There are several species of fish referred to as “redfish”, including various types of snappers and deep-sea rockfish. So, to avoid any confusion, we’re talking here about the red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus), also known as channel bass or spottail bass.
The red drum is a game fish native to the Atlantic Ocean, specifically to the southern and eastern Atlantic. It can be caught on the coasts of Texas, Alabama, Virginia, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Mississippi, and it’s highly prized in the Gulf of Mexico.
In this post, we’re going to cover the most important aspects regarding red drum fishing. We’ll point out the best weather conditions, water temperature for the reds, as well as the best baits and tackle for them.
Redfish – Preferred Habitat And Diet
In general, red drum prefer shallow waters between 1-4 ft. along edges of bays and estuaries with plenty of aquatic vegetation. They can be found in areas with a variety of bottoms, but they prefer areas with soft mud. They use their senses of sight and touch, and have a downturned mouth, to locate forage on the bottom. Depending on their prey, they either vacuum it or bite it.
Juvenile reds mostly stick to the grassy marsh and estuary areas, if available. However, mature red drum are more likely to prefer manmade structures like bridge posts, piers, and jetties. They also stick to oyster beds. Although they’re technically oceanic, saltwater fish, they can also live in freshwater, and sometimes are found in rivers, several miles upstream from the river mouth.
The diet of redfish varies significantly from season to season, though. In spring and winter, adult reds feed primarily on small fish, such as mullet, menhaden, pinfish, Atlantic croaker, mudminnows, etc. In summer and fall, they mainly feed on crabs, shrimp, and mullet.
Optimal Weather And Water Conditions For Redfish Fishing
As a general idea, redfish are the most active when the water temperature ranges between 70° – 90°F (21 – 32°C). Water temperatures for the most productive red drum fishing can vary from one area to another, though. But the ideal water temperature for reds is 65°F (18°C). This being said, in the sub-tropical areas and the southern part of the United States, it can be fished year-round, as the water temperature remains constant, over 70°F (32°C).
At temperatures below 40°F (4.4°) off-shore red drum fishing is difficult as they prefer warmer water. However, in-shore fishing can produce results if you can locate them. As a general idea, if you’re fishing for redfish in-shore, they should be at the deepest points of the water body, if the water temperature drops below 45°F (7°C). As the temperatures rise, they should become active and start biting again as the water reaches 58°F (14°C).
When it comes to water salinity, redfish can tolerate a fairly wide range. Although the optimal salinity range preferred by adult redfish is 30-35ppt, they are known for moving between fresh waters and very high saline waters, up to 50 ppt.
Sunny weather is ideal for catching redfish. Sometimes even heat waves won’t deter them from biting.
However, various surf conditions affect the feeding habits of redfish. Current roughness, barometric pressure, wind, and rain can take a toll on their behavior. For example, during turbulent weather, reds often move beyond the breakers to stay out of the rough part of the surf. But on the other hand, a great window of opportunity to catch reds is right after a storm, as they’ll move towards the shores to prey on the small marine wildlife stirred up by the bad weather in the surf zone.
Tidal movements always increase the reds’ appetite. But consistent tides enable them to move the most. In areas with negligible tidal movement, the tides won’t have a significant effect on the fish movement.
As a general idea, during a high tide, redfish will disband and move into the shallow waters in search of easy prey. Conversely, a falling tide will push them back and enable them to school once more. During falling tides, many anglers look for redfish schools trapped in pools of water created by tide influences.
In blue water, during a rising tide, skinny waters and spots like flats near the shore, oyster beds, breakers, and piers are great places to look for redfish. On the other hand, when the tide is falling, the fish will move to deeper spots, usually adjacent to flats.
Tackle For Redfish
First of all, as redfish grow longer, their weight increases exponentially. In other words, even a smaller one can weigh pretty heavy on the line.
This being said, they require rods with a solid backbone, ranging between medium and medium-heavy power, with fast action. Also, depending on the fishing method and place you’re fishing for red drum, you’ll need different lengths. For example, if you’re casting lures in a marsh, river, estuary, or creek, a 7-8′ rod should suffice. If you’re fishing in the surf (from the shore), it’s best to opt for a 11-12′ long surf rod. If you’re fly-fishing, go with a heavier fly rod, in an 8-10′ range.
Here are a few recommendations in terms of rods for redfish:
The reel type and size can vary depending on what fishing method you’re using for redfish. As a general idea, if you’re casting lures, a spinning reel in the 3000-4000 range should do. If you’re fishing in the surf, you’ll need a reel with a “fatter” spool because you’ll use more line. And of course, for fly fishing, you’ll need a fly reel.
Here are a few recommendations:
First of all, since redfish prefer habitats with rugged terrain, structure, and vegetation, braided line is the best choice. But depending on the habitat that’s being fished, fishing line strength can vary. In general, 20-30 lb braid is what you need for red drum fishing. However, if you’re targeting bull reds, it’s best to use heavier line (40-50 lbs braided), as well as heavier overall gear.
For the terminal tackle, 1-3 ft. of 20-30 lbs fluorocarbon leader should do. But again, if you’re going after big reds, you’ll need a 40-50 lbs test leader with strong, well-made knots.
The best fishing hooks to use for redfish are circle hooks. They have rather big mouths, so the hook size range should be between 1/0 and 3/0. For 2-3″ bait, it’s best to go with 1/0 hooks, while for larger 5″+ bait, 3/0 circle hooks should do. Some of the names should look out for are Gamakatsu Octopus, Sakuma, and Tronix.
Baits and Lures
Redfish are not very picky, but as we’ve mentioned above, their diet varies from season to season. In terms of natural baits, you can use small fish such as mullet, croaker, spot, menhaden, or pinfish, live shrimp, small blue crabs, squid, and mussels.
If you’re going after “red bulls”, it’s best to use natural baits rather than artificials. Live or cut bait works about the same, but you’ll need sizeable pieces (6-8 inches). You can use various rigs, but if you’re fishing in the surf, you’ll definitely need large, grabbing sinkers.
When it comes to artificials, you can use a wide array of lures to catch red drum. If you’re stalking them in marshes and mangroves, spoons can produce great results. If you’re fishing in areas with a high amount of vegetation, weedless spoons are more appropriate.
Plugs, especially the fish-shaped ones, either floating or shallow-running, are great if you’re fishing above grass flats. Of course, soft plastics on jig heads can also produce great results. And when it comes to soft plastics, squid, shrimp, worm, and mullet imitations are perfect.
Finally, fly fishing for red drums can be quite fun. Most fly fishers use small surface poppers that imitate baitfish, shrimp, squid, or crabs. The best results for drum fly fishing can be achieved at low tides, in-shore, in swamps, and mangroves. However, fly fishing in the surf is also a thing. For this, you’ll need sinking flies and even an extra sinker. That’s because you’ll need to get the fly down which is not an easy task with consistent wave action.