The redfish (Sciaenops ocellatus) is a fun-to-catch game fish found on the US East Coast from Nova Scotia to Florida and throughout the Gulf of Mexico. It is an aggressive and opportunistic ambush predator with a primary diet of crustaceans, shrimp, and small fish.
We'll cover everything you could possibly want to know about how to catch redfish in this fishing guide. Let's learn everything there is about catching reds!
In This Guide
- Redfish Characteristics
- Where Are Redfish Found?
- What Do Redfish Feed On?
- Where Do Redfish Feed?
- When Is the Best Time to Catch Redfish?
- How To Catch Redfish from Shore
- Kayak Fishing for Redfish
- How To Catch Redfish in Florida
- How To Catch Redfish in Brackish Water
- How To Catch Redfish at Night
- More Redfish Fishing Tips
- Final Thoughts
Color: The body has a variety of color shades on the top (dorsal) side: silver, gold, copper, bronze, pink, red, or orange, fading toward a lighter-colored belly (ventral).
Identifying Marks: One or more dark spots, usually circular, at the tail base. Sometimes not present. Missing barbels on the lower jaw like the black drum has.
Covering: Large, tough scales.
Mouth: Pointed downward, signifying a preference for bottom feeding.
Teeth: Strong pharyngeal teeth for crushing crabs, shrimp, oysters, and other shellfish.
Common Names: Redfish, red drum, red, rat red, bull red (over 27"), channel bass, puppy drum, and spot-tail bass.
Size: Up to 61 inches.
Red drum are beautiful fish with some color on the top that fades to white on the belly. There is almost always a dark or black tail spot (eye spot), or even multiple spots. The spot resembles an eye which is thought by scientists to fool some predators into attacking the tail (a less vital area) than the head.
Drum grow quickly in their first years of life and reach 1 lb. within a year. They are 17-22" and 3.5 lb. within 2 years and are 22-24" and 6-8 lb. within three years. The biggest red drum ever caught was over 94 lb. and caught in 1984 off Avon, on Hatteras Island, North Carolina by David Deuel. These fish are known to live as long as 62 years.
Red drum have a downturned mouth facing the ocean floor. They eat prey on the bottom like crabs, shrimp, mantis shrimp, menhaden, mullet, pinfish, sea robin, croaker, lizard fish, and other baitfish.
Reds are often found in large schools very close to the surface. You can sometimes see their tails breaking the surface as their downturned heads scour the ocean floor for crabs, worms, and other prey.
Red drum are called drum because they make a drumming sound with their swim bladder during spawning season.
Where Are Redfish Found?
Redfish, also known as red drum, are primarily found along the Atlantic coast of North America, from Massachusetts to Florida. They are also found along the Gulf Coast, from Florida to Texas. In addition, redfish have been introduced to the Pacific coast of North America, where they are now found off the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington.
Redfish are not typically found in the Caribbean, as they prefer cooler waters.
These fish prefer shallow water and it isn't uncommon to see them in water under 1 ft. deep. On the high end, reds have been found in water around 90 feet deep.
The range of redfish includes Nova Scotia, Mexico, and the British Isles down to northwest Africa. Over time they have been introduced purposefully and accidentally to other locations across the world. They can now even be found along the coast of China, Taiwan (Islands of Matsu), and Vietnam.
What Do Redfish Feed On?
Like most larger fish, redfish are opportunistic predators with a diet that varies based on the availability of prey in their marine habitat. Here are some common bait fish, shrimp, and crab species that redfish are known to feed on in different regions of North America.
Northeast USA - In the northeast, red drum can be found eating small baitfish, especially menhaden (bunker), sand lance (sand eel), silversides (shiner, minnow), mummichogs (mud minnows), alewives (shad family), and herring. Northern shrimp (P. borealis) and blue crabs (C. sapidus) are also on the menu in this area.
Southeast Atlantic Coast of USA - Menhaden, mullet, pinfish, croakers, spot, striped anchovies, and sardines make up the bulk of red drum preferred prey and they will remain in areas that have small baitfish like this abundantly available. Brown shrimp (F. aztecus), white shrimp (L. setiferus), and crabs like blue crabs and stone crabs are also eaten regularly.
Gulf Coast of USA - Not much different from the Atlantic side of Florida, the Gulf Coast reds prefer menhaden, mullet, croakers, pinfish, anchovies, and sardines for baitfish. Brown, white, and pink shrimp (F. duorarum) are often consumed as are mantis shrimp and crabs like blue crabs, stone crabs, and fiddlers.
A prey common to all areas are sand fleas (E. talpoida) also known as mole crabs or sand crabs. These are caught in the wet sand after waves recede and are prey for many fish species. It's easy to catch a few dozen with a scooper or kitchen colander. Free bait!
