"WINTER REDFISHING IN FRESH WATER" by Luke Clayton Luke Clayton A mature redfish is built like a torpedo with a boat paddle tail. A brute of a fish, a mature or Bull Red as the big females are called, is one of the hardest fighting fish in salt water and beyond question, the hardest fighting of all fish in freshwater. Granted, redfish (red drum) are not native to freshwater lakes but several years ago, Texas Parks and Wildlife began an aggressive stocking program on a few power plant freshwater reservoirs in Texas. The top two largest freshwater redfish in the state came from Fairfield and, after fishing the lake yesterday with guide Cory Vinson and my friend outdoors writer Bob Hood, I can testify that the big fish are on a good bite. Vinson headquarters his Guaranteed Guide Service at Richland Chambers, targeting the trophy hybrid stripers, catfish and white bass there during the warm water months but when the weather gets cold, and the power plant at Fairfield begins heating the water to temperatures up to around 80 degrees near the hot water discharge, he takes his clients on what is very often the fishing trip of their lifetime to do battle with these hard fighting redfish. Photo by Luke Clayton Live perch or smaller tilapia caught with a cast net are top baits for catching redfish at Fairfield but Vinson says Rat-L-Traps and soft plastics also account for good numbers of these hard fighting fish. On yesterdays trip, we were using small live perch for bait, using balloons to drift the baitfish away from the boat. As we watched the wind push four baited lines away from our boat, I glanced at the thermometer on the boats console and checked the water temperature; 70 degrees and we were a good half mile from the mouth of the hot water discharge channel. There are some submerged humps in this section of the lake. There will be tons of smaller reds in the 80 degree water closer to the hot water canal but the bigger reds like to hang out around the edges of these humps. Most of the strikes come as the bait drifts over the submerged ledges. Steam was hanging heavy on the water and at a distance at not much over 30 yards, it was necessary to look hard to see the brightly colored balloons. Reels were put in freespool, the drags set lightly and clickers were engaged. When a big red takes a bait, said Vinson, it will hit it like a freight train. These fish dont fool around. Just grab the rod from the holder, engage the reel and hang on, thats all you will be able to do. Reds make long, powerful runs and it usually takes ten minutes or more for the rod and reels drag to tire the fish. Vinsons roomy Falcon guide boat drifted silently through the heavy fog. The setting was much like an old English horror film; you know one depicting a foggy night in London where the mist is so thick it seems one could cut it with a knife. The balloons trailed along, bobbing and weaving by the movement of the boat and wind. The hapless baitfish, suspended a few feet under the balloons, darted about nervously below the surface. The setting was somewhat surreal, our talk of catching big ones and fishing trips past had died down and we were all watching the balloons, somewhat in a trance created by the enveloping fog and tranquil sound of water slapping the side of the boat. Then it happened. The reel closest to me began screaming and instinctively, I jerked it from its holder, cranked the handle and was re-introduced to the sheer power of a big redfish. As I watched the fish make its first long run, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Hood engaged in mortal combat with another big red. These reds run in schools and multiple hook ups is common. We seldom hook just one fish from a school. Says Vinson as he grabbed the net and stood by, ready to bring the big fish in the boat. It had been a long time since I had fought a fish with the strength of this one and I was enjoying every second of the battle. The redfish would make a long run, stop and I would crank fast, regaining a few yards of line, then he would run again. After about ten minutes but what seemed like thirty, the fish came boatside and bore down to bottom. I kept as much tension on the rod as I dared but he simply would not budge. After one last, shorter run, my redfish finally passed close enough to the boats gunwale for Vinson to scoop it up with the big landing net. Thats a good one, probably 18 pounds or so, says Vinson as he heaves it into the boat. A redfish, with its hues of blue, red and gold, is a strikingly beautiful creature. This one had a total of four spots on and near its tail. My battle was fought but Hoods was still raging. The runs made by my buddy's fish was longer and, after ten minutes or so, his fish was still full of fight and showed no indication of coming to the net. Then it happened, the line suddenly went slack; the fish had broken off, probably cut the leader with its sharp teeth. Man, I would have liked to put my hands on that fish but the fight was worth the trip, those things can really pull. Says a smiling Hood as he reeled in his line to re-rig if for the next fish. Vinson and his clients catch a lot of big redfish and he was positive the fish that had just broke off was about as big as they get. Photo by Luke Clayton During the course of the morning, we enjoyed several more line sizzling runs, sipped coffee and talked about an upcoming goose hunt on the winter wheat fields in the area. Then, we motored close to the mouth of the hot water discharge channel and with a few throws of the cast net, Vinson netted several good eating tilapia. They would go well with our meal of blackened redfish later that evening back at one of the guide's rental cabins at Richland Chambers. Vinson says the trophy redfish season usually lasts through mid March and a bit longer during years with late winter cold fronts. Photo by Luke Clayton Guide Cory Vinson can be contacted at 469-867-4299 or online at www.nofishnocharge.com . OUTDOOR TIP OF THE WEEK: Crappie fishing has been good on many lakes and my guide buddies tell me the fish are not necessarily relating to submerged brush and structure, as they do during the warm water months. Look for heavy concentrations of shad on your sonar, usually in the deepest water of the reservoir you are fishing. Small live minnows or jigs rigged in tandem are top winter baits. Most fish are coming from within a couple of feet of bottom, below the schools of baitfish. Listen to Outdoors With Luke Clayton at www.catfishradio.com and check out the new fishing videos at lukeshotspots.com We have a virtual library of Luke's stories here on the BOC; just about anything you could want to read about the outdoors. Click here to see a boat load of information!