Redfish Resurgence – Netted relentlessly two decades ago, Gulf drum are on the rebound

Netted relentlessly two decades ago, Gulf drum are on the rebound

Release Shot: This red will live to fight another day. Jerry McBride
Release Shot: This red will live to fight another day. Jerry McBride

By Jerry McBride

When IFA competitors convene next month in Hopedale, Louisiana, the question won't be whether any big redfish will be caught. Everyone will catch big reds.

"Most of the guys won't even bother to measure a 40-inch fish," Florida entrant Ryan McNeal told me. "The goal is to measure 70 inches in a trout/redfish combo, and no more than 20 of those inches will probably be a trout. Finding a 16-inch trout will likely take more effort than getting a 42-inch red."

Giant redfish are the poster children for what anglers can accomplish when they demand proper fish management.

Following legendary New Orleans chef Paul Prudhomme's introduction of blackened redfish in the 1980's–proving that virtually any fish becomes edible if concealed beneath sufficiently massive quantities of hot pepper and butter–redfish were commercially netted to the brink of extinction in less than a decade. Fish found no respite; trawlers scooped up offshore schools of adult spawning aggregations, and gillnetters pounded inshore grassflats indiscriminately, harvesting juveniles before they ever had a chance to grow large enough to join the offshore spawners.

Once nearly fished to extinction, Gulf waters are now full of big redfish. Photo by Jerry McBride.
Once nearly fished to extinction, Gulf waters are now full of big redfish. Photo by Jerry McBride.

The modern era of fish conservation organizations owes its existence to this exploitation. Witnessing the massacre of one of America's premier sport fish, irate anglers formed grassroots movements in Texas and later in Florida, eventually forcing fish managers to halt the carnage by the mid-90's.

Today, those big bulls once again rampage in massive herds throughout the Gulf of Mexico. A few years after gaining protection, offshore giants began converging in Gulf coast passes and around deep bridges each fall; today, those big fish constitute a year-round fishery in many areas. The recovery is not due solely to Nature's ability to rebound; the fact that Texas releases around 40 million juveniles a year certainly helped fuel and maintain the recovery.

The end result is that kayak anglers with even limited skills can again tangle with big, powerful fish without the need to paddle offshore–ravenous bulls aren't known for being picky, but they do know how to bend a rod.

The redfish recovery will be on full display in Louisiana.

"There are days when we hook a big red on almost every cast," Louisiana charter captain and IFA kayak competitor Casey Brunning told me.

Free to fight again. Photo by Jerry McBride.
Free to fight again. Photo by Jerry McBride.