Red Drum / Redfish - Sciaenops ocellatus
Also known as: Channel Bass, Puppy Drum, Redfish, Spot-tail Bass
The red drum is found in the western Atlantic Ocean from Maine to the Gulf of Mexico. The red drum is a schooling species that occurs inshore over sandy or muddy bottoms. It inhabits both salt and brackish waters and can tolerate fresh water. It is found in inlets and channels, and smaller specimens may be found in shallow estuaries.
The red drum can be distinguished from the black drum (Pogonias cromis) by its lack of chin barbels and more elongated body. The body has coppery red overtones on a silvery gray background. The most obvious and characteristic marking on the red drum is a large black spot about the size of the eye on either side of the caudal peduncle, just before the tail fin. Sometimes there are two spots on each side, and occasionally there may be similar spots on the body.
It is a strong, hard fighter when hooked. Fishing methods include drifting or still fishing on the bottom, jigging or casting from boats or from shore, and slow trolling. In some areas red drum may be stalked on the flats like bonefish. Baits and lures include crabs, shrimp, clams, jigs, plugs, spoons, strip bait, and streamer flies. Large red drum can be taken from just above the breaker line on an incoming tide or near channels, inlets and shell beds.
Very large specimens are often called bull reds, although they are usually females. Red drum up to about 10-15 lb. (5-7 g) are very fine eating. Larger specimens may be coarse, stringy and unpalatable.
Baitfish and schools of larger fish can swim so close together they actually change the color of the water. Train your eyes to look for these moving patches of color, and you will be rewarded for your efforts. Cast ahead and let your bait float to the school.
Ripples, Currents, Swirls and Sprays
Call it what you will, but it might be a fish. It might be baitfish feeding. It might be baitfish trying to jump out of the water to escape game fish. Or, it might be bubbles and rings from a big fish that just went down to eat a minnow. Cast quickly, and you might get lucky.
Overhanging Trees and Bushes
Usually close to shore, these spots offer protection from the sun and above-water predators. Bigger fish rest in these areas if the water isn’t too shallow, allowing quick access to deeper water for feeding and escape.
Outsides of Bends
When the river or stream curves, the faster water (which carries the food) moves to the outside of the bend, and fish look for food in these bends. If the outside of the bend also contains a rock or fallen tree (to slow down the food-carrying current), it’s an even better place to catch fish.
When the tide moves into a small inlet, or point, it slows down and moves in a different direction than the main flow for a short period of time. Fish will feed where the backwards flow slows down and the food settles.
A current edge is a place where natural or man-made objects slow the current. When the current slows, the food that travels with it also slows. So fish rest at current edges and wait for a nice, slow meal to come by. Current edges can be created by natural or man-made structures like bends, merging currents, drop-offs, rocks and islands.
Merging Currents - Feeder Brooks, Stream or Creek Mouths
Flowing water carries food. So when two bodies of flowing water meet, fish will find twice as much food. Plus, when currents collide, there’s a small area in the intersection where the water and food actually slow down, making merging currents an excellent place to catch fish.
When water flows over a drop-off, it slows down and sinks, taking the food it carries with it. A drop-off is a great feeding place because it has food, deeper water and it’s away from the current, allowing for a more relaxing dining experience for the fish.
Rock and Boulder Pockets
When flowing water hits rocks and boulders, it splits and goes around the obstruction, creating an area of calm water on the downstream side of the obstruction. Fish will rest, facing upstream, on the downstream side of a rock. These pockets are small, but a handy cast could land you a fish.
Undercuts are considered the perfect hiding spot on the river. They occur where the current has cut out a cave-like hole in earth or rock along the shore. If there’s a tree above the undercut, all the better. Undercuts provide protection from above-water predators and the sun. And easy access to deeper water for feeding or escape. The biggest, baddest river fish live in undercuts.
Dams and Falls
When water continually drops off a dam or falls, it creates a big hole or drop-off. Fish will sit at the bottom of these holes to get away from the current and to eat sinking food. Fish can get trapped in these holes if they are going upstream to find cooler water or to spawn.
Small Pointed Waves
These triangle-shaped waves form where faster water meets slower water. Like the riverside edge of a bend, bay or eddy. Large fish gather under these waves because the water slows and food drops.
Riparian zones are the middle strip of vegetation between the river and the flatter land beyond the shore. These zones serve as a natural biofilter to protect water from excessive sedimentation, polluted surface runoff and erosion. And they supply shelter, food and shade for fish and other aquatic animals. A thriving riparian zone is a sign of good water quality and good fishing.
