Redfish, also known as red drum, spot-tail bass, and channel bass, is probably the most sought-after species in the Southeast surf and along the Gulf. Each season, many fishermen devote a lot of their time on the water for redfish fishing, especially the larger ones commonly called “bull” drum. With their hard mouths, lack of sharp teeth, herd-like feeding habits, and refusal to give up when hooked, they exude certain characteristics that make them a high prize for many fishermen, not to mention their excellent table fare. Whether you are a beginner angler or just getting into red drum, this articles teaches you how to start redfish fishing from the beach.
Redfish Fishing Bait
A redfish’s diet consists mostly of smaller fish, shrimp, clams, worms, and crabs. They’re primarily bottom feeders, but can be aggressive and feed much higher in the water column if the opportunity arises. Using these natural baits are the most consistent and successful way to fish for redfish in the surf. Classic red drum lures such as spoons, soft-plastics, topwaters, and jigs can all be used successfully as well, but natural bait is preferred.
Puppy Drum Bait
When bottom fishing with natural bait, shrimp and crabs are excellent all-around baits, especially for redfish. This size of bait will let you hone in on puppy drum (< 25 Inches) which are the best table fair. If you plan on using two surf rods, try one on each rod. Redfish like a big meal, so plan on using whole shrimp when using them for bait; the fresher the better. As for crabs, the key is getting “peeler” crabs. Peeler crabs are crabs that are in their pre-molt stages before forming a new hard shell. Just about any crab except spider, horseshoe, and mole crabs (sand fleas) will work as a peeler crab. Mole crabs, or sand fleas, are also great baits for bottom fishing in general, but they often lack the size and substance the other crabs have like the blues, calicos, and speckled.
Bull Drum Bait
Big bull drum migrate along the east coast during the fall months. They form huge schools of 30+ inch fish making their way south to spawn in the Gulf. While these hungry bulls will eat anything put in front of them, it is best to use big chunks of cut bait. Two to four inch chunks of bunker or mullet will do the trick. Frozen bait works, fresh is better, just make sure to cut them in chunks. Cut bait bleeds out oils and blood which attracts bull drum at a distance. It is a more powerful attractant than live bait in the tumultuous surf. These chunks call in fish in sandy or wavy water and strongly secures to your hook. Cut bait outshines the competition for big redfish fishing and also gives you a shot at larger shark.
Redfish Fishing Rigs for the Surf
Redfish don’t have sharp teeth in their mouth, instead they have crushers in their throat which they use to chew their bait. When choosing a rig for your bait, go with the fish-finder rig. The fish-finder rig allows the fish to put the bait in their mouth without feeling the entire weight of the sinker. This in turn helps the bait to feel more natural to reds and therefore more likely to continue eating the bait. This is an important factor because redfish won’t always have the bait situated in their mouth when you feel them bite. For this reason, it’s recommended to use only circle hooks. For smaller drum use whole shrimp on a small circle hook anywhere from size 2-2/0. For larger bull drum with cut bait, stick to a 5/0 circle hook.
Here’s how to prepare a peeler crab:
1) Take off (peel) the top hard shell. This exposes the new soft shell being formed underneath.
2) Cut into segments. For redfish, give them at least a quarter of crab. You can use a knife or scissors.
3) Run the point of the hook through a leg hole, or “knuckle”. This helps keep the bait on the hook.
4) Secure by running the hook into other parts of the bait. Some people use rubber bands, mesh nets, or thread to secure their crab to the hook.
Where to Surf Fish for Red Drum
Red drum are common in the Atlantic surf from Maryland to Florida and then throughout the Gulf. They often congregate in schools when they feed, grazing and digging along the bottom like a herd of cattle. Red drum really like to be around deep and turbulent surf waters scouring the bottom feeding on any bait fish, shrimp, or crabs. Focus your effort on reading the beach for deep holes, sandbars, points, and jetties. Red drum often feed on the edges of the sandbars where it meets the deeper water in the slough, especially near any cut in the sandbar if there is one.
Red Drum Surf Conditions
Drum are not afraid of rough water, and they can often times be right in the midst of heavy wave action, or in the rough waters generated by an inlet or around the points of jetties. While redfish fishing, be on the lookout for any rip-tide that you come across on the beach. Rip-tides generate faster currents because of the amount of water forced to recede in such a small area. Combined with wave action, a long-standing rip-tide has great potential to attract fish, especially red drum.
Rocks and Jetties from the Beach
Some days, the bite may not be directly on the beach. Structure that juts out onto the beach many can corral schools of drum. Large rock pilings and rock jetties are another great place to fish around because they act as a safe haven for a lot of crabs. While the down-current side of the jetty or rock pile is where the current takes the bait, the drum can be caught on any side of the jetty in their search for crabs.
Inlets and Waterways for Drum
Pay close attention to any waterway that leads inland off the surf as well. These calmer waters often host good numbers of “puppy” drum and other species that can be caught year-round. Some days redfish fishing is better in inlets than on the beach. In these waterways, look for structure such as docks, bridges, and rock walls. These structures can host aquatic plant life and offer protection to various smaller fish. Areas with a lot of pilings or rocks attract a lot of crabs as well. Pay attention to the boat markers. Most markers will be channel markers for the boat traffic, but other markers identify underwater structure like sand bars and oyster beds. When the tide is moving and the current is flowing through these areas, fish around the bars, oyster beds, and in the channels. This is often the best time for surf fishermen.
Redfish Fishing in the Surf
When fishing the surf for drum, they can hold tight to structure and won’t venture too far from it unless they’re moving to another location. Focus on areas where the surf breaks inconsistently, or patches of darker water show. To learn more about reading structure on the beach, check out our Guide to Surf Fishing. With that said, keep these three things in mind:
1.) Fish hold tight against the structure, and so must your rig.
2) Use enough weight to hold the rig in place on the bottom.
3) Cast softly to keep your bait from falling off the hook.
As you can tell, there’s a little finesse involved with bottom redfish fishing on the beach. Because you are targeting structure, you need your baited rig to stay near the structure. It’s very easy to cast too far away and be outside of their feeding area, especially in the surf where they might be feeding right in the wave action in front of you. If you’re fishing mainly on sandy and gravel bottoms, use a pyramid sinker to help anchor your rig to the bottom and prevent it from rolling with the current. Around some structures like large rock piles, jetties, and oyster beds, use a bank sinkers to prevent snags.
How to Prevent Losing Drum
Remember to check your redfish fishing bait every 15 minutes. Long casts, big swells, and heavy current may remove your bait. While checking your bait, check the sharpness of your hook as saltwater expedites dullness. Redfish have very tough mouths, so you will need sharp hooks to get a solid hookset. Always change your rig’s hooks after a day of drum fishing. After you catch a drum, cut your line a few inches and retie your rig. Drum fight hard and line abrasion is a risk. Prevent losing your next fish by retying your rig on a fresh section of line.
All the surf fishing rigs, lures and tackle for Redfish can be found in our Surf Fishing Kit