Redfish, also known as Red Drum, Puppy Drum, channel bass, or Bull Reds roam the surf zones of the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts at various times of the year. Known for their hard fighting and great table fare, the Redfish is a highly sought after game fish. If you plan a trip to the beach, you should try your hand at surf fishing for Redfish.
What is a Redfish?
Redfish or Red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus) are a dark red or bronze color on the back, and white on the belly. When large schools of redfish gather, they can turn the water red or copper colored. The red drum has a characteristic black spot near the tail, some fish will have multiple spots. Redfish will typically reach about 6-8 lbs by their third year. The record for largest red fish is just over 94 lb and was caught in 1984 on Hatteras Island. Red fish make a croaking or drumming sound when distressed.
Red fish are sight feeders, but they also use their sense of smell and touch to forage along the bottom flushing out shrimp, crabs, and other prey. Adult Redfish feed primarily on shrimp, crabs, and mullet in the summer and fall. During the spring, they prefer pinfish, mullet, menhaden, mud minnows, but will not turn down an easy shrimp dinner. 😉
Juvenile redfish (puppy drum or rat reds) frequent back bays and marsh areas. Mature fish and the oversized “Bull” Reds prefer structure. Both natural and man made. Jetties, off shore oil rigs, wrecks, and reefs will all hold redfish. They also frequent the beach front searching for a meal.
When to Catch Redfish from the Surf?
Redfish can be found in the surf year round, but there are times that they are more numerous. When they begin moving offshore to spawn, in the later summer and early fall, mature “bull” reds can be found in and around passes between the bays and open ocean. The finger mullet migration is usually underway about this time as well and the Redfish will be feeding on them heavily.
In the spring and summer months smaller mature (slot 20-28 inch) fish will be present in the surf. Fun to catch and great on the table, these fish are highly sought after. Summer is peak beach going season, so there will be more people fishing for redfish as well.
Where to Find Redfish in the Surf?
Redfish roam all up and down the beach. In the late summer early fall spawning season, they will be found in greater numbers near passes and jetties. The will also be feeding on the schools of migrating finger mullet along the beach front. Then its as simple as find the bait, find the fish.
During the spring and summer, the redfish will still be looking for food, so locating bait concentrations in the surf is always a good place to start. Look for diving birds and you’ll find bait. Watch the water and waves for sign of bait fish swimming or jumping in the surf.
Deeper Guts close to shore will hold redfish and allow them to pursue their along the beach front. Wash outs or rips in the sand bars where water flows across the sandbar and back offshore are good places to find hungry reds as well. Predators like to hang out on the back side of the sandbar and wait for the outgoing rip current to pull bait to them.
How to Surf Fish for Redfish?
Surf fishing for Redfish can be fun and challenging. Reds are opportunistic feeders and will take a variety of natural and artificial baits. A very hard fighting fish, they will put your tackle and strength to the test. A good rule of thumb is ” find the bait, and you’ll find the fish”. Randy Meyers has a good introductory course on surf fishing that will give you some great tips and techniques.
Find a good deep gut with some bait activity present and set up your long rods with live or cut mullet and wait for that big bite. Standard surf rig with a spider weight and circle hook will work for fishing natural baits. If mullet aren’t available, Redfish love fresh blue crabs cut in half with claws removed. Of course, shrimp will always work, but you will have to deal with the bait robbers and other non target species. I have an article you can check out on the best baits for surf fishing.
If you find a washout in the sandbar, cast your bait setup just outside the edge of the rip current on the back side of the sandbar. The fish will hang out here waiting for the current to bring them and easy meal. Its best to put out several rods with a variety of bait offerings to see what gets the Reds attention.
You can target these same areas with lures. Soft plastic mullet or shrimp imitations work well and the old stand by Gold spoon is also a good choice. Cast across the deep gut and onto the sandbar then drag your lure to the edge of the bar and let it fall into the gut. Often the Redfish will be cruising this edge waiting for the waves breaking on the bar to wash prey over the edge where they wait in ambush.
Fishing the washouts is similar with lures. Cast out into the rip current and let it drag your lure across the sandbar and swing to the edge of the rip where the predators will be waiting for easy prey. You will want to work both sides of the wash out and the back side of the sandbar where the rip current cuts through. If you don’t have any luck, move on down the beach to the next likely looking spot. Redfish will move up and down the beach so if you don’t find them, keep moving.
Grab Your Gear and Go Fishing
Find a beach, check with the local tackle and bait shops, get on some local fishing message boards and you will get a good idea when and where the Redfish are to found. Then its just a matter of loading up and getting your bait in the water. Surf Fishing for Redfish is great sport and fresh fillets on the grill with a little lemon and butter while watching the waves and the sunset is what memories are made of.
Remember, please try to leave the beach cleaner than you found it. Always enjoy the journey, be safe, good luck and good fishing.