Redfish also have been known to feed on other food sources like squid, octopus, and other small crustaceans. If this seems to you like redfish feed on just about anything they find, that would be about right! They'll eat almost anything they find that will fit in their mouth.
Our favorite bait for catching red drum is shrimp or one of the common baitfish in the area. Small crabs can be equally as effective, we just rarely have the time to go find them and bait shops close by don’t often have them.
Where Do Redfish Feed?
Florida's adult redfish can be found in many different habitats, but they are often linked to certain types of bottom features that provide them with food and cover. Below, we'll go over some of the most common habitats where you can find redfish preying on smaller fish and crustaceans.
Grass Flats - Along with spotted sea trout, redfish can be found in shallow grass flats. They feed on small baitfish and crustaceans hiding amongst the grass. The best grass flats are large and have plenty of dense grass. If you really want to find the most productive grass flats, find one that is alongside a deeper channel or drop-off. Even a sandbar provides a little variety to the flat bottom and can increase the chances of redfish being present.
Oyster Bars - I'm not talking about the place you do oyster shooters on the weekend, I mean areas of the bottom that are absolutely filled with oyster shells and living oysters. Redfish love these areas because they can provide two of life's essentials - food and cover, for ambushing prey. Look for redfish along the edges of oyster bars, especially during low tide when prey is concentrated in shallow water.
Sand and Mud Flats - In areas with a variety of bottom features like patches of seagrass, piles of rocks or oyster shells, or channels between long piles of sand, you can find redfish feeding. I've been surprised more than once to be fishing for flounder on a large bed of sand and having a redfish come up on the hook.
The better you know the bottom in the area you're fishing, the better your fishing is going to be. It wouldn't hurt to ride around on a kayak and map out your favorite areas with a sonar device to see the features of the bottom and where they change.
Surf Zone - When you are surf fishing, look for areas where the waves act differently. It can mean there are sand bars or some other bottom features that could signal a good place for fish to feed. Cast your shrimp or baitfish toward spots like this. Bull reds might be waiting to slam your bait in these spots.
Mangrove Shores - The area along the coast that is covered with mangrove trees is an ideal place to find a lot of different fish. Redfish, snook, sheepshead, black drum, mangrove (and other) snapper are all happy to stay around the roots of the mangrove trees to hunt for prey while having some protection from predators.
Crabs, shrimp, and small baitfish of all kinds can provide a steady food source of crabs, shrimp, and small fish for reds and many other fish. I've never caught more baitfish in my cast net than in some of the protected mangrove areas around St. Petersburg's northeast section.
As with seagrass beds, when looking at areas of mangrove shoreline, pay particular attention to areas that are close to deeper water channels or drop-offs. These areas can provide additional feeding opportunities as fish can use deeper water to thermoregulate and also sneak up on prey.
The best type of bottom to find redfish depends on the time of year, water temps, tides, and where you are in the world. Finding areas like those mentioned above will give you a big headstart to finding reds. These are not hard fish to find, and they are abundant. You'll often find them by mistake while fishing for something else!
When Is the Best Time to Catch Redfish?
Anytime is the best time to catch redfish! They are always welcome to attack my bait because I love to put them on my dinner plate. Reds are one of my top 10 fish to eat and if I haven't already caught enough for the family to eat, I'll surely add a red to the cooler if it's in the slot (currently 18" to 27" in Florida).
Redfish in Florida usually have no closed season, but that occasionally changes on the west coast where red tide may affect their fishing season. Always be cautious and check the Florida regulations at their official website to ensure you're fishing legally. The season can change anytime they implement emergency measures to save the populations from overfishing during times of pressure from red tide.
The best time of year to catch redfish is the fall when the water is cooling down. Reds feed more often in the cooler water and you can catch more fish during this time with the same effort you'd make in the heat of the summer.
Reds prefer feeding during incoming low tides primarily, but you'd be smart to fish an outgoing tide as well. Reds are the first fish to rush to explore the water-covered sand as the tide comes in from dead low, so your chances of picking up a few at the onset of the switch in tide direction are good.
RELATED: Best Time Of Day To Fish
Reds can be caught all year round, and spring is an OK time to catch them. There is no set redfish fishing season from Virginia down to Florida and around the Gulf Coast all the way to Texas, so you can fish all year.
From mid-April to the end of May, you can do well around the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay and the Eastern Shore barrier islands in the shallows. The first big run of reds occurs at this time and you don't want to miss it. Use a blue crab, menhaden, or mullet as cut bait on the bottom.
The summer is a little better time to catch redfish, and you can catch them all over their range at this time because the water has warmed up sufficiently and they have made their migration as far as they're going to go.
Areas where the bite is especially good during summer include Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia, and areas farther north can produce reds in the summer.
