Redfish 101: Back to School for Coastal Anglers | Great Days Outdoors

A Refresher Course for Better Redfish Catching In April

Boy, it has been a good morning of catching redfish. After a very early launch this morning, my buddy and teacher Robert “B.T.” Dobson and I are taking a little break and rest from working the shorelines and bayous of Wolf Creek and Wolf Bay. We have a couple very nice slot reds in the livewell for supper tonight and we’ve released a lot more redfish in a morning of fishing.

B.T. slips a fine fat shrimp on the hook of his popping cork rig and tosses the bait out into the open, deeper waters of Wolf Creek.

Then we sit and talk about what we’ve seen and learned this morning. We didn’t get to talk long when we noticed that B.T.’s bright orange cork had disappeared for some reason. The cause of the mysterious disappearance doesn’t stay a mystery for long. When B.T. reels tight, his rod bends way over and his reel makes a complaint as something very big and strong pulls line off in a powerful run.




It takes him a while, but B.T. is very good at working big redfish to the boat. Before too long, a fine bull redfish is finning by the boat. I make a quick dip with the oversize landing net and the big red is in the boat. B.T. measures the fish, almost 30 inches, and places a tag in the fish’s back before safely releasing her.

B.T. smiles and says, “I didn’t expect to catch that big of a red here today. I guess you never stop learning things about redfish.”

That’s a good example of why we all need to go back to school for a little class we’ll call “Redfish 101.” Oh, and by the way, there will be a final exam when we’re finished.

Netting shrimp before a trip is the very best way to obtain the hottest redfish bait. Photo by Ed Mashbrun

 

Lesson One: Getting Our Tools Ready

One of the first things we can do to improve our chances of catching redfish in the spring is to make sure our gear is in good order. Even a short couple of month layoff can cause fishing line to lose some of its strength. It’s a good idea to re-spool redfish rigs each spring before a trip. Fresh line is cheap and it helps guarantee that hooked reds stay connected.

B.T. advises redfish anglers on the Alabama coast to use 20-pound-test line. He prefers monofilament, but many anglers do very well with braided line. It’s all up to the angler, but fresh line is best.

B.T. Dobson says, “I prefer a 7- to 7.5-foot long rod with a medium action tip.”

“A shallow- to medium-running crankbait is a very effective lure for tempting redfish at any time, but in April, crankbaits just seem to work a bit better.”

Either spinning rigs or casting rigs will work well, but anglers sometimes have to make long, accurate casts to reach redfish, so pick a rig that works for the angler.

Many anglers love to fish for reds with artificial lures. B.T. advises anglers to consider crankbaits for April reds. A shallow- to medium-running crankbait is a very effective lure for tempting redfish at any time, but in April, crankbaits just seem to work a bit better. B.T. likes a Splatterback Bandit with a base color of white with black and gray splatters across the back.

He throws this crankbait up into pretty rough territory with lots of snags, limbs, oyster shells and other abrasive stuff. He often brings the lure back with a big redfish hooked on and angry.

Of course, there’s nothing like the real thing for catching redfish. Live shrimp probably account for more redfish than any other single bait or lure. Whether fished under a popping cork or on the bottom with a Carolina rig, live shrimp are just hard to beat.

The key to the best live shrimp fishing is just that, keeping the shrimp alive and lively. Anglers need to buy or net fresh, active shrimp and then keep them in a well-aerated, cool livewell or bucket. Live shrimp that spend the morning in warm, stale water, will soon become red, slimy, dead shrimp and much less attractive to redfish.

It may become necessary on warm April days to put a small bag of ice in the livewell or bait bucket to keep the water cool. This helps assure that the shrimp stay alive for best results.

Weather on the coast in April is generally very nice, but a very good part of getting our fishing gear ready is to have a rainsuit handy in case of sudden April showers. This gear can save the day and keep a fishing trip going in case of rain.


Lesson Two: Finding the Right Places

One of the most difficult parts of catching redfish in April is that the fish can be almost anywhere along the Alabama or northwestern Florida coast. Good concentrations of redfish can be hard to locate because they are so scattered. Anglers can find the reds up creeks, in the mouths of bayous, out in the open water of bays and in the passes that lead to the Gulf of Mexico.

No matter where anglers look for reds in April, a few things seem to hold consistent. Reds like to hold close to some sort of structure. This can be dock pilings, oyster shell reefs or rock structures placed to stabilize shorelines and passes. It can be blowdown trees in smaller waters. Whatever the structure, anglers should pay attention to anything that breaks the regular run of the shoreline and projects into the water. These redfish-holding structures don’t have to be huge, either. Some very small places, especially oyster shell reefs, can be quite small but still hold good reds.

One specific place that B.T. Dobson has very consistently found good redfish action is in the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. Many anglers tend to see the ICW and its associated waters as primarily a pathway to move from one fishing spot to another. This would be a bad mistake.

B.T. Dobson tells us, “My biggest red for any April trip was more than 30 inches long. It came on a live shrimp in the ICW.”

Any dock, no matter how old or ratty looking above the water, on the ICW may prove to be a redfish hotspot so give it some attention. Also, look for docks that have lights shining all night long on the water. These docks tend to attract bait and reds during the dark hours. Many reds simply hold close to the good eating all day long, too.

This big bull red came on a live shrimp in Wolf Creek. Photo by Ed Mashburn

Lesson Three: Fish the Right Time and Conditions

A very important lesson that any dedicated redfish angler soon learns is that reds have definite preferences for times when they feed. These times have much less to do with time of day than it has to do with water movement.

“Cloudy days can be much more productive than super-bright, high-sky days.”

In short, flat high or flat low tides are usually not very productive. The fish just don’t like to move or feed as much when the water is still. Whether we’re chasing reds in little bayous, major bays, the ICW or a pass to the Gulf of Mexico, moving water is crucial.

B.T. tells us, “I like to fish a flood tide in three to four feet of water. I like a falling tide, also.”

Having fished many times with B.T. and seen his good results, I can totally agree with his opinion on tide conditions affecting the redfish bite. When the water is moving, the reds are just more active.

Also, cloudy days can be much more productive than super-bright, high-sky days. If an angler can combine a day that has good tide movement, either coming in or running out, along with overcast or even drizzly weather, it might just prove to be a super-catching day for reds.

Review of What We’ve Learned

All right now, let’s do a little review before our test. Here’s what we’ve learned today.

First, we must get our tools in good shape for fishing. This can involve getting rigs that we can use well with no problems that cut into fishing time. Also, we need to make sure our line and gear is in good working order. Live shrimp are always the most consistent producer for April redfish. Good dry raingear is always a good idea to have aboard.


Next, we learned that fishing the places where the redfish are holding is always best. The reds can be found almost anywhere in April, but they tend to hang around structure of some kind.

Finally, we learned that when the water is moving with the tide, the reds would typically be more active. Bright days might be pleasant and good for photos, but cloudy days might be more productive for redfish bites.

So, we’re ready for a test. I’ll meet you all on the water and we’ll put what we’ve learned today in action. Whoever catches the most and biggest reds will get an “A” for the course. Any questions?

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