Surf Fishing For Red Drum/Redfish (Expert Guide)

Red drum, also known as redfish, are prized saltwater game fish found along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States. Renowned for their strong fighting spirit and acrobatic leaps, they are a sought after catch among anglers. In addition to their exciting nature, red drum are highly valued for their delicious taste, featuring firm, white, and flaky flesh with a mild, buttery flavor. They are relatively abundant, making them accessible to anglers of all skill levels. 

Surf fishing for red drum is a popular method for catching red drum, providing a simple and cost-effective way to enjoy this thrilling pursuit along the coast. 

Surf Fishing For Red Drum

Today, I am here to share my extensive knowledge gathered from spending countless hours on the water chasing these feisty fish. This comprehensive guide aims to provide you with insights into drum fish, including their characteristics, ideal fishing locations, tactics, and valuable tips to enhance your fishing experience. 

By the end of this guide, you will be well equipped to navigate the waters confidently and increase your chances of a successful red drum fishing adventure. Keep reading for a wealth of information that will enhance your angling skills! Let’s start….!


About Red Drum

About Red Drum

Common/Scientific name & Specie

Belonging to the Animalia kingdom, the Red Drum is classified under the Sciaenidae family and bears the scientific name Sciaenops ocellatus, commonly referred to by several names such as Channel Bass, Spottail Bass, Redfish, Puppy Drum, and simply Red. 

Croakers and drums, fish named for their sounds, communicate using special muscles. Red Drum males drum on their swimbladders to talk, and even females have these muscles. Scientists are still figuring out how they use these noises to communicate underwater. It’s like fish have their own secret language!

Appearance:

Red drums have a silvery base with a touch of red and silvery gray bellies. Their bodies show irregular patterns from scales with darker centers. The dark spot near their tails is not just for looks, it mimics an eye, fooling predators to attack the wrong end and giving the fish a chance to escape. 

Size:

Typically, they grow 20 to 30 inches long, but some can reach five feet and weigh up to 90 pounds. Redfish experience rapid growth until they mature, usually between 3 to 5 years old, reaching approximately 25 inches in length and weighing around 7 pounds. 

Redfish can live up to 40 years, and during that extended time, they can grow beyond 40 inches in length, with weights ranging from 40 to 60 pounds. This combination of steady growth and a lengthy lifespan contributes to the development of sizable and enduring redfish.

Anatomy:

Red drum have a sleek, elongated oval shaped body with a tapering tail, letting them swim easily. Their mouths are strong with sharp teeth for crunching prey like small fish and crustaceans. They’re known for a black tail spot that helps them communicate and attract food. Young red drum, called “puppy drum,” have spots that fade as they grow, turning into a coppery red or brownish color. Fins help them move and stay balanced, and tough scales protect them. 

They have a special air-filled bag, called a swim bladder, for staying buoyant. Their big eyes and sensitive lateral line help them see and feel in the water, while a keen sense of smell and taste helps them find food and avoid danger.

Diet:

In their juvenile stage, red drum primarily feed on shrimp. As they mature and reach sizes between 5.9 to 7.9 inches, their diet undergoes a shift, incorporating small fish, crustaceans, and fiddler crabs into their feeding habits. This transition in dietary choices reflects the changing needs and capabilities of red drum as they grow and navigate their environments.


Where to Surf Fish for Red drum? | Surf Fishing For Red Drum

Habitat:

Red drums can be found along the eastern and southern Atlantic, with their presence extending into the Gulf of Mexico coastal regions, including Alabama, the Carolinas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia. 

Where To Surf Fish For Red Drum

Red drums exhibit remarkable habitat versatility, adapting to a diverse range of environments, such as river mouths, estuaries, sandy bottoms, bays, mud flats, oyster bottoms, seagrass beds, continental shelves, and surf zones. In their early life stages, juvenile red drums are frequently found in shallow coastal waters, river mouths, and estuaries until they reach the age of 3 or 4. 

At this stage, they undergo a natural migration to open coastal waters, leaving behind the protective confines of the estuarine environment. This migration is a typical developmental behavior for red drums as they mature.


Tips Where to Surf Fish?

