Schools of Bull Redfish Gather Around the Dixey Bar in October
That is one big cargo ship I can see leaving Mobile Bay and heading for the open gulf. A line of other anchored cargo and tanker ships waiting their turns to unload and take on cargo at the port of Mobile testify to the busy nature of this Alabama port city.
I’m not paying too much attention to the ships coming in and going out of Mobile Bay right at this moment. My rod tip has just been savagely jerked toward the water streaming past our boat. My reel has started making a noise like it’s in pain. It seems to me that a good idea is to just hold on and let this big, strong fish do what it wants and it wants to run hard for the gulf and away from me.
My buddy, Capt. Yano Serra, glances my way and says, “So what are you doing now? You act like something is stressing you. You need to take it easy.”
If Captain Yano can tell me how to take it easy when a 30-pound or bigger bull redfish is trying to make off with my hook, line and sinker – perhaps even my rod and reel – I’d sure give it a try, but this big redfish needs some attention. I finally slow this big fish down a bit and then I start the sweet work of getting it back to the boat for release. I manage to keep the line tight. The hook holds and in less than five minutes, I have a golden bronze beauty of a redfish finning beside the boat.
“Dixey Bar consistently holds big reds all year long.”
Captain Yano makes an expert dig with the oversized landing net and there’s my first bull red of the day on the deck of the boat. A quick photo, a quick hook removal and a quick dip into the water and the big redfish strongly swims away to get on with its life.
Then, it’s time to bait up again and to catch another big red.
Of course, on this fine day, we’re fishing the world famous waters near Dixey Bar at the mouth of Mobile Bay. This place is well known among redfish anglers who want to hook a lifetime biggest redfish and for good reason. There may be no place in the world better for consistently catching big, mean redfish.
WHAT’S SO GOOD ABOUT THE BAR?
One of the best things about the trophy bull redfish fishing at Dixey Bar is how close it is for anglers to reach. No long, dull 50-mile runs here. Dixey Bar is literally just off the point of Fort Morgan. Anglers can launch their boats at the Fort Morgan ramps and be on the bar in five minutes or less. In fact, there’s very good beach fishing for the bull reds for those anglers who are willing to walk and transport their gear for a mile or so from the parking areas.
Another very good thing about Dixey Bar for anglers in search of that redfish of a lifetime is that the bar consistently holds big reds all year long. There will be some bull reds on the bar at all months of the year. Of course, in late fall, there are so many bull reds on the bar eating the mullet, croakers, crabs, shrimp, pogies and other tasty stuff that is moving out of Mobile Bay and into the gulf that anglers can almost get out and walk across the backs of the bulls as they feed wildly. Massive schools of bull reds turn the water golden as they gather in big feeding schools.
Access to Dixey Bar is good from both shores of the pass that leads to Mobile Bay. There are fine ramps at both Fort Morgan and at Billy Goat Hole on the Dauphin Island side. Anglers won’t have to run long and burn much gas to reach the big bull reds.
FIND THEM AND YOU CAN CATCH THEM
It helps to visualize the geography of Dixey Bar in this way. Just picture a massive tabletop perhaps five square miles in size. That’s Dixey Bar. The bar is composed of solid, firm sand. The “tabletop” rises up from deeper water on the Mobile Ship Channel side to depths of six feet or less over the bar.
This shallow water concentrates the food fish for big reds. This endless buffet washes out with every falling tide. It makes gathering up lots of food easily a sure thing for the bull reds. That’s why they are always on the bar.
However, the bar is a really big place. The reds don’t always stay in the same location day after day, or even hour after hour. Anglers who want to catch several of the big bronze brawlers will need to be flexible as they try to locate the best concentrations of fish.
Capt. Yano Serra knows the fishing at Dixey Bar as well as anyone on the Alabama Coast. He says, “I like to drift for the reds. I usually drift south with the outgoing tide and I keep my eyes open for other boats catching fish around me. I look for birds that will dive over the schools of big reds as they feed below the surface. When I pick up a fish, I mark a waypoint on my GPS unit and come back to fish that area carefully. Sometimes the bull reds are scattered over a wide area, but usually where I catch one fish, I’ll be able to catch more.”
