One reason that targeting redfish is usually considered a fall sport is the fish are simply easier to pattern at that time. Knowing what the fish eat and the conditions they seek makes finding them a relatively easy proposition. Often that involves looking for finger mullet that are migrating or finding black mud flats that retain the sun’s heat as the weather begins cooling.
Though the factors are a bit different, you can apply the same equation to May redfish. The key is still looking for the food and knowing where the red drum prefer to hang out at this time of year.
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But even before tackling those questions, there’s another thing to consider. What size redfish is it you want to catch? Depending on your quarry, the search can take very different directions.
Chasing redfish along the coast is really two quests in one. You can choose to catch a trophy-sized big “bull” red, or try for numbers of the smaller “puppy” or “rat” reds. It is extremely rare that you encounter both in the same location and feeding similarly.
LOOKING FOR THE BIG BOYS
Actually, calling these fish “big boys” or “bulls” is a misnomer. Invariably, the giant redfish are the females. As a rule of thumb, any red you catch that is more than 33 inches is most likely a female.
These big fish have a quite different annual travel itinerary from their smaller counterparts. After redfish mature at about four years old, they abandon the shallow, inshore waters, moving out to open water off the beaches. They spend the fall and winter months lurking on reefs, usually several miles offshore.
As the weather begins to warm in the spring, these fish begin moving back toward shore. It is knowing exactly where they are headed that is the key to finding them in May.
The kind of situation that the big redfish prefer is a sandbar just offshore that has deeper water on either side of it. A good current ripping over the bar makes the spot even more appealing to the big reds. Fortunately, since such conditions also lead to cloudy to muddy water, the reds don’t mind feeding in such water conditions.
Reds move up on top of these sandbars as the tide rises, and have even been known to get so shallow as to have their backs out of the water! Around the time of the full moon is particularly good for finding reds on top of the bars. This month that takes place on May 21.
If you can locate bars near the mouth of an inlet, you also have found an even better place for attracting bull reds. Bait sucked out of inlets by falling tides add to the appeal of this situation.
Once you find the bull reds, the next problem is getting them to bite. The old adage that a big bait catches the big fish definitely holds true here. When you target reds that weigh from 20 up to 50 pounds each, you need to offer them a real mouthful.
In most instances, the big reds are not often taken on artificial lures. Natural baits are a much better bet for enticing them. A common perception is that the best bait for big reds is either a half or whole blue crab.
While all redfish are fond of crustaceans, blue crabs are not always easy to obtain and they are not the only baits that work well for these fish. Live menhaden (often called pogies) or chunks of cut mullet can work just as well for catching big redfish.
Regardless of which bait for which you opt for, keeping it on the bottom is necessary for the most success.
When a bull red takes the bait, you had better have some stout equipment if you hope to get the fish to shore or the boat. Boat rods with baitcast reels and 20-pound-test line or heavier are the ticket from a boat. From the sand you need a long surfcasting rod, big spin or baitcast reel and plenty of heavyweight line.
Inshore Light Tackle
When you are looking for a lot of action, your search will be more productive if you look inshore for some smaller redfish. Of course, smaller is a bit subjective in this usage. We’re actually talking about fish running from 14 inches and weighing not much more than a pound, right on up to 36-inchers that may approach the 15-pound mark.
These smaller reds usually travel in schools and stay in the bays, creeks, rivers and marshes along the shore. But, much like their older cousins offshore, these fish also are moving to new areas in the month of May. This period, along with October and November, put the reds in the easiest places to find each year.
In winter inshore reds gravitate toward shallow, black mud flats back in the marshes. These flats hold what heat the sun generates in the colder months providing a degree or two more of warmth in the water. During summer the reds also get back deep in marsh ponds due to higher tide levels. In both instances, the fish are hard to reach in those shallows.
On the other hand, in May they have not yet gone as shallow. This month reds can be found in tidal creeks, bays and sounds. Occasionally they also are encountered in the ocean surf.
Right now the best places to find inshore redfish are spots where currents collide with structure. That cover can be in the form of oyster bars, sandbars, channel edges, dock or bridge pilings, marsh grass points and rock bottoms. Anytime you locate any of these at the junction of tributary streams entering larger bodies of water, you have hit upon a potential honey hole.
All of these offer chances at redfish on falling tides or the first half of the rising tide. However, latter phases of the flood tide usually sends these fish up small tidal ditches or back into marsh grass flats where it’s hard to follow them with a boat.
As mentioned earlier, reds love crustaceans, especially fiddler crabs. As the water covers the marsh flats, the fish move in to root around the bottom for these small crabs. If such a flat is covered with sand and short Spartina grass, wade fishing is often a possibility at these times. Or, if your boat can get into very skinny water, it can offer another way to get shots at these “grazing” redfish.
When it comes to baits for smaller reds, your options are much wider. Fiddler crabs fished on bottom rigs can work in open water. Tossing live shrimp under a popping cork is another way to lure the fish.
Gold spoons, spinnerbaits or jig-and-grub combinations are all good choices for reds in the open areas as well. The spoons and jigs also can produce fish back in the grass, if they are set up for weedless fishing.
For the inshore action, spinning, baitcasting and even fly-fishing equipment can be used. As to how heavy the gear should be, it depends on where you are targeting. In open water 10-pound-test braided line is plenty, with about a 12-inch fluorocarbon leader of 20 pounds or so. If you’re back in the grass, you might want to go heavier on both the line and leader.
Summing It Up
Once you make the decision regarding the size of redfish you want to catch, the month of May offers you a variety of options along our coast. Of course, weather conditions and tide levels at the moment have to be taken into consideration, but regardless of what those are, there is some redfish action available this month.