  • Red drum like to hang out in sandy areas, especially during the incoming and outgoing tides. Look for places with sandbars, cuts, and jetties, as these attract baitfish and red drum. Estuaries, where fresh and saltwater mix, are excellent feeding grounds for red drum. Focus on shallow flats, creeks, and oyster beds where baitfish gather.
  • Fishing from piers gives you access to deeper waters where red drum often gather. Cast your line around the pier pilings, where baitfish like to hide.
  • Jetties and rock areas provide shelter for baitfish, making them ideal for red drum. Cast your line along the rocks and jetties, and be ready for quick bites.
  • Reefs created by sinking ships or structures attract red drum. These reefs offer shelter and feeding opportunities, making them popular for surf fishing. Similar to artificial reefs, inshore wrecks attract baitfish and red drum. Cast your line around the wreck and structure, and be prepared for strong pulls.
  • Reds Fish often gather near bridges and canals, making them productive for surf fishing. Cast your line near structures and areas with baitfish activity.
  • Tidal currents in passes and inlets attract baitfish and larger predators like red drum. Cast your line into the current or along the edges of the inlet.
  • A lot of anglers who fish from the shore focus on catching redfish in the water that is about 1 to 4 feet deep, especially when the conditions are calm along the coastline. However, to reach some of the best spots in shallow water where redfish like to hang out, you usually need a boat, kayak, or waders. 

When to Surf Fish for Red Drum?

Several conditions indicate that it’s a favorable time to fish for redfish, enhancing the chances of a successful angling experience. Here are key indicators for optimal redfish fishing:

When To Surf Fish For Red Drum

Tides:

Tides play a crucial role in the behavior and feeding habits of red drum, influencing the optimal times for surf fishing. Red drum are most active during incoming and outgoing tides, capitalizing on the abundance of baitfish and crustaceans brought in by the rising water. 

Incoming Tides:

During incoming tides, red drum move closer to the shore and surf zones to actively feed on these food sources. As the tide rises, it brings in a wealth of baitfish and crustaceans, luring red drum to approach the shoreline and venture into surf zones. 

During this period, red drum actively engage in ambushing and feeding on these plentiful food sources, increasing the likelihood of them striking lures or bait. Additionally, the water movement serves to stir up bottom-dwelling organisms, providing an additional attraction for red drum and boosting their feeding activity.

Outgoing Tides:

Surf fishing for red drum is also advantageous during outgoing tides. As the water withdraws, red drum frequently trail baitfish and prey into deeper channels and areas around structures such as jetties, docks, and oyster beds. These locations offer red drum both protection and chances to ambush their prey effectively. 

The diminishing water levels can also concentrate red drum, heightening their vulnerability to anglers’ casts and making it a propitious time for successful catches.

Peak Tidal Movements:

Red drum, in particular, exhibit increased activity during both incoming and outgoing tides, drawing them closer to the shore and making them more susceptible to angler catches. To optimize your fishing success, it is essential to schedule your fishing sessions around peak tidal movements. 

Researching the specific times of incoming and outgoing tides in your fishing area, using tools like tide charts or fishing apps, allows you to plan your trips strategically. For red drum fishing, targeting early morning or late evening sessions during incoming or outgoing tides proves beneficial.

Temperature and Weather:

Consider dawn and dusk fishing when red drum are more active, monitor local weather conditions.

The activity and behavior of red drum are notably influenced by temperature and weather conditions. Red drum tend to be more active and responsive to fishing when the water is warmer. They exhibit a preference for temperatures ranging between 65 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. 

In this temperature range, red drum find optimal conditions for foraging and feeding. Warmer water temperatures enhance their metabolism and encourage a heightened feeding activity, making it a favorable period for anglers looking to catch red drum.

Calm weather with light winds and clear skies typically provides better conditions for surf fishing. These conditions make it easier to spot and cast red drum, and they also encourage red drum to be more active.

Seasonal Timing:

Red drum displays increased activity during warmer seasons like spring, summer, and early fall. As the water temperature rises during these seasons, their metabolic rate elevates, leading to heightened activity in their quest for food. It is noteworthy that red drum can still be successfully caught in cooler temperatures, like in winter, fall and spring on the hottest part of the day, that would be the best time to catch these fish. 

Despite their preference for warmer conditions, red drum exhibit adaptability, showcasing the potential for successful angling in various temperature ranges.


How to Surf Fish for Red drum?

Red drum Surf fishing tackle

Rod:

rod
  • For puppy drum and slot reds, opt for a casting or spinning rod ranging from 6 to 8 feet
  • Medium to medium-heavy power and a moderate to fast action. 
  • When targeting bull reds, a rod of 7 feet or longer is recommended. 
  • An average suggestion is a 7-foot spinning rod with medium-heavy power and fast action.

