By: Eric Fey
I was well into my second wind by the time I arrived at the area that I wanted to fish this past Saturday morning. I was about 3 miles away from the launch at this point and the sky was growing darker by the second. I knew that I wouldn’t have long to fish before the weather got too rough for me to stay. I threw my Rapala Skitterwalk to the edge of the grass and began to walk it out towards the open water. The water underneath the lure erupted and the lure was sucked down below the surface. My line tightened and the rod bent over as the bull made her initial run down the edge of the bank before breaking into the open water. I was able to get a few cranks on the reel before she felt the pressure and took off. My drag was screaming and I leaned into the butt of the rod to slow her down. She would pause for only a moment before her second run. I was fishing 12 lb flourocarbon on my “topwater/jig rig” so I knew there was a limit to how much I could tighten my drag. I was in for a hell of a ride, and she was driving.
By applying constant pressure, I was able to turn her around and work her in closer to the kayak. As a general rule of thumb, you do not want to bring a big red with a bunch of energy too close to the boat or she might dive under it. If this happens, you run the risk of losing the fish or damaging your equipment. But make no mistake about it, some times she will dictate where the fight takes place. In this case, early in the fight she chose to swim closer to the kayak. It is important to always keep pressure on the fish, so when she swam in, I was forced to pick up line until the fight was at the kayak. In the clip you will see me pick up my retractable rudder. I also flattened out my mirage drive fins which you cannot see. That way, if and when she chooses to dive under the yak, there is nothing for the line to get tangled on. You might also notice me tightening my drag during the fight which some believe to be a “no no”. One benefit to using a modern baitcaster is the star drag. I just recently read a great article that I will refer you to on lafishblog.com called You Need to Start Using a Baitcaster that explains some of the additional benefits of using this type of reel. The star drag, to put it simply, consists of a combination of carbon and stainless steel drag washers that are stacked on top of one another. When you tighten down on the drag it compresses the stack of washers. The tighter they are together, the more friction exists between them when the drag is paying out, ergo heavier drag. If I am going to adjust my drag during the fight, I normally wait for the fish to pause between runs. Be sure to know what your line poundage is so that you do not over tighten your drag and pop your line. Only make adjustments when necessary. For instance, tighten the drag if you are running out of line or want to quicken the fight. If the drag is set appropriately (about 2/3 the line weight is what I like) then the drag should never need to be loosened.
During the fight, try to maintain a rod angle of approximately 45 degrees. If the fish is running straight away from the kayak, lower the angle and let the drag do its job. When the fish takes a dive under the kayak it’s decision time. NEVER release the spool. If you can swing the rod around the front or back of the yak that will be your best bet. This is something to consider when deciding how to store extra rods. If they are sticking up in the back of the yak it may make it tough to pass your rod over during a fast run under the yak. Sometimes the only option will be to maintain that constant pressure and try to turn the fish back to the side that the rod is on. You will notice that several times during the fight I readied the net when I thought that I might have a chance to land her. It is very important to do your best to get those big reds to the kayak before they have reached exhaustion. It is possible that a fish can be so tired out that it dies upon release. Although this is more common in the hot days of summer, it can happen year round and should always be considered.
Anytime I show a picture of a big red to someone who does not kayak fish I always get the same question. “That thing must have pulled you around quite bit huh?” Well, yes! And that is half of the fun. In the kayak fishing community, a ride on the back of a big redfish is known as a Cajun Sleigh Ride. If you are going to be anchored out then you better make sure that your drag is well tuned. Otherwise, pick up the anchor and let that big girl drag you around for a little while! Just make sure she won’t pull you into a pod of redfish that you would then spook off. So the question becomes, “where do I go to find big reds?” That depends on how big you want to go. While fishing the interior marshes, you will often find reds that get up to about 30-32″ long. If you want the 20+ lbers then you need to head a little further towards the coast. I caught this red in Cocodrie in a bay that is open to the gulf. Grand Isle is a common destination for kayakers in search of giant bull reds and every year several 40+ inchers are landed. In fact, Grand Isle is home to an annual kayak fishing tournament appropriately named Ride the Bull. Hundreds and hundreds of kayakers stack up in Caminada Pass hoping to hook into a 30 lber. Leeville is another big red location and so is Hopedale.
I fought the beautiful redfish above for what seemed like an hour. In actuality it was just under 6 minutes. She was bigger than my measuring board but I am estimating her to be somewhere around 35-36″. The BOGA grips put her weight right at 20 lbs. When the fight was over and the pictures were taken, she was released with plenty of energy. I, on the other hand, was exhausted.
I hope this helps you to land your next big red or maybe even your first big redfish from a kayak. I am positive that I didn’t address all of the questions that you may have. So if you have any questions or are interested in getting started, stop into The Backpacker and talk to the crew about how you can get in a kayak and after these big Louisiana redfish.