How to Fish for Redfish: The Complete Guide

Oct 11, 2023 | 9 minute read Comments
Reading Time: 9 minutes

Ask inshore anglers across the US to name their favorite target fish, and there’s one answer that’ll keep cropping up, time and time again: “Redfish.” Why? Well, although these members of the Drum family – Red Drum – aren’t the flashiest fighters, they’re stubborn, determined, make for good table fare, and can be hooked in a variety of ways, all without venturing far from shore. Because of this, Redfish fishing is an excellent opportunity for new and experienced anglers alike.

A male angler holding a large Redfish caught in Georgia's saltwater marshes.

Despite the name, Redfish are actually a coppery-golden color. They possess one very distinctive characteristic – each fish has at least one black spot on its tail. Depending on when and where you’re fishing, you could encounter anything from “puppy drums” (juvenile Reds that are perfect for junior anglers!), to slot-size species and those big bold Bull Reds. Below, we’ve covered everything you need to know about where, when, and how you can go Redfish fishing. Let’s dive in…

Where to Find Redfish

Redfish inhabit both the US’s Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, as well as brackish creeks, rivers, and lagoons. They’re mainly concentrated in the US’s southern states bordering the Gulf of Mexico, as well as Florida’s Atlantic Coast.

These fish are motivated by two driving factors: food and protection. First things first, look for structure. We’re talking about anything from submerged or exposed grass, to oyster beds, to jetties, to docks, and rocks. Their love for a variety of structure is why you’re just as likely to encounter Reds in deeper channels and estuaries as you are in mangroves and grass flats.

Not only do these types of structure offer Redfish protection from predators, but they also possess their own special ecosystems. These are bursting with life, such as mullet, crab, and shrimp, which Reds love to feed on. Basically, structure means life, and where there’s life, there’s bait fish. And where there’s bait fish? There’s Redfish.

When to Go Redfish Fishing

Although Redfish aren’t necessarily a migratory species, they do move depending on the season. They’re opportunistic feeders, after all, and will travel to make sure they stay fed!

A young girl holding a Redfish, caught while fishing in Bonita Springs area.

Winter is all about survival, avoiding predators, and seeking out mild temperatures. Reds will push up in shallow flats and seek out creeks with dark muddy bottoms that hold heat. They also school up, which means that if one fish bites, it tends to get the whole gang going! Use slow-moving, scented baits to avoid spooking them.

The most important aspect of Redfish fishing in the spring is picking your days wisely. Warmer days mean your targets are more active and enticed to feed, as mullet and shrimp start flooding the waters. Redfish predators are distracted by bigger prey, which means these fish are more comfortable in moving around and feeding aggressively. Popping corks and topwater lures are especially effective during this season.

Again, summer Redfish fishing involves attention to detail when it comes to the weather. Although Reds are active during summer, the hotter months (usually July and August) see them moving to deeper waters, around docks and jetties, to escape the heat. If you’re fishing on an especially hot day, hit these locations rather than open flats with less coverage.

There’s only one thing to say about fall Redfish fishing: on the whole, it’s fantastic. Reds know winter is coming, so they’re in a race against time to pack on the pounds. They go into a crazy feeding frenzy and push up in the shallows, gorging themselves on huge shrimp. Florida’s East Coast is home to the mullet run, usually in September or October.

Redfish Bait and Lures

As we’ve mentioned above, Redfish are opportunistic feeders who like to feast on mullet, shrimp, crabs, and other bait fish. They bottom feed using their sense of sight and touch, as well as their downturned mouths, to identify tasty prey through a “vacuuming” technique.

A close-up of a Redfish with a large fishing lure in its mouth

Although they aren’t the pickiest eaters, you can use the time of year and habitat you’re fishing in to help you really narrow down your Redfish bait choice. You’ll also want to take into consideration the type of water you’re fishing in. These factors will help you determine what type of bait to use, and how to present it. For in-depth advice, you can check out our guide to the best Redfish bait and how to use it.

When it comes to the basics, you can never go wrong when matching your chosen bait to what’s already living in your fishery. This is why live bait is a great choice for beginners. In summer and fall, crabs and shrimp are top of the list, whereas winter calls for mullet and menhaden.

