One of the most sought-after saltwater gamefish is the red drum, also known as the redfish. Their shallow water antics and brute strength make them an ideal target for rod bending action. I remember as a child catching my first redfish and hearing the drag scream on what I believed had to be a sea monster. Pound for pound, they are one of the hardest-fighting fish. Not only are they incredible fighters, but also make some tasty table fare.
By far the most common question I receive from novice anglers is “Why can’t I catch a redfish?” The answer to this usually involves using incorrect bait and fishing the wrong areas. Over my years of guiding and catching redfish in various locations, I have learned ways to make targeting these fish more effective. Below I will review some of the best places to visit to catch redfish, tips for targeting them, and the best time of year to be successful. Knowing this information will give you a better understanding of the species and ultimately help you catch more fish.
Where is the best redfishing?
Redfish thrive in backcountry marshes and saltwater estuaries where they can forage for crustaceans and small baitfish. As bottom feeders, redfish will patrol the shallows when they are able to. Areas rich with oysters, mudflats, and seagrass will be home to redfish for the majority of their lives.
Therefore, my 3 favorite places to target redfish are Louisiana, Florida, and South Carolina.
One of my most memorable days on the water was fishing the marshes of Louisiana. There is no better place on earth to target redfish and even some very large shallow fish. Louisiana is home to 1.4 million acres of wetlands that consist of back bays, estuaries, and Gulf side flats. The area is so vast that you will often not encounter another boat on your journey.
Since there is relatively low pressure in comparison to the amount of area, the redfish will rarely refuse a meal. Large breeder-size fish, also known as bull reds, will venture into the back bays from the Gulf in search of easy meals. Fish can be seen waking, tailing, and are often visible in the water. This makes Louisiana not only ideal for conventional fishermen but a fly-fisherman’s paradise.
Places to visit
The southern half of Louisiana is a rural area. When planning a trip to Louisiana, there are 4 areas I would recommend visiting. To the south of New Orleans near the Mississippi delta, the three main areas to stay are Venice, Delacroix, and Hopedale. Each of these areas offers lodging and easy access to great fishing areas.
To the west of the Mississippi river, the main hub is Houma. This area also offers various lodging options and is typically a less fished area.
Louisiana can be tough terrain to navigate for the inexperienced. Since the area is so vast, it is easy to get turned around. Also, be mindful that a lot of the area does not have cell phone service. You will want to make sure you have a reliable GPS unit before heading out. I would highly recommend hiring a guide for the best carefree experience.
Florida is without a doubt the saltwater fishing capital of the world. No other place is home to as many species as Florida. What makes this state so unique is the varying environments from region to region.
Redfish can be targeted in virtually any region of the state, however certain areas are home to greater numbers of fish. When searching for areas to target redfish in Florida, it is best to visit areas that have shallow grass flats or oyster marsh environments.
Places to visit
As mentioned above, you can target redfish anywhere in Florida, but my 3 favorite areas are the NE region, the Panhandle, and the Everglades. Each of these areas is vastly different but offers great opportunities to catch redfish.
The NE region of Florida spans from St. Augustine up to the Georgia border and is home to vast marshes, creeks loaded with oyster bars, and spartina grass flats. This area of Florida has the largest tide swings ranging up to 6ft and has the most tannic water of any part of the state.
These rich marshes are home to an abundance of life and are the perfect foraging ground for redfish. I have lived and guided this area for most of my life and although it can be challenging to navigate, there is a very healthy redfish population. For more information on the NE region, check out Fishing in St. Augustine, FL.
As we move further west to the Florida Panhandle, the water becomes cleaner and terrain changes. There are far few oyster bars present and the flats consist of seagrass and sandy areas.
The Panhandle is also home to migrating large breeder redfish during certain times of the year. If you are looking to target large fish, this is one of the best areas to do so. The water is crystal clear and boasts some of the best sight-fishing in the state. For a more detailed guide on places to visit, check out Fishing the Panhandle of Florida.
The southern tip of the Florida peninsula is home to the holy grail of backwater fishing.
