It never gets too cold for fishing for redfish in south Alabama, so let’s catch some.
The water up this little bayou off Grand Bay was just about as clear as it ever gets. The early sun on this chilly morning brought everything on the bayou in clear view —even things lying on the dark, muddy bottom.
My buddy in the front of the boat said, “Over there, to the right, cast over there near the shoreline—reds!”
Looking at the spot where he pointed, I said, “You mean over there by those sticks on the bottom?”
“Yeah! Cast over there. Now!”
So I lobbed my jig and soft-plastic grub to the indicated spot. My jig sank toward the bottom, which was only a couple of feet deep. I was amazed when one of the “sticks” I had seen moved very slightly toward my jig. I saw the flash of a white mouth, and then I felt a solid bump.
What I thought were sticks were several fine redfish that were lying in the sun, warming up and waiting for something tasty to float by.
As this four-pound redfish muddied up the water with a couple of good, strong runs in the narrow little bayou, I was amazed that so many good-sized redfish could be found in such a small creek and in such cold weather.
“You just gotta know where to look,” my buddy told me as he netted my red.
Where Do We Find Cold Weather Reds?
When it comes to getting information about fishing for redfish in the Mobile Bay system, I go to sources who are experienced in the area. Captain Yano Serra has fished and guided folks on the bayous and creeks off Mobile Bay for many years.
“I already know many places where the reds will be in cold weather,” he says. “They’ve been gathering in these spots for a long time. I like fishing for redfish in the holes in creeks and bayous. I’ll get on my trolling motor and look for the reds. A good pair of polarized glasses helps me see them.”
Yano continues. “I’ve noticed lately, in cold weather, the reds will be in shallow water—a foot or less—soaking up sunshine. They’ll be right on the bottom. The water this time of year usually looks like thin tea. The fish look like sticks or logs. When I see five or six reds together, I’ll move off and cast to them. I like to have oyster shells on the bottom. I’ve been in some creeks so shallow I could only use my trolling motor, but the shallow creeks hold reds in cold weather.”
“Don’t be afraid to fish old reliable places again and again as the water warms”
Both sides of Mobile Bay have bayous and creeks that will almost always have some cold weather reds. On the Eastern Shore, creeks off Fish River, Magnolia River and Bon Secour River—up past the oyster houses—all have small creeks that are prime cold weather redfish spots.
On the Western Shore, there are dozens of bayous that lead into Grand Bay and all are very good spots for fishing for redfish when it’s cold. Also, some prime small waters off Fowl River and West Fowl River deserve cold weather attention.
What Do We Use?
In a perfect world, anglers on the Alabama Coast would always have the best live bait— live shrimp—always available for use. However, in deep winter, bait and tackle shops often have a lot of trouble getting live shrimp. This means that anglers have to go with second and third choices for bait and lures.
Captain Yano tells us that second best may sometimes be just as good as first choice. “I’ve seen times when I had live shrimp fishing a deep hole in a creek, and I started using frozen shrimp,” he says. “We did better on the dead shrimp. Dead shrimp start to have a scent or odor as soon as they die, and the smell drew the reds better than the fresh shrimp.”
In late January and February, reds will respond very well to soft plastics worked slowly along the bottom. In particular, scented baits like the GULP! line of products can be very effective when fishing for redfish in small creeks.
Using jigs in smaller bayous and creeks allows anglers to make good long casts without worrying about losing the bait as might happen with live or dead shrimp. This can be important when the water is as clear as it sometimes gets.
When asked how he likes to rig up for winter small water reds, Captain Yano says, “I use 12-lb mono or braid with a mono leader. I use a # 10 gold treble hook when I’m fishing flat line, and I may use a split shot, but I try to keep the hook as weedless as possible. When I’m fishing a slip-cork in deeper water, I suspend the bait a foot above the bottom. I use popping corks in dark water. But keep in mind that in clear water, popping corks will often spook the reds.”
Fly-fishing for redfish is becoming more and more popular, and Captain Yano highly recommends fly rod anglers try for small water reds. “Clear winter water makes sight-fishing better,” he says. “In the creeks and bayous, generally short casts are needed; often just roll casts to reach redfish holding in the shallows. Put the fly in front of the red and let it fall slowly. When the red sees the fly it will chase, and then I let them have the fly. I may have to strip it to get the red to take it.”
A basic 8 weight fly rod will handle just about any small creek or bayou redfish, and a few three-inch-long Clouser flies with chain bed eyes tied in yellow, black, chartreuse, and crystal flash colors will close the deal on most winter reds.
Of course, in late January and February—at least the early parts of February—is still wintertime, and anglers need to come prepared for chilly conditions.
Captain Yano advises creek anglers to “Make sure you’ve got a good battery and maybe a spare. When you’re way up a little bayou, you don’t want any mishaps. Bring hand warmers and watch the weather forecast. Don’t run up a bayou and have bad weather take you. I also advise anglers to bring along a little plastic tarp. It makes a good shelter in case of rain and wind. Of course, a thermos of coffee or hot soup is always a good idea for cold weather trips.”
Not all the special considerations for fishing for redfish are bad. One very nice thing about fishing the small creeks and bayous this time of year is that we don’t have to get up at the first sign of light.
“I start trips about eight o’clock during this time of year,” Captain Yano says. “As the sun warms the water, the reds will be more active.”
Another consideration for fishing for redfish in late January in small creeks is that just because the fish were not biting at a particular spot on first try, they may warm up and really turn on later.
Yano says, “Don’t be afraid to fish old reliable places again and again as the water warms. I’ve hit certain spots five times in a day before they paid off.”
Something else very nice about this time of year when fishing for redfish—the cool and clear water really brings out the coloration of redfish. These reds almost glow in the water. Their deep orange and copper sides, the clean white of their bellies, and the brilliant neon blue of their tails make just seeing reds a pleasure.
Of course, keeping a couple of slot reds for the grill or skillet is a very good thing, too. They look even better steaming hot on a plate.
Important Contact Information:
Captain Yano Serra
Speck Tackle Lure Inshore Charters