Fall is one of the best times to catch red drum and this is the start of when I typically start targeting them. If you can head out from around 5 pm. to 10 pm. you can catch reds easier than during the daylight hours most times.
Areas where you can count on catching a lot of redfish during the fall months are North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, and Alabama.
Winter is another great time to catch redfish! Fish are hungry and ready to eat in many places from December to February. In Florida, the bite goes well for the fall and into December. In Georgia, October to February are good months.
All the way up the coast north from Georgia, the bite is dropping off because fish are moving back to warmer water in the south.
The good news is, you can catch redfish from Georgia to Florida, and the entire Gulf of Mexico all year round.
How To Catch Redfish from Shore
Surf fishing implies you're casting a big rod and reel from the beach and you'll need to get some decent casting distance to get out to where the fish are. With other shore fishing types like pier fishing or wade fishing, you don't need to cast very far to reach the fish.
How To Catch Redfish in the Surf
RELATED: Surf Fishing Tips And Techniques
It's fun catching redfish anywhere, but standing around the beach and eating snacks and talking to people is a great way to fish for anything. Reds are one of those fish that are not hard to catch, and you're going to look good out there with a cooler full of fish to show people who get curious and start asking questions.
It can also be a nice way to get some solitary time in the evenings after everyone has gone home. The reds are still there and still hungry!
RELATED: Best Surf Fishing Rods
A 10 to 12 ft. light-medium or medium-action fiberglass composite rod can help you cast the far distances you may need to get out beyond the breaking waves to reach the fish. Look for troughs and areas that border deep drop-offs. Look for dark areas of seagrass if it's a sunny day and you can see through the water enough to distinguish grass patches.
RELATED: Best Surf Fishing Reels
I like baitcasting reels for all of my surf fishing. They tend to be better sealed and if I miss cleaning them one week after use, they're not going to start rusting on me. PENN reels have served me well for decades, so I usually stick with this brand.
Spinning reels are fine too. If you have one you like, use it, just don't forget to clean it at the end of the day to get all the salt and gunk out of the reel, gears, and drag system. This will ensure the long life of your reel.
RELATED: What Size Reel For Surf Fishing?
Using 30 to 50 lb. braided main line and a 20 to 30 lb. fluorocarbon leader is a good way to start surf fishing. If the water is very clear you may need to try the 20 lb. leader first to ensure the fish will bite.
I almost always go with fluorocarbon because it's thinner, stronger, and abrasion resistant compared to monofilament leader. In many cases, it won't matter, but why use an inferior line when you don't have to? The fluoro line is slightly more expensive, but the price has come down enough for most people to afford it.
Line and leaders are cheap enough that you shouldn't skimp on it. It's one of those essentials that I don't compromise on. Get a good fluorocarbon line from a well-known brand and you'll be much happier than if you tried to save a couple of dollars.
There are a couple of advantages to using artificial lures over live or dead bait to catch red drum, or any kind of fish.
The first is the cost of bait. Live bait has become crazy-expensive and to be honest, it has taken some of the fun out of pulling up to the bait shop and buying 8 dozen shrimp to throw at fish all day. Especially if you want the jumbos!
If you're spending more for bait than you are benefitting from catching fish you can eat later, or anything close to it, you should probably pick up the artificial lure fishing habit sometime soon.
The other major advantage of artificials over live or dead bait is the availability and time taken to go get live bait. It's very convenient to have a couple of redfish lures in your tackle box and head out the door with your rods. I can hit the beach in five minutes if I'm fishing with lures.
If I'm going to fish live or dead bait I have to think about it, plan which shop to visit, plan how I'm going to store the bait, check the batteries on my aerators, etc. There's a lot more to do that all goes away when you have a handful of lures that work for catching reds.
So, which lures work for catching redfish? Here are some specific lures that work consistently for catching fish.
Soft Plastic Jerkbaits - A couple of top-producing jerkbaits are the DOA Shrimp and the Berkley Gulp Jerk Shad. You can fish these along the bottom slowly, with a twitch every now and then. Just about any bait fish or shrimp lure that looks convincing will get hit by reds looking for a meal.
Metal Spoons - The Johnson Silver Minnow and the Johnson Sprite Spoon can catch redfish in deeper water and around structure. You can fish them with a fast or slow retrieve. Mix it up to see the result.
I'd encourage you to try spoons of brands you don't recognize as well. There are plenty of off-brand spoons that can catch fish!
Topwater Lures - The Heddon Super Spook or the Rapala Skitter Walk, can be effective when fished in shallow water or around grass flats. These lures imitate surface prey such as mullet or other baitfish and can elicit explosive strikes from redfish.