The Everglades national park is truly one of the greatest fishing destinations on earth. Virtually untouched by man, it is as if you have stepped back in time to the days of explorers. The area is so large, it is almost impossible to have fished everywhere in the everglades.
Mangrove-lined tunnel creeks and large grass seabeds make this the optimal place for redfish to thrive. It is not uncommon to encounter large groups of tailing fish, especially in the Flamingo area. Although the everglades are loaded with redfish, this is not the place to visit if you are looking to encounter large redfish.
Similar to Northeast Florida, South Carolina consists of saltwater marshes, mudflats, and acres of spartina grass. Mazes of tiny creek systems splinter throughout the coast with an inlet system feeding the waterways. South Carolina has quickly gained popularity for its redfish, especially for fly anglers.
Redfish can be found tailing in the grass or crawling across low tide mudflats. The population of redfish in this area is very strong.
Areas to visit
The Charleston area is by far the most popular destination for South Carolina redfish. It is a beautiful area with a lot of charm and nightlife. Within the Charleston area, I would recommend visiting the Mount Pleasant and Kiawah Island areas. Both of these areas are near Charleston, but slightly off the beaten path.
Fishing these areas will help you be more secluded from other fishermen while remaining in prime redfish territory. If nightlife is appealing to you, then Charleston is a great place to stay.
Targeting redfish: what to look for?
Now that we have established some prime areas to target redfish, we need to understand where to fish within these areas. Before you hop on the boat, it is best practice to have some areas in mind that you believe will hold fish. How can we identify potentially good areas? Well, first we need to understand how a redfish hunts for food.
The anatomy of a redfish is designed in a way that makes them primarily bottom feeders. Their long slim bodies allow them to slide across shallow areas virtually undetected from prey. The mouth of a redfish is angled downward, allowing them to quickly pick things up off the bottom or dig head first in the mud.
Redfish are hunters and like to roam along areas. Except for certain situations, they are generally on the move.
What makes redfish even more exciting to target is although they are designed to feed on the bottom, their aggressive behavior will trigger surface bites as well. It is rare to target a species that will eat a crab on the bottom yet also strike a topwater lure.
What do redfish eat?
Redfish are aggressive eaters that are not overly picky on a meal. I have cut open the bellies of fillet redfish to find odd things such as snakes, mice, and grasshoppers. Although this isn’t normal, it just goes to show their scavenger mentality.
The number one food source for redfish is crustaceans. Various crab species and shrimp make up the majority of their diet. Second to crustaceans, redfish will feed on small baitfish such as mullet and mud minnows. As they become larger, they will feed more on baitfish.
Look for structure
Similar to other predator gamefish, redfish will be drawn to natural structures. For redfish, structure can be things such as oyster bars, grass flats, dock pilings, and rocks. Structure is important for two reasons:
- It allows predators to ambush unsuspecting prey
- Prey will naturally congregate around structure for protection
When searching for areas to target redfish, look for oyster bars that create a funnel or that line a deeper drop off. These areas will create a great ambush spot for a lurking redfish.
Similar to oyster bars, grass points or edges can create ambush points as well. Areas where sparse grass is sticking out of the water are great areas for a fish to be lurking.
Having a bottom finder is a great way to locate various structures as well. With a bottom finder, you are able to see sharp drops offs and holes that hold fish, and find things such as rock piles or sunken debris. A great GPS unit with very good detail and side imaging is the Simrad GO7 XSR (Amazon).
Find moving water
Redfish are naturally drawn to current as it presents greater opportunities. Areas with moving current allow fish to sit along structures and wait for food to flow to them. In addition to ambush opportunities, moving water tends to be cleaner and fish prefer cleaner water. If you can find clear pockets of water among dirtier water, chances are there are fish there.
When fishing moving water, you want to allow your bait to move down current in a way that appears natural. Cast up current and working the bait back towards you is the best way to achieve natural movement. Finding current moving around oyster bars or sweeping over drop-offs is a great way to locate redfish. When fishing a shallow flat, the most productive point will be when the current is moving water onto or off of the flat.
