I’ve been getting a few PMs and e-mails recently asking different questions about how I fish a marsh. Anything from what to look for, how I choose where to go, what baits to use, etc. have been asked so I decided to try and put all of this information together in one spot. I can remember searching the internet for all kinds of information when I first started fishing the marsh and I had a hard time locating anything useful. Hopefully the information provided on the next several pages can be of some use to those interested in fishing shallow marshes.
I do want to point out that my approach towards fishing a marsh is not the only way nor is it necessarily the right way. It just happens to be the method I use because I have had success with it over the last few years and I really enjoy this style of fishing over others. As I gain more knowledge and experience over time I’m sure I will change my opinion and approach on many of the following methods.
Locating a Marsh
Google Earth is one of the best resources for people that fish shallow marshes. It allows you to discover new areas that you would have never found otherwise while sitting in front of your computer. It also lets you zoom in and get a good view of an area before you even make your first trip. I’ve spent a countless number of hours looking at areas all along the upper Texas coast that I believe are worth exploring. Shallow marshes will show up on Google Earth as a lighter brown color when you zoom in because the water is so shallow you are seeing the mud bottom. A bay or deeper body of water will appear as a green or blue color.
Once I have found a marsh I will login to my Google account and on the maps page click on “My Places” and then “Create Map”. From there I will name the map and start marking certain areas that I believe are worth checking out so that I can save them and view later if needed. This could be a patch of shell, deeper guts, drains, or any other areas that I think look promising.
Patches of shell will show up as tiny dots that can be a lighter or darker color on the map. It’s good to make a note about the location of shell because you will probably be trying to fish around it or keep away from it so that you don’t tear up the bottom of your kayak. Either way it’s important to know its location.
Deeper guts will be a darker blue or green color. The reason a gut shows up as this color in the marsh is because it is at least a few feet deep so the satellite is capturing the water in the image and not the mud bottom. On a really low tide this will be an area that a lot of redfish will stay in or at least close to.
Drains are areas where faster moving water is being released after it has been funneled through a narrower channel or pinch. Most of the time a good drain will be a deeper area that is similar to the guts mentioned above due to the heavy flow of water digging the area out over time. I like to look for multiple channels or pinches that are emptying into the same location and have formed a deeper gut. Reds, trout, and flounder will stack up in these areas on a moving tide and wait for baitfish and shrimp that have been caught in the current to come by for an easy meal. Drains can be productive on both the incoming and outgoing tide. Drains are normally the only areas that I will stop and blind cast into. When fishing a drain that has a depth of at least a couple feet I like throwing a popping cork with anything gulp under it because the chugging sound, smell, and the ability to keep the bait suspended in a certain area is a great way to pick up fish.
Hopefully this information can help locate a few new areas to explore and fish. Knowing as much about an area as you can before arriving gives you a better opportunity to have a successful trip. Below are different things I look for and the types of baits I like to throw in certain situations.
What To Look For
Your eyes and your ears are two of the most important tools you have while fishing a shallow marsh. Redfish that are in a foot or less of water have several ways of giving themselves away if you know what to look and listen for. For this reason I probably spend more time paddling than fishing on most days. I am constantly moving around looking for a reason to pick up my rod and make a cast. If I don’t see or hear anything that lets me know a fish is in the area then I like to stay on the move. The only time I ever stop to blind cast an area is when I come to one of the drains mentioned on the previous page.
Below are different signs I am constantly looking and listening for while moving through the marsh. I have also included the lure I prefer to use depending on the situation.
When the birds are working they can be one of the easiest ways to find redfish. They will normally be hovering about 10 feet or less above the water and occasionally dropping down to pick up the small baitfish or shrimp that the reds may have missed. They will move at the same speed the pod does which is normally not to fast. Sometimes it may be a single bird or it could be several dozen pointing them out. On occasion, when you approach the pod the birds will clear out and you will be left to locate the pod on your own. Always make note of the direction they are heading and keep and eye out for tails and heads breaking the surface of the water along with bait scattering.
Preferred Lure: I will normally throw any soft plastic on a 1/16th ounce jig head a few feet in front of and past the pod and work the lure back in front of them. Try not to hit a bird.
Not all pods of redfish will have birds on top of them. Pods may consist of a few reds cruising a shoreline or more than a hundred out in the middle of an open lake. When they pod up like this they are eating everything in their path and it basically becomes a contest to see which redfish can eat the bait first. For this reason, catching a red from a pod is about as easy as it gets. The smart move is to throw a few feet in front of and past the pod and work the lure back into their path. However, a bad cast that lands in the middle of the pod is normally taken without spooking them. You will normally see their heads or tails breaking the surface of the water and/or hear a distinct popping noise. Sometimes a pod will break up when you pull a fish from it and sometimes it will keep moving as if nothing happened. It’s possible to catch multiple fish from one pod if you’re quick enough. If the pod does break up they will sometimes regroup so its important to watch the direction they scatter in.
