Top 3 Redfish Fishing Techniques

By: Chris Marlowe
Man nets a Redfish, (Sciaenops ocellatus) from kayak in Bayou Thunder Von Tranc,, Louisiana, USA.
Andrew Kornylak/Aurora/Getty Images

Spot tail, puppy drum, bull re­d, channel bass, or redfish -- call them what you will, these trophy fish are making waves in the Gulf of Mexico and along the southern Atlantic coast. Named for their copper-colored bodies, the redfish also have one or more black spots just before their tail fin. Redfish are considered a warm-temperature and tropical saltwater fish regardless of habitat because of their jaw structure, thereby placing them in the same category as stingray and catfish. [source: Fish4Fun, McQueen, Smith]

Edible up to about 15 pounds, redfish flesh becomes strong tasting and coarse at heavier weights. The trophy fish can weigh up to 90 pounds and be greater than 36 inches long. [source: Fish4Fun]


­At one point, the redfish was a threatened species because of aggressive commercial fishing operations. Declared a "restricted species" in 1989, the fish, which can live up to 45 or 50 years, have made a comeback. [source: Florida Outdoors] Various states have both prohibited commercial fishing and imposed strictures on game fishing. For example, anglers in Virginia are limited to a maximum of three redfish per day in the 18- to 26-inch class. And both North Carolina and Florida authorize only one 18- to 27-inch redfish per day.

Although redfish aren't considered fussy eaters, they are easiest to catch with cut bait. Sail along to the next section to find out more.


Catching Redfish with Cut Bait

Redfish, which travel in large schools ­for breeding purposes, prefer a diet of finger mullet, shrimp or crab. They are bottom-feeders, relying heavily on their sense of smell to catch prey. In fact, smell, sound and sight all help this fish find food -- and redfish eat a lot. High rates of consumption fuel their rapid growth. Redfish can be 12 inches long by the end of their first year. [source: Florida Outdoors]

Unlike live bait tossed into grass or mangroves to lure the redfish out, cut bait won't swim away. This gives the angler a major advantage, as the scent of cut bait will entice the redfish out of its protective cover. Two- to 4-inch mullets (also known as "finger mullets") are the easiest cut bait to find. Other cut bait favorites include menhaden, spots and pinfish. A nice alternative is a mantis shrimp, or "shrimp mammy/mammie." If you're wondering what a shrimp mammy looks like, picture a praying mantis/mini-lobster (one that could fit in the palm of your hand) hybrid. Mantis shrimp can be purchased from commercial shrimp trawlers. [source: McNally]


Leaving the rod in the holder with a loosened drag is key to using cut bait. However, if using a circle hook, setting the hook is unnecessary. Instead, merely lift the tip of the rod and wind in all the slack. [source: Kibler] The only occasion not to use cut bait -- or tossed live bait, for that matter -- is when diving birds are around. Gulls and terns are equally interested in catching redfish and will grab them first. [source: Katsarelis]

Although some anglers enjoy catching redfish by wading in the surf or in shallow, reed-filled water (a favorite of the species), many others prefer to fish from a boat. Trolling is the most effective approach, especially using a flat-bottomed boat. Read on to find out why trolling is a preferred method.



Trolling for Redfish

A shall­ow draft boat, which can also be poled, works well for trolling. In fact, in some regions, being able to pole the boat is required. Check out the sidebar for one such location. The redfish can hear and see boats, so as you approach their area, it's probably best to turn off the motor. (This skill of redfish explains some anglers' preference for wading -- it's much less obtrusive. [source: Florida Outdoors])

There are places where the grasses are too thick for trolling, where doing so would definitely damage the motor. Be prepared to change your plans for trolling if necessary. And be certain that someone is paying attention to the depth of the water.


Slow trolling is one method of catching redfish. For example, outside Mississippi's barrier islands, large schools of redfish congregate during the months of August and September. Charter fishing boats are out in force. When a school has been spotted -- generally feeding -- the word is passed around by means of VHF radio. After spotting the fish, it's important to stay in a big circle along the outer edge of the school, rather than running through the school. This keeps the redfish on the surface, where they are more easily caught. This is the time to slow to a near-idle speed and allow the bait to sink. You will want to take your fishing rod from its holder and move the tip up and down to keep the spoons fluttering. [source: Brodie]

You've got your boat and your pole. But how do you rig for redfish? Read on for some rigging tips.



How to Rig for Redfish

Recommendations vary as to the best strategies for rigging, depending on where the fish a­re located. The usual combination is 12- to 15-pound test line with a 40-pound test leader on a rod that is six to seven feet long. This setup will work along shorelines of mangroves, in deep water, and on the flats. Another option, testing an angler's skill, is to use a 2-pound test line with an ultra-light rod. This works in the flats' open waters. When fly fishing, use 2- to 12-pound test line with an eight- or nine-weight rig. [source: Florida Outdoors]

If you are trolling, you will need some heavy-duty tackle. You may want to consider 6-foot rods with 50- to 80-pound test line made of fluorocarbon. You'll need heavier snap swivels, leads and planers to get the spoons down into the school, assuming you're using a spoon lure. [source: Brodie]


If you decide to try deadsticking, consider using a half-ounce weight and a four-foot leader on a circle hook. This helps an angler know when the bait has been moved and if he's cast out far enough. [source: McQueen]

­Still another option would be to use a 1/0 to 4/0 hook on a 10- to 20-pound test line with either baitcasting or spinning gear. If you're interested in using an artificial lure, you might try jigs or gold spoons. Artificial lures work best during falling or rising tides. [source: Fish4Fun]

Puppy drum are redfish weighing less than 15 pounds. Angling for them is similar to angling for pompano. Take two hooks and tie them about a foot apart on dropper loops. The bottom loop should be about 18 inches above the end of the fishing line. A swivel snap should be tied at the bottom of the fishing line. Use a sinker weighing between 2 and 8 ounces, depending on the tackle you're using and the current. Then, at the end of each leader, tie a 1/0 stainless steel long shank offset hook. [source: McNally]


Lots More Information

Relate­d HowStu­ffWorks Articles

More Great Links

  • Brodie, Robert L. "Rounding Up the Bulls." (11/04/08)
  • Fish4Fun. "Fish Species: Red Drum." (11/02/08)
  • Florida Outdoors. "Florida Fishing--Species: Redfish (Red Drum)." (11/02/08)
  • Katsarelis, Pete. "Daily Fishing Report." St. Petersburg Times. April 23, 2002. (11/03/08)
  • Kibler, Dan. "Redfish Acting Crabby in Marshes North of Charleston." (11/2/08)
  • McNally, Bob. "Surf Fishing 101"
  • McNally, Bob. "Where the Reds Meet the Sand"
  • McQueen, John. "Deadsticking." (11/2/08)
  • Shallow Water Angler. "Where the Reds Meet the Sand." Aug/Sept. 2005. (11/03/08).
  • Smith, Rodney "Fall Action for Merritt Island Reds." (11/2/08)
  • Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. "Redfish Bay State Scientific Area: Redfish Bay Regulation." (11/02/08)
  • Yokum, Kevin. "Different Redfish Destinations." (11/02/08)