Welcome to our very popular “How to Catch Redfish Guide” where we tell you every possible Tip for catching REDFISH that we have ever used, heard of, and found. Bookmark this page (Windows CNTRL+D, MAC CMD+D) so you don’t forget it!
[Page Updated – 25 September 2019]
WHAT RATINGS DO REDFISH GET?
Size: 6/10 Fight: 8/10 Difficulty to Catch: 8/10 Taste: 10/10 – mouth watering!
INDEX to Sections in this Guide:
- Redfish FACTS
- WHY catch redfish?
- WHERE are redfish found?
- What do redfish EAT?
- HOW to catch redfish – Techniques
- WHEN is best for redfish?
- GEAR to use for redfish (our best recommendations)
- LAWS in Your State
- How to COOK redfish for the ultimate meal?
How To Catch Redfish | Guide
TIP – Redfish are also called Reds, Spots, Dots, Red Drum, Spot-tail Bass, Channel Bass.
Species: Sciaenops ocellatus
Similar Species: Black Drum (Pogonias cromis); Hybrid between red and black drum.
Length: Redfish grow to about 1.1 meters in length on average with differences between male and female. A one-year-old redfish is on average from between 10-17-inches and averages about 14-inches. Fish grow to an average maximum size of 30 inches.
Weight: Redfish grow fast, some reaching 8 lb. in 36 months, depending on availability of food seasonally. A bull red is a redfish that is at least 27-inches long from snout to tail (fork)
World Record Size: The biggest redfish ever caught was by Mr. David Deuel while fishing mullet along the bottom of a sandbar in Avon, North Carolina on 11/7/1984. The world record redfish weighed 94 lb. 2 oz. Redfish of 40+ pounds are somewhat common. Redfish live for around 50 years.
Description: Redfish are medium-sized fish varying in color and pattern – sometimes brilliant silver or shiny metallic gold all over with a bulls-eye at the tail, or even dark red almost all over from back to belly. Colors range from gold and silver to grey, pink and red or orange and copper-colored. There is nearly always a dark round bulls-eye or circle pattern near the beginning of the tail. Sometimes more than one. In evolutionary terms, this dot probably helps distract predators from attacking the featureless head – tempting them with the tail instead and allowing the redfish to escape. I’ve caught a number of reds with chewed tails – so it makes sense! Reds are always slightly or very much darker on the top of the back in comparison to the stomach.
Vocalization: Amazingly, the redfish and other drums can emit a croaking sound when pulled up out of the water. It’s a little disconcerting – so either let it go quickly or put it on the stringer for the dinner table later!
Range/Distribution: Redfish saltwater fish found in the Atlantic Ocean on the United States side from the state of Massachusetts down to Florida, and then over into the Gulf of Mexico. A very large range. The best states for catching redfish are along the sandy and shell covered bottoms of coastal areas of Florida and Texas.
Redfish are one of the drum species, another being the closely related Black Drum (Pogonias cromis). These are full-bodied fish with some girth to them. They are very strong fish at the head and neck and put up a great fight.
WHY Catch Redfish?
If you live close to one of the coastal areas of the USA or even northern Mexico, you’re going to want to target redfish for a few reasons!
- Redfish are DELICIOUS. Bottom line, there are a handful of fish in the world which are naturally just so delicious they don’t need any spices or extras to make them palatable. Redfish are a culinary delight.
- Redfish are a CHALLENGE to find and catch. We all love a challenge, and though not nearly as tough as sheepshead, reds are a great fish to target for the pure fun of it!
WHERE To Find Redfish?
Habitat – Sub-adult redfish are found in seagrass areas in saltwater and brackish bays and marshes. As red drum mature, they gravitate toward rocky or barnacle covered areas like man-made structure: piers, sunken boats, etc. Reds also spend a significant portion of their time just cruising over shell-covered sand.
The best way I’ve found to locate prime redfish fishing areas is to do research on forums – looking for redfish hotspots in my area. I’ll add some redfish hotspots for various areas below.
