Compared to the competition, redfish may be the perfect inshore game fish. Striped bass are loyal dogs, always curious and ready to play. Speckled trout, on the other hand, are finnicky and aloof, like a spoiled house cat. Flounder lie around and wait for prey, then explode off the bottom with the speed and accuracy of a striking viper. But redfish are different.
Large redfish are called bulls and smaller reds are puppies, but neither name does justice to the gold and copper fish’s many moods. Reds can be aggressive, coy, sharp-sighted or blinded by rage. Ranging from the open ocean to the shallowest backwaters, redfish are often found in areas too skinny for motorboaters. The bright red scales and orange fins are easy to spot, making redfish a perfect target for sight fishing.
Even if you land the perfect cast, redfish are picky, turning up their pointed noses at unfamiliar offerings. On the hook, a redfish’s fight can’t be beaten. They run like a scalded dog, charge like an angry elephant and change direction faster than a hunted rabbit. From the mid-Atlantic to the Gulf of Mexico, coastal anglers chase redfish year-round. Making the copper bandit the perfect inshore sport fish.
The Red Coast: Chasing Redfish from Texas to Virginia
1 Virginia Beach, Virginia
Ric Burnley | Kayak Angler editor and veteran drum angler
In the spring, big red drum arrive to the northern end of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel (CBBT). In the fall, the fish are on the southern end of the bridge. The best way to find the fish is with side-scan sonar. Paddle around the flats, channels and pilings of the CBBT and search for schools of drum on the fish finder screen. I also spot drum swimming on the surface. Another good tell is a large oily slick on the surface. Many times, I smell the sweet scent of drum as they swim below.
Spring and fall.
A full moon creates higher tides and stronger current firing up the drum bite. The best action happens an hour before and after slack current. Combine a current change with dawn or dusk and you have a recipe for red drum.
Sight fishing, searching for drum with a fish finder and slow trolling a seven-inch swimbait are good ways to find fish. Red drum weigh up to 50 pounds and require heavy tackle. A sturdy seven-foot, medium-heavy action casting rod and beefy low-profile baitcasting reel with 50-pound braided line and two feet of 50-pound fluorocarbon leader brings the drum to the boat quickly and safely.
When I spot a school of drum, I cast a two-ounce jighead and seven-inch Z-Man DieZel MinnowZ. Large swimbaits, like the Hogy 5.5-inch Pro Tail, are best in shallow water. I also blind cast the lure around the bridge pilings. I work the lure slowly along the bottom. After a few cranks of the reel handle, I give the rod tip a jerk to jig the lure off the bottom. While searching for drum, I troll the lure 30 to 40 feet behind the kayak. When releasing a big red drum, be sure to hold the fish in the water until it regains consciousness and swims away.
Rod: 7’ St. Croix Legend medium-heavy
Reel: PENN Fathom LP
Leader: 50-lb Seaguar Gold fluorocarbon
2 Outer Banks, North Carolina
Mikey Sabadic | Island Life Outfitters
I target redfish two ways, on the flats and behind shrimp trawlers. Most of the year, I find redfish by hunting shallow grass flats. I either see the fish in the shallow water or cast to deep holes and channels. In late summer and early fall, shrimp trawlers leave a trail of bycatch in their wake. I fish the areas behind the trawlers to target redfish feeding on the free buffet. I catch the biggest redfish behind the trawlers.
Spring through fall.
The best conditions for sight fishing are calm, clear water and clear sky. Bright sun and clear water make it easier to stand in the kayak and see redfish. Early in the morning, I often spot redfish tailing in the shallows.
Top tactics for redfish are soft-plastic jigs, topwater lures and popping corks. The key to catching redfish is fishing close to underwater grass. I choose lures that allow me to fish in the grass without getting snagged.
In shallow water, from two to five feet deep, I use a 1/16-ounce jig and Z-Man MinnowZ or Curly TailZ soft plastic. To reach the bottom in deeper water, I go up to a 1/4- to ⅜-ounce jighead and soft plastic.
In clear water, I go with light or natural colors. When the water is stained, I like black and purple.
Early in the morning, and when the light is low, a walk-the-dog topwater lure gets exciting bites from hungry redfish.
My number one rig is a popping cork. I like a loud popping cork with a high-pitch clack to draw fish. Both cone shape and oval corks work well, but I like a heavier rig to cast farther in the wind.
