Aggressive fish, top to bottom
Terminal gear truly can consist of pretty much anything when these fish are on the feed. But it's hard to beat surface plugs for excitement - more so since reds are known for their underslung mouths, which require much more effort to grab baits on the surface. Add that physical limitation to the abandon with which these reds throw themselves at anything that twitches in the heat of competition among the hordes of hungry fish, and we're talking major mayhem.
In fact, some of the most top-shelf moments came when I helped out Jim Elder, a physician, also from Birmingham, as teaser man to draw in the reds - from which we'd drifted away - close enough to see his popper fly. I cast my big Yo-Zuri Surface Bull GT, with hooks removed, far downwind. Splashing and chugging noisily back toward us, the 8-inch lure had reds climbing all over it. By the time I'd brought it boat-side, dozens of redfish trailed behind - not a sight soon forgotten!
But by no means will all the action be on top. Often winter bulls hang near bottom, the abundant individual echoes on Jones' Furuno color LCD screen unmistakable. On the one hand, reds may be wherever you find them, Jones says. On the other hand, it pays to look for slight contour differences that concentrate fish.
"People think of the Gulf bottom here as flat, but that's not necessarily so, and even small rises in bottom will hold bait."
When the reds are hunkered down, a bucktail/lead-head or metal jig should attract immediate attention (Jones cites Shimano's Butterfly jigs as a hot number). While matching some hatch is hardly a worry, in general brighter seems to be better. Hungry bulls jumped on the chartreuse 9-inch Storm WildEye shad swimbait I dropped down. And dropping it may be best, despite the temptation to send your offering out on a long cast: "Lots of times, the fish will follow along, right in the shadow of the boat," Jones says.
If the reds are scattered, the skipper may run back some large, big-lipped diving plugs and slow-troll, often picking up fish that way.
Even when the bulls are prowling the bottom, keep your light topwater or fly rod rigged and ready to throw: Given that the water is seldom more than 20 feet or so in depth, hooked reds coming up often bring followers, and commotion topside may soon have the surface alive with activity.
Experience this action once, and you won't easily forget it. The sight of so many big reds churning the surface competing for a fly or surface plug beneath a sparkling winter sun, with north winds brisk enough to shut down most fisheries, will surely leave a lasting impression with anyone lucky enough to battle bulls off the beaches here.