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Full Contact Fishing

by Rusty Weller

"Zzzzz-zzzzz-za-zzzz!" The rod bends, jerking severely, as your heart leaps into your throat.
The thrilling sound your reel makes, in grudgingly giving up line, signals another wet-and-wild adventure of full-contact fishing. Pulse pounding, you hang on for dear life as an unseen trophy fish tries to rip the rod from your grasp.
Forget bigmouth bass, boys! Go after something worth catching -- a raging two-foot Redfish, who'll leave you tired and satisfied by the time he's on your stringer. Wade into the water and battle brutes on their terms.
Full-contact fishing is a blast! It's a true challenge, a real test for a man, compared to inland forms of fishing.

How so? Well, wade fishermen typically are waist deep in murky water known to harbor dangerous creatures. Often far from help or shore, they must be self sufficient and self contained for equipment.

Whatever problems arise out there, you alone handle them.

    That's the bad news.

    The good news? Hey, leave that boat at home. You don't need one. Or any fancy tackle or lures. Just bring your sense of adventure, as well as a reel with decent drag, to the Texas Gulf Coast. Aransas Pass and Galveston will be spotlighted, but most any location from Sabine Pass to South Padre Island will do.

    You can do this! Keep repeating that. Experience is helpful but not necessary. It's entirely possible to catch a Red or Spec that'll turn your bass buddies as green as a six-inch schoolie.

    Just walk out into a bay, bait up and let the fun begin. Honest! Here's all you need to know to get started:


    To be fair, let's start out your preparations with some cautions:

    * Footing -- Steer clear of mud, of course. Some ankle-deep muck is OK, but don't risk getting stuck. Seek out sand, which fish prefer as well. Oyster reefs often offer the best fishing, but be careful! Tangling with their sharp shells inflict nasty cuts that'll end your day if not your stay.     

    * Tides -- Be aware the water level changes a foot or more. What was belly-button-deep a few minutes ago may soon be up to your chin. So check the change of tides to be safe, or just don't wade through any deep water.

    * Creatures -- Beware stingrays and jellyfish. Rays' tails have painful barbs they can whip into your calf when spooked. So always shuffle your feet while walking to warn the stingrays to get out of your way. A barb in your leg will send you to ER. You thus don't want to catch a Ray, so cut your line as soon as you recognize one.

    Only jellyfish with strings or tentacles are poisonous. Don't sweat the round ones. Contact with a string gives you a stinging, burning sensation that definitely will distract you from fishing. The worst is the Portuguese Man-o-war, which typically has a bubble-like sail above the water, signaling tentacles below that can immobilize you or worse.

    Also, watch out for the spikes on catfish, which carry an annoying sting. As for sharks, they tend not to like bay water. Avoid surf and deep channels near the gulf.

    A lot of people praise Rockport or the Laguna Madre. Listen to them. My experience, though, is with the area from Aransas Pass to Port Aransas, as well as the island of Galveston.

    Aransas Pass -- Well known for Indian Point, a peninsula separating Corpus Christi and Nueces Bays. Waders like to free-line shrimp beside the 24/7 fishing pier for Speckled Seatrout at sunup. Many have success walking out into Nueces Bay along the causeway during the day for Specs and Reds along with Black Drum and occasional Flounder.

    Redfish Bay -- Great for Reds, naturally, but hard for waders to reach. So cross the Intercoastal Waterway or busy shrimp boat channel quickly any way you can: kayak, canoe, innertube, boogie board. You'll find great wade fishing on the grassy flats and among the spoil islands.

    Port Aransas -- The bay side of Mustang Island, from Charley's Pier on out, is good for wading to the dropoff of the ship channel. Sharks could be present, though, so don't keep your catch on a stringer. Stay off the jetties, unless you like losing tackle among the rocks. Due to sharks, it would be best to keep clear of all gulf surf until more experienced.

    Galveston's best fishing is on either end of the island. Galveston has a great place, though, near mid-island at the west end of Sportsman Road on the bay side. For Specs, walk toward the mainland to locate an oyster reef that runs parallel to the island. For Reds, search around the small islands along the coast.