Water that is stagnant is referred to as dead water. Dead water tends to be hotter, dirtier, and have little bait activity. The one exception to dead water is the presence of mullet baitfish, which can breathe air. If the tide is flat or you are in an area with little movement, you should move spots.
Redfish like shallows
Redfish are notorious for patrolling the shallows. This is a prime way of hunting crabs that tend to stick to the shallows. While fishing for redfish can be great in deeper water, most of the excitement of targeting reds comes from fishing shallow.
In areas with larger tides, the fish will move onto the flats actively with the incoming tide. As the water level rises from low, fish are able to explore areas that were once dry. This is a great opportunity to fly fish as the fish will be more visible and will be feeding shallow.
When fishing shallow, look for areas bordering deeper water. These will likely be the entry and exit points for fish. Redfish enjoy going shallow but are always aware of their escape route in case danger arises. Therefore areas that border a deeper exit will tend to hold more fish. In the morning hours, these are great areas to throw topwater lures for some incredible surface eats.
Shallow flats with grass or oyster bars will be more productive than sandy or mud flats. When you enter a flat, look for visible signs of bait. If you find the bait, you will find the fish.
Having the right tackle to catch redfish
When conventional fishing for redfish, I like to use a 7’ Medium Light rod with a 3000 series reel. The main line on my reel is a 15lb test braid and a leader material varying from 15lb to 25lb depending on water clarity and structure.
When fishing for bull reds in deeper water, using a heavier set up such as a 7’ Medium Heavy action rod on a 5000 series reel will suit you better. On this heavier rod, I will pair it with 20lb braid mainline and 25-30lb leader material. Redfish do not have agressive teeth and therefore there is little risk of the fish wearing through thinner leader material. The biggest concern with landing large redfish is the surrounding structure.
When targeting redfish you cannot go wrong with a simple jig head. A ⅛ – ¼ oz jig head tipped with a shrimp, piece of crab, or mullet will get eaten if the fish are in the area.
Some other ways I like to fish is by using a size 1 hook with a small split shot halfway up the leader. This setup works great when fishing shallow as it lands softly in the water. For the artificial guys, some topwater lures, paddle tail soft plastics and shrimp imitations are a must.
Additionally, having some lead on hand varying from small split shots, up to 4oz (for fishing jetties) is a good idea. Rigging a Carolina rig is another great way to catch deeper redfish.
Fly Fishing tackle for redfish.
For fly-fisherman, the standard rod is a 9’ 8wt rod. This rod is capable of landing almost any redfish you will encounter. If you are looking for an additional challenge, I would recommend using a 6wt. For a list of rods that I have tested and recommend, be sure to visit the Recommended Products Page.
Being that the majority of redfish targeted on fly are in shallow water, a simple floating line is all that is required. Redfish have a tendency to pop up out of nowhere at close distances, so a shorter heavier head will allow you to make quick casts.
A standard redfish leader is 9’ and will taper down to 12-20lb tippet. There is no bite required for a redfish. If the water is tannic, you may decide to shorten the leader to 7’ to improve casting ability. The majority of redfish will not be leader-shy. For more information on redfish leaders, check out What size leader for Saltwater Fishing?
Flies you should keep on hand include shrimp patterns, small crabs, and various baitfish imitations. Flies such as kwans and closures work really well for redfish. Keep a combination of both sinking and unweighted flies in your box. Colors should range from naturals, such as tan and olive, to black and purple.
What is the best lure for catching redfish?
I have found that the best lure for redfish are:
- Rapala Skitterwalk – Red and white – Great topwater for early morning calm conditions
- Z-Man CBD14-02 Diezel Chatter Bait – Can be thrown all day. Productive along oyster bars
- Egret Baits E-VSW35-18-02 3.5″ Vudu Weedless Shrimp – Ideal for fishing reds in grass.
The key to selecting the best lure is to be mindful of the bait that is present in a given area. Chances are this is what they are eating. Selecting a lure that matches this prey is often the most productive.
What size hook is best for redfish?