1.) Old Tampa Bay, Florida – I mentioned in other posts that I lived right on a deep saltwater canal leading into Tampa Bay for over a decade. Redfish were sometimes found right in our canal (about 1.5 miles from the opening into the big bay). I could catch them right off the dock. Most times I jumped in the kayak and floated slowly down the canal, dragging a shrimp – which was hit often by reds, snook, and black drum on moving tides usually.
2.) Apollo Beach, Tampa, Florida – Really, the entire Tampa Bay area can be explored for redfish -and they can be found many places. I found reds mostly in the canals – where the bottom was very rough – full of shells. I found reds where there were little drop-offs, and docks or other barnacle-covered objects.
Best Coastal Florida Areas for Catching Redfish
- Tampa Bay (maps above)
- Ft. De Soto Park (map) in southern St. Petersburg
- Bradenton & Sarasota coast (map)
- Boca Grande near Ft. Myers (map)
More on Florida Redfish
One spot usually overlooked by those around the state is the St. Johns River. There are some flats with grassy beds where you can find redfish. Florida is absolutely the best state for finding and catching redfish – the massive coastline affords reds the cover and food they require. The temperatures are warm enough all year to produce a bit, and there just isn’t much competition – even in the best spots.
In Spring to Fall – Tampa / Saint Petersburg is a fantastic area for reds – and since I lived there, I never had to go anywhere else. The bite is consistent and the fish are not difficult to find on the grass flats and canals off Tampa Bay.
On high tides, redfish love the shores of the mangrove roots, flat oyster beds, and shallow grass flats. Other great spots in Florida to try: Apollo Beach, Big Lagoon, Caladesi Island at Dunedin, Dog Island, Don Pedro Island at Placida, Fort Barrancas, Ochlockonee River and Waccasassa Bay.
Big red drum are nearly constantly moving through inshore waters along the entire length of Florida’s Gulf Coast and entrances to freshwater waterways of Indian River, Mosquito Lagoon, and the Intracoastal Waterway. Late in the year, the big lunker redfish will be found at the entrance to little jetties – a key mating spot. An artificial crab or shrimp on outgoing tides near drop-offs is your best bet for a big one at the end of the year.
Redfish in Other States
Virginia – Chesapeake Bay – in 2015 the longest Red Drum was caught by an 18-year-old angler. It measured 125 cm. long (49.2 inches). During May, June, and July the Chesapeake Bay is holding huge numbers of big lunker redfish. The best hours for fishing during these months is after sunset in the shallows and from the beach in the waves. Reds can be found from April through November in high numbers.
North Carolina – There are some good spots in NC – where lunker redfish have been caught weighing 60 lb. Hotspots include Hatteras Island, False Point, and Ocracoke Island. During the months of April and May, and October and November the Outer Banks is the place to be. The typical migration route for redfish brings them back to VA Beach from where they spent the winter in North Carolina. In the fall, Pamlico Sound can be productive – and did I mention yet, the Outer Banks? 😉
South Carolina – Redfish in South Carolina can be found primarily, like in all southeastern states on the coast, in saltwater marshes and at the openings to streams with shell (oyster) bottom. One area that is renowned for reds is Charleston. Year-round action makes this a favorite for South Carolinians. Everyone talks about where the big reds are found – and in truth, they’re all over! SC’s claim to fame is that back in the 1960’s, Murrell’s Inlet produced a big 75 lb. redfish from the beach.
There is also small canal action around this spot. In the fall each year, start with these spots for the best action: Isle of Palms, Charleston Harbor, and Shem Creek in Charleston. Late months are the best time for the most redfish catches. If you luck into a large school of reds, you’ll be talking about it for a long time.
Georgia – Georgia has also come out with state regulations against commercial fishing of reds – which is great news for all Georgia redfish lovers. Always plentiful in the past, red drum populations will grow even bigger and anglers will rejoice! Georgia coastal areas, of course, provide some of the best reds fishing year-round. Don’t skip the canals layered with oysters on the bottom though!
