Fly Fishing for Redfish in Louisiana
The Ultimate Guide
If you have taken interest in fly fishing for redfish in Louisiana, join the crowd! This is arguably the most productive fishery in the world when it comes to redfishing, but where does an angler start when looking at booking a trip? In this ultimate guide to redfishing in Louisiana, we are going to cover everything there is to know to help you understand the what, where, when, why, and how. We will be touching on the following topics to help you wrap your head around this awesome game fish in the world’s best place to fish for them:
- When is the best time to target Redfish?
- What is a “Bull Redfish” and when (and where) are they around?
- How does the Mississippi River influence the quality of fishing?
- How is the fishing during the Spring season?
- How is the fishing during Summer? Is it too hot?
- Are Fall and Winter really the “best time” to target redfish?
- How far in advance should I book my trip to get good guides and rooms?
- Can I fish with conventional gear?
- What about entertaining a group, clients or family?
In nearly twenty years of booking fishing trips all over the world, the most common question we get from our prospective traveling clients is, “When is the best time to target redfish in Louisiana?”.
To properly answer this question, one must first present a better understanding of seasonality, the intricacies of Mississippi River delta, and the lifecycle of a redfish in the region. While there are certainly some nuances to different times of the year, you must also understand that Southeastern Louisiana is a completely year round fishery. There is seldom a “bad time to go” without the benefit of hindsight, as it really all comes down to what Mother Nature gives you. While southeast Louisiana is without question the most vibrant redfish fishery on the planet, it is also one of the most complex – and every year is different from the next.
The following is a high level explanation of what to consider when booking your trip – speaking in non-scientific fishing terms for the average angler.
What is the lifecycle of an adult redfish in the Mississippi Delta as it relates to the “Bull Reds” of the fly?
Specific to identifying the best time to target bull redfish while sight fishing on the fly, it is important to detail how the cycle generally works. Almost year round, you will find massive schools of bait – specifically menhaden (or “pogies”) that are the main forage fish for adult redfish (and dozens of other species) in the Gulf of Mexico. Equally massive schools of redfish will feed along like a herd of buffalo grazing on the pogies. This phenomenon is what makes the conventional tackle fishing so fantastic March – October downriver on the edges of the Gulf of Mexico out of Empire or Venice for example.
When the days get shorter and the water temperatures drop in the autumn, the pogies tend to move offshore for deeper warmer water (and/or to spawn). When this primary food source becomes more scarce, and the red drum too have completed their spawning cycle, significant numbers of reds will move into the shallower marsh mudflats looking for opportunistic meals such as mullet, shrimp and crabs… thus their accessibility to sight fishing fly anglers. For this to happen, the river must behave (more on that later), the air and water temps must cool, and the baitfish must be removed from the primary food chain. This intersection of variables can traditionally begin to happen anytime from early October through mid December. Of course, you need sunshine, clean water, and light breezes to find them consistently.
The bigger 20+ pound fish will spend the winter bouncing in and out of the shallower marshes throughout the winter until water temps begin to rise and their pogies return – and then they head back into the Gulf sometime in March.
Meantime, YEAR ROUND, you have the world’s greatest population of uneducated and happy redfish that live on the mudflats and in the marshes and are always available. These fish average around 5-6 pounds, and anglers can often find fish upward of 15 pounds – an opportunity completely unrelated to the “bull reds” cycle mentioned above. They are accompanied by black drum, sheepshead, jack crevalle and speckled trout as well. More on this to follow…
How does the Mississippi River impact the quality of (sight) fishing for redfish in the Gulf of Mexico?