Bays and Estuaries
If you’re fishing in a bay or estuary, you better have a big tackle box. These bodies of water contain a mixture of fresh water and salt water. They also contain a mixture of freshwater and saltwater fish. Bays and estuaries can be fished from shore or from a boat. Estuaries are locations in which the mouth of a river meets the ocean. Estuaries support saltwater fish such as tarpon, snook, redfish and striped bass. Other saltwater fish like shad, herring, salmon and sea-run trout can also be found in estuaries because they need to find saltier or fresher water when it’s time to mate. Freshwater fish like largemouth bass can also survive in the salty waters found in estuaries.
Weather can also affect the mix of fish in combined waters. Stormy weather pushes fresh water from the rivers closer to the ocean, causing freshwater to move farther downstream. Dry weather pushes salt water and saltwater fish further upstream into the rivers.
Ocean bays don’t have much freshwater influence. But because they are protected from severe ocean conditions, they become ideal nurseries for many species of baitfish and shell fish, which can draw bigger saltwater fish into the bays to feed.
Anywhere water is forced to move through a smaller opening, currents run faster and dig deeper into the bottom. Fish will be attracted to these places because the water is deeper and the supply of food is more concentrated in the “pinched’ area.
It’s only natural, baitfish and other marine creatures gather around piers and pilings because they’re looking for food and protection from currents. This attracts larger game fish species like snook and tarpon that feed on the bait surrounding these structures.
When fast moving water flows into a small inlet, or eddy, it slows down and creates a whirlpool. Fish will feed where the whirlpool is slowest or in the main body of the river where the whirlpool kicks out the food that has been carried in and out of the eddy.
If you see waves on the water that look like a rollercoaster, the water is probably going over underwater rocks. Fish like to sit in the shallow part of these waves.
Drift fishing allows you to fish over a variety of habitats as your boat drifts with the currents or wind movement. You can drift fish on the bottom or change the depth with a bobber or float. Natural baits work very well but jigs, lures and scented artificial baits will produce good results, too. When drift fishing with multiple baits and rods, it is always a good idea to set out each bait at a different depth. This allows the angler to cover more of the water column.
With fly-fishing, various materials are used to design a very lightweight lure called a fly. A fly can serve as a ‘dry fly’ or ‘wet fly’. A dry fly will float on the water and mimic a floating insect and a wet fly will sink below the surface to mimic a swimming bait. It takes a little practice, but fly-fishing is a pure and exciting way to fish. Unlike other casting methods, fly-fishing can be thought of as a method of casting line rather than lure. Non-fly-fishing methods rely on a lure's weight to pull line from the reel during the forward motion of a cast. By design, a fly is too light to be cast on its own so it must follow the trajectory of the cast fly line, which is thicker and heavier so that it casts easier than lines used in other types of fishing (such as monofilament). The angler normally holds the fly rod in the dominant hand and manipulates the line with the other hand close to the reel, pulling line out in small increments as the energy in the line, generated from backward and forward motions, increases.
Jigging lures, or “jigs”, are some of the most versatile lures in that can be used in just about any place you find fish. Jigs comes in all shapes, colors, styles and weights and can be fished in a variety of different manners so that they mimic baitfish. The two most common jigs are probably the bucktail jig and the vertical jig.
A bucktail jig will typically consist of a lead head, that can be a variety of different shapes and sizes, which is molded onto a hook and has hair-like material tied to the bottom of the jig head. This hair-like material is where the name “bucktail” comes from because many bucktail jigs are made using hair from a deer. The bucktail hair and jighead come in a variety of different colors. These bucktail jigs can be fished by themselves or they can be rigged with a rubber worm, live shrimp or other natural baits like strips of fish.
A vertical jig, or speed jig, is made of a long and slender piece of lead or metal that cuts through the water mimicking an injured baitfish. Vertical jigs will have one or more dangling hooks attached to a split ring which can be attached to the top or the bottom of the jig. Vertical jigs range anywhere from 1/8 oz. up to 14 oz. and are also referred to as “butterfly jigs.”
When fishing with jigs, it is important that the angler constantly jig the lure up and down by constantly lifting the rod tip up and down. A good method for jigging is to drop the jig all the way down to the bottom and with a very rapid retrieval, twitch the rod tip erratically until the jig comes to the surface and repeat. No matter which type of jig you are using, it is important to match the weight of each jig to the depth at which you are fishing. Deeper water will require heavier jigs to reach the bottom. It is also important to take the tides and current into consideration when choosing your jig weight.
Still fishing is a versatile way to go. You can do it from a pier, a bridge, an anchored boat or from shore. And you can still fish during most seasons and during any part of the day. Your equipment and the size of the hooks and bait you use depend on what kind of fish you’re after. Your best equipment for still fishing is patience. You have to wait for the fish to bite. A great method for still fishing is to use one rod with natural bait that will soak or sit on the bottom as well as a casting rod with an artificial bait or lure. While you’re letting your natural bait soak, you can keep occupied and cover more ground while taking casts with a lure.