Hot-spots? St. Marys – especially Spartina grass areas of Crab Island and in close proximity to Kings Bay. The Golden Isles (in the Barrier Islands) is productive in fall primarily. Surf fishing – wade fishing – and outright shore fishing is possible close to the barrier islands. Outgoing tides is always best. I prefer free-lining DOA Shrimp of various colors until I start bagging them.
Mississippi – The Mississippi Delta is always holding heaps of redfish in early fall – September and October. Look at the saltwater channels in and around the Barrier Islands. If you’re a fly fisher, the Back Bay area of Biloxi is a highly sought after redfish area. Many redfish lovers in Mississippi.
Alabama – Coastal shores and Orange Beach are the main spots. When it gets chilly, the reds will head up small canals – and be ravenous. Feed them an artificial of almost any sort of shrimp or crablike looking lure, and you’ll get strikes.
Louisiana – For those of us used to fishing artificials, we sometimes overlook the fact that big redfish are suckers for mullet. Head to Cameron Parish shoreline to fish artificial mullet in the not-too-deep waters. Lafitte is another hot-spot. Don’t forget, small reds are the best-eating fish, and you’ll find them on the high-tides in the deep marshes of the bayou. The Barataria Estuary gives anglers days of seemingly non-stop redfish catches – dozens in a day of smaller fish under 10 lbs. For bigger reds, you’ll need to go out a little further at the edge of the Gulf of Mexico.
Texas – the Barrier Islands near Corpus Christi are just filled with redfish – and is the spot we recommend more than any other in the state of Texas. Best time of the year is late fall before December, and of course May to June when the winds have calmed down considerably. Other Texas hot-spots? Baffin, Galveston, Laguna Madre, and Matagorda.
Best Redfish Spots in Mexico?
Mexico’s state of Tamaulipas borders Texas at the town of Brownsville and is the best spot in Mexico for catching redfish along the coast. There is a massive protected area called “Laguna Madre y Delta Del Rio Bravo” on the northern coast which is a fantastic reds spot. You can hire a boat or even shorefish in some areas. Map below. Link to map here.
What Do Redfish Eat?
Shrimp. Crabs. Mollusks. Pinfish. Mullet. Shad (menhaden). Killfish (mud-minnows), squid, dead cut-bait.
The inside of the redfish mouth is very hard and can easily crush crabs and other animals with a hard external shell. Frequently reds can be found on sandy bottom searching for crabs and other food – with their tails in the air. This is called “tailing.” Reds when tailing can spook easily, but they can also be rather easy to catch if you know what you’re doing.
I have used artificial lures and live bait for catching redfish. I like lures better for a number of reasons – primarily – ease of use, saving money, and I like the challenge of it. Not to mention, fewer bait stealers nibbling the heck out of my shrimp until there’s nothing on the hook. I fished with live bait for the first couple of years of fishing in Florida before I finally got wise.
I just couldn’t see spending the money to get good lures or rigs. That changed when my buddy Paul caught redfish after redfish, snook, and black drum for hours one day while I kept trying with my live bait. I had spent around $30 on bait that day, and he was using the same couple DOA Shrimp. My bait was gone at the end of the day and he put his lures in his tackle-box to use the next time. That hit me. He was smarter than me! I, of course, couldn’t accept that, so started experimenting with different artificial lures.
Casting artificial soft (rubber) jigs, spoons, and sometimes top-water plugs can produce redfish.
How to Catch Redfish – Techniques
From a Small Boat – Kayak, Canoe
Crabs are probably the favorite food of redfish because though they’re a little bit hard, they have the mouth and jaws for crushing it and extracting the soft parts. Shrimp is probably preferred, but they’re faster and more difficult to see.
Crabs are hard to put on a hook and keep on a hook to present over and over to red drum. Shrimp are easy. Most of the time when fishing for redfish – I use shrimp. Shrimp go on a hook easily and slow the shrimp down considerably so they cannot escape the gaping mouth of the redfish.