Reel:

reel
  • Select a reel in the 2500-3500 size range, choosing a smaller size for puppy drum and slot reds and a larger size for bull reds.
  • An average recommendation is a 3000 size reel.

Line:

line
  • For grassy and muddy shoals, use an 8 to 15-pound monofilament line or 30 to 50-pound braided line. 
  • When fishing around structures like bridges, jetties, docks, and oyster beds, opt for a 15 to 25-pound monofilament line or 50 to 80-pound braided line. 
  • Consider a 20 to 30-pound fluorocarbon leader as optional but recommended, especially when fishing around structures or using light line. 
  • On average, a 12-pound monofilament line with a 20-pound fluorocarbon leader is a suitable choice.

Best Red drum Baits

Live Shrimp:

Live Shrimp

Live shrimp stands out as a versatile and effective bait for catching various fish, including red drum. This bait is suitable for both clear and murky water conditions and can be utilized either whole or cut into smaller pieces. Rigging options include circle hooks, kahle hooks, and bait hooks.

Fiddler Crabs:

Fiddler Crabs

Fiddler crabs prove to be another excellent bait for surf fishing red drum, particularly during the more active seasons of spring and fall. Similar to live shrimp, fiddler crabs can be used whole or cut into smaller pieces and rigged on a variety of hooks, including circle hooks, kahle hooks, and bait hooks.

Live Mullet:

Live Mullet

Live mullet, a larger bait, is a top choice for targeting big red drum. Whether used whole or cut into smaller pieces, live mullet can be rigged on different hooks, such as circle hooks, kahle hooks, and bait hooks.

Cut Bait:

Cut Bait

Cut bait is a versatile option, particularly in areas with abundant baitfish or murky water. Created from various fish like mullet, menhaden, or croaker, cut bait can be fished on a variety of hooks, including circle hooks, kahle hooks, and bait hooks. This bait choice is effective for a wide range of fishing scenarios.


Bait Sizes for Puppy Drum to Bull Reds:

Selecting the right bait size is crucial when targeting puppy drum, slot reds, or bull reds. Although they may all be enticed by the same bait, adjusting the size of your bait presentation proves to be the most effective strategy for catching redfish of your desired size. 

Bait Sizes for Puppy Drum to Bull Reds:

When utilizing fresh cut or frozen bait, opting for 2 to 4-inch pieces is ideal for targeting puppy drum and slot reds, while 6 to 8-inch pieces work best for enticing bull drum. If employing live bait, consider using larger bait for bull reds and smaller options for puppy drum, tailoring your approach to maximize success with each size category of redfish.


Best Lures and Artificial baits for Red Drum:

Here are some of the best lures and artificial bait for red drum:

Soft plastics swimbaits:

Soft plastics swimbaits

Soft plastics exhibit remarkable versatility, allowing for various rigging methods to replicate different baitfish species. Key soft plastics favored for red drum include:

  • Paddle tails: Ideal for both shallow and deep water fishing, paddle tails can be rigged on diverse hooks such as jig heads, swimbait hooks, and weedless hooks. Choose colors that mimic the local baitfish, such as silver, gold, or olive.
  • Jerkbaits: Suited for clear water conditions, jerkbaits can be rigged on a range of hooks, including treble hooks and single hooks.Suspending or floating jerkbaits can be twitched through the water to mimic injured prey. These lures work well when red drum are feeding on smaller baitfish. 

Hard Baits:

Hard Baits

Hard baits offer versatility in imitating diverse baitfish. Prominent hard baits for red drum comprise:

  • Crankbaits: Suitable for both shallow and deep water, crankbaits can be rigged with treble hooks or single hooks. 
  • Spoons: Suited for both clear and murky waters, spoons can be rigged with treble hooks or single hooks. 
  • Topwaters: Excelling in shallow water, topwaters can be rigged with treble hooks or single hooks. 

Metal Lures:

Metal Lures

Metal lures are ideal for areas with limited baitfish. Noteworthy metal lures for red drum include:

  • Jigs: Effective in both shallow and deep water, jigs can be rigged with soft plastics, shrimp, and crabs. 
  • Spinners: Suited for both clear and murky water, spinners can be rigged with soft plastics, shrimp, and crabs. 
  • Casting Spoons: Ideal for both clear and murky water, casting spoons can be rigged with soft plastics, shrimp, and crabs. 

