Bulls No Bull
Gulf Coast marsh anglers are in for a fight- a real BULL redfish FIGHT.
Learn how to fish & catch marsh bull redfish.
Bull redfish fishing methods, tips, tactics, and techniques for success.
When it comes to bull redfish, the small-boat angler is in for a fight–a ‘reel’ bullfight! To many Gulf Coast fishermen, there is nothing more synonymous with the coming of fall than redfishing.
Even with the bag limit being only five fish per person, it doesn’t seem to impede the staunch redfish pursuer one bit. And none, at least that I know of, ever leave their favorite spot with a bag limit discontented and without aching limbs.
Bull reds, those over 12 lbs. and measuring 27 inches or over, offer the small-boat angler a big fish with a big fight. And, more often than not, there’s generally a ‘bull pit’ within easy reach of most launch sites along the entire northern Gulf Coast. Actually, it’s usually any main channel that makes entrance into the Gulf that winds up being a prominent bull red hot spot.
From late summer through fall, the bigger specimens, averaging 20-351bs., begin to show in large numbers around Gulf beaches, barrier islands, passes and the open Gulf. Boats of various sizes will line these places like no other time, throwing lines baited with cracked crab, mullet, shrimp, cut porgies or squid. Besides that, some opt to troll spoons or pitch large baited jigs at Mr. Bull. No one can really say which is most productive, for each angler swears by his own. And don’t so much as mock some of the more unorthodox methods or procedures since they at times can prove very favorable.
For instance, one year we were fishing trout out of Cocodrie, Louisiana, at Raccoon Point (Last Island) when we noticed three fishermen pull up to the island late in the evening and began unloading lounge chairs and other camping type equipment onto the beach. After sunset they commenced scouring the shallow waters behind the island with a gas lantern and bucket in hand. At first it appeared that they were floundering, but they had no gig, only a hand net. Upon questioning them, they told me they were looking for crabs. Since they didn’t want to elaborate any further, I left it at that, knowing if I watched long enough I would eventually find out for myself.
Later that night I inquisitively spied on them from my boat’s cabin and watched them laid out in lounge chairs fishing for bull reds with their freshly caught crabs.The entire night and into early morning the inebriated trio hooted and hollered as they battled one redfish after the other. Needless to say the ruckus kept us up all night.
The next morning I noticed, as I walked by their camping spot, three giant bull reds laying in the water on a stringer that was tied to a stake and driven into the sand. Evidently they had caught and released much more, yet compliantly only kept their legal limit of one bull red per person. The other smaller reds I didn’t get to see, but the ice chest on the beach had been filled to capacity for they had a hard time lifting it into the boat prior to departure.
It became apparent to me that everything that had occurred appeared routine and went like clockwork. Indeed, no one could deny that they had their format for bagging reds down to a science. But, not to make light of their success, fishing for bull reds doesn’t have to be too systematic and regimented as is the case with some other fickle species. These size fish are more rough and bullish and not so selective in their feeding habits. Hence, more emphasis can be placed on the when and where rather than the how-to, which simply involves basic bottom fishing with a 7/0 hook and either a drop leader or sliding sinker rig. Additionally, and probably more important than the latter, is the not-to.
There’s no need, for instance, to ever have to gaff a redfish; instead use a large diameter landing net. This is much more efficient and practical without all the mess associated with puncturing a 1/4 inch hole through their body. There’s really no point in killing a fish that might otherwise be released and/or tagged.
Handling these big fish also takes some care and commonsense, which will protect both you and increase their survival rate. For example, never attempt to lift a large red by its gill cover unless you want to risk having your fingers either cut or painfully constrained in their sharp gill rakes. Those of you who are familiar with the toy novelty Chinese Fingers may recall the panicking sensation you first experienced upon getting your fingers stuck in such a contraption. This is exactly how gill rakes work–no bull!
One time I had to literally use a knife to cut away a gill rake in order to free the hand of one of my fishing cronies. He was merely posing the fish in hand for a photo shot when he realized he couldn’t remove it. At first I thought he was just joking, but it wasn’t until I looked closely that I noticed blood running down his arm. Since that time, the use of wet rags or cloth gloves when handling them has eliminated such a problem.
Possibly the most deceiving feature of these fish is their all-gum appearance, which has prompted some to wonder if they have any teeth at all. The fact is, some have found out the answer the hard way; like when one chomps down on your hand while dislodging a deeply engulfed hook.
To be assured that this is no bull, the next time you land a big red, roll back his upper or lower lip and look closely. Their teeth aren’t real obvious at first and they don’t appear to be very vicious looking. But, be reminded, those choppers can crush a large mullet head or whole adult crab like hungry Mexicans eating nachos. Logically, the use of long-nose pliers or a hook disgorger is well in order.