Jigs - The Strike King Saltwater Flats Jig Head or the Z-Man Trout Eye Jig Head can work like magic when tipped with soft plastic baits such as the Gulp Shrimp, the Z-Man DieZel Minnow, or a piece of real shrimp. Jigging means bouncing up and down, so you can pull these up and down off the bottom to imitate prey and stimulate the red drum feeding reflex.
Carolina Rig - The simplest rig for catching redfish and many other bottom-dwelling fish is the Carolina rig. It's probably the most popular choice for surf fishing because the ease of setup allows it to be deployed in a minute or two.
Carolina rigs drop the bait to the bottom where redfish are often feeding. This rig consists of a sliding sinker, a swivel, a leader, and a hook. The size of the sinker will depend on the surf conditions and strength of the tide, but a 1-4 oz sinker is a good starting point. Use a circle hook, typically 3/0 to 5/0 in size, with a fluoro leader of 12-24 inches long.
Fishfinder Rig - This one is also very popular among surf anglers. It's similar to the Carolina rig in many ways. This rig also features a sliding sinker, swivel, some leader, and a hook. The main difference between the two is the attachment of the sinker. A clip is used, which allows the line to slide through it, but the size of the sinker can easily be changed if desired by unclipping one and adding one with a different weight.
Jighead Rig - Just using a weighted jighead with a soft plastic bait like a swirly-tailed grub, minnow, or some other fish or crab-looking plastic lure can be a very effective way to catch redfish in the surf.
Jigheads with weights ranging from 1/4 oz to 1 oz are good for surf fishing, depending on the surf conditions and the depth you're fishing in. Use a 3/0 to 5/0 hook on the jighead and a soft plastic bait that looks realistic. To catch more fish, add some fish bait scent to the lure.
Good bait for reds while surf fishing is usually a hardy live bait fish that I've just caught cast netting in the shallow beach waters. There isn't a bait shop that is very convenient to me for the area I go surf fishing so I sometimes tend to skip the shrimp in this case and just use the cast net for some baitfish.
How To Catch Redfish on the Flats (Wading)
I've said it a number of times before, but my favorite way to fish when I'm not on a kayak or pier is wade fishing. There's something nice about standing in the cool water and landing fish. There's also something predatory about it because you're in their environment and tricking them with your bait or lure and it feels sort of caveman. Trust me, and try it when you get the chance.
Pro Tip: Wear tough shoes that rays can't poke through with their venomous barbs!
I typically catch redfish by taking my kayak to some good redfish hotspots I know around Tampa Bay and St. Petersburg. I pull the yak up onto the sand and stand in the water wade fishing to catch the reds in these prime spots.
When I'm wade fishing, I usually know where the redfish, trout, or other targeted fish are located and that's why I'm in the water getting wet to reach them. Otherwise, why get in?
So, for wade fishing on the flats, I really don't need any big gear. I can go with a small 7' rod and reach the fish easily.
When wade fishing the flats for reds or any fish, I tend to use a light to medium action rod, and usually an Ugly Stik from Shakespeare. Like anyone, I enjoy the feeling of landing a hard-fighting fish on gear that is slightly inadequate to handle it! At least the rod should be plenty bendy and give the appearance that anything I'm fighting to land is a big powerful fish.
For length, I tend to use a 7' to 8' rod on the flats while wading because I usually don't need to cast very far out. Redfish can be found in very shallow water, you just need to find the right bottom and fish the incoming or outgoing tide when they're feeding.
The Ugly Stik Carbon series casting and spinning rods are super lightweight and strong and add considerably to your fishing experience. If you can afford them, they are listed for around $150 at Shakespeare but you can find them for considerably less without too much effort.
When wade fishing for red drum on the flats, it really doesn't matter much which reel type you choose to use. Spinning or casting reels are both fine and get the job done. It comes down to personal preference.
I enjoy the casting reel experience of PENN and Shimano reels. I also like the fact that even if they're not optimized for getting soaked with saltwater you can still get better sealing than with unsealed spinning reels.
When I do use spinning reels, it's usually the result of a mistake I made because that's all I have in the truck at the time and somehow I find myself in the water up to my chest with one. I've used a PENN Pursuit III and IV while wade fishing successfully for reds, but I really prefer a casting reel.
My favorite casting reels for fishing the flats and getting wet are the PENN Fathom and the PENN Squall. These are more expensive than some other reels, but I appreciate their solid feel and reliability.
I always have 50 lb. braided line as my main fishing line on reels I use for beach fishing. You just never know when you're going to hook into something much bigger than you expect and it's so much better to capitalize on your good fortune by landing the fish without it breaking off.
Some anglers use 30 lb. main line. It's really up to you and what you feel safe using. I tend to look at it through the lens of probability. With 50 lb. braid, I think there's a 90% probability I'll be able to land a bigger fish. With 30 lb. braid, I tend to think it's more like 60%. Why not just go heavier?
