
Thomason moved to the front of his boat, and deployed his trolling motor. He spent several minutes adjusting its height so that is was just far enough under the water with both of us on the front deck so that it wouldn’t cavitate. He adjusted the speed so that we were just barely moving along, and he left it there.
“It’s important to set your trolling motor so that your boat is moving at a decent rate,” he said. “If you really want to be successful at this, though, you need to turn it on and leave it on. Don’t turn off the trolling motor until somebody catches a fish. If you do, you’ll spook every fish in the area.”
While calm water makes it easier to see the fish, Thomason actually likes to see just a tiny bit of chop on the surface. Dead-calm water allows the reds to hear everything that’s going on, and they tend to get a little spooky. A light chop allows an angler to run the trolling motor rather than just drift in super-calm water.
“They can hear everything,” Thomason said. “It’s kind of like when you’re outside and you hear a jet overhead at 20,000 feet. You notice it and look up to see what it is. These reds are the same way. When they hear the trolling motor, these fish in Louisiana will actually come out of the grass to see what it is making that noise.”
Sure enough, as soon at Thomason started those words, he cut them off as a red swam right up to the spinning propeller. Thomason make a quick underhanded flip cast and dropped his Texas roach Saltwater Assassin Shad about a foot in front of the fish. The red couldn’t let such a fabulous opportunity swim away, so it pounced.
Like Thomason, Randazzo has fished all over the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, and he has never seen fish act like these Louisiana redfish do.
“They leave you scratching your head a lot of times,” he said. “I can guarantee you that redfish don’t come right to a trolling motor anywhere other than Louisiana. That’s indicative of the great fishing we have here. People come here from other states, and they just can’t believe how good we have it here.”
Thomason and Randazzo agreed that the key to spotting redfish is to look for the white mouth. Since many other fish that inhabit the same area have white mouths, the trick then becomes to quickly identify whether it’s a red or a sheepshead or something else like a drum. As bronze as these reds get in the grass, though, it’s actually not that difficult to spot them in an instant.
“I would recommend that somebody who wants to try this leave their rods in the holders until they get used to spotting fish,” said Thomason. “Once you get comfortable seeing and identifying the reds, then pick up a rod and learn how to cast to them. You can’t throw behind them if you want to get bit. Learn how to lead the fish like you would lead a flying duck.”
Randazzo got a little more technical in his explanation of learning how to cast because he says that being off just a little can mean the difference in getting bit or not. He suggested anglers learn how to make their lure enter the water as quiet as possible in exactly the spot they want it to enter.
“Work on dropping your bait 3 feet in front of a fish,” he said. “Then work on 2 feet, 1 foot, then 6 inches. Being able to do that consistently will help you get the kind of success you’re looking for. You can’t throw at their tail and expect them to turn and eat it every time. If you can get your bait the right distance in front of a fish, you can make him react.”
One of the tips that both anglers passed along is to get as high as you can in your boat. Thomason built a special platform for the front of his Triton bass boat that he uses when he knows he’s going to be sight fishing, but anglers don’t have to go to that expense just to get up in the air.
“A lot of people just move their ice chest to the front deck and stand on it,” he said. “We do it all the time in my bay boat because you can stand on the chest and still run the trolling motor. You can also get one of those three-step ladders and put it on the front deck, but you’ve got to have somebody to run the trolling motor for you if you do that. It’s worth doing, though, because the higher you can get, the farther out you can see.”
While these aggressive redfish will eat just about anything you put in front of them, Thomason and Randazzo both prefer to flip out something with a large profile. Each angler relies heavily on the 5-inch Salt Water Assassin Shads. And as Thomason proved, color doesn’t matter one whit. He changed colors after every fish he caught just to show that these fish are biting out of pure reaction rather than hunger.
Since most sight fishing for reds takes place in grassy water, Thomason said it’s important to have one rod rigged with a 1/8-ounce jighead and one with a Texas rig. He uses the open-hook jig in open water and switches to the Texas rig in thick grass.
Both anglers also keep a few other lures nearby just in case the fish aren’t attacking the plastic. Thomason likes a gold spoon, and Randazzo often pitches out a Bass Assassin Red Daddy spinnerbait, especially if he finds himself in a big school of reds.
“You should also keep in mind that these reds can see everything going on above the water,” Randazzo added. “You don’t want to create a big silhouette when casting. Since the sun is going to be behind you most of the time, any time you raise your rod high to cast, they’re going to spot you. Try to keep your rod down and make quick pitches and flips, and don’t wave your arms around a lot when you’re talking to your buddy.”
Thomason took the stealthy approach one step farther and mentioned that anglers should get on the front of their boat when they get in a good pond and stay there.
“Be still,” he said. “Every time you move from the front to the back or side to side, you throw off wakes that you might not even notice. The reds are going to notice them, though, and they’re going to get very uncomfortable.”
While sight fishing for reds is best done while staying on the move, there are some situations where anglers might do better to sit in one spot and wait for the fish to come to them. This usually happens when you know the fish are going to come out of a particular cut or you get in a big school of fish that are swimming around you.
That’s why Thomason and Randazzo have the Power Pole anchors on the backs of their boats. This device allows them to quickly and quietly secure their boats in the perfect position without disturbing the fish with the noise of an anchor splashing into the water. Everything they do when sight fishing reds is about being quiet, and their anchor is no exception.
After watching Thomason spot and catch about 20 reds before 10 a.m., I realized this was going to be my new favorite way to fish. I used to love sight fishing for bedding bass because I could watch everything from the fish to the cast to the presentation to the reaction of the bass to the bite and the fight. Sight fishing for redfish is no different.
“It’s kind of like hunting on the water,” Thomason said. “Once you try it, you’ll be hooked.”
I can vouch for that. I can’t wait to go back. Dang, there goes that alarm clock again. Is it August already?
For more information, contact Capt. Charlie Thomason at 985-809-6391 or Capt. Anthony Randazzo at 504-628-4526.