Best Redfish Bait: Top Picks and How to Use Them

Jan 16, 2023 | 5 minute read Comments
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Reading Time: 5 minutes

Redfish are among the most popular fish in the country. A survey by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that nearly 30% of charters run in the Gulf of Mexico target them. If you’ve got Drum in your sights, we want to make sure you really fill the boat. With that in mind, we’re breaking down the six best Redfish bait choices out there.

Two young anglers in caps and sunglasses, sitting on a fishing boat, holding two big Redfish, with skies and blue water in the background

So, why are Redfish so popular?

They’re tasty, they strike hard when hooked, and can grow ridiculously big. On the other hand, they don’t make such long runs after taking the bait, and they aren’t fussy eaters either.

This makes them perfect for both rookie anglers and pros alike.

A number of factors will affect your success. You have to think about the tide, time of the year, terrain, technique, and of course, or whether it’s live or artificial bait you’re using.

Here’s how you can combine these factors to make sure you’re always using the best Redfish bait or the most productive lures:

an infographic on the best bait and lures to catch redfish ordered by season, technique and location

Job done? Not quite. Read on for more in-depth info on our top 5 bat choices, and when, where, and why each of them work.

The Anatomy of Redfish Fishing

Redfish feed off the bottom. They rely on their sense of smell and sight, and forage the sea floor in search of food. If you take a look at their head, you will see that Redfish have a downward facing mouth. The fish move near the bottom sucking in and gulping the food they find.

This means you will want to present the bait so that the fish can find it. Luckily, Red Drum aren’t choosy. As a rule of thumb, if you’re looking for a live bait choice, use what’s in the water you’re fishing. That should give you the best results, as Redfish will be already accustomed to eating it.

For more experienced anglers, artificial baits are the weapon of choice. Fishing for Redfish this way is more demanding and can be a blast.

As Reds inhabit clear and turbid waters, you will need to adapt to the conditions. There are a hundred and one ways to get a Red to bite, but the key is to adapt to the conditions. You should either find a good vantage point from which you can spot the fish, or test your luck by blind casting for Redfish near the marshes and other turbid waters.

Best Redfish Bait: Our Top Picks and Why

All this general advice is great, but what’s it got to do with your bait choice? Well, getting Redfish to bite is about more than the food itself. You’ve got to consider everything about the water you’re fishing in when you make your choice. We’ve put all of that together and picked the best bait for every situation:

an infographic on the best bait and lures to catch redfish

#6 Topwater Jigs

If you’re fishing the skinny waters, particularly around the Mosquito Lagoon or flats, you can deploy topwater jigs to get a nice Redfish to bite. If you’re fishing grassy waters, you will need to retrieve the lures fast to avoid them getting stuck.

These lures also work for clear waters as you can position them as you like, even near the bottom. Lures like bait busters have a medium sink rate, so you will have enough time to present the bait properly.

#5 Rattling Plugs

When fishing muddy waters, it’s difficult to spot the fish, but it’s also difficult for the fish to spot the bait. As Reds stay close to the bottom when eating, you need to have something to draw their attention.

Rattling plugs are enhanced with a rattling chamber inside which there are metal parts that shake as the bait moves. This causes vibrations below the water surface. It’s these vibrations that the fish pick up and head for when feeding. Particularly effective for Redfish hiding in potholes, plugs with rattles can get you a big guy in no time.

Anglers often wonder what lure color is best for Redfish. Most of the time, it really depends on the conditions where you’re wetting the line. Major manufacturers promote chartreuse, yellow, green, white, and other bright colors.

#4 Squid

Squid is a go-to bait for many predatory fish, and Redfish sure are one of them. You can use smaller cuts or whole squid if they’re small enough. If you’re using longer strips, make sure to wind them around the hook a few times so they don’t dangle too much.

The great thing about squid is that you can use it as a supplement to lures. Using squid as a trailer on a spoon or jig can work wonders when you’re targeting Redfish.

#3 Live Shrimp

Similarly to squid, shrimp are a widely available bait option. More importantly, Redfish almost never ignore them. The trick is to keep the shrimp alive and healthy as long as possible so that they can keep moving in the water and the fish can spot them.

Live shrimp work as a nice supplement when there are no croakers or menhaden around, but the only problem is that the smaller pesky fish can peck them away or unhook them.

#2 Live Crab

Live crab are hands down one of the best baits for catching Bull Reds. Larger Redfish love eating crab and because they have decently large mouths, they can gulp a whole crab without a problem.

The best way to rig your live crab is to take the legs off, and place the hook through one of the leg holes. Guide the hook through the shell of the crab so it’s nice and firm. If you’re targeting smaller Reds, you can also use smaller pieces, but you’ll probably need to take the shell off.

