Even after almost 20 years, I still remember the first big redfish I caught in the kayak. What I remember most about landing a 40-pound fish is a mixture of excitement and anxiety.
When I saw the bronze back and golden fins at the end of my line, I was stoked my plan came together. At the same time, the huge fish was pulling my kayak in circles inflicting incredible pressure on the line, hooks and rod.
I managed to fight the 40-pound fish to exhaustion and wrestle it into my kayak. After a few photos, I released the red with a whoop and shout.
Red Fever: Redfish Rebound is a Slam Dunk for Anglers
In the two decades following my first drum, I have caught many more redfish. Each hook up brings back the fear and frenzy. Sometimes I win. Sometimes the fish breaks my line, straightens the hook or snaps my rod. While the redfish’s allure hasn’t changed, much has changed with red fishing.
In a world of contentious fisheries management, redfish are a success story. The population hit a low point in the 90s when Chef Paul Prudhomme’s recipe for blackened redfish became so popular, demand for fillets nearly wiped out the species. Since then, strict regulations have brought the fish back from the brink.
In most states, it is illegal to kill large redfish. Protecting breeding fish has increased redfish numbers across the region. Conservation efforts extend to redfish habitat. In the past 30 years, underwater grass, oyster reefs and marshlands have grown through the redfish’s range. The combination created an abundance of redfish from the Gulf Coast to the mid-Atlantic.
Redfish Culture is On the Rise
The boom in redfish population ignited an explosion of redfish enthusiasts. Redfish live close to shore, so they are accessible to everyone. Topwater lures, spoons, jigs, spinner baits, shrimp, crabs or mullet—reds respond to every type of lure and bait. Best of all, the hard thump of a redfish bite, followed by a drag screaming run, fury-filled charge, violent headshake and deep dive makes the redfish one of the most exciting fish to catch.
It all comes together to create a culture of anglers obsessed with redfish. Walk into any tackle shop in the redfish country and the iconic spot tails and bronze scales adorn shirts, hats and bumper stickers. A search of social media reveals dozens of redfish groups and users with redfish tags. It is no surprise redfish made the list of top five most common saltwater gamefish on takemefishing.org.
According to the American Sportfishing Association report on Sport Fishing in America, with an economic impact of $1.9 billion and retail sales of $1.4 billion, redfish bring in more money than any other saltwater species.
But none of that matters when a redfish is on the line. Whether I’m remembering my first red drum or battling with my latest catch, I still feel the thrill of the battle and the worry the fish might win. Thousands of anglers across the country experience the same excitement.
In this issue of Kayak Angler, we celebrate the redfish with the 11-page Red Coast feature. From Texas to Virginia, expert anglers share their favorite ways to catch redfish and the tackle and tactics to put more fish in the kayak. Whether you’re working on your first redfish or you’ve logged years chasing spot tails, redfish always have a lesson to teach.
Topwater, light tackle, shallow water, what’s not to love about redfish? | Feature photo: Ben Maldonado