One of the most famous big redfish catching spots in the world is right here in Alabama.
The visiting angler from the Midwest had been sweating for quite a while. Back home, October weather was starting to cool off and become fall, but down here on the Gulf Coast of Alabama, it still felt a lot like summer, even though football season had started and the days had definitely gotten shorter.
However, it was not just the warm weather that caused the sweat to bead up on the Midwesterner’s face and arms.
After anchoring less than a mile off the shores of Fort Morgan peninsula, the Midwesterner’s guide had rigged up a fairly heavy rod, reel and line with an impressively large croaker for bait on a circle hook, tossed the bait over in the moving tide, and told the angler, “Hold on when the fish takes the bait!”
At this point, the visiting angler had asked, “How will I know when a redfish?…”
“Oh, you’ll know when a Dixey Bar bull red takes your bait.”
Before he could finish the question, it was answered. The rod jerked down violently. Something bigger and stronger than the Midwesterner had ever felt was on the end of a fishing line.
“Oh, you’ll know when a Dixey Bar bull red takes your bait,” the guide said, smiling. “Don’t worry.”
That first hook-up happened ten minutes earlier, and now the heavy rod and reel was winning the battle. When the 25-pound bull red rolled up boatside and was gently netted by the guide, the angler had to sit down, wipe his face, and then hold the massive bronze-colored fish up for a picture to show his friends back home.
The guide taking the picture didn’t have to tell the angler to smile.
What do We Look for on Dixey Bar?
Captain Yano Serra knows the Bayou Le Batre area of western Mobile Bay because he grew up on the water fishing and hunting there. He is one of the most in-demand guides on Mobile Bay and associated waters, and he has offered to share with us his experience fishing for big bull reds on Dixey Bar.
First off, Dixey Bar is a big place. It covers several miles where Mobile Bay joins the Gulf. Currents tend to be strong over Dixey Bar as tides moving in and out from the Gulf and massive Mobile Bay pass over the bar and its shallower waters.
These strong tides move not just water but lots of fish food in and out over the bar. So, the schools of big bull reds gather at different places on and around Dixey Bar to take advantage of this free food supply.
When we asked Captain Yano Serra if it was difficult to locate bull reds on Dixie Bar, he laughed and said, “Yes and no. Sometimes the reds are so thick, anybody can look like a pro. At other times, even a pro looks like an amateur.”
Big bull reds don’t always stay in a single place on Dixey Bar. They relate to the food, and if a better supply of food is somewhere else, the bull reds will move considerable distances to get to the food.
“I like to fish deep water to start, and I like a falling tide,” Captain Yano says. “I like to set up my drift in deep water—as deep as 20 feet sometimes—and then I try to drift along the edges of the Bar. The bottom just off Dixey Bar looks like rows in a garden. The big reds lie behind the rows where they grab food as it drifts by with the current.”
Another good way to find schools of actively feeding bull reds on Dixey Bar is to use Mother Nature’s fish finders—birds. “I look for lots of birds in a small, tight area,” Yano says. “When I see that, it’s usually bull reds. Big splashes under the birds means I’ve found the reds.”
There are several kinds of seabirds which live around Mobile Bay, and they are not all good fish finders. “I like to see the regular gulls working over the water,” he adds. “The little small white birds—terns—are called ‘liars’ because they don’t always work over fish. I like to see the laughing gulls dipping and diving, because they only work bait being chased to the top by feeding fish, usually big reds.”
What Kind of Bait?
When the big bull reds are schooled up and really working bait, they are not picky at all. Anything that will fit in their mouths will probably be taken. It’s a times like this when the bulls lose their caution and concentrate on heavy feeding that anglers can use top-waters to experience some world-class blowups as the big reds strike.
However, for day in and day out fishing on Dixey Bar for big reds, it’s hard to beat properly presented live bait.
The classic live bait for Dixey Bar bull reds fishing is a live croaker. Bull reds love to eat these golden-colored grunters, and a live croaker drifted off the bar and over the ledge into deeper water is in great danger of meeting up with a hungry bull red.
Most area bait and tackle shops will have a good supply of croakers in October, but anglers who want to spend fishing time catching their own croakers can usually fish around the inshore gas rigs or other hard shallow-water structure and catch a bucketful of lively croakers in an hour or so.
