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Ride the Bull …. Catchin’ Reds

Ride the Bull …. Catchin’ Reds

 It’s fall in Texas. That means football and bull reds. The kids are back at school, the stadiums are full of the usual football crowds and the surf is full of oversized red fish. Grab your kayak and head to the beach. The bite is on. The bull reds are hungry. The excitement of landing monstrous fish is just minutes away.

All year long, I meander through the marsh chasing the usual suspects; reds, trout and flounder. In the fall, I change it up and head to the surf; destination High Island. Where else can you drive approximately an hour or so from Houston and pull directly onto the beach, back up to surf, throw in your kayak, paddle out a couple hundred yards and catch multiple fish over 40”.

If you have never hooked a bull red, you are in for a thrill. They fight. They strip drag. They run. They dive. They turn. They are just down right fun to catch. And to top it off, they are fairly easy to fish to target. It doesn’t require a healthy bank roll, nor a life time of experience.

When fishing for bull reds, many people often choose High Island or McFaddin for a couple of reasons. First, this stretch of beach seems to hold literally tons of fish just a few hundred yards off of the shore. Second, because of the bottom structure, the surf seems a bit less rough.

Throughout this article I will give you a number of pointers to help you be successful in landing this lunker of a fish. First and most importantly check the weather. There are many websites or applications one can use to check the wind, weather, and wave forecasts. I often use both winderfinder.com and swellinfo.com. No offense to these sites but the avid fisherman usually adds a little “roughness” to their reports. Simple concepts to consider include: winds from the east or south usually mean bigger waves and breakers. Winds from the north and sometimes the west flatten the water a bit. Of course, there are other factors to consider but this will get you started.

Second, grab your kayak and hit the surf. I would like to point out that some kayaks are better suited for rougher waters. I fish out of a Hobie Outback. I love how it is adaptable to most any fishing situation and it seems to handle the surf pretty well. Everyone has their own opinions. However, there are a few kayaks that I would not recommend for the surf. In an attempt to display a little professionalism and courtesy to those companies and owners of those kayaks, I will leave those names unmentioned. I caution you to use due diligence before heading out into the OPEN OCEAN. When things go bad “beyond the breakers,” they can go real bad. The most important rule is safety first. If you are searching for a good kayak to purchase just ask the staff at Fishing Tackle Unlimited. They are very knowledgeable and more than willing to help.

Third, take a buddy or a couple friends. It is wise to not head out into the open water alone. Accidents happen and having a friend present could be the difference between a minor incident and a life threating event. Take the usual safety requirements. Wear a PDF. Attach a whistle. Wear a sturdy knife that is always assessable. I would even recommend a portable ship to shore radio. (They are not all that expensive. Most are portable like a walkie-talkie. They float and they are water proof. Many give coast guard and weather reports.)

Fourth, let’s talk gear. I have many friends that have some great fishing gear. They usually have thicker wallets then me too. I have caught a large number of fish spending just a fraction of what many people spend. If you don’t plan on making numerous trips to the surf, you can get by with just a few basics. I use pretty inexpensive equipment in BTB (beyond the breakers). Salt water takes a nasty toll on fishing equipment. While my friends are constantly spending money repairing and cleaning their equipment, I often just replace it with another low end piece. (This is just my personal preference.) I enjoy the challenge of the bigger fish so I use a sturdy rod, but not much more than I would use in the bays. I recommend your rod be 7-8 foot. A bull red may make you stretch around the front of your kayak a few times. When it comes to line, I use basically the same line whether I’m BTB or in bay. I pretty much use 20lb or 30lb braid no matter where I fish. I do however change my leaders for different situations. Many BTB fishermen make their own leaders out of heavy mono-filament. If you go often enough, this may be something you should look into. If you are just an occasional BTB fishermen you can stop by any bait store and pick up a redfish leader. If you go to FTU (Fishing Tackle Unlimited) there are always plenty of helpful employees that can point you in the right direction. If I’m in a hurry, I just pick up steel leaders equipped with a sliding egg sinker. You don’t really need a leader for bull reds but a longer leader will help you land the occasional shark or other toothy critter that may bite.

Fifth, you need bait. Real bait works best for bull reds. It doesn’t have to be live bait, fresh dead or frozen bait work just as good. I recommend large mullet 7”or greater. This will hopefully keep the hardheads and gaff-top from stealing your bait. If the mullet are too big, just cut them in half. The head of a cut mullet seems to work awesome. Many people also use crab. If you are on your way to High Island a good place to stop for bait would be the Sea Pony Bait Shop. It is located right on HWY 124 on your way to the beach. They carry mullet, crab, squid and the always desired cow-nose ray (for those people targeting sharks for the upcoming Shark-a-thon tournament). This brings us to hooks. Obviously, if we are throwing large pieces of bait, we need larger hooks. Hook sizes vary by brand. You need to find a hook that matches well with the size of the bait you are throwing. Again, depending on the brand of the hook I would recommend a size 7-13 circle hook. Circle hooks often lodge themselves in the corner of the mouth and make for an easier and fish friendly release. I don’t recommend eating big red fish. Most people I know preach and use CPA (Catch, Photo and Release) with these majestic fish.

It’s super simple. Attach the leader. Attach the hook. Attach the bait. Let it sink to the bottom. Wait for a bite. The circle hook usually sets itself. Fish on! Prepare for a battle.

When fishing for bull reds you will most likely anchor up. I have an anchor trolley attached to my kayak. I drop my anchor in the water. I usually let out a good deal of extra anchor rope. One end of the rope I attach to an anchor. At the other end I attach a float. I then attach a piece of stretchy or elastic rope between the anchor line and an “S” shaped carbineer. I then clip the carabineer to my anchor trolley. I adjust so the waves hit the back of my kayak. If I hook a large fish, I can easily unhook from the anchor and go on what most BTB fishermen call a “sleigh ride”. Let the fish pull you around until he tires out. After landing the fish I just paddle/pedal back to my float and reattach to my anchor.

Make sure you bring the important essentials. This includes lots of fluids, food to snack on and sun screen. You never want to end a good fishing trip early due to dehydration or a painful sun burn. If you are not accustomed to the rougher water in the open ocean then you may want to take a motion sickness medicine such as Dramamine.

Finally, after catching your desired share of hard fighting, heavy pulling bull reds, you’ll inevitably head back to the beach. Most frequent BTB fishermen attach their valuable gear to their kayak with various leashes, hence the reason to have a knife that is always handy. I have heard my share of horror stories which include people getting tangled in their leashes and having some very hairy experiences. (An assessable knife can help free you in a worse-case scenario.) Be wise. No matter how often you use your kayak, there is always a chance you will eventually turtle (tip over). I have found that no matter how rough the breakers (waves near the beach) I am far less likely to turtle if I return to the beach backwards. I almost always follow this method to return to the beach. I watch the waves. I find a place where it looks as though if I were to ride a wave in, I would end up at my desired location. I then paddle in until just before the first place the wave breaks. I turn around facing away from the shore. I take my time. I drift in or paddle backwards, all the while, making sure the front end of my kayak takes on all the waves. Sometimes I even paddle into those waves. Knock on wood; I have never turtled using this method.

I hope these pointers help. Happy sleigh rides and tight lines.

Todd Hart

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