Regardless of the time of year, the Mississippi plays perhaps the largest role in the quality of the fishing – especially when sight fishing for redfish on the flats. In another article, we will discuss the disastrous human intervention with the channelization of the river 100 years ago (and the subsequent coastal erosion problem as a result), but for now we will focus on how the river influences the fishing conditions. In a “normal” year, Spring rains anywhere in the Mississippi Valley (not necessarily in Louisiana) cause the river to rise as all this water moves downstream and fans out in the delta. Traditionally, this seasonal transition from Winter to Spring is relatively short lived, almost impossible to predict from March – May, and still is a period that offers great fly fishing with the right guides. When the river is high and voluminous, you can often see much higher influxes of freshwater into the marshes. More freshwater typically means higher and dirtier water, especially downriver of freshwater diversions. This higher / dirtier water can be further impacted by differences in salinity, strong winds, tides, etc. In wetter years such as 2019 we saw a super high river almost through the entire summer before it came down to normal levels in late July / early August. Other years we have seen early autumn rains bump the river and make the October – December fishing more challenging. In low water years, fishing conditions can be fantastic all twelve months. The takeaway: Outside of sunshine and tranquil weather, the Mississippi plays the biggest role in determining fishing conditions year round. This is critical to understand.
With the right conditions, the springtime can be characterized by longer days, green grass, beautiful/comfortable weather, and loads and loads of happy and feisty redfish on light tackle, surface flies, etc. Guides generally prefer to fish the east side of the river which is accessed by taking a ferry across the Mississippi located one mile south of the Plantation. The east side has a bit more land than the west side, and it is often easier to find cleaner water during the higher river springtime months. This is an awesome time to lock in the best guides, see a part of the fishery you don’t traditionally see in the Fall or Winter, and stand a good chance at crushing huge numbers of fish in the 3 – 15 pound range on a 7 or 8 weight. You also could easily bump into some schools of hard pulling jack crevalle, black drum or trout! Crawfish are in season, flowers are blooming, all the birds and critters are paired up, and you cannot believe how beautiful the delta is this time of year.
Personally, my favorite time to visit is the summer. Just the other day we had an inquiry from one of our best customers who visits Louisiana with us as many as four times a year…. most often in the high profile months of October – December. When I told Captain Ty Hibbs that Chris was planning to come in July, his response was… “Thank God… Give me a low river and Chris will never want to f^%k with the Fall down here ever again”.
Remember the discussion about the schools of bull redfish feeding on pogies in the Gulf during the summer months? With the right guide and good conditions (low river and light breezes), you can find those schools of bull reds on the beaches or in close / safe range to get on them with a small skiff. While this is far from a sure thing, when it does happen it is simply stupid. This is hard to believe until you see it for yourself (or the school of 25+ pound reds literally runs into the side of the boat). You also stand a chance to find black drum, sheepshead, jacks, trout, cobia, sharks, bonita, or even rolling tarpon during the summer months as well. We have future plans to properly highlight this underutilized time of year for fly anglers through video and imagery as it is just too good to be ignored. It is simply NOT too hot on the water, the days are 18 hours long, and if the bull reds don’t come together, you can always go inside and pad the numbers with the resident marsh fish just about anytime. The takeaway: Trust me. Book a trip in the summertime!
There can be times when the Fall fishing is simply fantastic, but as outlined above, a lot of variables must properly align for this to happen as hoped. We have conservatively booked thousands of trips down to the Woodland Plantation over the past decade plus, and I am here to tell you that the autumn fishing is far from a sure thing. Everyone should manage their expectations and be open to looking at other times of the season. It is not always about slow-mo popper action you see on Instagram and You-Tube!
For starters, regardless of where you stand on climate change, early October in SE Louisiana is most often just an extension of late summer. This is still an awesome time to go as the weather can be stunning, but the odds of the “bulls” being up on the flats are generally pretty slim most years. In a perfect world, you see the larger “bull reds” move onto the mudflats, marshes, and broken ponds inland from their usual stomping grounds in the Gulf of Mexico sometime in mid to late October. However, there are years where we are fishing in a cloudy, cold mess in early October – and there are years where it is shorts and flip flops at Thanksgiving. I liken this time of year to trying to catch the Salmonfly Hatch in the Rockies, or predicting when the mallards will show up at your duck hunting spot.
