How to Catch Redfish

Published on 05/17/2023 · 9 min readIn this guide, Fishing Expert Christian Nelson delves into redfish habits and habitats to explain the best methods of catching these sportfish.
Christian Nelson, Fishing Expert
By Fishing Expert Christian Nelson

Photo by Tim Donovan

The range of the redfish, or red drum, stretches as far north as Massachusetts, down the coast to Florida and the Gulf of Mexico to northern Mexico. Throughout their native range, they are held with high regard as one of the strongest pound-for-pound fish you can catch inshore. Not only are these fish tremendously strong, but they also make great table fare! These two characteristics make these fish the ideal sportfish, and they’re not as hard to catch as you think. With a basic understanding of the fish and the appropriate gear, you can be out there catching them in no time.

Understanding Redfish

Just like any other fish, redfish like to feel comfortable and safe. Just understanding what they want and need will have a drastic effect on your success!

Without diving too deep into the rabbit hole, redfish primarily seek mild water temperatures and adequate food in the area.

Water Temperature

Comfortable water temperatures vary throughout the year for redfish, but as a basic rule, look for warmer water when it’s cold and cooler water when it’s hot, like in mid to late summer.

Warmer water may be a shallow flat that heats up quickly during the day, rocks or jetties that hold heat better than sand, or deeper water on cold bleak days. Cooler water may be shaded areas, areas with a current, or deeper water on very hot days.

Once you know where to look, you’ll need to know what to look for while you’re scoping it out!

Food Supply

As I mentioned before, you won’t find redfish in an area with no food supply, so look around and take cues from your environment! Ask questions like, have I seen any fish jump or spook off here? Have I seen any birds diving on bait or any schools of baitfish at all? If you’re not seeing some signs of life, chances are you’re in the wrong place. On the other hand, if I see birds diving a few hundred yards away while I’m fishing, I’ll stop what I’m doing immediately and move to that area. Always look for natural indicators around you! Redfish and other species chase baitfish to the surface, where birds see them and take them as an easy meal. If you learn to watch for and understand what’s happening around you, you’ll have a much easier time finding fish.

These fish also love being near the current since a steady supply of food is carried right to them. Tides create a tidal current, and it’s best to fish just as these tides start moving! Tidal creeks can be super productive areas to fish. Fishing right when the high tide begins to fall or the low tide begins to rise will give you the best chances of finding some feeding fish. I use an app called Fishing Points to track tides, wind, and waves at my spots, but a quick Google search of tides in your area can provide tide charts that will more than suffice!

Additionally, oyster bars or oyster beds are common on the gulf coast. These, as well as any other structure you find near a likely spot, like piers, will probably hold fish. Finding current is great, but finding structure near a current is nearly a guaranteed fish.

Methods of Fishing

Photo by Kevin Perales

Redfish are a species that can be caught on a variety of different presentations and through several different means of fishing. I’ve caught them sitting on a dock with cut bait out, deep dropping under bridges with blue crabs as bait, on tons of different artificials from both kayak and boat, and with live shrimp both freelined and under a popping cork. You can also wade fish the flats for them, and redfish can even be caught off the beach! With so many different methods of trying to land one, I’m going to focus primarily on the methods that have been proven effective and repeatable for me over the years.

Inshore Wade Fishing

My absolute favorite setup for inshore wade fishing is a medium-action spinning combo, usually with a 3000-4000 size reel. My favorite is by far the Penn Battle III, but any combo like this will suit you well, and some of the Pflueger combos have been growing on me lately! Outside of rod and reel, next, you’ll need some line. As far as fishing line, I recommend some 20-45lb braid depending on where you’re fishing. If I plan to fish around any structure or cover, I lean toward the higher side, but you can get away with a lighter line on the flats because there’s less risk of it breaking off on something abrasive. As far as tackle, that depends on where and how you want to fish!

Wade fishing is probably the easiest way to get into inshore fishing as a whole, and redfish are no exception. Wade fishing gives you as an angler the ability to be out there chasing fish in shallow water in an affordable way. It has a relatively low barrier to entry compared to other means like owning a boat or kayak, only requiring a fishing license, some decent fishing gear, a nearby bay, and some comfortable wading boots.

