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BOB MAINDELLE: In pursuit of Texas freshwater redfish | Outdoor Sports

BOB MAINDELLE: In pursuit of Texas freshwater redfish | Outdoor Sports

This week I had an opportunity to travel outside of Central Texas to join clients whom I have guided in the past to pursue freshwater redfish.

Redfish, also known as red drum, are a popular saltwater fish found along both the East Coast and the Gulf Coast.

For decades now, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has stocked redfish in two freshwater lakes: Lake Braunig and Calaveras Lake, both just a few miles southeast of San Antonio.

Since I am not as young as I used to be, I decided to divide the trip across portions of two days, driving down to Floresville on Wednesday afternoon, staying overnight at a hotel there, then getting up early to fish through midday on Thursday, and then return home. I was accompanied by my wife.

If you decide to give this a try, using the 130 Toll Road is definitely the way to go, especially if you are towing a boat. It seems no matter what time of day you use Interstate 35 through Austin, you are going to hit bothersome traffic.

After checking into our hotel, we enjoyed dinner at a local restaurant in Floresville called Cerritos. We then headed to bed to rest up for what was forecast to be a hot, fairly calm morning of fishing.

Both Lake Braunig and Calaveras Lake are power plant lakes wherein the lakes’ water is used for cooling down coal-fired equipment used to generate electricity. This causes both lakes to be unnaturally warm year-round, thus keeping the lakes warm enough to support redfish populations, given that this species is not cold-tolerant.

We met our hosts at the entrance to Calaveras Lake which is managed by CPS Energy. We awaited the gate’s 6 a.m. opening time. There were two boats, a kayak and a few bank fishermen already in line when we arrived around 5:45. The gate opened promptly at 6, and each party paid the $9/person entrance fee. The veteran’s status printed on my Texas driver’s license got me a $1 discount.

According to TPWD, the lake has a surface area of 3,624 acres and a maximum depth of 45 feet.

We launched at one of the two three-lane boat ramps on the lake, parked the tow vehicle in the spacious parking lot, and used the well-maintained restroom one last time before heading out to fish.

We had a few things working against us which most anglers get concerned about — bright skies, calm winds and a full moon.

Regardless, we surveyed the bottom of the lake using sonar and decided to give it a try from an anchored position in about 16 feet of water in a location less than 100 yards from the bank. Using a pair of 15-foot Talon shallow-water anchors with the stern of the boat into the wind, we established a solid anchorage from which to cast our baits.

The water’s surface temperature was 95.1F, as compared to the surface temperatures of Belton and Stillhouse Hollow lakes this week, which stood around 86.

With four of us aboard our hosts deep-V aluminum G3 fishing boat, we each used a single medium-action baitcasting combo to fish a Carolina rig terminated with either a 3/0 Kahle hook or circle hook.

We used whole, frozen brown shrimp as bait and cast from the boat toward the shoreline into water shallower than that which we were anchored in.

The action was definitely front-loaded, with most of our strikes taking place earlier in the morning while the sun was still low and while the wind blew at it greatest velocity of the morning — about 7-8 mph.

My wife was the first one to hook up. With the rods all pointing upward at about a 45-degree angle in rod holders on the portside, strikes were easy to visually detect.

Circle hooks do not require a hookset, so my wife simply took the rod out of the holder and began reeling, allowing the circle hook to do its job. Redfish are tenacious fighters; shaped like a torpedo, they do not jump, but rather ‘bulldog’ along the bottom. Reels with quality, functional drags are a must.

After circling the boat one and a half times, I finally netted my wife’s fish — our first of 18 redfish caught that morning. It measured between 27 and 28 inches. Freshwater redfish must be 20 inches to be harvested, and there is a daily bag limit of three fish per person.

We followed this same pattern of fishing throughout the morning, moving only once. The action was steady as the redfish tend to patrol swimming parallel to the bank in small groups. Windblown shorelines are known to produce best, and any manner of hard bottom structure is also attractive to redfish.

As we sat at anchor, I observed other boats. Some were doing as we were, others were trolling, some were using bait beneath slip-floats, and yet others were downrigging — all of these tactics are known to produce freshwater redfish.

This sort of fishing was fairly straightforward, offering great reward in terms of the fighting qualities of the redfish, all for limited investment of time and treasure as compared to going to the Texas coast in pursuit of this exact same species of fish.

This being the case, you will definitely want to make this a weekday trip, as the quality of the fishery and its proximity to San Antonio guarantees that the weekends, especially during the summer season, will be beyond crowded.

Around noon, even with the Bimini top up, it was getting uncomfortably hot and the fishing had slowed to a standstill, so we decided to head back in at that time.

Of the 18 fish we landed, we kept eight, which was our hosts’ preference. All eight of these kept fish had a low chance of survival due to being hooked in the gullet. We released two other legal fish and another eight short fish. Once the legal-sized fish were landed, we placed them directly into an ice-filled cooler.

After loading the boat onto the trailer, we pulled up right next to a well-designed fish cleaning station.

The cleaning station consisted of two concrete tables with cutting board material running completely around their perimeter. There was enough room for four anglers to clean fish simultaneously at each table.

Running water and electricity was provided at each table, and the tables each drained into a large center drain below which baskets were positioned to catch the carcasses as they were slid into that drain hole.

A rather entertaining flock of vultures loitered nearby waiting for handouts of fish scraps.

As we cleaned fish, we noted others had done well in pursuit of blue catfish — another species the lake has a reputation for producing great numbers of.

We departed Calaveras Lake, grabbed a quick lunch at a barbecue restaurant nearby, and embarked on our 2½-hour drive home.

We enjoyed grilled redfish on the half-shell covered with a sour cream and dill sauce for dinner that evening.