Go off the grid and into marshes for line-stretching action
As Texas’ largest estuary, Galveston Bay is known for its nearly 600 square miles of wide-open water. The complex stretches some 30 miles in length and is about 17 miles wide, making it the seventh largest U.S. estuary. But some of the most exceptional fishing action for the next several weeks will take place in often overlooked parts of minute, off-the-grid locations of the bay system.
Although relatively small when compared to the more than 345,000 acres that make up the Galveston Bay complex, marshes, satellite bays and back lakes provide anglers with a long list of prime hotspots as the transition into the fall season begins. This pattern will persist well beyond September, and it’s occurring along the entire upper coast.
Among all the species that call the marsh home during the fall, redfish rule. The copper-topped predators can be found swarming through the shallows like bronze torpedoes as they pulverize shrimp, baitfish and a variety of offerings from anglers in pursuit. Some will be feeding in mere inches of water, pushing a wake as they chase their prey into flats shallow enough for them to get a sunburn. Whether redfish are backing, tailing or schooled up, one thing is for sure — they’re going to supply line-stretching memories to anyone able to get within casting distance.
Galveston Bay is littered with marshes and back lakes that are chock full of redfish. Some exceptional areas include Moses Lake, Swan Lake, the Pierce Marsh, Jones Bay, Green’s Lake, Carancahua Lake, Chocolate Bay, Christmas Bay, Oyster Lake, Lost Lake and Bastrop Bay.
On both sides of the Galveston Bay complex, other regions of the upper coast also sport pristine marshes that are wall-to-wall with red drum. Southwest of Freeport and the San Bernard River lies a series of back lakes off the Intracoastal Waterway that can be phenomenal during the fall. They consist of the Cedar Lakes, Cocklebur Slough and Cow Trap Lake. Over to the east near Sabine Pass, Keith Lake offers some premier opportunities for anglers to cash in on the fall redfish bite.
There are a plethora of proven methods for fooling red drum along upper coast marshes. A smorgasbord of both artificial and natural baits will do the trick.
One of my favorite approaches when targeting reds in the back lakes is to chunk topwater plugs along banks that are holding plenty of baitfish. I’ll cast the lure parallel to the shoreline and walk it across the surface of the water alongside the marsh grass. Many times, the fish are staging right up against the bank, so the idea is to work the lure close to the grass for as long as possible, keeping it in the strike zone. This tactic will produce explosive strikes from some of the largest reds in a given area, and it’s without a doubt one of the most exciting ways to catch them.
During high tides, marsh grasses along banks and islands inside back lakes will become flooded. Shrimp and baitfish will take refuge along the flooded stretches of vegetation. This scenario often means redfish are feeding in and around the flooded grasses as well, making them harder to catch. In this situation, a weedless presentation is necessary for anglers to be successful.
The PT-7 manufactured by D.O.A. Lures is a weedless, soft-bodied topwater bait that works phenomenally well when pitched into stretches with shallow, flooded marsh grasses. The 3-inch, bite-sized offering can be dragged over and through thick clumps of grass without snagging, and aggressive reds can’t resist it.
Additional artificial presentations will coax strikes from marsh-bound redfish, too. One classic option that has stood the test of time is a gold spoon. A half-ounce gold Johnson Sprite spoon is just hard to beat. It has a tantalizing wobble that produces plenty of thumps from feeding fish when it’s steadily retrieved at a moderate pace. Simply cast the lure out, reel it in and hold on.
Paddle tail soft plastics rigged on a 1⁄8– to 1⁄4-ounce jig head also will produce hook-ups. A scented shrimp imitation bait, like a Berkley Gulp Shrimp, paired with a popping cork, is an excellent go-to option as well.
Redfish will rarely turn down a live shrimp or a live mullet. Live shrimp will produce best when rigged under a popping cork, while live mullet will be more effective when free-lined under the surface with a small 1⁄8-ounce egg weight.
Pursuing redfish in the marsh is definitely a visual experience. Gulls and terns hovering along parts of the bank are often the telltale sign of a school of reds aggressively feeding. Then there’s always the chance of seeing small pods of fish or individuals cruising, tailing and swirling in the shallows. All of these possible scenarios provide sight-casting opportunities for anglers fishing with both conventional and fly tackle.
The beginning of September may still feel like summer, but fall is on the horizon. It’s time to get off the grid and go “marshin’ for redfish.”
Redfish on the half shell with a side of throats
One tasty way to prepare redfish fillets is to grill them on the half shell. This means that each side of the fish is filleted down the back bone with the skin and scales left attached to the meat. These fillets are cooked over a bed of coals or open flame with the skin and scales facing down.
The fillets should be seasoned and then lightly glazed with olive oil before they’re put on the grill. Just as the meat appears white and begins to flake, sprinkle some Parmesan and mozzarella cheese over them and allow them to cook for another couple of minutes. Use a spatula to scoop the fillets off the skin, serve and enjoy.
The meat behind the gills and on the underside of a redfish in its throat area is thick, white and downright delicious when grilled. Cleaning the throat can easily be done after a redfish is filleted.
Simply cut behind the gill plate and in front of the pectoral fin on either side of the head until the diamond-shaped piece of meat becomes free. This chunk of flesh should be seasoned and then drizzled with a light coat of olive oil.
Redfish throats should be grilled with the skin facing down toward the fire or heat source. They should be cooked until the meat inside them appears white and flaky. This meat will scoop out easily with a fork as a thick, white morsel, similar to the consistency of lump crab meat.
Grilled redfish throats go great as a side or an appetizer with redfish fillets cooked on the half shell.