Inshore anglers in Alabama have experienced an unusually spotty speckled trout bite this summer. Fortunately, one species has become a beacon of consistency during the summer heat – the drag-stripping, test-your-tackle redfish, especially those that reach the bull designation.
Alabama is blessed with an excellent population of redfish, technically a red drum but most often called redfish. Because of Alabama’s fertile estuaries and bays, redfish are everywhere. And they’re biting.
Alabama’s saltwater fishing regulations set a slot limit on redfish of 16 to 26 inches with a daily bag limit of three fish. Anglers can keep one fish longer than 26 inches per day to allow for a potential state record fish. However, those larger reds, called bulls, are not good table fare.
If slot reds are your targets, the inshore reefs from Fort Morgan to Perdido Bay will offer many opportunities as well as the Intracoastal Waterway. Minnow and shrimp imitation baits will often work, but it’s best to take some live bait along just in case the fish get a little finicky. Live shrimp, croakers, pinfish and pogies (menhaden) are your best bets. Redfish have mouths that are built for feeding on the bottom. Therefore, fish on the bottom if practical. If you’re constantly getting snagged, fish the bait under a popping cork.
Should you want to tackle the famous bull reds on Dixey Bar, it’s best to change tactics and tackle to suit the battle that will ensue when you hook one of those fish.
Dixey (not Dixie) Bar, situated within yards of the Alabama coastline at Fort Morgan, is a shallow sand bar on the east side of the Mobile Bay ship channel just off Fort Morgan. The bar is named after the clipper ship Robert H. Dixey, which disintegrated on the bar during a hurricane in 1860.
With a depth that varies from 5 to 10 feet, Dixey Bar is a perfect ambush spot for the redfish in the area. On the west side of the bar is the Mobile ship channel and its deeper water. On the east side is the Gulf of Mexico. Dixey Bar is about 3 miles long, but the width varies from about 2 miles wide near Fort Morgan to on a couple of hundred yards wide as it fades into the Gulf on the south end.
The wave action on Dixey Bar constantly roils the sand bottom, revealing food sources for the many baitfish that inhabit Alabama coastal waters. When the baitfish are in sufficient numbers, the bull reds invade the bar and embark on a feeding frenzy that includes basically anything that moves, from blue crabs to finger mullet.
When you take on bull reds, it’s best to beef up your tackle at least a little. Some people break out the big rigs, but that takes the fun out of it. I like to use a 7-foot, medium-heavy rod with a reel capable of holding at least a couple hundred yards of 14- to 15-pound test monofilament or 20-pound braided line. And don’t forget to check your drag before you start fishing. With that tackle, you will have some control of the fish, but you won’t be able to horse him to the boat. You’ll have to tire him out a little before you can bring him alongside the boat.
Determine the tide and current movement to get the best angle for a slow drift down the bar with baits dragging along in Carolina-rig style with a Kahle hook, either a No. 4 or No. 2 size. A half-ounce egg sinker is pegged a couple of feet up the line, either with a split shot or a swivel.
It won’t take long for the frenetic action to start if the bulls are feeding on the bar. Expect several drag-stripping runs from the fish after they feel the hook.
If you prefer artificial baits, regular lead-heads with grubs, gold spoons, stick baits or lipless crankbaits, like Rat-L-Traps, will work just fine. At times, they will smash topwater lures, like Zara Spooks and Skitter Walks.
Bull reds offer a fantastic fight and are very hardy fish with a phenomenal survival rate after they have been caught and released. So, just shoot a couple of photos and slip the big red back into the water to fight another day.
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