So, I am planning a fishing trip to the Florida Keys, and I would like to target redfish while on the trip. I have caught a few in the past but was never really targeting them specifically. This article will include my findings from researching how exactly to target and how to catch redfish, which are one of the most sought-after saltwater fish species.
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What is a Redfish?
First things first, how do we identify a redfish? What features are specific to these fish, and how do we know for sure that we are keeping the correct fish once caught?
Redfish are not necessarily red. They are traditionally bronze or tan-colored fish with a white belly. Their most distinct markings are a black spot just in front of their tails. This spot is generally a circle but can be uniquely shaped. Catching a redfish with unique or multiple black spots makes for a great photo opportunity.
What Do I Need for Redfish Fishing?
Pursuing redfish can be done a few different ways. No method is right or wrong; it is more about what equipment is available to you. Redfish can be caught from shore with a surf fishing method, but the more recognizable method is from a fishing boat.
Fishing with conventional gear or a fly rod are both subcategories of boat-style fishing—these fish are fun to catch in any capacity. Let's look at the gear required for each method and break down what it takes to rig lines for each.
Rods and Reels
For surfcasting finesse-style, redfish rods are long and strong. They usually run about 12 feet long and are heavy-duty for casting large weights and chunk bait into the surf. The fight is more of a drag in this style of fishing because the tackle is so heavy. Cranking in the fish and a heavy 3 ounce, or more, weight takes a size 6500 reel or larger.
For conventional casting from a boat, rods are smaller. A 7-8 foot rod works well for casting to reds. This provides the angler with plenty of backbone to cast chunk bait or lures. It also makes fighting a redfish sporty and a little more complicated than just dragging a fish in. Reels for this scenario can be any size above 35.
Fly fishing for reds is almost magical. Using an 8 weight rod and reel with a fly gives anglers the lightest, most personal relationship with a redfish. This method is linked to sight fishing and surface bites in shallow water. These encounters involve sneaking up on the fish in skinny water, making it much more difficult than the other methods discussed.
Depending on the season and method you plan to use for catching redfish, you will want to pick your bait accordingly. Redfish are not the pickiest eaters, so a variety of baits will do the trick.
When surf fishing for redfish, you will want to use shrimp or cut mullet more often than not. We have an entire article on surf fishing and rigging techniques, so be sure to visit that! Generally though, casting out a "high-low" style rig with a 3 ounce plus weight and two hooks about a foot apart above the weight works well for redfish. I would put a cut mullet chunk bait on one of the hooks and a shrimp on the other. This way, whichever type of bait you catch the first redfish on can be used across all of your rods to increase the chances of catching more fish.
Conventional gear casting from a boat or waders opens the door to using everything from cut baits to jigs, to rattle tube baits. You can cast the chunk baits and let them sit, or you can cast the artificial lures over and over until you have caught a limit of redfish, or your arm has fallen off.
Fly fishing limits bait choices to more finesse-style presentations. You will most likely be slithering into tight spots and trying not to spook fish, so throwing anything large or heavy is out of the question. For this style of gear, try and use a natural imitation fly that looks similar to the bugs you see flying around the flats. Redfish love to feed on insects that have mistakenly hit the surface of the water, which is exactly what you need to imitate. The colors of these flies and jigs will change based on local forage, so there is no definitive answer to the question of what color bait do redfish like the most.
Hooks, Sinkers, and Terminal Tackle
Again, each method requires a unique tackle. Surfcasting requires the most heavy-duty version. Sinkers will normally be 3 ounces or more, tied to a leader using a swivel, with large circle hooks. That leader will be tied to a heavy mainline with a swivel as well. The hardware between line segments gives the bait and rigging the freedom to slosh around in the surf without tangling the line.
Conventional gear will be a bit lighter, but you should still use a swivel between your mainline and leader material.
Fly fishing does not require terminal tackle and encourages uni knots and other forms of connecting knots between mainlines and leaders.
Line and Leaders
Because we have articles that break down the best rigging setups for every scenario, I will keep this section brief.
Surf fishing will require strong main lines of around 50-80lb test. The terminal tackle should be rated for the same, and the leader material should be either fluorocarbon or monofilament in the form of 50-80lb. This will allow you to cast large heavyweights and bait.
Conventional gear can be a bit lighter, but I would stick to braid for mainline in 50lb test, with a leader in the same range tied from fluorocarbon. This leader material is invisible underwater, so I see it as a necessity.
Fly fishing allows you to use everything from floating or sinking fly line with a fluorocarbon leader, or even using monofilament as your mainline on a center pin fly reel. This requires some specific knowledge of fly fishing tackle, so check out that article for more specific information.
Where to Catch Redfish?