I set the leader so the bait is two to three feet below the cork and hovers just above the grass. For example, if the water is five feet deep with two feet of grass, I make the dropper 2.5 feet long. I pop the cork a couple of times and then pause for three to five seconds. Then, I pop the cork again.
Reel: Daiwa BG 3500
Line: 30-lb braid
Leader: 30-lb fluorocarbon
3 Charleston, South Carolina
Jim Morrissey | Lowcountry Kayak Anglers Angler of the Year
My favorite spot for redfish is along the Intracoastal Waterway behind Sullivan’s Island, just outside Charleston. The area features massive marsh flats with miles of grass lines and oyster banks. Super low tides allow kayak anglers to explore areas too shallow for motorboats.
Fall is the best time of the year. After the scorching summer days, fall offers cooler weather and water temperatures.
I like overcast days with a light wind. I find the hungriest fish on the falling tide.
I fish in extremely shallow water in very close quarters. I explore deep into feeder creeks and scout super shallow flats. I’m constantly looking for movement, watching for redfish pushing water. I listen for the deep splash of redfish ambushing bait along a muddy bank.
To prevent oysters and underwater obstructions from cutting my line, I tie 30-pound PowerPro braided line directly to my lure. The water is often stained, so I’m not worried about fish seeing my line. The braided line presents a stronger connection to the lure and great abrasion resistance. After each catch, I check the line for damage.
My favorite lure is a walking topwater like the Heddon Zara Spook with Owner hooks. I also like soft plastics on an 1/8- or 3/16-ounce Eye Strike Trout Eye finesse jig. I load the jighead with a three-inch, pearl color Z-Man Slim SwimZ or MinnowZ in opening night color.
Rod: 7’ medium-fast St. Croix Legend
Reel: 3000 Shimano Vanford
4 Cumberland Island, Georgia
Tyler Bean | Westbrook Supply Co. Fishing Team
Early spring through fall.
I look for cooler mornings, slightly overcast skies and light wind.
To reach the best fishing, I load my kayak on a motorboat and mothership miles from the nearest launch.
Along the edges of the island, where the marsh grass meets the water, redfish wait for the high tide so they can hunt deep into the grass.
My favorite time to target redfish is when the tide recedes and the water flows out of the grass. The redfish must escape to deeper water. They stage along the edge of the grass line waiting for bait to sweep past in the current. The best spots are near feeder creeks.
I like to find an area with clear water and slow current. Most of the redfish I catch are tight to grass patches or oyster bars.
I start the day throwing topwater lures such as a Rapala Saltwater Skitter Walk in redfish color or a Heddon One Knocker Spook in pearl melon. Working a walk-the-dog topwater lure allows me to cover a lot of water quickly. A topwater lure also draws fish out of hiding.
While working my lure, I keep an eye out for moving grass, swirls on the surface and bait explosions. When I spot a redfish, I present my topwater lure with a long cast to prevent spooking the fish. When I’m blind casting, I try to land the lure near the edge of the grass.
I follow up with an Egret Baits 3.5-inch Wedgetail Mullet in opening night and chartreuse or chicken-on-a-chain and chartreuse. I also like a Z-Man PogyZ in rootbeer and chartreuse rigged on a weighted swimbait hook. When I don’t see reds, I work a soft-plastic, weedless jig slowly across an oyster bar.
Reel: 150 Shimano Curado DC
Leader: 16” of 30-lb monofilament
5 St. Augustine, Florida
My favorite location is Guana Lake, north of St. Augustine. The nine-mile-long brackish lake runs parallel to the ocean.
In 1957, the land surrounding the lake was privately owned. The owners dammed off the lake from the ocean to improve waterfowl hunting. Over 65 years later, the lake is an incredible ecosystem for redfish. Since the lake is cut off from open water, dolphins, sharks and other predators cannot affect the drum population. In 1984, Florida acquired the land, opened the lake to the public and limited motor boats to 10 horsepower. Low pressure from predators and anglers makes Guana Lake perfect for kayak fishing. For three months each year, the northernmost three miles are closed for duck season. When the area opens again, the fish have seen no pressure.
A perfect scenario is a dead-calm day when I can see disturbances on the surface. I also like to fish after a summer thunderstorm. Changes in barometer and temperature can drastically affect the bite. Redfish feed on the tide change. In the closed Guana Lake, any small changes in the barometer or wind spark the fish to bite.