If you want to fish with crabs, I’d recommend an artificial crab bait. Redfish love them, and once you figure out which one works in your area, you’ll be hooking up more redfish from that point on!
How you fish for redfish depends on where the fish are in the column of water. Usually, they’re on or very near the bottom. If you’re in very shallow water, and you can see redfish tailing – freeline a shrimp and it will float as naturally as possible, encouraging strikes from reds.
If you’re in deeper, or faster-moving water, add a sinker to your line to bring the bait to the bottom. Experiment with how far away from the hook you add your static weight. I usually start with around 1 yard (meter) and see if that works. If not, I’ll go longer. The longer the leader away from your sinker, the more your shrimp can float around naturally, hopefully bouncing on the bottom and teasing the redfish into striking.
From a Fishing Boat
If you have a little bigger boat – flats fishing boat, or similar, you can use your water depth-finder to find spots where the shelves drop off.
The best redfish spots can be found by looking for drop-offs from 5 to 30 feet. Currents pull bait down into these pockets where big reds wait to choose what they eat. Present a big shrimp, crab, or shad on a hook down at these depths during a tide and you’ll hook up. Mullet or big pinfish (Lagodon rhomboides) are great baits for huge redfish.
A popping cork rig can be deadly from a boat near a school of redfish. Try it! (See below).
When Is the Best Time to Catch Redfish?
If you want to catch small reds – stalking them in the canals leading into a large saltwater bay can be really productive in April, May and June in most places. Ideally, the water will be warming up and you’ll fish an outgoing or inbound tide.
For larger reds – bull redfish – the best time for catching them is in late fall, but before December. Huge migrations of fish toward warmer waters happen over October and November, and you can often see schools tailing on shallow flats during this time.
Redfish Gear – Best Tackle for Your Best Chances
You can know where the redfish are, but if you don’t know which tackle to use – you might as well pack it in and go get a beer and buy your fish at the restaurant tonight. Gear selection for catching redfish – and all fish – has become real science. I started out choosing bargain gear because I thought I could get away with it. Sometimes I did. Sometimes I lost fish on that junk gear too. That put an end to that, and I just buy the right gear for the right fish now. I catch more fish. I brag more too. 😛
Rod and reel anglers from a boat will want a 7-foot medium or medium-heavy rod paired with a quality saltwater reel capable of spooling 175 yards of 12-20 pound test. Spinning reels work fine, but if you want better casting accuracy and more power, a baitcasting reel is highly recommended.
While fishing from the shore or wade-fishing, a 9-foot long rod capable of holding 250 yards of fishing line is preferred. When fishing around structure, braided lines are highly recommended.
Anglers fishing with a fly rod will need 9-10 weight rods with medium or full-sink fly lines.
Best Rod for Redfish?
I prefer bigger rods with medium-heavy action power and fast action. The two rods listed below can handle 8-25 lb. line – monofilament or even heavier braided line. They are both around 7’6″ and 5 oz. in weight. These are very well-made rods that won’t splinter or have eyelets fall out after a year. Remember to rinse your rods with fresh water after every use.
Ugly Stick 7′ GX2 Inshore Rod for Spinning Reel (Redfish) – Best 7 foot Inshore Rod for Redfish 1
Ugly Stick 7′ GX2 Inshore Rod for Baitcasting Reel – Best 7 foot Inshore Rod for Baitcasting
Keep in mind, that if you’re getting a baitcasting reel – you’ll need a baitcasting rod with this finger grab:
Best Redfish Reel?
Though I strongly suggest a baitcasting reel for catching redfish, I understand that not everyone wants to learn how to use one. You probably grew up using spinning reels, and if you’re skilled at casting to redfish with a spinning reel, you’ll love these two different Penn Reels which are ideal for catching redfish of any size. Not to mention, these reels are ideal for catching any fish in the 1-40 lb. class. These are great reels for redfish, sea trout, small grouper, cobia, flounder, snook, bluefish, and other fish found close to shore. Note, the bigger the fish are, the better the baitcasting reels (below) are.