Of course, the weak point is whatever leader you're fishing with, so you'll have to finesse the fish, but the fewer weak points in your setup, the better.
If the water is very clear, or even just mildly clear, you may want to start with 20 lb. test fluorocarbon line that is nearly invisible. Otherwise, redfish may not bite because the line spooks them a bit. It looks unnatural.
I rarely use artificial lures when wade fishing for redfish because live bait works so well. Yes, it's a bit unwieldy to carry a 5-gallon shrimp bucket hanging off a rope around my neck. Yes, it's true, one time I asked my girlfriend to wrap the stringer rope full of speckled trout around her neck and she got pulled by a bull shark into deeper water before we could get the noose off her!
Still, I prefer live bait so much that I'll hold whatever I have to while out on the water.
If I do break down and use an artificial, it's the DOA shrimp in clear or rootbeer color. I just let it sink naturally and bounce it up off the bottom a couple of times, letting it sink back down. This can be really effective in cloudy water, and not so much in ultra-clear water. It also works for spotted sea trout and flounder, so if the red drum aren’t there you might catch one of those instead. Definitely a win!
When wade fishing and casting to redfish, I'm usually not casting long distances at all. I can just lob the shrimp with a split shot or small egg sinker to get it where it needs to be. So, at times I use a Carolina rig. Most times I'd just use a split shot unless the current is really strong.
I have used silver and gold spoons to try to catch Spanish mackerel and jacks and ended up catching reds when the lures got too low in the water. It wasn't a bad surprise at all because reds are so much better on the dinner table than either of those fish!
Regular to large shrimp work well for redfish. Cut bait can work, but you'll also pick up strikes from other fish you may not want to catch. Any small, live bait fish will work for catching reds while wade fishing too.
How To Catch Redfish from a Pier
Grab every fishing rod you own, all your gear, all your snack food, all your favorite music, coolers of ice, coolers of refreshments, all your hats and umbrellas, and all the people you want to take with you, and throw it all into your vehicle and just GO. The pier has everything else you need.
I literally bring all the rods and reels I have to the pier when I go pier fishing. Part of the reason is that I stay all day and sometimes well into the night. I'll occasionally sleep in my car overnight (while still with rods out with cowbells on them).
St. Petersburg's Sunshine Skyway Fishing Piers have the best pier fishing experience I've ever had. Pull your truck right up on the pier!
I just like having many chances at once to catch fish. I have 10-foot rods I cast way out. I have a trolling rod I drop straight down for grouper. I have another 5-10 rods with various rigs for redfish, snapper, blues, mackerel, jacks, and whatever is hungry!
Rods range from light-medium to heavy action with most being light-medium and medium. I do put bells on the rod tips if I'm going to be distracted by something and not staring at them. Reel clickers are set but I don't always hear them with the wind in my ears.
For redfish fishing, I use a Carolina rig with a sliding egg sinker and a small circle hook just behind the shrimp's horn. It's a tough bit of shell that tends to keep the hook secure. I tend to start by throwing the rig out about 5-10 yards from the pier pylons, hoping that some red will venture out there to grab the shrimp.
A problem with pier fishing for reds is these pylons are concrete and full of barnacles and other shells that can cut the line easily, it doesn't matter what line you use. The reds tend to hang out close to the pylons.
So, if you drop your bait straight down beside a pylon, guess what happens? The redfish immediately wraps you around a pylon or rubs the line against something and frays it, eventually snapping the line.
Ideally, you'll find some seagrass growing away from the pier and cast there, hoping you will find some reds hanging out in there and using the grass for cover.
Another helpful tip while pier fishing for reds is that you can use a bigger rod like a 10-foot rod to get some more leverage on the fish to quickly get it away from the pylons and out into the open where it can't rub you against anything to fray the line.
Which reel you use to catch redfish from the piers is completely up to you. I have a lot more baitcasting reels than spinning reels, so I usually bring those. I really like how smooth the drag is, and the powerful connection I have when reeling in big fish. It's just a confidence boost when I know I can rely on my gear. It's a very good feeling.
Other people will use their big spinning reels and be as happy as I am. It's really up to you!
Braided main line of 30 to 50 lb. with 20-30 lb. leader is a good start when fishing for red drum from a pier. Go heavy at first, 30 lb. fluorocarbon leader to see if you get bites. If so, keep the leader heavy to help guard against fraying and break-offs as the reds rub your line against pier pylons and rocks in the area.
If you are concerned about the line strength and abrasion resistance while fishing around barnacles and oysters, fluorocarbon line may be the better choice.