Preferred Lure: As mentioned above, a soft plastic on a light jighead will work well.
When the tides are really low you will have a chance to see redfish “crawling”. This normally occurs in a few inches of water and results in seeing the entire redfish from head to tail. It’s definitely one of the most exciting things you’ll see in the marsh but the drawback is that they are normally very spooky when this shallow. For this reason it is normally necessary to use a lighter bait and cast several feet past the fish and then work your lure back towards it very slowly.
Preferred Lure: My favorite lure in this situation is a Curl Tail Bugg or Beastie Bugg. They land very softly and look great when you hop them along the bottom.
Just like crawlers, when redfish are tailing they are normally in very shallow water. Most fish need to be in a foot or less of water before you are able to see them tail. If you see a tail sticking up then the redfish is digging through the mud for crabs, worms, shrimp, or anything else it can stir up.
Preferred Lure: Similar to crawlers, tailing fish can be a bit skittish at times. I like to use a Buggs Lure or and soft plastic on a 1/16th ounce jighead.
Blow Ups Through Bait
When redfish are in shallow water and attacking bait they will dart through the water and cause a pretty large splash and/or wake. A lot of the time you will hear this before seeing it unless you happen to be looking in the right direction at the right time. The sound made will be a deeper flush type noise that is noticeably different than the sound made by the larger horse mullet when they jump. After a while it becomes fairly easy to recognize the difference between the two.
Preferred Lure: Any bait you choose will work well when they are feeding this aggressively. I like Buggs, soft plastics, shallow diving crankbaits or a wake bait in this situation.
When a predator is in the area and baitfish feel threatened they will ball up and try to seek protection in numbers. When a redfish darts through a ball of bait they will scatter in every direction leaping out of the water to escape. If you see multiple baitfish going airborne you can be sure something is under or around them. If you see little flashes of light in the distance its possible you are seeing the sun reflect off the baitfish as they jump out of the water.
Preferred Lure: Shallow diving crank baits such as Mann 1-minus or a wake bait will work well in this situation. TTF’s Killer Flats Minnows on a lighter jighead are another favorite of mine.
Shrimp jumping near a grassline is one of the harder things to spot even if you’re constantly scanning the shoreline. As redfish move down a shoreline they are trying to spook shrimp and other baitfish from the grass and mud. When a redfish moves over a shrimp that his hiding in the mud or grass it will try to escape and many times leap out of the water to avoid being eaten. They don’t really make much of a splash or noise when they jump so you really have to be looking for the slightest bit of movement. Sometimes you’ll see a shrimp jump every couple of seconds a few yards apart and that will show you the direction the fish or pod is heading.
Preferred Lure: A Chicken Boy Shrimp on a light jighead put a few feet in front of the fish will work well. Just give a few slight twitches when the fish is about a foot away.
Redfish cruising a shoreline or open lake will make a small wake if they are shallow enough or near the surface of the water. A small “V” will form as the red moves around and will normally trail the fish for a few feet. It should be noted that larger mullet and small pods of baitfish can do this as well. Over time it becomes easier to tell the difference between the two.
Preferred Lure: Anything you choose will work well in this situation. Just make sure the lure gets a few feet in front of and past the fish and then work it back so that they eventually meet up.
Blowouts & Mud Boils
When a red is spooked in the marsh and a “blowout” occurs it will normally leave a relatively straight wake that will be 5 to 20 yards long moving about 90 mph. You will also see mud boils which will look like little clouds of smoke under the water. If you see mud boils then redfish are more than likely in the area.
Preferred Lure: The majority of the time a redfish isn’t interested in eating once it is spooked and blows out but on occasion a well placed lure will be taken.
Probably the most difficult sign to notice are grass twitches. When the tide is high in the marsh redfish will move into the grass searching for food. You probably won’t see too many tails, crawlers, or wakes on days like this. However, as they are moving in and out of the grass they will bump into it causing very small but distinct twitches.
Preferred Lure: I like any soft plastic on a 1/16th ounce jighead or bugg in this situation.
All of the above mentioned signs are things that I am constantly looking for as I move around a marsh. I have caught fish using each method and have spent a lot of time on the water training my eyes and ears what to look and listen for.
These pages are located under the “Tips and Articles” tab at the top of the page with more to come in the future.