Redfish

A group of redfish swim together in search of food. Redfish, or red drum, numbers were depleted in the 1960s by area fishermen.

Somewhere, out in the big water, there is a school of large predators in such large numbers that when they near the surface it turns aqua-clear water into a pale pink. They are shaped like an atomic submarine and can generate amazing power and speed with their huge tails.

Having the ability to change their color from dark red or orange to a light steel gray, depending on the habitat, helps conceal them in their search for prey. Those black spots that look like two big eyes on each side of their blue-tipped tail often cause predators, like sharks, to think it’s their head and allow them to escape. Just like the old sub, they have offenses and defenses that make then very stealthy.

Most refer to them as red drum or redfish, but I prefer to call them my two-spotted friends. It’s appropriate for me because they have given me years of tackle busting experiences, and in my opinion, they are one of the most beautiful creatures that swim, with their multi-colored bodies and beauty marks.

These wonderful creatures of nature spend most of their adult lives roaming the open waters of our seas in packs living a long life of 40 years or more. They grow to 4 feet-plus in length and often 50 pounds or more in weight, which can be a real challenge to those of us who thrive on going to war with them.

They spend most of the year in offshore waters gorging their fat bellies on bait balls and crustaceans found on sandy bottoms. In the fall, usually mid-August through mid-October when the cool winds of fall start to blow and water temperatures begin to fall, they migrate inshore along our estuary, inlets and passes to spawn.

Males produce drumming sounds using muscular contractions that vibrate the swim bladder to attract females. The ladies lay a huge batch of eggs that range from 200,000 to 3 million, a process that might be repeated several times, and the papas turn surrounding water into a milky color that fertilizes and starts the incubation process.

Fertilized eggs are about 1 inch in diameter, clear and contain oil globules that keep them afloat as they are carried inshore by tides. Fertilized eggs hatch in about 30 hours and turn into larvae that live on a yolk sac for three days, at which time they start feeding on microscopic plankton.

They grow to about one inch in the first 40 days and the rate increases rapidly through the first year as large schools start to form. They can often be seen swimming in large numbers along shallow grass lines crawling over each other’s backs in feeding frenzies, gorging on small shrimp and crabs. They reach a length of 11 to 15 inches by the end of one year.

During the second year, they start to become predators prowling the open waters of bays, cuts and their favorite oyster reefs in search of larger prey-like mullet, croakers and blue crabs, and reach a length of 20 inches or more.

The third year is the most dangerous for them as they become prey for all of us line stretchers who like the battles they give us on our rods and reels and the hot tasty skillet meals they give us around our supper table.

During their fourth year, they reach a length of 28 inches or more and at a point in their lives when they are mature enough to spawn. Some will remain in shallow waters for a while as others migrate back to their home in the Gulf and spend the rest of their lives reproducing just like their moms and dads.

Mother Nature did a wonderful job of replenishing those magnificent creatures that make their home beneath the waves until populations of fisherman started to explode along our coastal shores during the late 1960s and depleted their numbers.

Fortunately, for those of us who like to visit our tide lines and still have a measure of success, some really smart folks built Sea Center Texas in Lake Jackson that raises redfish in captivity which supplements their population. Free guided tours are available to the public at this facility that allows young and old to see how this is accomplished.

Larry Parks of Lake Jackson is author of “Dancing with the Waves,” a collection of stories and people gathered from a lifetime of fishing, which is available for purchase at The Facts office.

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