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June 26, 2007

Bassin' for Reds

Freshwater tips that trick saltwater spot-tails.

Pigs and Frogs
In thick weeds, some anglers use pork or plastic frogs, traditional bass baits that few redfish ever see. But just because redfish seldom see frogs doesn't mean they won't clobber them. Some frogs float; others sink slowly. Anglers can work unweighted buzzing frogs across the surface in thick cover almost like a buzzbait, or pause and let them sink at the edges. Some people even fish them on Carolina rigs.

"We've had success with Stanley Ribbit Frogs," Randazzo says. "They have incredible action; both legs kick up a storm and make a lot of noise. They really are a combination of a topwater bait and buzzbait. Sometimes, I rig a floating frog on a Carolina rig and suspend it above an egg sinker. I get tremendous results from that."

Many anglers attach craw worms to Carolina rigs or rattling bass jigs, which feature lead heads and feathery plastic weed guards. The craw worms' flailing plastic claws attract redfish because they resemble crabs kicking up mud on the bottom. Drop Carolina rigs, jigs or Texas-rigged soft plastics around the edges of thick weed patches or other heavy cover. Work them over drop-offs and drag them slowly along the bottom contour, or sink them into deep holes around the outside bends of major channels.

"Redfish love to hit a craw worm on a 1/2-ounce jig head," says Charlie Thomason, a redfish pro and guide for Bayou Charters in Hopedale, Louisiana. Hook the craw worm as you would any plastic bait and "hop it slowly on the bottom."

Thomason's top craw-worm colors include Louisiana soft-shell crab by Bass Assassin, which is similar to tequila sunrise but with a clear blue-and-black top. He also likes black-and-chartreuse or brown with orange claws.

Standby Spinners
Long a favorite among bass anglers and one of the most versatile baits on the market, spinnerbaits can swim over weed tops or hop along the bottom.

"We use a lot of spinnerbaits when fishing along shorelines that drop off more than 2 feet," says Keith Hartsell, a professional redfish angler from Perryland, Texas, who partners with his brother, Greg. "If we get in deeper structure, or if we get into water that's off-color, we throw a lot of spinnerbaits because they give off good vibrations that attract fish."

Spinnerbaits cover considerable portions of water; work them with either a stop-and-go motion or a steady retrieve. Around thick grass, anglers crank them along the surface or "wake" them just below the surface. In areas with submerged grass, run baits just over the tops of grass tips, barely touching them.

"I reel about five times and give a quick pause because redfish often follow baits," Thomason says. "They don't know if they want to eat it or not. That pause triggers the strike instinct, and they eat it."

Spinnerbaits for redfish generally fall into three categories:
• conventional "safety pins"
• in-lines
• beetle spins

Safety-pin spinners feature a bent metal arm suspending one or more blades over a usually skirt-tipped head. An in-line spinnerbait uses a straight wire that extends from the head; a spinning blade rotates around the wire. A beetle-type spinner, also known as a "harness" spinner, resembles a safety-pin spinnerbait, but its wire harness temporarily attaches to a standard lead jig head. Often, anglers tip jig heads with soft-plastic minnows or shrimp.

A harness spinner offers considerable versatility. Since the components come separate, anglers can easily switch blades, arm sizes, jig heads or trailers to adapt to changing conditions. If anglers see redfish striking mullet, menhaden or other baitfish of a particular color, they can easily remove one plastic trailer and slip on another that more closely resembles the dominant bait. They can resume casting in seconds without retying. Since the harness loosely attaches to the jig head, it also stands up to the abuse that redfish can inflict upon a lure with their powerful jaws and shell-crushing throats.

"In my opinion, the best harness for redfish is a heavy-wire Hildebrandt with a single gold, number 4.5 Colorado blade," says Arkansas pro Stephen Browning. "I attach it to a 1/4-ounce or a 1/2-ounce jig head. I use one with a big heavy harness because a redfish can destroy a spinnerbait. With a wire swinging on a jig head, it has a little more play and doesn't get bent out of shape. I've caught 40-pound jacks on that type of bait, and it has held up."

Browning uses the single gold Colorado blade for redfish because he fishes a lot of dirty water; Thomason follows the same theory. "When I'm fishing in dirty water, I like something that gives out a lot of vibration or has a little bit of thump to it," he says. "A Colorado blade displaces a lot of water. I like in-line spinnerbaits when fishing open water or clear water along a bank."

Spinnerbaits and buzzbaits probably work best in weedy shallows or around thick cover in extremely shallow water, but spinnerbaits also work effectively in deeper water. In deep water or on days when fish become lethargic, "slow-roll" spinners - barely turn the blades - with steady retrieves just over the bottom. Let the baits plink against oyster shells occasionally or hit the bottom, making a mud trail like a crab. Redfish sometimes follow mud trails to their sources. Slow-rolling works exceptionally well when fishing parallel to drop-offs, banks, jetties or other structure.

Around jetties, deep canals or other open water, anglers may require a bit more heft. In-line spinners and heavy tail-spinners, such as a Mann's Little George, sink more quickly than other spinnerbaits. Toss them toward the shallows and slow-roll them just off the bottom. In water deeper than 10 feet, try vertically jigging Little Georges.

"Most of the time, we use in-line spinners when we go really deep or if we're fishing jetties," Hartsell says. "We try to throw them off the rocks and let them drop into deeper water. On the jetties, we use 30-pound fluorocarbon leaders just in case we get snagged on the rocks. Fishing rocks, the line gets bounced around and nicked a lot. Rocks tear them up badly."
 
Crank It Up
In more open areas, many anglers use lipless or conventional crankbaits and jerkbaits, which are really long, slim, shallow-running crankbaits. Both baits imitate a variety of baitfish including mullet and work exceptionally well when reds gang up on mullet, menhaden or other baitfish. Popular jerkbaits include the Bomber Long-A, Bill Lewis Slap-Stik and Rattling Rogue.

"I fish a Rat-L-Trap for redfish the same way I fish for bass on Toledo Bend," Randazzo says. "I also throw shallow-diving, lipped crankbaits very frequently. There are a lot of similarities to what I'm doing in both types of environments."

Work floating crankbaits, such as those made by Bomber, Rebel, Strike King or Rapala, near shorelines with significant drop-offs. Toss them toward shore and work them back through cover or over the drops, just as you would for bass, or try running them parallel to drops. Most crankbaits probably dive too deeply to perform effectively in shallow marshes, but crankbaits that dive 2 feet or less, such as a shad-colored Mann's Baby 1-Minus - a pro favorite - create considerable fish-calling wobble.

Most bass anglers already own everything they need to start chasing "channel bass," and most redfish anglers could try something new and very effective by switching to bass tactics. The marine environment usually requires the use of rods with more backbone or lures with reinforced hardware, but the essential tackle and techniques remain the same across the salt barrier.

John N. Felsher, who just joined the editorial staff of Sport Fishing, previously worked as a full-time freelance writer, photographer and media consultant. After Hurricane Rita destroyed his house in Louisiana, Felsher evacuated to Arkansas, where he wrote a weekly column for 26 newspapers. In the past 11 years, he has written more than 1,000 articles for more than 80 publications. Visit his website at www.johnnfelsher.com.