Surf Fishing the Redfish Run
This guide will be a bit different than the usual ones on this site, as it’s more directed towards specific events than a general species guide. Surf fishing for red drum is best done during a certain time of year when the massive trophy fish are migrating along the coasts to their inshore breeding grounds. It becomes an amazing time of year to surf fish, targeting these huge game fish as they travel along the beaches.
In this all-new guide you’ll learn:
- Redfish Behavior Patterns
- Best Times of Year
- Fishing Tactics
- Specific Tips
- Gear Recommendations
So if you want to get more traffic from your content this year, you’ll love today’s guide.
Let’s get started.
In the Fall of each year, breeding size redfish migrate along beaches to breed in inlets and bays and let the tides wash their eggs deep into marshes and river mouths to develop. This September event coincides with the Fall run of mullet, giving them a massive source of food that lasts into October. Getting in on this action means consistently haul in big bull redfish up to and over 40 inches.
Where does this happen?
The Fall redfish run happens every Fall from Texas, along the Gulf Coast, all the way into the Atlantic side of Florida. Schools that number in the thousands of 34-inch and larger redfish gather and migrate from their offshore homes. With the aim of reaching sheltered bays and inlets, these redfish travel along the barrier island beaches to reach their spawning ground, giving anglers an annual opportunity to target these large, hard-fighting game fish.
Why does it happen?
Simply put, redfish migrate to shallow water to breed. Because of the barrier islands that line the Gulf of Mexico and coastlines, they have to travel along these beaches and enter bays and intercoastal waters through passes and channels. This makes them easy to target along those beaches, and easy to find in their natural travel areas.
Redfish are normally bottom-feeding fish that stir up sand to find food. In these large schools though, they tend to do their trademark tailing behavior less often and chase mullet schools and take every opportunity to feed on an easy meal. This means your baits are more likely to be picked up almost immediately when cast into a school of redfish.
Surf Fishing Tactics for Bull Redfish
The most popular ways to target these bull reds are surf fishing beaches and passes or locating large schools in boats.
Here, we’ll be focusing on surf fishing since it’s more accessible and easier to do.
Big redfish are hungry. While typically bottom feeders, redfish will go after all kinds of small prey fish, shrimp, crabs, squid, and big sand fleas. Using a variety of these baits, both live and cut pieces, is the best way to figure out what they have a taste for.
The best tackle to use is a heavy surf rod and large spinning reel. A solid thirty pounds of drag is enough to slow down the fish without breaking you off or pulling the hook. It’s also ideal to have the power to turn the redfish, otherwise, you can end up a hundred yards down the beach from where you started because you’ll have to chase it.
You’ll want at least 300 yards of a minimum of twenty-pound test braid. I tend to fish with a 50-pound line, to help reduce break-offs and let me really put pressure on the fish. 100-pound fluorocarbon leaders aren’t necessary, but a double drop rig made out of it and held together with crimps almost never fails. It’s my go-to rig for targeting small to medium sharks, large redfish, and black drums.
Handling Bull Reds
Handling these fish can be a challenge to do properly. Bull redfish weigh about one pound per inch of their length, so a forty-inch fish is nearly forty pounds. To add to this, they’re incredibly strong.
Grab them (with wet hands) around the base of their tail and support the fish from underneath the neck to pick them up. Try to keep them level with the ground, as holding them vertically can damage internal organs. Keep a tight grip and be prepared for them to flip around in your hands. Stay away from the gill plate, as the bones inside are the only part of the fish that can cut you.
1: Fish as many lines as you can handle.
Fishing a spread of lines is important for surf fishing because it lets you test different distances and routes fish are traveling to figure out where the majority of them are. It also lets you try out multiple kinds of baits at the same time. Once you’ve figured out where to cast and what works, I recommend downsizing to two or three rods to lower your risk of tangling and keep you from swapping out baits and casting constantly.
#2: Follow the fish.
Don’t try to stand in one spot and bring the fish to you. Big redfish are incredibly strong and with the added strength of the current, they’re going to run off a ton of line and wind up well down the beach. Go over or under your other lines and follow them down the beach a bit before you try to turn them and stop giving line.
#3: Scale your gear up.
You can use light lines and tackle to hook into big redfish from a boat, but on the beach, it isn’t the best idea. Your typical pompano rig and medium spinning gear can get overwhelmed. Scale up all of your tackle to help reduce break-offs and give you the leverage you need to haul the monster fish out of the water.
#4: Always use circle hooks.
Not only are circle hooks safer for fish and easier to remove, but with redfish, they almost always catch the direct corner of their mouth. You want these fish to survive and breed for the next generation, so always try to release them safely. A swallowed hook can greatly reduce survival chances, and using circle hooks helps reduce the chances of that happening.
#5: Speaking of gut hooks…
Also, make sure to not use stainless hooks. In the case of a gut hook, you want the hook to rust out. Use hooks that will corrode over time, and if you do gut hook a fish, cut off the line as close to the hook as possible and release it quickly.
#6: Fish a light drag
Redfish like this are going to pick up your bait and keep swimming. It’ll double over your rod, and if your drag is too tight it can cause you to break off or pop your rod out of the holder. It’s quite honestly just a ton of force.
Leave your drag light so they can run, you’ll know when they take it. Give them a couple of moments to eat the bait and then slowly tighten down the drag to set the hook. No need to jerk the rod, you’ll hook them with the reel drag.
St. Croix Rods Triumph
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St. Croix rods are some of the best quality you can find. The ten-foot Triumph gives you the length you need to cast with all the comfort and balance you can expect from a St. Croix rod. It has cork handle grips for comfort, and the lightweight blank helps keep it from tiring you out on a long day of casting.
Okuma Longitude Surf
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A solid alternative to the Triumph, the Okuma Longitude 12-foot rod is an excellent and comfortable choice for surf fishing. With cork handles, a graphite rod blank, and extra sensitivity, you won’t be disappointed in the rod’s performance that comes at a lower price point than other surf rods.
Penn Spinfisher VI Long Cast
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Spinfishers are beastly saltwater spinning reels. They’ve got a ton of drag power, line capacity to match, and are completely sealed against salt, sand, and splashes. The long cast version swaps out the shorter spool for a taller, shallower one, which lets the line come off easier and increases your casting distance. A 7500 gives you a ton of power and is quite simply the best surf fishing reel I’ve ever owned.
KastKing Megatron Spinning Reel
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A good budget alternative to the Spinfisher is the KastKing Megatron. Quality gears, very powerful, and a rigid aluminum frame give it a lot of durability against these big fish. Overall it’s a solid budget reel for any kind of saltwater fishing, with a 5000 or 6000 size being your best options for big redfish.
Bait can vary quite a bit. I’ve had a ton of success using quid, cut pinfish, mullet, and live shrimp. Remember these are big fish that are hungry from traveling and they usually won’t pass up an easy meal. Redfish love sand fleas (mole crabs) so if you can catch a few big ones they’re a great option as well. Try out a few different types of bait and then go with the ones that get hit the fastest.
Yo-Zuri Bull Popper
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Spoons and other inshore lures work great if you are sight fishing the schools. However, a topwater lure can give you amazing strikes and surface blowups. The Yo-Zuri Bull Pop is a great choice for targeting big redfish in the surf and is sure to be noticed by any of them going by.
This annual event is a can’t miss for saltwater fishermen, whether they’re fishing the beaches or from boats. Massive schools of huge redfish give you non-stop frantic action and fast-paced fights with big fish you can only dream of. If you haven’t fished this time of year before, this is your chance to get in on the action.