Fishing Guides:

How To Catch Redfish


Redfish (or red drum) are one of the most popular inshore game fish in the Southeastern United States. They fight incredibly hard for their size and taste pretty good. They’re also incredibly common, and with a little bit of know-how aren’t too difficult to catch or get a bite from. 

In this guide we’ll give you everything you need to know to get started catching redfish including:

  • Redfish Biology
  • Fishing Tactics and Knowledge
  • Professional Tips to increase your chances
  • Best Gear recommendations



Let’s get started

Chapter 1:

Redfish Basic Knowledge


To have the best odds of landing a redfish, you need to know how they behave, where they like to live, what they like to eat. Here we’ll go over all of that and include some extra bits of information to help introduce you to redfish. 

The Basics

Redfish are an inshore game fish famous for their copper-colored backs, tail spots, and bulldog-like fights. They’re an inshore species, usually found in shallow waters. Redfish have downward-facing mouths that make them great bottom feeders, but they have no problem coming up to the surface to feed on fish (especially the larger ones). 

Where to Catch Redfish

The largest numbers of redfish are found along the Gulf of Mexico and up the Atlantic Coast of the Southeastern United States. They can range from the Chesapeake Bay to the Florida Keys in the Atlantic, and cover the entire Gulf Coast down to Tuxpan Mexico.

Younger redfish tend to prefer shallow water under 30 feet in-depth and are frequently found around river mouths, in mangroves, on grass flats, and even up muddy creeks. Older redfish prefer higher salinity environments and can be found offshore as well as in the inshore waters their younger cousins prefer.

Along the Gulf Coasts, large bull redfish migrate along the beaches to shallower water for spawning in the late fall. This is called the “Running of the Bulls” and is a great time to catch massive redfish in the surf.

Typical Redfish Behavior

Redfish follow the food, and can’t be pinned down to just looking for structure or certain water qualities. A good way to locate them is to find schools of baitfish that are being fed on by birds and other predators.

Redfish love feeding in very shallow water, and when feeding on the bottom they turn their heads downwards which causes their tails to extend out of the water. This behavior is called tailing and can help you locate a group of feeding redfish. In deeper water, they love to lie in potholes and troughs near sandbars and wait on prey to be pushed to them.

Redfish Preferred Food

In the larval stage redfish feed on plankton, but as juveniles, they grow to feed on shrimp, crabs, and small fish. As adults, they tend to eat almost anything they can easily grab, including shrimp, crabs, fish, and worms. Their favorite prey includes shrimp, ladyfish, menhaden, mullet, and even flounder. 

They tend to feed on different prey seasonally. Redfish eat more shrimp and crabs in the summer and fall months and more fish in the winter and spring.

Chapter 2:

Fishing Tactics


Redfish are opportunistic predators and eat a wide variety of prey foods which makes them one of the easier fish to target. Regardless of this, you still need to know what they’ll be feeding on, have good presentations, and while widespread they aren’t the easiest to find. With a little knowledge, you can find a lot more success targeting redfish, and this section is dedicated to that knowledge.

Best Areas for Redfish

While redfish can’t be pinned down by finding certain kinds of structure or water, you can still consistently find them in certain areas. Redfish are most commonly found on grass or mudflats, river mouths, bays, along beaches, around jetties, or in passes. 

A good place to start looking is in troughs and potholes. The larger redfish love to hang out on drop-offs with a lot of tide movement since it brings their prey to them. Drops near sandbars and deeper holes in flats are great places to throw redfish bait. 

One of the best ways to locate redfish is by spotting signs of their presence. Look for tailing schools in promising locations like grass flats, sandbars, and mudflats near river mouths. You can sight fish them in shallow mangroves, grass flats, and sandbars. Also, keep an eye out for boiling water where a bait school has been pushed to the surface or diving birds that indicate the presence of a feeding frenzy.

Best Tackle Choices

Redfish are extremely fun on light tackle. Using lighter inshore rods and reels really makes them a challenging fight where you need to work the fish to avoid being broken off. Targeting lower-sized redfish, your most fun option is a light to medium action rod and a mid-sized reel with around a 20-pound braid. 

If you want to target redfish in the surf or go for big bull redfish you’ll need to upgrade the size of your gear. Namely, you want more line capacity and strength, a stronger rod, and higher drag. Bull reds in passes and the surf can easily run a hundred yards of line off of a big spinning reel, so be sure to follow the fish when necessary. Heavy-action rods, big spinning reels, and 30-50 pound test braided lines are ideal for bull redfish,

Redfish Size

Game size redfish typically run anywhere from 14 inches up to monsters over 50 inches in length. The most common sizes are the “slot” reds, which fit inside the state laws for fish you can keep. This range varies by state but is usually around 14-27 inches in length. 

Smaller redfish under 24 inches are most common inshore and in shallow water, while the larger bull reds are found along beaches, in passes, and holding near drop-offs with a lot of currents.

Best Rig Choices

Carolina rigs are really popular for dropping dead baits to redfish. Double drops rigs work really well, especially in the surf. For live baits, use a sliding rig with about a three-foot leader to give your baitfish plenty of room to swim around on. We have another article dedicated to the best rig choices for redfish.

Best Baits and Lures

Ladyfish and menhaden are some of the best dead baits you can use for redfish. You can also find success with shrimp and even squid, as they readily eat any food they can find. For live bait, bull minnows, cigar minnows, and finger mullet work exceptionally well, but you can also catch a batch of croaker or pinfish to use. 