Wade fishing is fun for me because it’s very methodical and can yield tons of fish if done correctly. Planning is essential, ideally, you’ll need to find some shallow grass flats. Even more so than when fishing from a kayak, you’re restricted by distance when wade fishing. You can’t crank up the boat and change spots, so make sure you’re taking time to plan out a great spot to fish! Make sure to look for small depth changes and structural changes on grass flats—subtle features like this can make a huge difference.

As far as bait and tackle, live shrimp under a popping cork is your best friend on the flats. With the water column being fairly shallow, a popping cork is a perfect way to broadcast live bait while search fishing. This presentation allows you to take your time and let the bait do the work as you wade across the flats. I recommend using 25-30lb monofilament or fluorocarbon leader between your hook and your popping cork—try and avoid any that come pre-made with wire leaders! Simple gold spoons have been very effective for me in the past as well! Fish can be spooky on the flats, so good leaders and long casts go a long way toward helping you succeed! This is a really fun way to fish and I’ve found it to be super productive all while being so much simpler than other methods, so give it a shot when you get a chance!

Kayak Fishing

Photo by Christian Nelson

Kayak fishing opens the door to a lot more redfish fishing opportunities as an angler, especially when it comes to catching redfish. My absolute favorite way to catch them is to fish dock lights at night, especially in the summer and fall. The water cools down, and huge bull redfish push up into the shallows to feed on the schools of baitfish that dock lights attract. As an angler, this gives you an obvious target that has a high likelihood of producing a fish, and it makes for some action-packed fishing. I routinely catch over a dozen redfish in less than 2 hours, and most of that is travel time in the kayak between the lights!

Live shrimp work just as well here, but I find artificial baits are way more fun to throw, plus they minimize bycatch. Specifically, I love throwing topwater baits like the Super Spook and other topwater lures, but I use a lot of plastics as well. Gulp Swimming Mullet and shrimp soft plastics combined with a good topwater bait are all you need to have a productive night fishing for redfish, so don’t sweat lure selection too much! I fish my plastics on ⅛-¼ oz jigheads for a more controlled and natural-looking fall, and I fish these at a medium pace bumping on the bottom. Play around while you jig, giving it higher bumps or slower and faster retrieves and take note of what’s working, then stick to it!

Being able to make an accurate cast into the light will help a lot as well! I recommend throwing past the light and bringing your bait back through it, this not only lowers your chances of spooking fish but also makes you much less likely to snag or cast onto the dock. This is how I’ve caught some of my biggest bull reds!

Kayaks are versatile and are perfect for fishing the flats as well—I often paddle my kayak out to the flats to wade fish. The kayak enables me to reach a new place, then I tie it to a belt loop and wade fish that flat, as a bonus the kayak acts as storage and a countertop to handle fish! For more on kayak fishing, check out my article “How to Rig Your Kayak for Fishing.”

Boat Fishing

A boat enables you to do all of the above, and they’re especially great for tight lining for redfish. Furthermore, boats are easy to anchor up in the current, plus they hold several people. This makes them ideal for getting a few friends together, setting out some lines, and waiting for a big one!

When I’m fishing this way I run a 45lb braided line on my reels and use a simple deep dropping rig—something like a red snapper rig will work great! I slide a 1oz weight over my mainline, tie it in a swivel, then attach a 30-40lb monofilament leader, and tie on a 3/0 circle hook. I like to split a whole blue crab in half and use the halves as bait. Quarters will work, but I prefer larger baits when I’m doing this kind of fishing.

Of course, a boat can fish the flats or dock lights, but it doesn’t hurt to mix things up! I usually fish this method in passes or under large bridges, and this is where I have the most success. Fishing this way produces much larger fish on average, so if you’re wanting to target big bulls, this is the way to do it!

Redfish are one of the most accessible and fun-to-catch species of gamefish that North America has to offer, and whether you catch them wading the flats or cruising by dock lights, you’re sure to have a blast. These fish aren’t that hard to catch, and making educated decisions and being patient will go a long way toward your success!

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