Very high ratings; Made in America (Seattle, WA.)
Best Penn Redfish Reel 1
Very high ratings; Made in America (Seattle, WA.)
Best Penn Redfish Reel 2
My strong preference is for using baitcasting reels for redfish, and any sizable fish like snook, cobia, and reds. I made the switch in 1998, and I have been happy with my choice ever since. There are two primary advantages to baitcasting reels.
No wait, there are 3 advantages.
1.) Better accuracy in casting. I can place my bait right where I want, 90% of the time with my baitcasting reels. Of course, if you’re troll fishing you don’t care much about accuracy, but if you’re casting, you need an accurate cast to not spook the redfish.
2.) More power when reeling. There’s a more direct power connection with baitcasting reels. More power means less wasted energy.
3.) More durable. The spinning reels can succumb to any number of problems with their exposed internals and wide line guide that seems to get caught on everything. I have broken a number of spinning reels over the years!
Best Baitcasting Reel 1, Made in America (New Jersey)
– Best Abu Garcia Brand Baitcasting Reel 1
Best Baitcasting Reel 2, (Offices in USA)
– Best Shimano Brand Baitcasting Reel 2
Fly Rod and Reel Combo
– Fly Rod and Reel Combo pack – Orvis
Twenty pounds (20#) braided line is what I usually put on in Florida because I never know what I’m going to catch – big red, snook, cobia? You’re going to want the same if you hook into a lunker redfish. Preferably one of the braided lines. The braided lines are more expensive but much less likely to break and they don’t have much memory – so they won’t foul your reel as often – if ever. One issue is that they are easily seen, so some people use a monofilament (clear line) leader at the end where the bait is – and it’s typically thicker – 30# or so for big fish and to prevent line breakage. My preferred redfish line is here. I shop online because it saves me about 9 hours every time I want to find something. Walmart and other sports shops are frequently out of what I want, so I don’t waste any time shopping in stores anymore.It just works so well.
Best 20 pound Test Braided Redfish Line– (125 yards)
The best hooks for redfish depend whether you’re using live or artificial baits and what they are. Buying online is my favorite way to buy gear anymore. Everything is cheaper and items are almost always in stock. Unlike your local Walmart.
I love Gamakatsu hooks. They are ultra-sharp and strong, and I’ve not used anything else for about 20 years since they first started making them (or at least introduced them in the states).
1.) Drop-Shot Rig. One of the best (and easiest) rigs to create is a drop-shot rig. Take a piece of 30-pound monofilament leader (clear line) about 1 yard long. On one end, tie a 1-ounce sinker if you have a strong current, lighter if slow or no current. On the other end, a 2/0 size Gamakatsu hook (see above link). About 12 inches from the sinker, create a knot with a loop. Attach your braided line to the loop. Add a shrimp and cast out. The sinker holds the bait to the bottom where the redfish are. The separation of bait and sinker allows you to better feel a bite, and less time for the red to feel the weight of the sinker and spit the bait.
2.) Popping Cork with DOA Shrimp (artificial lure). This one is called the Deadly-Combo. Pros started using it to win tournaments, and just haven’t stopped. You just get a popping cork and add it 2 feet from your artificial DOA shrimp. Add some beads to it to make some more noise when you twitch your rod tip. Cast out and let the DOA shrimp drift with the incoming or outgoing tide in a grassy area ideally. When the popping cork disappears for a second, set the hook and reel in your redfish! Photo below.
Best Artificial Lures
Everyone has their favorites, but to me, nothing beats the following 3 lures. Buy them and stock up on them because they are consistently good producers for redfish. Experiment with different colors and see what works. What works one day may not work the next. Buy a variety of these colors and test them out. It’s the only way you’ll know what works in your area for reds.