Fluorocarbon line is known for its excellent abrasion resistance, as it is made from a denser material than monofilament. This density makes fluorocarbon lines less likely to break or wear down when rubbed against rough surfaces like barnacles or sharp oysters. Additionally, fluorocarbon line is generally stronger than monofilament line of the same diameter, meaning you can use a thinner line while still maintaining the same strength.
Now, this doesn't mean you won't break off when a red wraps your line around a pier or dock pylon. It will still break. The good news is you might have an extra few seconds or minutes of time to land the fish with fluoro and that's worth the expense!
It's important to note that fluorocarbon line can be more expensive than monofilament line but it isn't much more. Just buy it and remove any doubt about having an inferior line.
When fishing for red drum from piers, there are some really effective artificial lures you can use. Here are a few options to consider:
Jigs - As mentioned above in other sections you can use soft plastic jigs to catch redfish consistently. You can work them at any depth and with any action you choose. Paddle tail or shrimp tail jigs can be particularly effective for red drum. Fish your jigs by casting out and retrieving slowly or just jigging up and down off the bottom.
Spoons - Cast silver or gold-colored bright metal spoons out and retrieve them in a steady motion that makes the spoon rock through the water back and forth. A constant, rhythmic motion can work wonders, as can jigging spoons up and down off the bottom.
Topwater Plugs - Though their mouth is pointed down, reds will hit topwater plugs fiercely at times. There's not much else more exciting than seeing a bull red blow up on your topwater lure, so I highly recommend picking up some good plugs. The ones we like are the Mirrolure Top Dog, Daiwa Mebachi Popper, the Rapala Saltwater Skitter Walk, and of course the Heddon Super Spook lure.
Topwater plugs can be an exciting and effective way to target red drum from piers, particularly in the early morning or late evening when the fish are more likely to be feeding on the surface. Walk-the-dog style topwater plugs like the Skitter Walk or poppers can be particularly effective.
Bring everything you've got to the pier when fishing, especially if you're able to drive your car up beside where you fish. Experiment with all kinds of jigs and plugs until you hit on something that works!
A simple Carolina rig is effective for catching redfish from piers. It consists of a mainline of braid (30-50 lb test) tied directly to a 12-15" leader of fluorocarbon (preferred) and threaded through an egg sinker of at least 1 oz, but more if the tide is strong. Lastly, add a strong circle hook and a regular-sized live shrimp to it for the best chance at landing redfish.
If there's no real water movement between tides you can use a lighter weight, but make sure to get the shrimp down on the bottom.
If I'm going to a pier for 16 to 24 hours, I'll usually stop and cast net some baitfish for an hour or so to make sure I have 10-15 dozen or so to use for fishing. Yes, most of them are dead within a couple of hours because I don't have a huge mobile live-well I cart around to the piers on my cart.
If I can bring the truck, I bring some 5-gallon buckets with aerators that work ok for a while. I may also drop a bucket with holes over the side on a rope to keep the bait fresh.
If I'm targeting redfish I'll throw the net for baitfish then go grab some crabs for bait as well. Those live much longer and I can usually count on catching lots of reds on them.
Kayak Fishing for Redfish
There's nothing more fun than pedaling or paddling a kayak to go fishing. In Florida, you may not be able to afford to buy a house on the coast or on a saltwater canal but you can probably afford to live in one of the apartment complexes on saltwater canals.
That's how I spent 10 years of my life, fishing nearly daily by just throwing the kayak off the dock into our deepwater canal. I'd drift down to Tampa Bay and troll shrimp or bait fish to catch reds, black drum, snook, and other tasty fish.
Talk about an easy life! I was doing SEO and web dev work for a company that allowed me to work at home three days a week, so you can guess where I was for a good portion of the week. FISH ON!
If I was going to be fishing from the kayak that day, I'd load up with a pair of 7' light-medium action Ugly Stiks. Because a good portion of the time spent on the water was paddling to get where I knew the good redfish fishing spot was, I always trolled shrimp or baitfish behind the kayak as I floated down the canal.
If you don't know, there are plenty of red drum in the residential canals and I would never get very far before beginning to catch reds. Much of the bottom is covered in shells, so it's prime red drum fishing grounds.
It makes sense to drag something behind the kayak with a few split-shot to get it down a couple of feet toward the bottom. I'd usually use a popping cork but yes, I frequently snagged oysters and snapped the line sometimes.
That's OK, I just couldn't pass up these free reds caught while trolling. They were the icing on the cake because at least I had something in the bag for dinner if my main fishing grounds were barren.
A PENN Fathom or Squall reel is what I most often chose as my kayak fishing reel of choice. These are super-tough reels that can hold enough line to go deeper than just catching reds on the flats. They just feel so nice to use as well.
Kayak fishing is another one of those situations where the reel type doesn't have to be one or the other. Just take whatever you enjoy fishing with and it won't matter much in the end. You can catch fish regardless!
