Redfish Fishing - A Beginner's Guide | Great Days Outdoors

Redfish Fishing – A Beginner’s Guide

As the sun started to sink behind the treeline on a crisp Fall afternoon, we motored the classic Boston Whaler towards a point in Fowl River, an estuary off of Mobile Bay. My 8-year-old self slid the point of a treble hook just below the horn of a live shrimp, in that little clear spot that tells you where to place your hook without killing the bait. I made my cast out into the shallow flat extending from the point and let my shrimp freefall with the current towards the dropoff into the main river channel. Without any warning, my line came tight in a violent fashion. Line immediately began to scream from the reel as I was thrown into the fight of my life up to that point. After what seemed like an hour, but was probably a minute or two, I got my first glimpse of a fish that has forever lived on as my first real “big fish”. After some more back and forth and my first real experience with the anxiety that comes from hooking something special, we slid a beautiful and fat 9-pound redfish over the gunwale. 

redfish fishing
My first glimpse of a fish that has forever lived on as my first real “big fish”.

This experience was obviously one I will never forget. I hope you have either enjoyed it before or will in the future. Whether you’re just getting started or you’ve loved redfish for years like me, there is going to be a ton of great basic and advanced information in this primer on everything redfish. From some interesting facts to understanding the patterns and the gear needed to find and catch these awesome gamefish, this guide aims to help you be more successful with your time on the water. 

What Is A Redfish?

Red Drum, also known as Sciaenops ocellatus, are found in the Atlantic Ocean from Massachusetts to Florida and in the Gulf of Mexico. Known for its reddish-copper or light red color along the back they also have one or more large black spots at the base of their tail. “Redfish” is a popular name for the species in recreational fishing and culinary contexts. This is especially true in the southeastern United States, where Red Drum are a very popular game fish and a favorite in many regional cuisines. For example, in Louisiana, blackened redfish is a very well-known dish popularized by Chef Paul Prudhomme in the 1980s. 

When you hear people speak of redfish, you may hear them use two terms describing them. “Bull Redfish” is a term often used by anglers to refer to adult Red Drum that have grown particularly large. Generally, a Red Drum is considered a “Bull” when it exceeds 27 inches in length, but this can vary somewhat depending on regional vernacular. “Slot” Redfish refers to a Red Drum that falls within a specified size range, or “slot,” set by fishing regulations. Fish that are within the slot are typically allowed to be kept by anglers, while fish below or above the slot size must be released. While some states allow you to keep Bull Redfish, the reality is that their table fare declines dramatically as they grow larger, so remember, “Slot for the Pot, Bull for the Pull”. 

The actual size of the slot varies depending on the location and its specific fishing regulations. For example, in some parts of the Gulf Coast of the United States, the slot size for Red Drum might be from 18 to 27 inches. The purpose of these regulations is to protect juvenile fish until they have a chance to reproduce and to protect the largest fish, which are often the most prolific breeders. This helps maintain healthy fish populations and ensure sustainable fishing practices.


Redfish Fun Facts

Redfish are fascinating fish. Known for its large black spot on the tail base, some fish have multiple to even hundreds of spots. It’s believed these spots confuse predators into attacking the tail instead of the head, giving the red drum a chance to escape while it feeds in shallow waters. When you catch a bull redfish, you should know that fish might be older than you. Redfish can live for more than 40 years and the oldest reported red drum was 62 years old! 

penn redfish lure
The incoming and outgoing tide are two of the easiest factors to consider when beginning a redfish fishing trip.

They are named for the “drumming” sound they can make. This sound is produced by muscles rubbing against the inflated air bladder. They usually do this when they are spawning or feel threatened. Remember Chef Paul? In the 1980s, Red Drum were severely overfished due to their popularity in blackened Cajun cooking, leading to strict fishing regulations and ultimately the rebounding of the species due to the efforts of groups like the Coastal Conservation Association

How Big Do Redfish Get?

