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Red October

By Larry Bozka

Bank on big fish action with the fall run of beachfront bulls.

Many saltwater anglers equate catching big fish with spending big money. Count them among the unfortunate souls who have yet to battle bull redfish from the beach.

Never mind the name “bull reds.” Large female snapper are called “sows.” So are trophy-caliber trout. The “bull” moniker makes no sense in the case of spawning female redfish until one considers the leather-jawed leviathans’ tendency to pummel the stuffing out of whomever is standing, feet firmly planted in the sand, with a bowed-up, 10-foot surf rod.

Bull reds have noses like bulldogs and dispositions to match; 25-pound fish are commonplace.

Early autumn draws concentrated schools of spawn-ready reds to the mouths of coastal passes, where their millions upon millions of eggs are fertilized by smaller males and abandoned to the whims of the tide.

The bronze-colored bulls venture surprisingly close to the beach. During high tides, it’s not unusual to encounter random schools of oversized (28-inch-plus) redfish inside the deep-water gut immediately beyond the first sand bar.

It’s this close-to-shore proximity, this ready access to anyone holding a long-handled surfcasting rig, that makes post-Labor Day redfishing so appealing to anglers of all ages and backgrounds.

Suitable tackle can be bought for $100 or less. Bait, likewise, is affordable, be it fresh-dead mullet and menhaden bought from a bait camp or live finger mullet captured with a cast net.

Heavy monofilament or fluorocarbon leader, barrel and snap swivels, wire-pronged “surf spider” weights and a supply of sharp circle hooks fill out the bill for terminal rigging. Circle hooks are as forgiving as they are efficient. Fish are almost invariably hooked through the jaw, and can be landed, quickly photographed and released to fight — and spawn — many times again.

Patience is imperative. The wait between strikes can be trying, but when a migrating school locates the baits, the payoff is spectacular.

As for specific holes, long-rodding regulars are a secretive lot. I am no exception. But truth be known, finding surf-run reds is usually no more difficult than driving to your nearest bay-to-Gulf pass.

Above Rollover Pass, McFaddin Beach is one of the state’s best bull-red venues. Located about five miles north of High Island off Texas 87 in Jefferson County and approximately 80 miles from Houston, McFaddin Beach yielded a former state record that tipped the scales at 54 pounds. Every year, similar trophies are landed by adventurous anglers who venture by four-wheel drive into this remote and rugged locale.

San Luis Pass, 60 miles south of Houston, is a powerful and meandering mile-wide divider between West Galveston Island and Surfside, and the state’s largest natural pass. It’s also Texas’ best known and, quite possibly, most prolific producer of surf-running reds.

Farther south, at the turbulent mouth of the Colorado River, Matagorda Beach is yet another favorite hangout of avid surf-casters. Quality redfish action can be enjoyed on both sides of the Matagorda jetties.

Again, these spots top the list because of their proximity to major passes. Water-exchanging arteries are critical to spawning redfish, providing ready access to backwater estuaries where fertilized eggs rapidly develop and mature into fingerlings.

Nonetheless, South Texas beaches also consistently boot out big autumn reds. Below Corpus Christi, the Padre Island National Seashore beckons, with well over 50 miles of potentially productive surf. This, too, is four-wheel-drive territory, particularly the popular 11-mile-long stretch of sand known as “Big Shell.”

No matter where you try it, beachfront bull red fishing is not completely unlike billfishing. Call it hours upon hours of relentless boredom occasionally interrupted by unforgettable moments of sheer panic.

The only difference is that trolling for Texas billfish can break the bank. For a good chance at trophy-class Texas reds, all you have to do is cast from it.

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