    Forget artificial lures. Sure, they work, but live or fresh bait is better. Use live shrimp when possible. Get 'em from coastal bait stands near where you plan to fish and keep 'em in a flow-thru bucket tied to your belt with an eight-foot cord.

    Specs love shrimp. Reds also like shrimp but are suckers for finger-length mullet. Go armed with both.

    To save money and always be ready to fish, buy a small cast net and take a few minutes to learn to throw it. Be sure not to cast where the net might get snagged, but it's easy to get free mullet and other small fish that Reds eat. It's also possible to net your own shrimp at the right spots -- great for when the white flag isn't flying at the bait stand.

    By the way, cut up any bigger mullet you net for bait. Reds also love cut bait.

    Keep it simple and light. Remember: you'll carry everything through knee- to waste-deep water often the length of, say, three or four football fields.

    One pole will do for now, although a belted rod holder allows a second rig. You can also make and take a wooden pole holder to stick in the sand.

    Spinning reel or baitcaster, it doesn't matter IF the reel has a good drag. Pull on the line to make sure the drag will slow a big boy down, or he will snap off at the start. Remove old line and arm your reel with an ample amount of 10-pound test in marine green.

    It's good for your pole to have a long handle. It takes the pressure off your wrist and provides control when braced against your forearm during prolonged fights.

    You'll need a long hook remover, a landing net, a floating stringer, a utility belt or fishing vest to hold tackle, long knife, nail clipper, flow-thru bait bucket, sturdy shoes or hiking boots. That's all.


    Use two-drop bottom rigs with bowed (catfish) hooks. Anchor rigs with two- or three-ounce sinkers, depending on the waves or tide current. Be well stocked with several rigs, expecting to lose a couple to oyster shells or violent attacks. With frozen, cut or dead bait, a bottom rig is best.

    Use a Carolina rig to free-line live shrimp and mullet. That way the shrimp or fish will dart around as an easy target behind the sinker. Rather than using undependable knots on either end of a swivel, some waders tie in a sinker two feet from the hook for increased line reliability.

    Slowly retrieving this rig allows you to cover a lot of area, but bait tends to come loose. Hook shrimp through the top back part of their heads. For mullet, put the hook through the area immediately behind their eyes. In both cases, the bait has mobility and stays alive longer.

    Oh, yes, watch out for the shrimp's front horn, which can draw blood. Shrimp also like to spank your hand with their tail, which also has a short horn.

    You might also try a so-called Alameda float rig, which makes the sound of a feeding Spec as you pop it on the retrieve. This is a surface rig that causes your bait to enticingly undulate behind the orange float. The sound supposedly inspires lazy-but-greedy Specs to bite. Again, use shrimp or mullet.


    Seek out either oyster reefs or grassy flats with sandy areas. Either way, bottom rigs and free lines work. Cast to the edge of a reef or just into the sandy area. Take up slack, especially with a bottom rig, to hold the bait up for fish to see.

    For fun, use a light crappie pole and a three-ounce sinker. Take up slack until the rod tip bends over. Then when a Red bites and momentarily lifts the sinker, the pole automatically sets the hook by reflex. And landing a keeper Redfish on a flimsy crappie pole is a definite hoot.

    With experience, you can stalk Reds. Look for them feeding, nose down with spotted tails sticking above the water.

    But, for now, search out a promising location, cast and be patient. Ask locals for hot spots. Bait shops are great for crucial info. Be honest about your lack of experience, and people usually confide useful tips.

    Such as? Well, in residential Portland, a little stream emptying into Nueces Bay contains eating-size shrimp most months of the year. A steep drive takes you down a cliff to a shell beach offering plenty of mullet and shrimp for your cast net. There's a reef straight out from that beach where keeper Reds come to feed shortly after dark during the summer. But -- shhhh! -- don't tell anyone.

    Here's another secret: Get your hands on a canoe and paddle from the Aransas Pass causeway across the shrimp boat channel to an opening among the spoil islands north of Hog Island. Making a mental note of twists and turns to find your way back out, quietly paddle into the maze of shallow streams and ponds. Wade around to get your limit of Reds, which reportedly are there throughout the year.
A Division of Say You, Say Me, Inc.