Another great bull red bait is the leftovers from cleaning a good mess of speckled trout. Big bull reds over Dixey Bar love to eat speck trout heads.
Captain Yano says, “I often run two charter trips a day. I like to go trout fishing in the morning and bull red fishing in the evening. If I know I’ve got a bull red trip later on a certain day, I save a couple of dozen speck trout heads from my morning trip. When I get to the Bar, I hook the heads from the mouth through the gill plate. This gives a good, solid hook placement. Then I just drift the heads as I do live croakers. Bull reds love speck trout heads!” Mullet heads will work also.
Captain Yano also shares his discovery that bull reds really like to eat white trout, and either live white trout rigged on a hook or just white trout heads will work very well.
What’s the Best Rig?
When it comes to getting equipment together for a Dixey Bar bull redfish trip, anglers need to keep a couple of things in mind. First, it’s possible to hook and catch bull reds on very light tackle.
The waters of Dixey Bar are basically open and there is little structure on the bottom to cause snags and break light lines. Second, catching big bull redfish on very light tackle is quite hard on the fish.
Bull reds pull hard, and they pull with everything they have. A very long, extended fight exhausts a big bull red, and if it’s totally used up, a big bull red may not recover from a fight. It’s much better for the fish if anglers seeking big bull reds go with heavier tackle, which allows the fish to be worked to the boat for a quick release without totally exhausting the fish.
Live bait rigging for bull reds at Dixey Bar is not complicated. “I rig Carolina-style,” Captain Yaho confides. “I put a number six or seven Eagle Claw ‘J’ hook at the end of the line, and I use from four to six ounces of egg weight, depending on the strength of the current. I like to use Shimano TLD reels with 60 to 80 lb mono line.
“When it comes to Dixey Bar bull reds, keep the tackle and rigging as simple as possible.”
This may seem heavy, but I want to be able to move the fish in quickly. I’ve caught big reds on light tackle, but they are hard to revive when they’ve fought too long.”
When it comes to Dixey Bar bull reds, keep the tackle and rigging as simple as possible and concentrate on finding the fish and catching them.
What Conditions are best in October?
Fishing on Dixey Bar is fun at any time of the year, but in fall—say October—working hard to pull in big, powerful fish is a lot more pleasant than it is in the hot summertime. “In October, it’s not too hot or too cold,” Yano says. “The big reds are thick on the Bar in October, too.”
He continues. “Toward the end of October, we usually get the first cool fronts to move through, and with the light north winds the waves, which can be pretty big and strong if the wind is from the south from the Gulf, die down. A north wind cuts the big swells that come in summer.”
For optimum October conditions for Dixey Bar bull redfishing, anglers should look for a good falling tide which moves water out of the bay and moves lots of food toward the Bar. High, clear, bluebird skies are fine. This sounds like perfect conditions for just about anything, and perfect conditions for hooking up with a few 20- to 30-pound bull reds.
Where to Launch, and What to Look Out For
One of the best things about fishing Dixey Bar is that it is so easy to reach by boat. Anglers can put in from the eastern shore at Fort Morgan, and Dixey Bar is less than a mile off the point of Fort Morgan.
Anglers coming from the western side of Mobile Bay can put in at Dauphin Island at Billy Goat Hole ramps, and the bar lies less than three miles away. Either way, Dixey Bar is not far nor hard to find.
Captain Yano tells us, “Anglers who are not familiar with fishing Dixey Bar should look for other boats already on the bar. Don’t crowd them, but get close enough to see what they’re doing. Look for a boat already hooked up; that’s where the bull reds are. Now, some boats will be drifting and some will be anchored. Be careful not to drift up on an anchored boat and get in his way. Be courteous.”
Although boating and fishing over Dixey Bar is usually not a problem in the calmer weather and conditions of October, opposing tides and currents can create some really rough conditions over Dixey Bar. Anglers will need to keep an eye on tide and sea conditions.
Also, in late October, temperatures can change greatly in the course of a day. For instance, it can be 80 degrees in the midday, and if a cool front blows through it can drop below 60 by evening. This can get very uncomfortable unless proper protective clothing is readily available.
Be sure and have waterproof gear and a jacket for everyone aboard, just in case it gets cooler and wetter.
Important Contact Information:
Captain Yano Serra