Topping & Popping: Walk the Dog for Red Drum

Topping & Popping: Walk the Dog for Red Drum

It may seem odd to anglers who fish for red drum with bottom rigs and jigs, but the fish actually bite best in skinny water. To put some red-hot action into your redfishing, try tossing a topwater lure.

The world is full of anglers who want to catch red drum. Most succeed, as red drum populations have grown to banner numbers since the days of overfishing in many areas. Initially, most anglers catch redfish with cut baits before progressing to casting subsurface lures.

Redfish are so ravenous in summer-warmed water that they will eat just about anything that looks like food. They strike jigs, soft-plastic lures, spinnerbaits, spoons and crankbaits. In fact, anglers should think of them as the saltwater equivalent of largemouth bass.

Red Drum (Shutterstock image)

However, one method of catching redfish is guaranteed to jolt an angler with an adrenaline rush, and is also very effective. Tossing a topwater lure to redfish can make an angler feel as though he's a matador waving a red flag in front of a bull.

With a ventral mouth for feeding along the bottom in dingy waters and thick cover, it seems counter-intuitive that a redfish would strike a topwater lure. However, once an angler sees a school of red drum working a school of baitfish or shrimp at the surface, it's easier to understand how these fish are able to eat anything, anywhere and anytime.

Baitfish are at the top of the menu for redfish. When the fish are feeding, reds crush them and injure some that get away. Any injured baitfish that flutters on top of the water becomes easy prey.

That is the reason that walk-the-dog lures, popular with freshwater bass anglers, have taken the redfish world by storm.

When it comes to using walk-the-dog lures for red drum, anglers should look for lures specifically designed for use in saltwater. Catching a 10-pound bass is a lifelong quest for many freshwater fishermen. However, any day in the marsh is likely to result in a 10-pound redfish mauling a flip-flopping lure.

Walk-the-dog lures are produced by many lure companies in various sizes and colors. Different sizes offer anglers a match-the-hatch alternative, as well as both subtler or more aggressive presentations when conditions warrant it. Redfish that get pounded daily with topwater lures can become lure-shy. In areas where tournament pressure or weekend warrior numbers are very high, fish can become so spooky that a 4 1/2-inch Zara Spook hitting the water within 20 feet of a fish will spook it, while a 3-inch Zara Puppy will attract the kind of attention that anglers want.

As far as rigging the lure goes, there are certain aspects of tying a walk-the-dog lure to the line that increase the odds for making a good cast and therefore a higher chance of success, as the walk-the-dog lure is a notorious line-fouler.

Speckled Seatrout As Well

Anglers often find speckled trout swimming in the same waters where redfish are abundant since they feed on the same species, primarily shrimp and small baitfish. They often form large schools and, when feeding actively, may show their presence by making large splashes as they attack baitfish. Anglers should also be on the lookout for seabirds. If birds are circling and diving to the water surface, anglers should ease into the area to check it out for the presence of trout.

A topwater lure is the perfect lure for casting to feeding speckled trout. Since they are already aggressive because of the abundance of prey, casting a walk-the-dog lure to the edge of the school and working it back to the boat draws strikes.

Speckled trout can be finicky and may wait until the last second to strike a topwater lure. If you see a trout following the lure but it will not strike it, the best thing to do is to work the lure in a figure-eight pattern beside the boat. The fish may strike the lure because it thinks potential prey is about to escape into cover, represented by the boat hull. 

— Mike Marsh

This is especially true when the angler is casting into the wind. The lure slows down and wobbles, causing the line to outrun the lure or the lure to fall on the line. What should have been a perfectly placed cast turns into an off-target landing, with the angler winding the lure back to the boat, splashing and chugging, rather than with the rhythmic side-to-side action that redfish find so irresistible.

Tying the lure directly to a braided line magnifies the problem because the line is so limp. Another problem with braid is with the tying eye, which has a small gap. Micro-diameter braid can slip through the gap, resulting in losing the lure and a fish.