#1 Cut Mullet

Cut mullet is by far the best Redfish bait, according to popular vote. This bait will prove pretty successful, more so if you manage to get fresh mullet and cut it up. Frozen mullet can also work, but it’s risky business as the frozen flesh will turn mushy in the water and might fall off the hook.

Mullet works as an excellent bait choice in a variety of waters. To target bull Reds, use mullet head. If you’re targeting smaller fish, you can use 2-4 inches of mullet body to attract the fish. Don’t use the tail fin as it can tangle your line.

These are our favorite baits when taking on Redfish, but there are a lot more out there.

We now want to turn it over to you.

What do you think is the best Redfish bait? Which is your favorite out of our picks? Let us know by leaving a quick comment below.

Comments (42)
  • Scott

    Oct 16, 2022

    Great read. Here on obx the big Drum runs in the fall coincides with the spot runs. Fresh spot heads here are an excellent choice. Especially for the 45 inch plus ones

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      Andriana

      Oct 19, 2022

      Hi Scott,

      I’m glad you liked the article. Thanks for reading and commenting, local insight is always invaluable in our book.

      All the best!

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      RedCrusher

      Oct 31, 2022

      Great tips guys just came off a fantastic weekend of hunting reds from the surf in the lower Chesapeake bay (Willoughby split) caught several slot reds in zoom super flukes and one big bull on cut lizard fish.

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  • Smoke Wilson

    Oct 10, 2022

    Last night I caught a HUGE flounder while site fishing 🎣 for drum.
    Your tips and information have made me aware of new and interesting techniques. Thanks

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      Lisa

      Oct 10, 2022

      Hi Smoke,

      Thank you so much for reaching out and sharing it with us. This is exactly why we write these articles!

      Lisa

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  • Al G

    Jul 1, 2022

    First off Great forum! I went with guide Jeff Wolda on the South Texas National Seashore. King Ranch behind you and secluded for
    Miles Gulf of Mexico in front. Ok,
    On to bait selection. I have most always use cut mullet. However…Jeff used dead shrimp but with a twist. He peels the shrimp before he puts it on the hook.

    Good luck all and keep a tight line. Al

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  • Beau

    May 23, 2022

    Going down next month to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for some surf fishing. Fresh mullet is always available but my experience is the red fish are out further than I can cast unless I travel two hours to hatterras. So this year I have the new weapon. “Surf fisher” RC remote controlled GPS bait boat that will set bait out 500 yards!! May not get a red but Mr shark is a
    Strong possibility!! Also has a wireless fish finder good to about 120 yards. One button home function. Not trying to advertise but this should be a game changer.

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  • Marlon R

    Nov 2, 2021

    We caught a bunch of bull reds 36inchers using cut bait white trout.
    And caught 33 inch black drums using cut pin fish

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      Rhys

      Nov 2, 2021

      Hi Marlon,

      Thanks for sharing your experience with us. It’s always great to hear about a fellow angler’s success! Where did you manage to land these fish?

      Tight lines,

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  • Joann N

    Oct 22, 2021

    So glad I came across this , so many new options to try , I’ve been using live shrimp and Gulp New Penny

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      Lisa

      Oct 22, 2021

      Hi Joann,

      Thank you for reading. We’re glad you find these options useful! When are you planning your next Redfish trip?

      Tight lines,

      Lisa

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  • Ron

    Jun 19, 2021

    I agree on the mullet for big Bull reds, but there’s nothing like sight fishing and catching them on topwater. I catch most of my reds on paddle tails though. Tight Lines!!!

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      Vule

      Jun 21, 2021

      Hi Ron,

      Thanks for sharing! Sight fishing is truly a special kind of experience. Glad to hear paddle tails are working out for you!

      Tight Lines,

      Vule

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  • Darren C.

    May 30, 2021

    I’m an artificial guy and in my experience there’s nothing better than a shad rap SSR5 in shad color, (been using that bait for over 30 years and caught red fish, specks, white trout, giant black drum and flounder) and a Strike King 1.0 in gizzard shad. They’re both excellent for bass as well.

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      Iva

      May 31, 2021

      Hi Darren,

      That’s awesome. I agree, artificials are fantastic for the species you listed. Thanks for sharing what works best for you, I’m sure it’ll be useful to other Redfish anglers, too!

      Tight lines!

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      Randy

      Sep 22, 2021

      Will they work surf fishing? Heading to ga coast next month for a red fish tournament

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      Randy

      Oct 6, 2021

      Yes but tybee waters are very murky, I’ll be out there for the tournament as well. I live in Savannah and have always had the best luck on mullet, whiting and croker. Tight lines and see you at the tournament

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  • Richard

    Apr 20, 2021

    We used mullet with tails cut off in the backwaters of SC last week. Caught our limit of keepers and released several big fish outside the slot in a short time.

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  • Lee

    Mar 3, 2021

    Good read! I enjoyed it! Most of my success has been mullet heads off the Galveston coast. I have tried crab with and without legs and never had to much luck, so back to the mullet I went and that’s where I have stayed!