One of the biggest mistakes I see novices make is using too big of a hook. Yes, a redfish does have a large mouth, but oftentimes we are feeding them small baits such as shrimp. If your hook is too large, it will cause your bait to not look natural and the fish will see the hook.
Using a smaller hook will increase your bites. I prefer to use a size 1 or at most a size 1/0. Your hook should be strong, but not large. Redfish have soft lips with large crushers in the back of their throats. When a redfish eats, it inhales the bait back to these crushers to then crush it. Being that they have soft mouths, little hooks will stick equally as good as a larger hook.
When bait fishing, or letting a bait sit, the use of a circle hook will increase your hook up rates. If working a lure or actively bouncing a live bait, I like to use an offset j-hook.
If you are a fly-fishermen, flies will also be tied on a size 1 hook. The majority of flies thrown at redfish are small crab patterns that are the size of a quarter. A size 1 hook is plenty sufficient when tying these flies. Baitfish flies should be tied on slightly larger hooks such as a 1/0 or 2/0.
Do you need a leader for redfish?
If you fish with braid mainline, then a leader is absolutely necessary. Braid is significantly more visible in the water than monofilament and can be cut a lot easier on a structure. Even if you fish with a monofilament line, a fluorocarbon leader should be used when fishing for redfish.
As I mentioned above, I outfit all of my set ups with a piece of leader. A leader is designed to hide your line from being visible. A leader can also add shock protection and additional abrasion resistance.
Fluorocarbon may be expensive, but it is highly effective. Fluorocarbon tends to have greater pulling strength and is almost invisible in the water. The sink rate of fluorocarbon is faster than monofilament and since redfish are primarily bottom feeders, this is an advantage.
When targeting redfish a leader strength of 12-20lb will land most fish. If you are fishing for large redfish around structure, then a 30lb leader will be needed. When possible, it is best to use a light of leader as you can. Smaller leaders will be less visible and increase the number of bites you receive.
What is the best time of year to catch redfish?
The best time to target redfish is in the fall. During the fall, redfish will be feeding actively as they prepare for colder winter months. Large breeder redfish are also present in most areas during the fall as well. This is the best time of year to catch large numbers of redfish.
The majority of redfish are present year-round and do not migrate during different seasons. The exception to this is the breeder redfish. Once a redfish becomes a certain size, that fish will begin to breed. Breeder size redfish move to deeper water and usually become ocean fish, but will migrate along the coast.
Another notable time to target redfish is in the winter. The fish are not feeding as actively, but it presents some unique opportunities, especially for fly-fishermen.
Where do redfish go in the winter?
One of my favorite times to target redfish is in the winter. Contrary to popular belief, redfish do not leave in the winter. In fact, small and medium size redfish do not move all that much during their lives.
As water temperatures drop water clarity increases, and redfish tend to group together. This is referred to as wintertime schooling. Large groups of redfish, sometimes in the hundreds, will band together for safety as their energy levels have slowed down.
Although these fish are not feeding as aggressively as in the fall, it is hard for them to turn down an easy meal, especially among the competition of the large group.
In addition to the fish being in large groups, areas that typically do not have clear water, will see their water become clear. As you can imagine, this can make for some incredible days and is the best time of year for sight fishing.
In the Northeast region of Florida up to the Carolinas, this is the best time to fly-fish for reds.
Redfish are incredibly fun to catch. They are aggressive feeders that can be caught in various conditions and environments. One of the most exciting ways to target redfish is in the shallows.
If you are wanting to target redfish, then I would recommend visiting Louisiana, Florida, or South Carolina. The redfishing in these areas is the best you can experience.
When targeting redfish, make sure you are fishing moving water and looking for structures such as oyster bars. In areas with large tidal swings, fish shallow on the incoming tide. Be aware of the bait that is present in a given area. Matching this bait will greatly increase your chances of catching.
Redfish are great to target year-round, but fall is the best time to seek redfish. If you are a fly-fisherman, you may prefer to fish in the winter as the water will be clearer and fish will be schooling up.
Targeting redfish has become a passion of mine. I remember the first redfish I caught and to this day, I enjoy every one I catch!