The area I fish averages three feet deep. Sometimes redfish schools ball up in one area while other times the fish are scattered.
An extremely productive way to find redfish is looking for schools of mullet or shrimp popping on top. I land a cast near the feeding frenzy. If there’s no action on the surface, the best option is fan casting to cover the most water.
In the early morning and on cloudy days, one of my favorite lures is a Heddon Spook Jr. When redfish are schooling, the Heddon Spook Jr. is weighted and aerodynamic enabling me to make a long cast without spooking the fish.
Another favorite for redfish is the MirrOlure 17MR. I use a twitch-pause retrieve. Every few casts, I slowly reel the lure in without twitches and pauses. Sometimes the redfish respond to the slow retrieve.
I have great luck with the A Band of Anglers Dartspin. I use the two-inch model when I’m sight fishing in the shallows. When I’m on my way home, I troll the Dartspin 30 feet behind my kayak.
Rod: 7’ medium-light spinning
Reel: 2500 spinning
Line: 15-lb braided line
Leader: 20-lb fluorocarbon
6 Mobile, Alabama
Nathan Rich | Host of Southern Salt YouTube channel
Heron Bay, north of Dauphin Island, is a maze of narrow creeks and drains making up a huge marsh system. Due to shallow water and massive amounts of grass, Heron Bay allows very limited access to motorboats.
Fishing is great year-round. In summer, due to low oxygen levels in shallow water, redfish hang out in the main creek channels. During winter, oxygen levels improve and redfish chase bait deep into the creeks.
Ideal weather would be an overcast day with light winds just before a cold front. I prefer to fish at the start of the falling tide as the current funnels out of Heron Bay. Lowering water forces the redfish to stage at the creek mouths and drains.
At the very top of the outgoing current, I look for fish around the creek mouths, points and drains. In the middle of the tide cycle, I target redfish on grass mats in the basins of the creeks. At the bottom of the low-tide cycle, redfish move to oyster reefs and structures in the deepest sections of the creek system.
To fish the heavy grass mats around the marsh, a Buggs Fishing Curl-Tail Jig perfectly imitates a crab.
When I’m searching for redfish, I need to quickly cover water. I go with a Yo-Zuri 3DB wake bait. The Yo-Zuri is weighted and shaped for maximum casting distance and accuracy. I retrieve the lure quickly to spark the redfish to attack.
Tough conditions call for a weedless soft plastic.
Rod: 7’ fast-action TFO Tactical Elite Bass
Reel: 150 Shimano Curado
Leader: 3’ 20-lb pink fluorocarbon
- Buggs Fishing Curl-Tail Jig
- Yo-Zuri 3DB wake bait
7 Moss Point, Mississippi
Jeff Jones | Host of the Brackish Fly podcast
In the shallow backwater along the Mississippi coast, redfish rarely keep their presence a secret. Hunting the mud and oysters, redfish swim with their tails out of the water as they search for a meal. I often hear redfish exploding on shrimp or baitfish. Sometimes, I spot a swirl or wake. If redfish are in the marsh, they don’t hide their presence.
In September, when the water temperature cools, shrimp and other baitfish migrate north. Redfish are in tune with this migration. The fish congregate in marshes and bayous to feast on the endless buffet. As the rainy season ends, salinity increases and the water clears. The magical season lasts into November when cold fronts roll toward the coast.
The best conditions for sight fishing are clear skies and calm water. When the sun shines through flat water, I can see redfish. On a cloudy or windy day, I blind cast to the edge of the marsh. Redfish wait for bait to move on the current, so I like to fish maximum ebb or flood current.
To sight fish for reds, I use a seven-foot, medium-action baitcasting rod. A baitcasting rod makes it easier to control the cast. With one hand, I can switch the reel into free spool and fire off a cast. Using my thumb on the spool, I can stop the lure so it lands a few feet from the redfish.
My three favorite lures cover the water column. To imitate a mullet swimming on the surface, I like a bone white Rapala Skitter V. The Skitter V walks with an exaggerated side-to-side movement which creates more commotion and stays in the strike zone longer.
A quarter-ounce Vudu Shrimp in natural color looks just like a real shrimp. The weedless lure drifts in the current and the soft plastic is bulletproof.
The most versatile lure in my bag is a quarter-ounce Texas Eye jighead with a pearl-color Z-Man PaddlerZ.