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      Sean

      Mar 3, 2021

      Hi Lee,

      Thanks for sharing.

      Hey, if it works – it works! Redfish can develop different tastes in different areas, so they might not go for the same bait wherever you go.

      I’m glad you found your go-to bait, though.

      Hope you catch a few Bulls this year!

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  • Robert Glover

    Jan 23, 2021

    Live mud minnows are hard to beat. Redfish love them plus they are hardier than most any other live bait. Live shrimp are good but almost anything swimming hits them, plus they are delicate and don’t last more than a few casts.

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      Sean

      Jan 25, 2021

      Hi Robert,

      You make a good point.

      Not only are they hardy, mud minnows are pretty abundant bait fish, and they’re easy to rig, too.

      Thanks for sharing and tight lines!

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      Fred Frost

      Feb 10, 2021

      Crawfish has been a go-to bait for me fishing in the lagoon, Here in Central Florida

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      Sean

      Feb 11, 2021

      Hi Fred,

      Thanks for sharing.

      Crawfish can be a great bait for Redfish. As far as I’m aware, the only downside is that they can’t survive in saltwater as long as crab.

      Tight lines!

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  • Leonard Matos

    Nov 23, 2020

    Hmm i prefer the small blue crab alive and moving…the crab triggers an aggressive bite….ive used dead mullet and the reds refuse to ever glance at it let alone eat it…live blue crabs with all legs attached is hands down unquestionably the best for reds,snook,and black drum

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      Sean

      Nov 24, 2020

      Hi Leonard,

      Thanks for sharing.

      Our logic behind cutting crab legs was that the smaller Reds might just chip away at them without you getting a chance to set the hook. But we’ll definitely give it a go – we’re always open to trying out new tactics!

      As for mullet, it might be down to the season. It’s always good to match the bait that’s naturally abundant at the time. On Florida’s Atlantic coast, for example, mullet tend to swarm the shallows between September and October. From what we’ve seen, Reds will rarely say no to a nice mullet during this time.

      Thanks again for sharing, and have a great day!

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  • MIKE

    Oct 13, 2020

    Ladyfish plugs have been really good for me.

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      Sean

      Oct 15, 2020

      Hi Mike,

      Thanks for sharing, that’s definitely worth trying out.

      Tight lines!

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  • Shaun

    Jul 16, 2020

    Spoons? Gold or silver? Mostly surf fishing.

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      Sean

      Jul 17, 2020

      Hi Shaun,

      Thanks for reading.

      Spoons can be a great option for Redfish, especially if you’re fishing grassy waters.

      If we had to pick one, we’d say go for gold, because its much more likely to attract a Red’s attention. If you’re using braid, we’d also advise adding a mono leader. This will not only prevent line twists, but also hide your brightly colored main line.

      I hope this helps.

      Tight lines!

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  • James

    Jul 1, 2019

    Great article learn a lot thank you so much

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      Albert

      Jul 2, 2019

      Hi James,

      That’s great to hear. Thanks for letting us know!

      Tight lines!

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      Heather

      Aug 15, 2020

      Great info!

      The squid pictured in the article is actually an octopus; for what it’s worth.

      Thank you!

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      Albert

      Aug 18, 2020

      Hi Heather,

      Thanks for getting in touch. I’m glad you liked the article.

      We’re currently in the process of revamping our older graphics, and will definitely be going over these ones when we do so.

      All the best!

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  • Gwendolyn Henry

    Jun 28, 2019

    You did a great job in explaining how to choose the best bait for Reds, Because I normally lose interest, but Ive learned a lot, Now fish on. Thanks, Gwen.

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      Albert

      Jun 28, 2019

      Hi Gwen,

      That’s great to hear. Thanks so much for letting us know!

      Tight lines!

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  • Stephen Orr

    May 7, 2019

    I use a plastic jig preferably 4″ paddle tail quarter ounce head fluorocarbon leader

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      Sean

      May 12, 2019

      Thanks for sharing Stephen.

      Absolutely, using a paddle tail seems like a smart choice.

      Some people even like to combine them with spinnerbait.

      Thanks again for sharing, and tight lines out there!

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  • JA A

    Sep 23, 2018

    Very helpful. It was educational.

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  • Jason Kidd

    Sep 10, 2018

    Thank you for very well done and informative tips. I feel that I learned a lot about redfish bait from your post. Definitely I am going to try your advice.

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      Stefan

      Sep 10, 2018

      Hi, Jason, thank you for the feedback. I’m glad you found it useful!
      Is there any other topic you’d like us to feature?

      Tight lines,
      Stefan

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  • Jeff B

    Jul 8, 2018

    A small crab or a big crab with shell pulled off and then broken in half; live small crab is the best being as trash fish for the most part, don’t mess with them!!

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