DOA Shrimp – Best Artificial Shrimp Lure for Redfish
Artificial Fish Lure (Shad) – Best Artificial Fish Lure for Redfish
Redfish catch limits and size restrictions have been very effective in regulating the numbers of redfish taken out of our oceans. President George Bush made a law designating the redfish a protected species, with full-protection from commercial fishing. It is illegal to catch reds in international waters around the USA.
It’s illegal to sell wild-caught redfish. I’m not sure if restaurant owners can catch it themselves and sell it in a meal, but I’ve never seen redfish on a menu in Florida. That’s great news – there is redfish for anyone to catch – within the limits of the law. The laws governing size restrictions and bag limits for licensed fishermen (fisherwomen) have been varied over the years, so as to make provide the best protection possible for red drum populations.
There exists some commercial farming of redfish.
Here is a page covering current Redfish Size & Creel Limit Laws in states in the USA and Mexico.
How to COOK Redfish?
Eating redfish is one of the great pleasures I’ve had in life. The small reds are tasty just like a black drum – I cannot discern a difference. The flesh is light and flaky and not oily at all. For really great tasting fish like redfish, sheepshead, gator trout, grouper, mahi-mahi, I just prefer a very simple preparation I’ll explain below.
TIP – adult redfish over around 10 lbs. taste much worse than younger ones! When given a choice, choose the smaller fish – for every species!
RECIPE #1 – Vern’s Fall on the Floor Baked Redfish
I was single for the 11 years I was catching redfish in Tampa Bay. I fished from my kayak mostly. Being single meant I stuck to the tried and true and didn’t experiment with different ways to cook the various fish I loved to eat. Here’s how I made redfish and others weekly for years.
First, before you get in the house, spray or rinse the redfish real good to get any sand or other gunk off the fish. Scale the red outside where the scales can fly around. Clean the dinner fish in the sink by cutting from the anal opening up past the belly to the hard part below the lower jaw. Remove all the inside organs and compost them if you can. Take them outside immediately after dinner or your house will smell foul.
Cut off the soft tail part, and all fins with strong fish-scissors – you should have a pair of fish-scissors like these. With a sharp knife, cut 3-4 inch-long slices into the flesh of the redfish on each side – go about 1/2-inch deep. Prepare a large piece of foil lined with cut garlic, real butter, greens or whatever else you want to flavor your fish. I sometimes used cumin or curry to change it up. Melt and pour, or just place hard slices of butter in the gut of the fish and over the outside so when it melts it will seep into the slices. Wrap up the foil and cinch it in the top center. Poke some holes in the top of the foil – just tiny slices a half-inch long, about four of them to let some steam out. You don’t want it sealed up, and you don’t want all the steam to escape either.
Preheat your oven to 500°F or higher, a very high setting – and set the fish in the foil on a middle or high-middle rack and close it up. Depending on the size of the fish, you’re going to cook the redfish very quickly like this. You’ll also heat your kitchen up to 150 degrees. Ha! But, that’s Vern’s style. I like to cook it quickly because 1.) I hate dry fish that cooks too long and cooks the flavor out. 2.) I am usually starving and want to cook that redfish as fast as humanly possible.
Check the fish in 10 minutes. Remove the pan and open the foil. Watch your face, or the steam will wake you up! Using a fork, just open one of the slices you made and see if it’s cooked through. Better to check the thickest part of the flesh because when that’s cooked – you’re done. If you check a thin portion and it’s done, the thicker parts might not be done yet and you’ll remove it too early from the oven. If done – great! If not, check every 5 minutes until done. It almost always takes just 10-15 minutes unless it’s a huge redfish.
Our “5 Best Redfish Recipes” are here.
MORE Redfish Info Pages
- State Redfish Laws
- Gear – full page of gear used by locals and pros
- 5 Awesome Redfish Recipes – our best recipes!
Redfish Guide Resources
Image credits (top to bottom): Paul Opel at Flikr. Pier catch – Rusty Clark ~ 100K Photos from Flikr.