Catch and release of bull redfish works

Published 9:50 pm Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Conservation means the wise use of resources.

With fisheries around the country facing more intelligent pressure than ever, conservation is not only wise it is paramount.

That is why anglers must learn proper catch-and-release strategies.

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Releasing fish, particularly, the large breeding-sized fish was first popularized and perfected in the largemouth bass fishery and has transferred with great success throughout all realms of angling.

I am all for catching a mess of crappie for example and frying them up alongside some hush puppies and spending an enjoyable evening with family. There is however something special about catching a big or particularly elusive fish so it can fight another day.

Locally, our bull redfish fishery is one that needs a strong catch-and-release effort. The big reds that are hitting the surf and jetties now are coming into spawn and they are more vulnerable to catch this time of year.

Anglers in Texas are limited to the number of oversized reds they can keep.

During a license year, one red drum over the stated maximum length limit may be retained when affixed with a properly completed Red Drum Tag and one red drum over the stated maximum length limit may be retained when affixed with a properly completed Bonus Red Drum Tag. Any fish retained under authority of a Red Drum Tag or a Bonus Red Drum Tag may be retained in addition to the daily bag and possession limit as stated in this section.

That means if you want to stay fishing after catching a fish you might choose to remain, catch-and-release is necessary.

Some anglers are skeptical of how well the practice works. I am living proof it is highly effective.
In the summer of 2001, I was deeply involved in tagging sharks for the Mote Marine Laboratory and Texas Sea Grant. The Sea Grant folks said if we caught any bull redfish, to go ahead and place a tag in them as well.

While fishing a nearshore gas platform off the coast of Sabine Pass, my friend Bill Killian caught a big bull red, so I quickly broke out the tagging equipment, recorded the information and put it back into the sand-green waters.

Three weeks later, we were fishing the Sabine Jetties which are about two miles away and the line alarm on my reel sounded.

As I grabbed the rod, it bent in two and I soon realized I had on a very big fish.
A few minutes later, a large bull redfish surfaced and Killian netted it on the first run past the boat.

As soon as we put the fish in the boat, I noticed a tag covered with slime.

Being registered in the annual CCA STAR tournament which features tagged redfish that earn anglers a truck, I was stoked, but then I realized they do not tag 40 plus inch reds. They only tag the slot-sized specimens.

As I removed the slime, my heart raced as I realized the tag said Sea Grant. After examining our data, we realized it was the exact same fish Killian caught that I tagged the week before.

What an amazing experience!

I can’t recall if we ever had a tagged shark returned with either program but we certainly did have one bull redfish returned. That taught me something about redfish movement patterns but more importantly let me know firsthand that releasing big fish pays off. I will carry that with me the rest of my life.

If you decide to release bull reds here are some steps created by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. I ran these guidelines once before to help anglers understand the process but have made a few of my own notes here that makes them a little more Texas-acceptable.


• Use appropriate tackle (at least 30 lb test line) and bring the fish in quickly. Remember, these fish are either in the act of spawning or have just recently spawned. This activity alone is exhausting, and being caught on a hook adds extra stress to an already difficult time. (Chester’s note: Do not purposely seek these big reds on trout tackle if you want to release them. Playing them during their stressed period can kill them. However if you hook into one on accident do your best to bring it in quickly.)

• Use non-offset circle hooks (We used Eagle Claw 9/0 or 10/0). This study has shown that over 95 percent of adult red drum caught on Circle hooks are caught in the lip. Two-day mortality is half of what it is with J-hooks.

• Avoid fishing during the hottest part of the summer. Water temperatures can have a profound effect on whether a fish can revive after being caught. (Chester’s note: You’re going to fish when you can fish. However if it is steaming hot you might not want to catch fish after fish after fish which can happen during the run. That could contribute to mortality.)

• Handle the fish only with wet hands. Use a release tool such as needle-nosed pliers to remove the hook.

• Release the fish gently. If it is sluggish or floating upside down, allow it to rest for a few moments near the surface. Gently move it forward through the water to pass water over the gills.

(To contact Chester Moore, e-mail him at You can hear him on “Moore Outdoors” Fridays from 6-7 p.m. on Newstalk AM 560 KLVI or online at