Fishing with artificials is also a popular way to target Reds. Skinny rivers and creeks are great locations to test out topwater jigs, which also work well in grassy areas. Rattling plugs grab the attention of Reds in murkier waters, as do popping corks. The color of your lure again depends on your fishery. Anglers recommend having a selection of yellow, green, white, and other bright colors to hand. Keep in mind that Redfish hunt using their sense of smell, so make sure to scent your lures using oils.

Redfish Fishing Tackle

Already familiar with inshore fishing? Then you’ll be pleased to know that Redfish fishing gear isn’t really different from what you’re already working with. A standard 7′ medium or medium-heavy spinning or casting rod, paired with a 3000 to 4000 size reel, is a common setup. It’s a great option for those of you who are just getting started, too.

A woman holding a Redfish on a boat while fishing with her son in Matagorda Bay

In most scenarios, you’ll be spooling your reel with a 10 lb braided line paired with a 20 lb leader. Of course, if you’re going after bigger Redfish, fishing around sharp structure, or fishing in very clear waters, you’ll want to adapt your setup to fit your situation.

Finding the right tackle can take some time and require some experimentation. Use the knowledge of local anglers and bait and tackle shops in your area. There’s nothing quite like personal recommendations and tips when it comes to figuring your setup out!

Common Redfish Rigs

Redfish can thrive in waters of different depths, clarity, and salinity. This means there’s way more than one way to bait your line for them. They’re bottom feeders, which means you’ll want to keep your bait close to the ground. Fishing in shallow flats? A smaller jighead usually weighing 1/8 of an ounce is capable of hitting the bottom of your fishery. In deeper pockets of water, a 3/8 oz jighead will do the job.

Reds will also cruise around looking for food. A stationary rig is especially effective, as it allows them to seek out your bait in a natural way. A common inshore saltwater setup is an adaptation of the Carolina Rig. Thread your main line through the hole in an egg sinker, then thread a small plastic bead onto your main line. Finally, tie a swivel to your main line, and attach 6–12 inches of leader to your jighead, hook, or lure. Then you’re ready to go!

Another setup that works well in a variety of waters is a popping cork rig, as shown in the video below:

The noise created by a popping cork mimics the sound of a bustling school of bait fish. This is especially effective at catching Redfish’s attention during the fall months, when they’re ready for a feeding frenzy.

How to Catch Redfish

There are many ways to target Redfish. Experienced anglers often say that the thrill of fishing for them doesn’t just come from hooking them. It’s also all about the hunt, and getting to know the fish’s patterns. Reds are opportunistic feeders that strike a lot of bait, but they can also be skittish. This is especially common in crystal clear waters. You’ll generally want to cast just in front of your target fish, rather than directly on top of it.

This ability to spook easily is why sight fishing for Reds is so popular. You rely less on “blind casting,” which is when you drop your line in the water without knowing what size of fish you’re targeting, or what works best (or not!) for it. Although there are no strict rules when it comes to sight fishing, you’ll want to pay attention to the weather. A bright, still day makes for some ideal sight fishing, as well as clear water that’s slightly run through with brown.

A captain and a woman sit smiling on a charter boat holding a Redfish

Redfish tend to create a “V”-shaped wake on the watertops. They also “tail” during warmer months. This is when they bury their heads in the ground and their tails slice through the water. When you’ve spotted your Redfish, you’ll want to cast your lure or bait around three feet ahead of it.

When your fish approaches your bait, twitch it slightly. Your lure will look as if it’s naturally reacting to the presence of a predator, just like a real bait fish would do. In fact, twitching, hopping, and “stop-and-going” your bait will attract Redfish and get them riled up. Feel free to play around with different presentations. As with most aspects of fishing, it’s all about getting to grips with your chosen fishery and trying out new techniques to see what works for you.

Top Redfish Fishing Locations

There’s one location that stands head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to Redfish fishing: Florida. Boasting access to both the Atlantic and Gulf, this state is packed full of flats, mangroves, marshes, lagoons, and coastal waters. Although most Redfish fisheries are in Florida, they’re also distributed throughout other Gulf states. Below, we’ve covered some of our favorite hotspots.