Redfish can reach impressive sizes. The world record Redfish stands at 94 pounds, caught by angler David Duel in Avon, North Carolina in 1984. The length of this record fish was 59.5 inches. However, most Red Drum caught by anglers are much smaller, often less than 40 inches in length. In general, Red Drum are considered mature at lengths of about 30 inches.

Redfish Fishing On The Outgoing And Incoming Tide

Capt. Garrison Rosie is the owner and lead guide for Reel Rosie Inshore Charters in Panama City Beach, Florida, and a regular contributor of fishing reports to the Northwest Florida Fishing Report podcast. I recently quizzed Garrison on how to catch Redfish by two of the easiest factors to consider when beginning a fishing trip, the incoming and outgoing tide. 

Where To Catch Redfish On Outgoing Tide

Q: If you’re fishing an outgoing tide, what are you looking for the key in on these fish? 

A: A lot of the outgoing is going to be based on points where the fish will be on the backside of points or the backside of docks. If the tide is falling hard, we do a lot of fishing around the bridges for bull reds.


How To Catch Redfish On An Outgoing Tide

Q: How are you presenting the bait to those fish to strike?

A: When you get that real strong falling tide, the fish actually get up on the front side of the bridge pilings and start to bust the surface on the crabs that are coming by. Presenting a bait to them is as simple as taking a crab that you caught and throwing it out after they blow up on top.

bull red
Redfish are considered “Bull” when they exceed 27 inches in length.

Q: Is the same thing happening on points?

A: Yeah, but it’s not really like the crabs on the pilings. [On Points] Baitfish are pretty good about getting to the backside of the point into the relief area. So when the bait gets there the fish will be there. 

Q: Is that just a freeline situation where you’re pitching that bait up current letting the current take the bait where the current wants to? 

A: That would be how you would start if you could get away without having to do a weight and you were able to cast up there and kind of let the current do its own thing. That’s going to be the most natural presentation. But if the current gets too bad you might have to have to relate to a weight to help you stay in that strike zone and keep your bait from doing whatever it wants to do.

Where To Catch Redfish On Incoming Tide

Talking to Capt. Garrison, I felt like I had a good idea of some areas that will hold Redfish on the outgoing tide, so I wanted to know if the Redfish are changing locations when you’re dealing with an incoming tide or if they are in the exact location but you need to use a different presentation. “A lot of times Redfish will go with the tide I feel like. If they’re sitting on a point or something like that and the tide starts to come in they’ll kind of make their way in with the tide up in the bay.  If you’re on some rocks, they’ll kind of work their way up the rocks with the tide.”

Q: So they’re using the incoming tide to get to areas they just can’t get in on a low tide? 

A: That’s pretty much exactly what they are doing. And then as the tide starts to fall, they make their way towards the points more.

How To Catch Redfish On An Incoming Tide

Q: On those incoming tides in these tidal-influenced areas, do you fish your way into them or do you like to go as far back in as you can and work your way out?

A: “I’m going to fish my way in as slow as possible but I will also look at the tide. If I know the tide is being pushed in but we’re almost at the high tide, like the high tide has been coming in for a while, I might work my way in faster, because I would expect the fish at the highest tide to be farther back there.”

Best Bait For Redfish

One of the best things about redfish is that they will readily take a variety of natural and artificial bait. The best bait for redfish is typically about scent. Focus on finding live baits that are natural to the area in the time of year you are fishing. Croakers, pinfish, live shrimp, and all of the fish in the Menhaden family are excellent live baits for Redfish when presented effectively. Live shrimp can create a struggle in the warmer months due to the myriad of smaller fish that will attack them. If you’re looking for an artificial presentation, look for a scented soft plastic such as the Fish Bites Fight Club Series of baits as well as Berkley’s Gulp Series.

redfish fishing
Redfish will take a variety of natural and artificial bait.

Final Thoughts On Redfish

Mastering redfish fishing gives you a target species that is widely spread throughout coastal areas from Texas to the Carolinas. They are plentiful, hard fighting, and slot-sized fish taste excellent. Balance your needs for the table with an understanding of what it takes for the fishery to remain sustainable and you’ll be sure to find more of these inshore battlers whenever you go searching for them. 

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