1. Catching Redfish in Florida
Catching redfish in Florida is a way of life for some anglers. They use numerous methods to fish for reds ranging from 10-50lbs. Surfcasting along any of the beaches in Florida proves fruitful. Casting in the flats is the most common place to find redfish anglers. These fishermen, like the ones who fish near oyster bars and grass flats in Jacksonville, use low-profile boats to find skinny water amongst the grass and tidal pools. The redfish are known for feeding nearer to the bottom in the water column, so getting to a place where the bottom and the surface are closer together gives anglers a better chance to spot fish and cast to them.
2. Catching Redfish in North Carolina
I have a bit of experience surf fishing for redfish in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We fished using large surfcasting rods and chunk baits. Casting into the troughs just outside the wave breaks worked best. The fish patrol these troughs looking for bait and anything else they can gobble up.
3. Catching Redfish in South Carolina
South Carolina is where I have had experience catching redfish. Fishing off the coast in Charleston in late summer and early fall is what worked best for me. The large fish head offshore throughout the year and come back to the nearshore waters during this season. Fishing by bay boat, we scanned the bay waters for marks on the fish finder. When we found what we were targeting, we dropped chunk baits and shrimp to the bottom and wait. This method produced large 40 inches plus-sized fish.
4. Catching Redfish in Louisiana
Why do you head to the marshes of Louisiana? To eat shrimp, the same reason redfish go to a Louisiana marsh. The methods here vary, but the baits usually stay the same. Due to the natural abundance of shrimp in the marshes, they make the perfect redfish bait. Casting out a line with live or dead shrimp and waiting for the bite works well for hooking the reds down here.
5. Catching Redfish in Texas
Texas is a hotspot for catching redfish. Galveston makes the perfect inshore or offshore fishing destination. You can chase redfish from the beaches or by boat. All gear and bait options are fair game in this location. For other bodies of water such as Calaveras Lake, the same methods we use in the North-East for lake trout are employed. Using downriggers to troll for the freshwater, stocked redfish is the preferred method.
How to Catch & Fish For Redfish
1. Vary Your Live Bait Choices With the Season
We discussed giving the fish options with a “high-low” rig. This is important because if you use a single bait that the redfish are not interested in, you will not get bit and think you are fishing in the wrong place. Giving a couple of options allows the fish to choose, and you can adjust bait accordingly on other rigs after you find what the fish enjoy.
2. Use High-Quality Circle Hooks
Circle hooks are another topic we have discussed in the surf fishing article. The advantage of a circle hook is the ability of that hook to set in the mouth of a fish on its own. These require no jerk or tension from the angler to set the hook. The fish are given the ability to run after taking the bait with a circle hook.
3. Work Shallow Cover and Structure
This is fundamental for almost any sort of fishing. Fish like to hide and hunt near structures or grasses. The structure protects the large fish from birds while giving them ample bait to eat. Work these areas with your bait, and the likelihood of getting bit increases dramatically.
4. Fish the Tides
All bait and predatory fish are subjects to the tides. Redfish are known to feed on the falling tides. When the tide goes out, it pulls with it the bait and forages from shorelines. It also gives less real estate for baitfish or shrimp to hide from the redfish. Anglers take advantage of sight-fishing reds in these shallow waters.
5. Add Soft Plastics to Your Redfish Arsenal
Soft plastics are great for casting the shallows when redfish are feeding. Using conventional casting tackle to throw soft plastics out in front of feeding shallow water and retrieving them across the redfish would be the best method for this style of bait.
Catching Redfish in the Summertime
Catching Redfish at Night
Fishing for redfish at night is one of the most fun versions of the sport. The trick here is to use fresh, lively bait. Using lights is a widely adopted technique. Lights are used not only to spot fish and bait but attract them as well. Where the bait is, you will find the redfish feeding. Setup on the bait, and you should have a good chance of catching.
People Also Ask (FAQs)
What size hook is best for redfish?
Using a circle hook for redfish is vitally important. A hook in sizes 1/0-3/0 will work well. This provides the strength necessary to wrangle one of these large game fish.
Why do redfish have spots?
The tail spots on a redfish are meant to be a distraction for predatory fish looking to prey on a redfish. It is easier for a redfish to escape an attack from the tail. Fish attack from the head side of prey so that the spines of the meal lay flat upon entering the throat of the predator. If a larger fish tried to eat a redfish from the tail, the fish would be able to escape easily.
What is the biggest redfish ever caught?
The world record redfish was recorded at about 94 pounds. This was taken on conventional gear and had been caught on mullet. The fight to land the record redfish was over an hour long.
How long does a redfish live?
Redfish can live up to 60 years! The fish reach adulthood in 3-5 years but will grow for the duration of their lives. Male fish grow to about 28 inches, and females grow a bit larger to roughly 33 inches to be considered mature.
Redfish are one of the most sought-after gamefish for good reason. They are large and beautiful but also put up a great fight. The fish are great to eat, and spending time with friends pursuing them is as much fun as the previously described reasons.