Whether you prefer to call them redfish, red drum or channel bass, they are one of the most popular species of inshore fish to pursue all along the coastal areas of the southeastern U.S. Aside from the fact they put up a good fight, there are a number of reasons for that popularity.
These fish live in a wide range of habitats and thrive in a variety of water conditions. The bigger "bull" reds show up on near-shore reefs, off beaches, around inlets and occasionally they’ll even move inshore into sounds. As for the smaller "puppy" drum of less than double-digit weights, the fish live year-round in salt or brackish sounds, rivers and creeks. They even show up in freshwater habitats on rare occasions.
While muddy water can kill the angling for a number of saltwater denizens, redfish are not one of them. They continue to root around on the bottom for forage, even in the muddiest of conditions. And they’re catchable in the heat of summer or the cool weather of late fall.
There are a number of ways for an angler to pursue redfish. Tossing live or dead bait is probably the most dependable, but reds readily attack artificial offerings ranging from topwater lures to jig-and-grub combos or even flies.
Redfish are a quarry for all seasons and conditions. What’s not to love about these fish?
Having established their popularity, let’s take a look at some of the best ways to catch them on natural bait and on artificial lures. The decision of which is best to use will depend on where the fish are located, along with the weather and water conditions.
THE NATURAL BAIT OPTION
Another of the alluring features of redfish is their omnivorous appetite. You are not limited in the species of baitfish you can toss heir way. These predators readily gobble down other fish, such as mudminnows or mullet, along with crabs, shrimp and even squid. Redfish are not picky eaters in the least.
Needless to say, offering live bait to redfish is going to be the better option the vast majority of the time. A bait that is active and giving off scent provides multiple ways for the reds to locate the bait. These fish often feed in silted or downright muddy conditions. While they aren't able to see very well in the clouded water, they do pick up vibrations created by movement using their lateral lines. And, of course, scent moves through the water regardless of its clarity and can entice a redfish to move a fair distance in search of a meal.
Of course, there are times when live bait is very hard to impossible to obtain. Fortunately, packaged dead bait is almost always available. While such an offering won’t move around on its own, it does still give off scent and there areways of making it give off vibrations.
Probably the most common dead-bait tactic is bottom fishing with a fish-finder-style rig, which is simply a weight threaded onto the main line, with the end of the line tied to a swivel. A leader is then connected to the other end of the swivel, with the hook tied to the opposite end of the leader. The leader should be of slightly less breaking strength than the main line. That way, when you get hung on debris on the bottom and have to break the line, you only lose the hook and not the entire rig.
Most often, anglers simply let this set-up lay on the bottom and wait for the scent to draw in the quarry. However, the rig can be used more successfully by replacing the hook with a jighead. The jig then can be retrieved by bouncing it along the bottom, providing plenty of redfish-attracting vibrations to go with the scent.
Another way to fish dead bait is by simply suspending it under a cork. Some anglers prefer it since hang ups on the bottom are less likely. But, in the process, it sacrifices some effectiveness. While fishing with this method does put scent in the water, it also raises the bait off the bottom. As is obvious from their downward-facing mouths, redfish are basically set up for bottom feeding. With the offering floating past over their heads, it may or may not attract them.
A way to make cork fishing more effective is by popping it. An occasional jerk of the line provides movement, and the commotion on the surface puts more vibration in the water to alert the reds’ predatory instinct.
If you are more inclined to fish artificial baits for redfish, you also have a variety of options. And, in clear water conditions, their effectiveness often matches or exceeds that of natural baits. It’s easier to cover a great deal of water with artificials versus natural bait offerings, increasing the odds of you putting the lure in front of more fish.
The variety of artificial baits available today makes it possible for the angler to offer redfish all the attractions that natural baits provide. With regard to movement, hard plastic crankbaits—especially ones with tight wiggle patterns—are quite visible in clear water and give off lots of vibration, which is key in clouded conditions. Much the same can be said of soft-plastic swimbaits fished on jigheads.
Additionally, tossing a jig tipped with a grub and bouncing it along the bottom gets the bait down where the reds often feed. If that trailer is a Berkley Gulp! Alive or similar bait impregnated with scent, it can match the effectiveness of natural bait. These scented baits also are quite effective when fished under a popping cork.
One method of fishing artficials that can yield good results and that can’t easily be replicated with natural offerings is throwing topwater lures. Despite their proclivity for feeding on the bottom, redfish will come to the surface to chase forage, whether it is fleeing baitfish or shrimp panicked and skipping across the top of the water. This is particularly true in the shallows, ranging from sand-and-seagrass mixes to mud flats bottom compositions.
TIMING YOUR TACTICS
The next step is applying this understanding of redfish baits and tactics to the conditions you encounter when heading out on the water. Some of it is obvious before you leave the dock. Is the water stained from recent rainfall and run off? Are you planning on fishing a falling tide near mud flats or creek mouths on a marsh? If the answer to either of those questions is “yes,” then natural baits may be the proper choice to use in clouded-water conditions. On days when clear water is prevalent, or even during shorter periods of clear water, the possibilities for successful fishing with artificials increases exponentially.
Beyond these general rules of thumb, however, there are some more localized situations that will dictate which tactics you should employ.
Redfish love hanging around oyster beds because of the plethora of forage that also is attracted to hard-bottom shell areas. Especially in shallow water, tossing a bottom-fishing, natural-bait rig or a jig-and-grub set-up to shell beds is a good way to lose a lot of terminal tackle to hang ups. The same is true of fishing popping corks over shallow oyster shells.
When you encounter such an area, topwater lures, swimbaits or shallow-running crankbaits that you can keep moving and off the bottom are more likely to offer success. Similarly, but for a different reason, these lures are good options for fishing over shallow flats where the redfish are likely to be spread out and moving around. These bait options allow you to locate those fish, rather than placing a bait in one place and waiting for the reds to hopefully find it.
On the other hand, if you find a school of reds holding in a deep-drop area of a creek bend or hole in a sound or bay, putting a natural or scented artificial bait down on the bottom can be the way to go.
SUMMING IT UP
The bottom line (pun fully intended) for targeting inshore redfish is that you should consider your options before heading out on the water. Depending on the conditions, be prepared for the type of situations most likely to be encountered and rig up for those. At the end of the day, that can translate to more redfish brought to the gunnel.
GET THEIR ATTENTION WITH A POPPING CORK
Adding a popping cork to your set-up is guaranteed to provide some extra attraction to your natural or artificial bait. These specially designed floats alert redfish to the presence of a morsel of forage in a couple different ways.
All of the designs employ some metal or plastic beads above, below or on either end of the float. When the line is jerked to "pop" the cork, these make noise, which travels through the water as vibrations.
Additionally, some of the float models have a concave face, which causes a lot of commotion when jerked. The sound mimics a fish attacking a minnow or shrimp on the surface. This triggers the feeding instinct of nearby reds, bringing them running and looking for their share.
These rigs work best when popped occasionally as they drift with the tidal current.