Even if you don’t live close to inshore saltwater action, you have probably noticed that redfish are the rage. For one thing, you know any species has arrived when it has its own tournament circuit.
These days, it isn’t just the locals who chase redfish. Traveling anglers seeking new challenges are discovering this sporting species. Adaptable to a wide variety of habitats and willing to hammer artificial lures, reds have built an enormous fanbase.
“It’s where bass fishing was 20 years ago,” says Bernie Schultz, a Rapala pro and a guy who would know. Schultz, along with fellow Rapala pro Rick Murphy, say that if you have a tackle box full of bass baits you can bring them to the salt and catch reds.
“To a lot of people, the perception is that (bass and redfish) are worlds apart,” says Schultz, “and that you need a whole new set of lures to fish redfish. (But the reality is) they’re almost parallel, and the presentations are typically very similar.”
(Among bass fishing’s elite, there is this recognition. Competitive bass anglers are migrating to redfish events.)
Having traveled widely to fish in bass tournaments and pursue a variety of other species, Schultz believes that once you understand something about a fish, you can usually catch it wherever you go. “Bass can be caught in much the same way, no matter where you are, in similar habitats,” he says. “A fish is a fish, and redfish are no exception.”
It’s tough to describe redfish tendencies in a few words, but we’ll give it a go.
For one thing, says Schultz, when he’s searching for bass he’ll start by making key assumptions based on the season of year. “But when I approach a flat looking for redfish,” he says, “it’s not so much seasonal as tidal. The influences are more immediate.
“I also study forage. Is it crabs, minnows, shrimp? Different forage types can be in the same area, and the redfish can focus on one at one tidal stage and others at different stages.
“Redfish swim in schools, smaller packs, and you can find rogues. They’ll hold in cover like bass, sit on rocks, oyster beds, and current breaks in tidal creeks. Logs in the water, docks, all sorts of cover can hold redfish.”
Redfish are ‘cruisers’ and gutsy in skinny water. When the tide goes out and water recedes off a flat, redfish tend to be more comfortable hanging in the shallow water, longer, than other species. You can spot them with tails partially in the air, moving through super shallow water.
“They can become almost oblivious to their surroundings,” says Schultz. “They’ll get trapped in tidal creeks at low tide and just hunker down and wait for the tide to come up. They’ll burrow down into grass or whatever’s there, almost become part of the bottom, almost like a catfish.”
At high tide on flats, look for ‘shoreline’ cover that provides shade, such as mangroves. Get right in there when the sun is high and so is the water. Under high tide, also look for irregularities such as ditches or little creeks running through a flat.
At low tide (assuming they got out while the gettin’ was good), look for reds along the deep edge of a flat where it meets deeper water.
Keys to Catching Redfish
As with any kind of fishing, a few suggestions cannot cover every situation. But you can catch a lot of redfish by working sighted fish when conditions are right, and by casting to high percentage areas when you don’t see fish.
“If you see a fish,” says Schultz, “try to lead it. The best scenario is to walk the bait away from the fish, in the direction the fish is traveling.”
When it’s hard to spot fish (such as high tide, overcast skies, turbid water or fish holding in cover), make casts to high percentage areas. Keep your bait in places like the edges of oyster bars, over the tops of bars, in bends of creek beds as they weave through a flat or marshy area, and tight to cover.
A variety of lures will catch reds, but these pros like the X-Rap in size 8 and 10, the small size 8 Skitter Walk, and the Twitchin’ Rap size 8, a bait that Murphy, especially, favors.
The little X-Rap is a redfish killer. Just cast it out and jerk it in, using a variety of presentation patterns to see what triggers strikes.
The Skitter Walk triggers reds, too. In the skinniest water, it’s a great option, and will catch fish when you’re almost randomly casting deeper water. “Generally,” says Schultz, “I work it steady, not too fast, and pause a lot. If it gets a fish’s attention, a lot of times I’ll just barely move it. If the fish hits but misses, I move it a little bit and see if he’ll come back. Redfish are not known as topwater feeders, but they just slam it.”
The Twitchin’ Rap can be fished as a wounded baitfish. Especially when you see reds tearing into mullet or other small bait, it’s time to break out this new balsa bait.
As you strive to understand redfish, think of them as being more similar to bass than other saltwater species are. “Redfish are different,” says Schultz. “They look at a bait like a bass does. Make the right move and he’ll crush it. Or, he might refuse it and swim away. Just like a bass. A growing number of fishermen are going after redfish, because the rewards are there.”
If you live anywhere near the coast, or take a trip, you can get in on the action. In the heat of summer, when bass fishing can be tough, there seems to always be a breeze at the edge of the salt, redfish riding in and out on the tides, awaiting your lures.
In the fall, in the dead of winter, they are still there, and they will still hammer your bait if you show them what they want to see.
Note: This article was crafted by the Rapala Pro Staff. For more fishing insights, go to www.rapala.com.