Redfish, spot tail bass or just reds whatever you call them redfish are one of the East Coast’s most popular gamefish species. The reasons for this popularity include its wide availability, ease with which they can be targeted and the fact that they are excellent table fare. If you have never chased your own redfish it should be at the top of your bucket list, one trip and you will find reds turning your green with envy.
Redfish are a saltwater gamefish found in abundance along the East Coast from Massachusetts to Florida, although one of the most popular areas with enthusiasts is the waters surrounding the Gulf of Mexico. Fishing is relatively uncomplicated and generally involves the use of basic saltwater gear, natural baits common to the area fished or artificial lures which imitate these baits. When fishing redfish basic equipment, baits/lures and techniques are generally broken down into two methods, based on where the angler is fishing – either inshore or offshore.
Inshore redfish are found in most saltwater estuaries and shallow flats. When selecting a possible location focus on the mouths of estuaries or their tributaries near larger bodies of water or shallow flats near such sites. Pay special attention to those areas which offer protection from storms or harsh weather conditions and provide cover from which redfish can ambush unsuspecting prey. If grass is available, especially on tidal flats, this should be your first target.
Offshore reds are often larger in size than those found inshore and are commonly referred to as “bulls”. These monsters are most frequently found during the spawn and can easily reach more than 30lbs in weight. Due to the lack of grass flats or similar habitat offshore redfish adapt by taking advantage of what they can find both natural and man-made. Narrow your search by focusing on deeper trenches, wreck sites or even around massive oil rigs. Trolling is another excellent means of finding reds and can also be very productive whether used to simply locate schools before switching to another tactic or as you final means of catching them.
Regardless of where you find yourself fishing targeting redfish is not unlike targeting any other species, find bait or lure that matches what they are looking for and give it to them. Redfish are fairly ready eaters and will happily devour almost anything you offer them, but there are a few favorites which find themselves at the top of the menu. Live shrimp, crabs, minnow and small mullet are some of these favorites and will be found in most anglers’ bait buckets. If fishing artificial lures try to select ones which mimic these natural baits as close as possible in terms of size, shape, color and action. Although many anglers believe that natural baits are the best choice and produce more fish than their artificial twins lures do have a place in your redfish arsenal. Not only are lures easier to transport, cheaper ( in the long run) and require less care they are also more durable , which makes them a better choice when trying to cover large areas via repeated cast & retrieve method.
Rigging your live bait is similar whether inshore or offshore and one of the simplest aspects of redfish fishing.
- First, select an appropriate rod/reel combination. A medium weight rod will work in either situation, although inshore anglers facing smaller schooling fish can get away with a light/medium set up.
- Second, outfit your reel with an appropriate amount of 30 lb test braided line. Braided line is not required and many fish have been taken on monofilament, but using braided line allows you to upgrade the strength level without sacrificing reel space ( 20lb braided has a diameter similar to 8lb mono). This will also allow you to use one reel for both inshore and offshore outings.
- Third, select your preferred bait and rig so it can either swim freely or suspended beneath a float or cork. This second method is especially popular and productive if you have been finding fish at a particular depth and want to repeatedly offer your bait in a consistent method. If using lures you can either cast & retrieve or suspend below the same float set up as used with live bait. Spoons, jigs and plugs can also produce large bulls during a feeding period.
When fishing a new area you have two choices: one, run and gun to likely areas tossing spoons into likely locations and moving on until you find fish or two, look to nature for the answers by following the birds or looking under rocks.
Yes, follow the birds. Old school saltwater anglers know that birds are a fisherman’s compass and often show you the way to hungry fish by showing your where to find the baitfish they (and the birds) are feeding on. Large schools of gamefish chasing baitfish will often force those baitfish into schools and near the surface. As the baitfish near the surface other predators, including birds, are drawn to the area as well – signaling other predators known as anglers where to go. Once a school of baitfish have been located rig a stout rod with heavy jigs, 1 ounce will do it, and tip with live bait or lure of the same species as the fleeing baitfish. Cast directly into the school and let the jig sink to the bottom, which imitates a wounded baitfish falling out of the school. If no strikes are detected on the initial fall bounce the jig and let settle before repeating. While many of the redfish will be caught up in the feeding frenzy and striking out at the larger school of baitfish others will be laying below waiting for the easier meal, which your jig will offer.
Rocks are normally a no no for boaters, even anglers looking to hook up. But there is a time and place for everything and when you are in search of large bull red is the time to hit the rocks. As fall approaches redfish typically seek out the cover and protection offered by jetties and similar rocky formations. So should you. Work a deep diving plug through the offshore areas which are between 10-18 feet in depth. As you search try to identify any isolated rock formations, either natural or the result of debris falling loose of the main structure, and focus on these spots.
Before long you will be an old hand at finding reds and a pro at catching them. Once this happens you may wonder why you ever fished for anything else.
Good luck, good fishing!