Florida’s Atlantic Coast

A man holds a large Redfish with Mosquito Lagoon behind him
A man holds a Redfish on Mosquito Lagoon
  • Mosquito Lagoon: Part of the Indian River Lagoon System. This marshy waterway boasts the title “Redfish Capital of the World,” thanks to the sheer number of fish that inhabit it. It’s also active year-round, with Reds being caught in the depths of winter as well as the heights of summer.
  • Jupiter: Yes, the Redfish fishing here is just as out-of-this-world as the city’s name suggests. You have access to Jupiter Inlet, the Intracoastal Waterway, and the Loxahatchee River all on your doorstep. Winters here are mild, too, meaning you can catch Reds year-round.
  • Cocoa Beach: Cocoa Beach is located right near the prolific inshore waterways of the Banana River and greater Indian River Lagoon System. It also boasts Redfish-filled inshore coastal waters, as well as access to the incredible Thousand Islands. This collection of mangrove islands holds plenty of lush natural life that Reds feed on.

Florida’s Gulf Coast

An aerial view of Naples, Florida
Naples, Florida
  • Destin: Although famous for its incredible offshore fishing, don’t overlook Destin’s Redfish fishing opportunities. Head out on the shallow waters of Choctawatchee Bay, and you could sink your hook into Redfish all throughout the year.
  • Tampa Bay: Redfish inhabit Tampa Bay’s prolific waters year-round, with especially high populations appearing in March as they follow the mullet run. The number of Reds here peaks again in September, when they return to these waters to spawn.
  • Naples: Naples is made up of mangroves, shallow flats, and inland canals, so it’s fair to say it’s a real Redfish haven! It also boasts access to nearby fisheries such as the Ten Thousand Islands and Marco Island, both of which hold huge numbers of Redfish year-round.

The Gulf States

An aerial view of Mobile Bay, Alabama
Mobile Bay, Alabama
  • New Orleans, Louisiana: The “Big Easy” is packed full of bayous, marshes, and estuaries, all of which make up the perfect habitat for Redfish. Thanks to its warm, humid climate, you’ll be able to get your fish on year-round, with even the winter months boasting Bull Reds for the catching.
  • Orange Beach, Alabama: Orange Beach is a prolific Redfish fishery for one reason – the sheer abundance of shallow waters that surround it. You have Mobile Bay to the west and Perdido Bay to the east, a whole host of lagoons and bayous, and finally the shallow inshore waters of the Gulf itself. All of them are brimming with Redfish.
  • Port O’Connor, Texas: Port O’Connor is perfectly positioned right between the famous Matagorda Bay and the Espiritu Santo Bay, with Port Aransas and the Corpus Christi Bay lying just west of the port itself. As you might have guessed, this means there’s a huge number of inshore fisheries to choose from, with Redfish inhabiting each and every one.

Redfish Fishing: Top of the Inshore Fishing Target List!

A smiling angler holding a Redfish aboard a skiff in the Mosquito Lagoon.

When it comes to inshore fishing, you can’t beat Redfish. Their adaptability, aggressiveness, and willingness to bite makes them the perfect target for anglers of all ages and skill levels. There’s also nothing quite like spotting that iconic black tail dot slicing through your chosen fishery to get your pulse going. The only thing that trumps it is feeling the bite of a Redfish on the end of your line! Now that you know how, when, and where to go Redfish fishing, it’s time to experience the magic for yourself.

Have you ever been Redfish fishing? Any favorite rigs or setups to share with us? Let us know in the comments below. We love hearing from you!

Author profile picture

Katie is a Philosophy graduate from the UK, and now she spends her time asking (and answering!) the important questions, such as: What, exactly, are the best ways to bait a hook for Redfish? She first cast a line in Florida as a teenager, and it took her a while to circle back to angling as a hobby, but now she's hooked. Her personal fishing highlight? Reeling in a rare Golden Trevally while cruising the deep waters off the United Arab Emirates!

Comments (3)

Darrin Scott

Nov 27, 2023

I went this evening and caught 4. All on Berkeley Gulp Shrimp and a jighead

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Nov 25, 2023

What about North Carolina? Neuse river and Pamlico Sound are destinations for bull reds. The world record was caught in the Outer Banks. North Carolina cannot be left out of the redfish discussion

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    Nov 27, 2023

    Hi Steven,

    Rhys here from FishingBooker. I absolutely agree that North Carolina – and the sounds separating the OBX from the mainland – provides some of the best places in the country for Redfish. However, we’d need an entire encyclopedia to list all the great spots where you can catch them! But, hey, it’s good we have the comments section to keep adding to the list for first-timers or newcomers!

    Tight lines,

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