How to Catch a Red Drum or Redfish

Rusty Clark ~ 100K Photos/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Red drum, commonly called redfish, have a blunt nose, a chin without barbels and a wide undercut mouth. They are a reddish copper and bronze color on their body in dark water, with lighter shades in clear waters. The underside and belly are pure white. They have from one to as many as fifty spots at the base of their tail and very rarely no spots at all.

The redfish (Sciaenops ocellatus), which in some areas is also referred to as a channel bass, has been a popular sportfish and a valuable commercial resource for generations, but they were nearly wiped out a few decades ago when the gastronomic qualities of blackened redfish fillets were widely promoted in the national media. The widespread demand eventually required legislative assistance to save and rebuild the species. Luckily, stocks have since rebounded to the point that saltwater anglers are now once again enjoying banner catches of redfish in lagoons, inlets, and the surf.

Where Can They Be Found

The habitat for redfish ranges from Massachusetts down to Key West and into the Gulf of Mexico; but some of the biggest members of the species tend to be taken from Florida’s southern marshes like the Indian River Lagoon, as well as similar ‘skinny water’ venues found in coastal Louisiana and Texas.

Young fish called juveniles are inshore fish, inhabiting bays, rivers, and creeks. They particularly like creeks with oyster beds. They migrate out of the estuaries when they reach about four years of age and about thirty inches in length. They then join the spawning population offshore.

Sight fishing the shallows is one of the most effective ways to locate these fish. Shell and mud flats at the mouths of bays and bayous are prime spots once the water temperature gets up into the mid 50’s or warmer, which is when redfish are drawn in to feed upon the influx of mullet and other baitfish that converge on these areas as the seasons change. This is when appropriately colored plastic grubs or swimbaits come into their own as particularly useful tools for taking redfish. And, since they can often be cast out and retrieved in a more beguiling manner than their natural counterpart, they can sometimes even out fish a live bait.


Most states regulate the size limits with a slot and keepers must be over fourteen inches long and can be as long as 27 inches long. This varies by state - so check your own location. Reds can grow to almost 100 pounds, although state records are somewhat smaller than that.


Light to medium spinning or casting tackle with fifteen to twenty-pound test line is sufficient for most redfish applications. Reds will readily hit artificials such as plastic grubs and topwater​ but are more frequently caught using live or dead bait. Terminal tackle consists of a standard bottom fishing rig with sinker, swivel, leader and 5/0 hook


Artificial baits include Bass Assassin swim-tail grubs in chartreuse or electric chicken colors. Any small to medium topwater plug that causes a commotion will attract reds early and late in the day. Live bait includes shrimp, mud minnows, finger mullet, and pogies. Dead bait can be the best choice at times. Any cut slab of a filet from mullet, croaker, pinfish, etc., will work.

The most deadly technique for targeting redfish with live shrimp is with a popping cork on a fluorocarbon leader. But if you do not happen to have live shrimp aboard, there are a few good shrimp lures on the market like those made by Vuduand DOA which also work well when properly presented.

No matter what you are using for bait, make sure that it matches the type of forage that is available at the time you plan to fish. As a veteran fly angler might suggest, ‘match the hatch’. Once you find a good location for catching redfish, do not overfish it. Give things a chance to regenerate by always seeking out new areas, of which there are many. You never know when one of them might turn into your new ‘secret spot’.