Surf casting is perhaps one of the easiest methods of fishing the ocean without access to a boat. Fishing off the beach does not come without its challenges, though. Surf casting requires large and bulky equipment. Rod sizes can be as large as ten feet. Special rigs are used in surf casting in order to combat the strong currents and sometimes large waves. This allows the bait to remain suspended or at the bottom of the water column. The simplest of the rigs consists of a terminal egg weight with a hook attached to a loop knot six or seven inches above the weight.
Bait & Lures
Hard-shell, soft-shell and peeler crabs are all good bait for saltwater fish. You can pull them apart or use them whole. To hook a whole crab, bore the hook through the shell like a drill. Work the hook through the pointed part of the shell on either side of the body. Hooked this way, the crab will live pretty well and provide some action to attract fish.
Using fish cut into pieces attracts fish in a different way than whole, live bait or lures. Fish that are attracted to scent are more likely to hit on cut bait. You can use just about any baitfish to make cut bait as well as other fish species. Before using any fish as cut bait, always make sure the fish you plan on using is a legal species and meets the minimum size requirement, if there is a size limit on that species. All size and species regulations can be obtained at tackle shops or your state’s fishing law enforcement website.
Poppers and flies are small lures used with spincast and fly-fishing tackle. These baits are very good for pan fish and other fish that feed on the surface such as trout and bass. Poppers get their action from a cupped face carved or molded into the front of the lure body. Fly action is totally controlled by the angler.
Jigs have weighted metal heads and a tail made of animal hair, soft plastic, feathers or rubber. Anglers sometimes add a minnow or piece of pork rind to the jig's hook. Jigs can be used to catch nearly every kind of freshwater fish
Plugs have a plastic or wood body and are designed to be fished on top of the water or at depths below the surface. Top-water or floating plugs are designed to float on the surface and are great lures to use during the early morning and late evening hours when fish are actively feeding. Diving plugs have plastic or metal lips so they will dive to a certain depth. The size of the lip will determine how deep a lure will dive but the rated dive depths can often be found on the box they are packaged in. A good plug to start with will often be a similar color to the baitfish that you see swimming in the area you are fishing. For example, if you notice that there are a lot of 3 inch baitfish with silver bodies and dark green backs, look for a plug of similar size and color.
Saltwater Live Bait
Using live bait such as shrimp or various baitfish is a very effective method to use while targeting pelagic species of predatory fish. “Baitfish” is a term that refers to any saltwater schooling fish that serve as a food source to other larger fish. Species used are typically those that are common and breed rapidly, making them easy to catch and in regular supply. Good examples of marine bait fish are anchovies, ballyhoo (sometimes referred to as halfbeaks), herring, menhaden and scad.
Shrimp are the favorite meal of saltwater fish. You can use shrimp as bait when you're fishing from a bridge, pier, bank or boat. Different-size fish will hit on different-size shrimp.
Place the hook beneath the shrimp's head so the barb comes out on top, avoiding the black spot. Hooking the black spot will kill a shrimp immediately. Action is important for attracting fish.
You can also insert the hook from the top of the shrimp, work the point beneath the black spot and bring the barb out on top again. This method is considered best for bottom fishing.
A third method stops bait-stealing fish. Insert the hook from the tail of the shrimp and thread the body onto the hook, passing the barb beneath the black spot.
Tips and Tricks for Shrimp
You can keep shrimp fresh in a freshwater minnow bucket. No matter what you store them in, don't overcrowd shrimp.
Perhaps the most effective method for catching largemouth bass is with soft plastics. This is especially true of the plastic worm. In general, worms are fished very slowly and smoothly. A soft plastic can be rigged one of three ways: the Carolina rig, the Texas rig and the Wacky rig. The primary difference between the Carolina and Texas rigs is the location of the lead weight. In a Texas rig, the bullet weight rests directly in front of the plastic; whereas the bullet weigh is separated approximately six inches from the worm by a swivel in a Carolina rig. A Wacky rig is simply a soft plastic tube or tail-less worm that is hooked right at the center of the lure. The idea for the Wacky rig is to have two equal lengths of the worm or tube on both ends of the hook. All of this rigging is applicable to virtually all soft plastics, including swim baits and artificial crayfish.
Color choice depends on the body of water being fished. Brighter colors tend to work better in clear, translucent water, and darker colors tend to work better in opaque, muddy water.
There are many styles of worms and this too is dependant of the specific body of water. Generally, the more commotion a lure creates, the better it is for muddy water. You simply have to be prepared for whatever conditions you will meet on the water.
Spoons are metal lures designed to look like a swimming baitfish or minnow. Many spoons are made to be cast while others are meant to be trolled behind a moving boat. Depending on where and how you're fishing, you can buy weedless, structure or trolling spoons. Ask your tackle shop which types you need.