Again, when the planets do align the Fall fishing can be spectacular. The winter (January – February) fishing can be even better with the right weather as you can just about bet the big ones are all crawling around the flats with the cooler water temps. We just want to make it clear that trying to crystal ball this phenomenon is very far from a sure thing and you should not get hung up on this time of year as the only time to visit the fishery. By mid December you assume that the bulls are inland, but the deeper you get into winter the greater the likelihood of crumby weather and poor conditions can impact your fishing successes on the fly. That said, find a five day stretch in January or February with warmer days, nice consistent high pressure, a low river and some sunshine and you can wreck them for sure!
Okay, you have still not talked me out of the Fall Season. How early must I book to get rooms and awesome guides for October, November & December?
Unfortunately, it will always be impossible to talk folks into trying other times of the year. For this reason, October, November and December are 100% booked at least a year in advance – especially with the highest demand guides. Rooms at Woodland book out a year + in advance as well, and if by some miracle we can pull together accommodations for you on shorter notice, odds are you are moving rooms mid stay or you could be sharing a bunk bed with your snoring buddy. It is heartbreaking to turn away dozens and dozens of bookings this time of year simply because there is no inventory. Bookings this time of year are even more impossible to pull together with 3 or 4 or 5 boat charters for the larger groups unless you get WAY in front of it.
Can we use conventional tackle or spinning rods?
Absolutely! You can sight fish from the smaller skiffs using spinning tackle – it is really standard procedure for the guides to carry spinning tackle on board. This is not frowned upon and can be very handy on crumby weather days or with anglers not as strong with casting in windier weather. Also, know that we can organize a traditional bay boat charter captain to take folks downriver to fish with conventional tackle – a style of fishing that is far less reliant on good conditions. The “spin boats” are good fun for everyone including the folks who fancy themselves are exclusively fly fishers. While there is perhaps no better fishery in the world to learn the nuances of saltwater fly / sight fishing…. If you have a buddy who is thinking of joining the trip and you are not sure of his fly fishing skills, when in doubt, send him downriver for a day and let him or her load the boat!
I have a group of family, kids or clients I want to entertain? When should we go?
Woodland Plantation is the perfect spot to entertain large groups of guests including family, kids, or the corporate retreat. The unique charm, over the top cuisine, and the one of a kind setting are absolutely a home run for these kinds of gatherings.
There is really no bad time to go, but we would suggest trying to target the traditionally mellower weather periods of March – early October. Business groups are hard to pull together aligning schedules, kitchen passes, and travel plans… so the odds of successfully rescheduling in the event of bummer weather are normally very slim in our experience. Pick a spring, summer or early autumn window that stands the best chance Mother Nature cooperates. We can cherry pick the best guides and rooms, everyone will be comfortable, etc. Also, again, we can organize conventional tackle guides for the less experienced anglers to ensure the trip is welcoming to a larger group with varying degrees of interest or skill level.
Whenever you can get away, and whenever the sun is shining with 8 knots breeze!
This article is not to scare anyone away. On the contrary, the message is not to overthink it!
There are just way too many variables in play to get too caught up with when is the best time to go. Hopefully, I have articulated that the complexities of the fishery are very fluid from year to year, there are pros and cons to every season, and the best fishing almost always occurs when the weather is cooperative and you have the right guide on the poling platform.
We quite literally have clients fishing out of Woodland just about every day of the year, and have seen well over a decade of these trends with the river, weather, and the seasonal supply and demand. We have our fingers on the pulse of what is happening down there. Please lean on us and our network of incredible guides to help steer you in the right direction to what is best for your group and your expectations.
At the end of the day, the one thing we can promise you is that you will see one of the world’s most dynamic fisheries, hang with some of the fishiest dudes in the fly fishing community, and will most CERTAINLY gain five pounds eating and drinking at Woodland!
For more information about our program at the Woodland Plantation you can visit our webpage HERE
Nice school of summertime schooling bull redfish