Irrespective of your choice, ensure your lure matches the right size and color for prevailing fishing conditions. Experiment with different retrieval techniques to ascertain the most effective approach for the fish in your area.


Red Drum Surf fishing of all sizes

Puppy Drum:

Referring to juvenile fish, encompasses those below the 18-inch lower slot length limit. Typically under two years old, these smaller fish can be successfully targeted with lighter tackle, provided you present your bait effectively.

Slot Reds: 

Falling within the 18 to 27-inch length range, are the keeper fish. Enforced since 1989, Florida’s slot length limits ensure the sustainability of Red Drum fishing. These fish, aged two to three years, usually weigh less than 10 lbs. While challenging the boundaries of light tackle, you can still have success with relatively modest gear. 

Keep in mind that Red Drum regulations vary in Florida across three zones, so it’s important to check the specific regulations for your area.

Bull Reds:

These are the mature individuals, exceeding the upper 27-inch slot limit. As the breeding members of the species, they are protected. Bull Reds showcase their strength by utilizing the surf, running parallel to the shore during wave retreats to avoid the sand and resist capture. 

This, coupled with their strength, results in prolonged, challenging fights that necessitate heavier gear.


Red drum Surf fishing Rigs

In surf fishing for Red Drum, the preferred method involves utilizing modified fish finder rigs known as “Drum Rigs.” These bottom-feeding fish, not inherently line or hook shy, are typically caught using large terminal tackle. 

Red Drum Surf Fishing Rigs
  • Optimal hook sizes range from 6/0 for average Redfish to 10/0 or larger for big bull reds, considering the balance between size and versatility. 
  • Leader length, not excessively critical due to the fish’s lack of line shyness, impacts presentation and bait movement. A straightforward rig involves a sliding pyramid weight, heavy-duty snap swivel, and a large circle hook, ensuring the bait stays close to the bottom. 
  • More common variations incorporate heavy monofilament leaders ranging from 60 to 100 pounds, tied to 8/0 to 10/0 circle hooks.

Practical tips emphasize the importance of rig simplicity, effective knot tying, and leader strength for a successful surf fishing experience targeting Red Drum.


Red drum Surf fishing Tips

When surf fishing for red drum, mastering the nuances of their behavior is crucial. These tips will help you optimize your approach:

  • Focus on structure: When targeting red drum in the surf, they tend to cling to structure. Keep your rig close to these structures by casting near areas where the surf breaks inconsistently or where patches of darker water are present. 
  • Adapt your Rig to the structure: Red drum hug tight to structure, so ensure your rig mirrors this behavior. Use enough weight to anchor your rig firmly to the bottom, especially when fishing on sandy or gravel bottoms. Employ pyramid sinkers to prevent rolling with the current, and opt for bank sinkers around structures like rock piles, jetties, and oyster beds to avoid snags.
  • Casting technique matters: Exercise finesse in your casting technique. To keep your bait close to the structure and within the drum’s feeding area, cast softly. Overcasting may lead your bait too far away, reducing your chances of a successful catch.
  • Bait maintenance and Hook sharpness: Check your redfish bait every 15 minutes, especially in conditions with long casts, significant swells, or strong currents that may dislodge your bait. Red drum have tough mouths, so ensure your hooks remain sharp for solid hooksets. Regularly inspect and change your rig’s hooks to maintain effectiveness.
  • Prevent line abrasion: Red drum are powerful fighters, and line abrasion is a real risk. After landing a drum, cut your line a few inches and re-tie your rig. This precautionary measure on a fresh section of line helps prevent losing your next fish due to weakened or damaged line.

My Final Thoughts:

Surf fishing for red drum offers anglers an exciting and rewarding experience along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. This guide provides comprehensive insights into red drum characteristics, habitat, and optimal fishing conditions. Whether pursuing puppy drum, slot reds, or bull reds, understanding their behavior is crucial. From choosing the right tackle and bait to adapting strategies based on tides and weather, anglers can enhance their success. 

Focusing on structure, adapting rigs, and maintaining bait and hook sharpness are key tips for a fulfilling red drum fishing adventure. Armed with this knowledge, anglers can confidently navigate coastal waters and savor the rewards of pursuing the iconic red drum.

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