Rod: 7’ medium-action casting rod
Reel: Abu Garcia Revo Beast
Line: 20-lb PowerPro
Leader: 12-lb Seaguar Blue Label
8 Hopedale, Louisiana
Chris Holmes | Bayou Coast Kayak Fishing Club Ultimate Angler
Following Hurricane Katrina, coastal restoration and hurricane protection projects lowered the water salinity. Redfish tolerate freshwater; I catch reds alongside largemouth bass, blue cats and white bass.
The freshwater infusion caused underwater grass to expand. Redfish take to the grass like pigs to slop. The key to catching fish is choosing weedless lures that don’t snag in the grass. Saltwater imitations like crabs and shrimp work just as well as freshwater lures like frogs and worms.
Early spring and fall are my favorite times to target redfish because the weather is cooler and the fish are aggressive.
I love a glass-calm day with moving current. The best time to fish is early morning and late evening. Lower light brings out the redfish and keeps the temperature down. Don’t worry if conditions aren’t perfect, Louisiana redfish are always hungry.
I find redfish near structure such as cuts, pockets, points and jetties. To cover more water, I move from docks, rocks, duck blinds and wrecked boats. I use my depth finder to find oyster beds, rocks, holes, drop-offs and ledges. Bait hides in the structure and redfish hunt the perimeter.
Redfish have an underslung mouth designed for bottom feeding, but they will strike a topwater lure.
Catching redfish on a topwater lure is exciting. The wake from the redfish’s broad head pushes the lure out of the way. The hungry fish repeatedly strikes the lure and I have to calm my nerves and wait until the fish commits before I set the hook.
My favorite topwater lure is a Strike King KVD 2.5 wakebait. The stocky lure with a slim tail section is easy for reds to eat.
If the grass is thick, I use a weedless frog or baitfish imitation. Working the lure over the grass and stopping in an opening, pocket or edge draws vicious strikes.
For a search bait in grass or open water, I use a weedless gold spoon. To prevent line twist, I add a split ring and small swivel between the line and lure.
I encounter redfish from 20 inches to over 40. For the power to handle any size red, I prefer a seven-foot, medium-action baitcasting rod. The seven-foot rod allows me to fight the redfish around the bow of my kayak. I match the rod to a low-profile reel with 30 pounds of drag pressure.
The reel is spooled with 30-pound braided line and 30-pound fluorocarbon leader. Heavier line and leader complement the strong drag to handle a big red before it can escape into the oysters or marsh grass.
Reel: Abu Garcia Revo Beast
Line: 30-lb SpiderWire braided line
Leader: 30-lb AFTCO Saiko Pro fluorocarbon leader
9 Corpus Christi, Texas
Chris Castro | Host of Next Level Fishing TV
The Laguna Madre, right off the JFK Causeway, is my favorite place to fish. The water is clear and full of redfish.
The Laguna Madre is a huge bay connected to the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf dumps clean, nutrient-rich water into the bay supporting grass beds, oyster reefs and broad sand pockets.
The bay is two miles from the coast, offering protection from the strongest winds. Grass flats run 20 miles. The water is only a few feet deep, making Laguna Madre perfect for wading and kayak fishing.
When I’m fishing a tournament, I’m after heavy redfish at the upper side of the regulation slot size. In other words: I’m looking for fat redfish. Between April and June, redfish hunt the shallows by burrowing with their noses and looking for hatching crabs.
I like a little wind and moving water. In a perfect scenario, I catch an early-morning low tide and fish the rising water all day.
A cloudy sky and southeast wind up to 15 miles per hour provide shade and cover. The redfish feel confident and get aggressive.
First, I look for clear water. Then, I find grass beds in about two feet of water. To hunt redfish, I drift and power cast. I won’t repeat a drift until I catch a fish. I keep moving until I get a bite. Then I return to the same area looking for another fish.
Rod: 7’ fast-action Tsunami Carbon Shield
Reel: 3000 Tsunami Barrier II
Line: 20-lb Tasline Elite eight-strand braided line
Leader: 25-lb Seaguar Blue Label fluorocarbon
- 1/8-oz Johnson Silver Minnow weedless gold spoon
- A.M. Fishing Garlic Scent Lures
- Heddon One Knocker Spook Topwater
Get ready for a redfish road trip down the coast. | Feature photo: Ben Maldonado