Words by Brett Wedeking
I chased Redfish last fall in the Biloxi Marsh of coastal Louisiana. I had never cast at a Redfish before and had preconceived notions about what to pack, how to fish, and what is appropriate gear. As it turns out, I was mostly wrong. But, learning and discovery is what fly fishing is all about. So, while I’m still a novice Redfish angler, I have a few thoughts to share for anyone considering a trip to the marsh.
1 – The single most surprising aspect of redfishing, for me, was how short and quick the shots were. While similar to classic flats-style fishing, redfishing is unique and presents its own, fun challenges. I ignorantly expected to spot fish at distance, and wait for the guide to work the boat into position to make the cast. Ha! Our shots came fast and if you weren’t ready with a fly in hand you were toast.
The water is not clear like the Bahamas or Belize, and the bottom is usually mud or sand, with bits of shells mixed in. On top of that, the late fall sun doesn’t ever rise straight up overhead. Consequently, spotting fish at 120 feet isn’t really a thing (unless they’re pushing a wake in shallow water). Our shots came from 15-40 feet. And, when the guide says, “I got a fish, 30 feet, 1 ‘o clock,” you need to spot the fish, lift your rod and begin the cast all at once. It’s fun and fast, both exhilarating and heartbreaking.
2 – Lining your rod correctly is always important and critical for redfishing. Due to the quick nature of the casting opportunities, you want a short tapered, quick loading line. The Redfish specific lines are exactly what you want. They load quickly and turn over flies accurately. Trout/steelhead nymph tapers are another good option (without the high-vis tip). They have heavy, short tapers that are meant for turning over junk at shorter distances. You do not want to fish a standard Bonefish taper or trout taper. Those style of lines have long tapers that won’t load and turn over weighted flies quickly, on short shots. Water temperatures are important (duh!), not only because it dictates fish activity but dictates what lines to use. There’s a reason manufacturers produce both winter and summer redfish lines. Just as you wouldn’t fish a trout line in Panama, you want to match your line to the water temperatures you’ll be fishing.
3 – A happy Redfish will eat just about any fly you put in front of its face. However, while they aren’t Permit, reds can get a little picky about fly size, weight, color and presentation. We fished a lot of dark colors like black and purple with bunny tails and brass eyes, 3-4” long. The water is often stained and the bottoms dark and silty so a fly that shows a strong silhouette is more visible. Lighter color and lighter weighted flies are important to have ready too. We learned that in clearer and shallower water that crab and baitfish patterns in tan or olive would be hoovered up, while heavy, dark flies were ignored.
Even smaller reds can get spooky, depending on tides, weather, and angler pressure. Naturally, the bigger fish will be a little more wary, but are regularly fooled and will pull hard and run far. Don’t be complacent, make the best presentation you can, every time. Trust your guide. I’ll say it again, trust your guide.
4 – It pays to have a popper rod rigged and ready to go. You can find plenty YouTube videos showing big bull reds destroying poppers, and that’s a good way to get jacked for an upcoming trip. However, just like trout fishing, reds eat a subsurface offering more often than on top. But, we aren’t bait fishing, we are fly fishing, and the challenge is part of the point of it all, so when you see reds pushing bait in 8 inches of water, grab the foam, throw an accurate cast and enjoy the show.
5- A house on stilts is constantly moving and shooting pool in these conditions makes for a challenging game even when you haven’t dipped into your beer fridge yet.
6 – When traveling to fish and spending precious vacation time, you want reliable, high performance gear. I took a pair of Saltwater AIR rods, a #8 and #9, to the marsh. I was impressed with both rods and they match well with the needs of redfishing. These rods are fast and require a heavy tapered line to load quickly and make short shots, especially for this type of fishing. When you get the right combo, the sweet casting becomes even sweeter when you hook up. These rods are extremely powerful and throw tight loops in the wind. They track straight and turn over weighted flies despite windy conditions. Accuracy is important for reds and the Saltwater AIR rods put the fly exactly where you point the tip. These rods also have good lifting power to turn big fish headed for the deep.
Though I didn’t get to fish the Alpha+ rods for reds, given the fishing I’ve done with them at home, I’m taking a full quiver down next time. The Alpha+ loads deeper than the Saltwater AIR and maintain exceptional feel through the casting stroke (think like a modern version of the classic BIIx rods). These rods bend into the cork to unleash high line speeds and straight casts that easily translate to precision accuracy when it matters. Alpha+ models tame the wind and deliver flies where you want them. And when you hook a good one, you’ll find that the rod bends deep, while maintaining a ton of power and control.
If you only pack one rod to fish reds in the marsh, make it a #9. This gives you maximum versatility for fly size, fish and wind conditions. A #8 is excellent for throwing poppers or calmer conditions. Some anglers prefer a #10 and that’s a good idea too, especially if you have extremely windy conditions and are casting heavier flies in deeper water.
7 – While you won’t have a Redfish peel 200 yards of backing off your reel like a GT or Tarpon, the big ones still pull hard and will test your gear. On top of that, you’re fishing brackish saltwater, which can be harsh on reels. For these reasons, you should bring a machined aluminum reel with a solid disc drag. The marsh is not the venue for plastic cassette reels. The Bauer RX series is perfect for saltwater applications like this.
8 – Even though Redfish receive the modeling contracts, the fun variety of species available in the marsh was unexpected. Our group caught reds, Black Drum, Sheepshead and Sea Trout. In warmer months, you will get opportunities at Jack Crevalle and Alligator Gar too. Traditionally, anglers chase bull reds in fall when the biggest fish migrate to the flats, but big fish can be found year-round.
9 – A properly stocked beer fridge is crucial after a warm day of fishing and luckily New Orleans sports some really good beer. Find some cans from Urban South Brewing and NOLA Brewing for starters.
10 – If you’re fishing in southern Louisiana, you’re likely flying into and out of New Orleans. This was my first trip to NOLA, but won’t be my last, and anyone headed to the marsh needs to spend a couple days enjoying the city. It sounds deranged, but I would visit NOLA even without doing any fishing. The cuisine and music are worth the trip alone. The WWII museum is humbling and awe-inspiring, and the weather is a welcome break from gray or snowy northern winters.
Again, I’m still green when it comes to roping Redfish, but I think this list is a good starting place when considering a trip to the marsh. Having fun is the most important part of a fishing trip and going into it with the correct gear and expectations goes a long way to putting smiles on faces.
If you’re interested in joining Brett on a trip to the marsh, or elsewhere, he hosts trips throughout the year and can be found at www.tailoutanglers.com or on Instagram @tailoutanglers.
Photos by Tyler Bowman (@t.bowcreative)