Most anglers either use monofilament line or braided line with a 30-pound-test fluorocarbon leader 18 inches to 24 inches long. Fluorocarbon is stiff, especially when compared to monofilament. This stiffness helps keep the hooks from tangling. The leader is tied to the braided line with an Albright knot. The lure is tied to the leader with a loop knot, rather than a tight knot to allow freer movement.

Photo by Ron SInfelt

Freedom of movement is vital to the effectiveness of the lure because the angler imbues the lure with personality. The angler's experiences, the type of rod and reel, the line diameter and weight, and the weight and buoyancy of the lure are aspects of fishing with walk-the-dog lures that have impacts on effectiveness.

Another thing to consider is whether to use a lure with a sound chamber or rattle. A rattle can attract fish that have not seen a lot of fishing pressure, but they can spook fish that have seen one too many topwater lures. Recent designs also give anglers the choice of using a soft-bodied walker. The theory is that the fish holds the softer lure in its mouth longer because the texture is more like that of a baitfish.

Red drum switch preferences daily, if not hourly, depending upon water temperature, lighting conditions, tide height and atmospheric conditions. Therefore, once anglers make lure selection, the second most important aspect of fishing a walk-the-dog lure is the speed and rhythm of the retrieve.

Anglers impart back-and-forth action to the lure by twitching the rod tip while turning the reel handle. The retrieve can be fast or slow, but the most important aspect is keeping the lure moving. If a fish strikes and misses, the angler should keep it moving at the same pace. Otherwise, more often than not, the fish loses interest. If a fish strikes, anglers should wait until feeling the weight of the fish before setting the hook, or risk pulling the lure away from the fish. Having to reel in the slack line disrupts the continuous, rhythmic retrieve.

Due to the surface commotion, walk-the-dog lures can attract fish from extremely long distances. One of the most exciting events occurs when several fish follow the same lure. One usually strikes out of competitiveness, but if it misses, one or more of the others may strike.

One way to ensure more hookups is to change out factory treble hooks, which are usually nickel coated or uncoated mild steel. Using a higher-quality hook, such as a VMC high-carbon steel treble hook with a cutting point rather than a factory issued hook, definitely leads to more hookups.

Topwater lures work best in shallow water of up to 4 feet deep. The trick is to learn where the fish are located during various stages of the tide. Typically, fish are in channels during low tides, where anglers can catch them on edges and sandbars. As the tide rises, fish move to the edges of oyster beds and grassbeds. Once the tide is high, they move into the grassbeds. Soon after the tide begins to fall, they swim back out of the grassbeds to deeper water.

Using a trolling motor helps anglers stay on the fish during low tide stages. However, anglers who want to dig fish out of the grass use poles to move boats. In shallow grassbeds, fish reveal their presence by showing tails or backs or or by moving grass stems. They also stir up mud as they are feeding.

Another method of fishing is using a popping-cork rig, which consists of a float with a wire harness through the center and beads on each end that contact the float, making a popping sound when the angler jerks the line. Below the harness is a shrimp lure. The sound of the float mimics the sound of a flipping shrimp, attracting fish to the lure.

Flies are also effective for catching redfish when they are in the grassbeds. Anglers use poppers and streamers, casting them on intermediate sinking lines. For the best of both worlds, Capt. Gary Dubiel ( designed the Pop-N-Fly rig, which he casts on a 10-weight fly rod for catching huge redfish that can weigh more than 40 pounds. The Pop-N-Fly rig consists of a closed-cell foam float with a monofilament harness and a weighted fly resembling baitfish, such as a Deceiver. The rig is capable of catching redfish weighing more than 50 pounds, but is just as effective on smaller redfish.

To order one of Mike Marsh's books on fishing, go to

Here's another take on catching red drum, from one of our Outdoor Sportsman Group family members, World Fishing Network:

Inshore Fishing For Reds

Via WFN: World Fishing Network YouTube

(From May 29, 2012) JP DeRose talks about the gear setup you need to target redfish in shallow waters.

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