When fishing for Mr. Bull, steel leaders are not necessary. Mono in the 40-50 lbs. test will do the job, and you won’t lose a redfish due to their teeth cutting it. This also makes it convenient in the event Mr. Jaws shows up; he’ll be able to cut himself free in many cases.
Other than the bull red, there is perhaps no other fish accessible to a small-boat angler that is capable of causing mass hysteria upon hookup. This is especially so if everyone aboard gets into them at the same time. It’s a fish that will test your tackle and bring out any flaw in your rod, reel or line. If your equipment holds up to the initial run, it will try and find your weak side by running both to the left and right and every which way in between.
The bull red, as some well know, can be devious and is notorious for deceiving you into thinking that it has given up and is coming in for the landing–only to find it making another powerful jolting run. Like a raging bull against a matador, he’s not going to be taken without a formidable fight.
The most fun can be had on medium-light tackle, but battles aren’t necessarily short-lived on medium-heavy tackle either. For comfort sake, though, it’s best to use tackle in the 20-301b-class; either spinning or baitcasting type. Many anglers have a tendency to use too heavy a gear when going after bull reds, and this is not necessary nor conducive to a sporty challenge.
On a more scientific note, biologist have known for quite some time that reds spawn generally at night and on a full or new moon with tidal ranges at their optimum. They theorize that such conditions may be chosen since it affords maximum opportunity for their eggs to be dispersed before they become visible to predators by day.
Naturally, the meticulous angler will plan ahead and check both the astronomical data and tide charts within this magazine in order to maximize the opportunity. But, if there’s any ONE thing that will increase the chance of catching bull reds, it is chumming.
An old angler acquaintance of mine proved this to me time and again. What he would do, after trawling for bait, was lower a bait basket over the side of his boat filled with crushed crab, shrimp and fish. As a result, nearby anglers could only watch in amazement as we pulled in one red after another. Certainly, if there’s any evidence that will convince you of another’s fishing prosperity, it is a pile of fish flopping on a deck.
Some good near launch locations to be at with a basket of fresh chum are the mouths of Grand Bayou, Chaland and the Shell Canal which lay south and west of Port Sulphur, Louisiana. These are accessible by a short run through inside bays and bayous which may serve as protection in the event a squall.
Four Bayous Pass, accessible from Grand Isle or Myrtle Grove, is another good choice but may require a more seaworthy vessel because of distance. This location is fished from the mouth of the pass and out into the Gulf up to one mile. A distinct underwater dropoff in this area easily located with the use of a depth tinder. Boats line this spot on weekends during the fall season so closely together that at times you can almost walk from one to the next. It’s common throughout the night to hear all sorts of excited yells and shouts as the bulls are being fought and boated, or possibly lost.
Now, in light of all the popular hotspots you know of to catch bull reds, here’s a question to test your knowledge of their spawning habits: Where do reds primarily choose to spawn? If you answered deep tidal passes or at barrier islands you are not up to date on the latest findings by biologists.
It has been thought for generations that reds move into passes to spawn, but research now shows the species spawns primarily in the open Gulf. In comparison to other Gulf Coast states, reds off the Louisiana coast seem to spawn farther offshore. The reason, they say, is caused by environmental conditions, such as water temperatures and salinity levels which reds prefer to be between 26-32 parts per thousand.
This doesn’t mean bulls can’t be caught in deep passes and along barrier islands. Obviously, the key word “primarily” is in direct connection with spawning and does not mean exclusively, since many passes along the Louisiana coast and elsewhere explode with big redfish action during this season.
Furthermore, big reds can concentrate in large numbers at any given area along the coast for the purpose of feeding and not necessarily to spawn as some might believe. It was also once thought that all reds lived inshore until they reach sexual maturity, at about five years, then moved offshore to join the spawning stock. Research now shows otherwise.Males reach sexual maturity between 1-3 years; females between 3-7. Some move offshore before full maturity, joining the spawners as non-participating members. Redfish are also one of the longest-lived estuarine species, known to live as long as 35 years.
In contrast to these latest findings, however, biologists have remained unanimous on the fact that the biggest reds are caught during the months of August-November. Likewise, the persistent bull red hunter eventually finds that to be true. But, as is the case with many facts and findings, there seems to always be some exception to the rule.
Case in point is with Ron Weber, a visiting angler to Cocodrie, La., who aboard an inside charter trip caught a Gulf of Mexico record redfish weighing in at 61 lbs. Weber, a black bass angler, was using a sliding sinker rig armed with a live cocahoe minnow and bait casting reel when he hooked the fish at Last Island. The real clincher is that he caught it in the month of June (1992).
And that, despite all scientific reasoning, is no bull!