Fly Fishing the Texas Flats

Fish I

Black Drum

The black drum is a flats dweller growing in popularity with fly fishers along the Texas coast. It has habits similar to those of the redfish but can reach 50 pounds or more in the bays. Black drum—or simply "drum," as they are called in Texas—are aggressive feeders but can be finicky when it comes to taking a fly.

They tend to congregate on the flats in the fall in large schools, like redfish. Drum also will show in schools into the late winter and early spring. Their schools typically number between 100 and 1,000 fish, weighing between 5 and 50 pounds each. Drum are often found around channel drop-offs. On the flats they live up to their name, drumming so loudly that sometimes you can hear and feel the vibrations through the hull of a boat.

On the hook, black drum have a reputation for being tough battlers, making good use of their pectoral fins, which are longer than those on a redfish. The population of black drum along the Texas coast is larger than it has been since the early 1970s, according to gill net samples by the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife.

Black drum are not designated game fish in Texas and commercial fishermen take them year-round. "Puppy drum," in the 5-pound range, will tail on the flats and will sometimes take flies aggressively. Seeing the waving, squared-off tail of a black drum on a shallow flat can be as electrifying as seeing a redfish tail, and it's often difficult to tell the two apart.

Smaller bonefish patterns on #4 and #6 hooks seem to work better on drum, and sometimes scaling down to a 6-pound tippet will draw more strikes. It is best to target black drum over hard bottoms where you can get out and wade, because they are easily spooked around a boat. It also pays to keep a low profile when stalking these fish. They will displace water and make wakes just like redfish when they move across a shallow flat.

Spotted Seatrout

When stalking big seatrout in the early morning, look for V-shaped wakes on the surface. These appear when trout are cruising in shallow water and pushing water up over their backs. The mouth of the fish is 6 to 8 inches in front of the hump of the wake; so when casting, try to land the fly between 12 and 14 inches ahead of the wake.

Sight casting to large speckled trout in the early morning is productive because they are active then and not as easily spooked. In the midday sun, wary trout can see a wader from a considerable distance. Seatrout often move into water only inches deep, like redfish. Waders pursuing redfish might encounter an exposed back or tail that looks different, and it could very well be a trophy trout cruising and feeding in shallow water.

The tail of a trout is more rounded on the sides than the redfish tail, which is a sharply defined triangle. A mullet tail has a deep V in it, and when it is out of the water, it quivers. A tailing redfish will impart more of a flopping motion and leave the tail exposed, often for several seconds. Trout, in contrast, will not leave the caudal fin exposed nearly as long as a redfish will.

A trout's mouth is configured in a way that allows the fish to feed on the surface. The bottom jaw is longer and the mouth is aligned with the fish's nose, so it can extend its jaw and come up and "pop" a baitfish or shrimp on the surface. Like a brown trout or a largemouth bass, seatrout will smack food on the surface and suck it down their throats.

Medium-size trout will usually hang out on the flats around potholes—sandy depressions surrounded by submerged grass. Trout in the 1- to 3-pound range like the solitude in potholes, and they become very territorial and very aggressive. There are many pothole features on the flats of the Texas coast, and blind casting into and around them can be very productive for trout and redfish.

Like redfish, trout also will tail on the flats and root around in the grass. During spawning periods, they act a lot like largemouth bass do when they start bedding. Trout will protect their holes with their lives; there are instances of trout with 15-inch mullet in their stomachs taking 6-inch flies off the surface.

Red Drum

Because red drum, more commonly called redfish, are in such abundance and are such exciting targets in shallow water, more and more fly fishers are pursuing them on the Texas flats. For the fly fisher to be successful, it is important to know what to look for in the water.

A waving, blue-tinged tail marked with a jet-black spot, or ocellus, is the most obvious and most dramatic giveaway, but there are also more subtle indications that can tip off the angler to the presence of redfish. Another easy way to spot redfish is to locate them cruising or feeding with their backs out of the water. Redfish are at home chasing prey in water only inches deep, so it is not uncommon to see a fish's back exposed up against a shoreline or in the middle of a tidal lake.

When redfish don't choose to expose their bodies in pursuit of prey, you can still spot them by the changes they make on the water's surface. A single fish often will create a V-shaped wake, and a school can generate a marked disturbance on the surface as it moves across a flat. Being able to identify this "nervous water" is important in getting properly positioned to make an accurate and productive cast.

Another way of reading the water for redfish is to look at the behavior of the forage fish. Baitfish act nervous, often jumping out of the water, when they are being shadowed or chased by predator fish. Another obvious way to spot redfish is by looking for fish "crashing" baitfish on the surface. When redfish are exploding on baitfish, they are likely to take any fly in the strike zone.

The redfish's mouth is aligned under its nose, which explains why it does much of its feeding off the bottom. In order for a redfish to take a popper off the surface in shallow water, it must rise out of the water. A fly fisher must avoid the tendency to pull the popper away from the fish in these situations. In water depths of 3 feet or more, a redfish is able to swim underneath the popper and grab it more easily. Popping bugs and surface flies therefore are more effective in deeper areas of the flats.

© Article copyright Pruett Publishing.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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