Fishing in the residential canals during an incoming or outgoing tide, the water was never very clear so you could choose a heavy line to fish with and still catch fish. I usually chose 30 lb. mono line when targeting reds in the canals because eventually I hit the open bay and there was a good chance of landing a big permit or jack out there.
Sometimes I'd have 30 lb. mono on my trolling rod and 50 lb. mono on my other rod in case I saw some big reds or permit tailing.
The brand of line has become less important to me over the years. I still tend to use PowerPro, Spyderline, and KastKing, but I have also used some other lesser-known brands and haven't had too many bad experiences. Go with what you prefer, but I think the bigger brands have the money for better quality control inspections and generally put out a better quality line.
Leader weight varies a lot depending on whether I'm trying to catch small reds, pompano, and spotted sea trout (6-10 lb. fluoro), or something heavier like big redfish when I might use 20 to 30 lb. fluoro or monofilament leaders.
When fishing for red drum from a kayak I have used all the lures mentioned above in the Pier section. I'll sometimes troll a topwater plug just to see if I get any hits. I usually don't to be honest because I'm not consciously thinking about tapping the rod every now and then to give the plug some action. It just kind of floats along behind me and doesn't make enough noise.
That said, I've had more barracuda and jacks hit my topwaters floated behind my kayak when I hit the open water. They're fun too, but not great for eating!.
When I troll for reds from my kayak and I know I'm over hard bottom (oysters usually) I usually just have a popping cork followed by a couple of split-shot and a hook with a regular-size shrimp hooked behind the horn.
If I know I'm over a clear and sandy bottom, I'll make a rig with a drop-loop, add a sinker, and add a hook about 18" from the weight. The sinker gets the bait down on the bottom and bounces around the sand, throwing up sand and obscuring the view of the shrimp trailing behind and making it more enticing for the fish.
When casting from the kayak I'll use a simple Carolina rig with an egg-sinker weight that matches the strength of the current to try to keep the shrimp from moving around too much.
I use shrimp or small, live, or dead baitfish most of the time as redfish bait from the kayak. Baitfish are really easy to collect when you're on the kayak because you invariably pass a spot where you can see them swimming around in the shallow water and it doesn't take more than 5-10 minutes to catch a bunch of them you can use as bait.
Mullet, menhaden, and small pinfish are excellent bait for redfish and you should definitely learn how to throw a cast net and keep it on your kayak as you go fishing for reds.
Catching fish from a kayak also allows you to land all kinds of species, some unregulated, and that you can use as cut bait for fish like red drum.
How To Catch Redfish in Florida
Learning how to catch redfish in Florida won't take much effort if you're already doing it in another area of the country. Reds can be from the upper northeast USA down to the Gulf of Mexico, and they're generally going to be caught on the same types of baits and lures.
The easy way to catch redfish in Florida is to find an area where the bottom is covered with oysters and other shells. Redfish in Florida (all over) love hanging out over areas where the bottom is hard and sharp. Either cast from the beach or wade fish, whatever is necessary to reach the areas you think hold fish.
Cast a crab, sand flea, or shrimp down on the bottom and wait for a bite. It won't be long in coming. Something is going to eat it and it could be a nice redfish!
When over sandy or seagrass bottom, use a shrimp with an egg sinker (Carolina rig) or just a couple of split-shot to ensure the shrimp gets down toward the bottom. I always use shrimp if I can get them, but sometimes I can't or I want to save some money and I'll throw the cast net for some bait fish in the shallows.
If using artificials, just use a DOA shrimp or crab soft plastic lure.
Fish for Florida redfish in the morning after sunrise or at dusk and into the night if you want. Reds are also active at night.
Go to https://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/red-drum/ to stay up to date on Florida Redfish regulations.
How To Catch Redfish in Brackish Water
Redfish prefer 10 to 25 parts salinity per thousand parts water but it's possible to find them in areas where freshwater mixes with saltwater, they have a high tolerance.
Catching redfish in brackish water can require some different techniques than catching them in saltwater or freshwater.
I had to defer to some others on the team on this topic as my experience catching anything in brackish water is not that great. I tend to avoid these areas because I don't know what to change to catch fish there. After some consultation with the pros, now I know!
Live bait that is moving around like lively shrimp, mullet, pinfish, or a fish that has a lot of energy is a good choice for brackish water. Mullet don't mind water of that salinity so it's a good choice for a live bait.
Smelly dead bait like menhaden, shrimp, or pinfish can work - fished on the bottom with a sinker.
In the Carolinas, they are using crawfish lures to catch reds. No kidding. They resemble saltwater crustaceans, and they love them, so anglers there are using soft plastic crawfish lures to land reds that venture far up into the rivers where the crawfish can be found.