You can use a huge variety of lures to target reddish. Topwater lures like the Badonk-A-Donk work well. Spoons and diving lures can also find success sight fishing reds. Artificial lures like Gulp Shrimp and paddle tails work great when used on a jighead and bounced across the bottom.

 

Chapter 3:

Professional Tips


#1 Be Patient.

Your time on the water dictates a lot when looking for redfish. You can find spots they like to hang around and come back to them over and over. Don’t be afraid to just drop a trolling motor and slowly cruise down a shoreline looking for them.  

#2 Use a side-imaging sonar.

Locating redfish can take a while, and you can eliminate a lot of water just by using some side-imaging sonar, especially in open water bays and flats. It’ll mark oyster beds, bait schools, and individual redfish for you to cast to. 

#3 Fish with a light drag.

One of the best tips to help you out (especially surf fishing) is to fish a light drag. Don’t let your bait sit there on max drag. Yes, it might hook the fish since redfish inhale their prey, but it can also cause untimely breakoffs. Fish a light enough drag that the fish can take the bait and run off, then slowly tighten it to set our hook during the run. 

#4 Change baits and lures by the season.

We discussed that redfish tend to eat more shrimp and crabs in the summer and fall while eating more fish in the winter. Be sure to use appropriate bait or lure presentations to try to match what they’re more likely to be eating at the time of year you’re fishing. Not only will it increase your chances, but it can also help to avoid hooking up with unwanted fish species. 

#5 Match your gear to the size redfish you’re after.

Light tackle is an extremely fun way to fish for redfish, but it isn’t going to be enough on bigger ones. You need to use appropriate lines, leaders, rods, and reels for the size of the fish you’re intending to catch and even the area you’re fishing. If there is a lot of structure or heavy currents, you’ll need to bulk up your gear to avoid being broken off. 

Chapter 4:

Gear Recommendations


Rods

St. Croix Mojo Inshore Fishing Rod

St. Croix Rods Mojo Inshore Spinning Rod
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St. Croix has a history of making high-quality rods. The Mojo Inshore rod is designed specifically with inshore fishing in mind, from its weight to its action and flex, this rod is a great option for any fisherman who picks it up. As soon as you do, you’ll know how great this rod feels in your hands.

With a length of 7’6’’ and weighing in at 4.1 ounces, the Mojo Inshore is easy to handle and great for long days of casting. The handle is wrapped in an EVA foam and cork combination that stands up to saltwater and feels good in your hands.

13 FISHING – Omen Black

13 FISHING - Omen Black - 7'3' M Spinning Rod - 2pc - OB3S73M-2
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The Omen Black is an extremely sensitive and durable inshore rod that is perfect for redfish. You’ll be able to feel even the tiniest bites and get a ton of action into any lures you decide to cast.

The rod checks in at 6’7’’, with a medium action and stainless steel rod guide. Each guide has a zirconium insert to keep your rod moving smoothly through them without corroding in saltwater, and the action is great for medium-range casting. It features a full grip handle made from high-quality cork material and a proprietary reel seat to lock in your reel.

Reels

Penn Battle II

PENN 1338215 Battle II 1000 Spinning Fishing Reel
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The Penn Battle is one of my most used reels and is plenty durable and strong for fighting monster redfish. It’s a full-metal reel, comes with a braid-ready ring and line capacity indicators, and has a huge amount of drag for its size. The reel itself is incredibly durable and requires minimal maintenance. 

Shimano Stradic Ci4+ 4000

SHIMANO Stradic CI4 1000FB HG Freshwater Spinning Reel
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The Stradic is loaded with upgraded features that make it your best friend for inshore fishing. The Dyna-Balance rotor, Fluidrive II System, X-Ship Technology, and Hagane gearing all make it one of the smoothest and strongest reels on the market. It’s also got incredible longevity with its improved gear durability and its line management system helps avoid line twists and tangles.

Baits

Live Baits

Live baits work extremely well on redfish hiding in holes and in troughs since they’re expecting small prey to be swept to them. Use shrimp, finger mullet, bull minnows, pinfish, croakers, and sand fleas. Remember to switch up your live baits for the time of year!

Cut Baits

Year-round you can find great success fishing cut baits on the bottom. Half ladyfish, mullet, menhaden, shrimp, crab, and even squid can all entice a redfish into biting your bait. Once you’ve found a spot you can either let them baits sit and wait for the redfish to find them, or drift over flats with a few cut baits out and wait on a bite. 

Lures

When it comes to the best redfish lures, you can use a huge variety. They’ll strike on soft and hard baits, such as the Gulp! Shrimp and Bomber Lures Badonk-a-Donk.

Bomber Lures Badonk-A-Donk Topwater Fishing Lure – Saltwater Grade

Bomber Lures Badonk-A-Donk High Pitch Saltwater Grade, (4-Inch) - Silver Mullet
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Gulp! Saltwater Shrimp

Berkley Gulp! Paddleshad Fishing Soft Bait Pearl White, 5in
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Rigs

Some of the best redfish rigs are home-made like Carolina rigs, double drop leaders, and live bait rigs. One of the best ways to lure redfish to you is to include a popping cork on your Carolina rig. It floats your bait to make it look more realistic while making a ton of noise to help attract the redfish to your bait. 

Bomber Lures Paradise Popper X-Treme Popping Cork

Bomber BSWPPPPY Paradise Popper X-Treme Pro Popper, Yellow
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Chapter 5:

Final Thoughts


Fishing for redfish can be time-consuming but it is absolutely rewarding. They’re one of the most popular game fish in the Southeast for a reason, and their incredible fighting power and challenging tactics make them the quintessential game fish. After reading through this guide you should have all the knowledge you need to get started catching redfish. Tight Lines!