Even though the top of Dixey Bar is overall quite flat and solid, there are gullies that develop as the fast-moving tide moves sand around on the bar. These gullies can be very good spots to find bull reds. The gullies may only be a foot or so deep, but they break the current and make it easier for the big bulls to hold a position and snap up the free food that sweeps by with the outgoing tide. If an angler can locate one of these gullies and mark it, some very fast bull red fishing can happen.
BASIC GEAR FOR BULL REDS
Although it is quite possible to hook big bull reds on light tackle, this is probably not the best way to go. Very long and extended fights on light tackle tend to exhaust the big bull reds. This makes a good safe live release much harder to achieve. It is much better to use gear stout enough to allow a fun fight, but still insure a quick fight and a safe release. In fact, it’s a good idea keep a bull redfish fighting for five minutes or less, if possible. The shorter fights are better for the fish and better for the angler too.
Captain Yano describes his bull redfish gear, “I drift for the bull reds on Dixey Bar. I use 3- to 6-ounce egg sinkers depending on the strength and speed of tide. I use croakers, mullet heads or pogies for bait. Reds will eat a wide range of bait. I like big open face reels like TLD Shimano and Penn 330GT models. I use 100-pound-test PowerPro braid for the main line and three to five feet of 100-pound-test monofilament leader. Yes, that’s heavy, but I don’t want to overstress the fish. I want to get him in, get our pictures and then release the fish alive and in good shape.”
LET THE GEAR DO THE HARD WORK
Captain Yano takes many anglers fishing for Dixey Bar bull reds. He has seen a lot of different ways folks try to catch bull reds. Some folks just naturally fight the fish right, but many of them don’t know the best way to go about it.
He says, “When a bull red takes the bait, there’s no doubt about it, but anglers need to keep the line tight and not try to overpower the fish. Trying to overpower a bull red only rips the hook out. The reel drag is there for a reason. Let it do its job. Also, anglers don’t need to ‘high stick’ the hooked bull red. Just keep the rod at a comfortable 45-degree angle to the water and fight the fish easy. Lots of folks get excited and try to pull the fish in on the reel. That won’t work with these big bull reds. Just pump and reel down. Again, let the rod and reel do the hard work.”
“When a bull red takes the bait, there’s no doubt about it, but anglers need to keep the line tight and not try to overpower the fish.” — Capt. Yano Serra, fishing guide
Now, even though bull redfishing on Dixey Bar is lots of fun and excitement for anglers, it’s not perfect when it comes to playing a hooked fish. There are some problems that can develop from some of the other Dixey Bar residents when a big redfish has been hooked.
Captain Yano says, “You have to watch for sharks on Dixey Bar. There are some big, big sharks there. I’ve had them bite 30-pound bull reds in half.”
So what can an angler do when a hooked bull red attracts the attention of a really big shark? If the shark is serious about making a meal of a bull red, there’s not much an angler can do. Sometimes when a shark starts to show interest in a hooked bull red, the angler can take the reel out of gear and just let the red run free. Sometimes the red will escape the shark. The shark may lose interest and look for an easier meal. Usually the bull red will pull free of the hook when this is done, but at least, it doesn’t get eaten. There will probably be more big bull reds where that one originated.
SOME SPECIAL ADVICE
Dixey Bar is a big place. It’s right on the edge of the open gulf and the currents that make the fishing so good there also make fishing a bit more dangerous than in slack-water situations. When fishing a strong outgoing tide, anglers especially need to exercise caution.
Captain Yano advises, “It’s a good idea to have that personal floatation device on at all times when fishing Dixey Bar. It’s also a good idea to have someone else on the boat who knows how to operate it. If you fall in at Dixey Bar when the tide is going out strong, you will not be able to swim back to the boat.”
Also, when anglers find that a strong south wind is blowing up a big surf combined with a strong outgoing tide, the shallow water over Dixey Bar can build up some very rough seas with breaking waves that run with very difficult currents. These conditions can make drifting very awkward and the breaking seas can start to bring heavy water aboard a small fishing boat. At times like this, it might be a good idea to fish somewhere else and come back to Dixey Bar another day when the conditions are better.
After all, those massive schools of big bull redfish will be there waiting and they’ll be ready to rumble.
Important contact Information:
Capt. Yano Serra