Some anglers use popping corks with a shrimp about 18-24" down line from the cork. Fluorocarbon lines that are less visible are better in brackish water that is very clear.
Sometimes you'll get muddy or other cloudy water where a stream or river enters the ocean. In this case, the popping cork can be excellent to help the fish find the bait. Pop that cork often and then let it sit a few seconds. Pop it some more! It simulates other fish feeding on the top and gets reds and other fish interested in what's up there.
Fishing in brackish water is much like fishing for redfish in regular-salinity saltwater. The difference is in whether it makes the water more or less clear. Then you can adjust your bait and fishing techniques so the fish can see your bait (and hear it) better.
How To Catch Redfish at Night
As I mentioned a few times already, redfish can be fished in the evening and even at night after most people at the pier or beach have gone home for dinner. Eat an early dinner sometime and get out there on the water. The bite is more aggressive in the time after 5 pm. as the sun is going down.
Gear - Bring night gear like a headlamp and maybe an LED lantern to light up the area. Don't count on lights at the pier or dock to be lit, they may go out and that would ruin your trip! Bring your own light, it's cheap and the improvement in LED lights of the last decade have been fantastic. I like the Petzl headlamps, but there are plenty of other options like NightCore, and ACEBEAM headlamps.
Wear light-colored clothing that tends to repel mosquitos (dark attracts). It's probably a really good idea to go with someone as well in case there's any problem. Of course, if you're on a pier with 50 other anglers, you're probably fine to go by yourself.
Location - Look for areas where redfish are likely to feed at night. Small baitfish congregate in the shallows and near dock lights, street lights, pier lights, and marina lights. You should start in one of these areas.
Of course, seagrass areas with or without lights will be ideal also as baitfish go there for cover.
Natural Bait - This is key because redfish can be more wary at night. Using live or dead natural bait is going to be more effective than using artificial lures.
Fish the Tides - This is always key for redfish. The incoming or outgoing tides can produce the most fish by far. Especially look for areas where the tide is flowing over structure, such as oyster bars or channels. These areas can attract baitfish and redfish.
Stealth - At night if you're on a dock, in a kayak, or anywhere you can spook the fish with noise or movement just be very aware of it and practice stealthy movements and whispering to fellow anglers. Be patient and quiet when fishing at night.
You can put a light on the water, but make it steady. Don't keep flashing your headlamp or flashlight into the water. It looks quite unnatural and can spook the fish.
More Redfish Fishing Tips
Catching redfish is pretty straightforward as you've probably come to realize as you read this article. Still, there are some more tips we have that we couldn't work into the above. Here are some tips for catching redfish that are not so widely known.
Pay Attention to Mud Boils - Muddy areas of otherwise clear water can indicate there are fish close by. Redfish often create small mud boils when they're feeding on the bottom. Look for these signs of feeding activity and cast your bait or lure near them.
Use Scent - Adding fish scent to your artificials and even your live or dead bait can increase chances of your success while fishing for redfish, and any fish. It adds another dimension to attract fish and makes your presentation seem more natural.
It also hides whatever human scent you added to the bait while rigging it. Redfish have a keen sense of smell, so using a scent attractant can be very effective.
Vary Everything - Vary the speed and action of your retrieve with artificials. Vary the depth you're fishing. Vary your lures. Vary your leader diameter. Vary your rig. Vary your bait most of all.
Use Weedless Lures - Use them just to keep from going crazy as you clean off your lure with every retrieve and get stuck in the weeds. Use weedless lures to prevent snags and increase your chances of a successful catch because the lure moves through the weeds and seagrass smoothly without jerkiness caused by snags.
Watch the Weather and Barometer - There is some evidence that a rising barometer sends fish for cover in deeper water. A falling barometer causes fish to come into the shallows to feed.
Here's a rundown of what happens with various barometer readings and weather conditions.
Rising Barometer - When the weather is getting sunny and high pressure is setting in the fishing slows down and fish move into deeper water.
Falling Barometer - Fishing gets better as the storm moves in. This is the best time to fish.
Steady Medium to High Barometer - Normal to reduced feeding behavior.
Steady Low Barometer - Poor weather probably means poor fishing. Bite slows.
Redfish are very common across their range, though their numbers appear to be decreasing in some geographical areas. They are excellent table fare and the bigger bull reds can really put up a hard fight, especially if you're using lightweight tackle. This makes them a prime target for anglers all over the USA's East Coast and Gulf of Mexico.
Reds are not difficult to catch, a shrimp on the bottom using a Carolina rig is usually all you need. Fish during the moving tides and away from piers and other structure that could cause you to break your line. There are enough lines and hooks in the ocean, try not to contribute anymore!
Now that you know how to catch redfish, get out there and put some in the cooler! Best of luck to you on your Redfish Fishing Adventure!