There’s more than a little truth to the idea that 90% of the fish are in 10% of the water. If you find reds in a school, especially if they’re actively feeding, pretty much anything you throw is going to get hit.
For instance, when they’re feeding on panicked mullet in shallow water, any spoon, popper, jerk bait, or paddle tail will elicit a strike. That’s a simple fact.
But I’ve also been fishing side-by-side with a partner, and watched him pull in fish after fish while my line may as well have been on dry land. What made the difference?
Lure selection and bait presentation.
Finding the reds is important; throwing the right lure or bait is, too!
Table of Contents (clickable)
Best Bait for Redfish
Much of the time, properly-presented live bait is the most effective approach to reds.
And that means following two rules:
- Vary your bait with the season to “match the hatch;” and
- Use the right technique to rig and work your live bait
When the shrimp are running, usually in summer and early fall, they’re an outstanding live bait option. A natural food source for reds, you’re throwing what they expect to find–which is always a strong choice.
I like to use a 3/0 Gamakatsu circle hook to help lock reds to my line. I find that “octopus” or circle-style hooks, designed as they are to facilitate hook-set, really do improve my strike-to-catch ratio.
Hooking shrimp properly is important, and I prefer to run my hooks through the head for the greatest durability and action. Done right, this keeps the shrimp alive, kicking, and firmly on my hook.
If you’re not sure how to rig shrimp, this tutorial video is must-see:
Crabs are another great choice, especially in spring as the water warms. A common prey item between cool-water minnows and warm-water shrimp, pretty much any species is on the menu–just be sure to follow local laws!
For smaller reds, whole fiddler crabs and quartered blues are ideal, but for big bull reds, large halves of fresh crab are hard to beat.
I remove the claws, strip the shell, and carefully remove the legs before cutting my crabs into halves or quarters depending on their size. And I use 5/0 or 6/0 Gamakatsu circle hooks to match the size of the pieces.
Crabs are easy to rig on a hook, and if you’re new to the whole process, this video is a great introduction:
Fall and Winter Mullet and Minnows
Mullet are an essential food-source for reds, and if there’s a better option than fresh cut mullet, I’m not sure what it is!
My top tip is to use fresh-caught mullet; frozen mullet gets far too soft once it thaws–as pretty much every veteran redfish angler can attest. As at the table, so too in the water: fresher is always better!
If you’re not sure how to cut mullet for a hook, Tony at SaltStrong has put together a great tutorial:
Another cool-weather option is the humble mud minnow, and from the Carolinas to Texas, you’ll find anglers rigging up minnows for reds.
You want your minnows as lively as possible, and keeping a cast net handy is always a good idea. We used to cast under lights at night, along docks and pilings, and anywhere we found these little guys clustering.
Supplied with a mess of wriggling, fresh minnows, we knew we were in for some hard hits the next morning!
Though it will shorten the minnow’s life a bit, I still recommend a stout 3/0 Gamakatsu circle hook. Yes, a thinner hook will improve their life expectancy, but a big red will bend it straight, too! Stick with the thick 3/0s, and you won’t be disappointed.
You hook a large mud minnow just like you would any other, and there are a variety of techniques you can use:
Rigging Live Bait: Popping Corks
Selecting and hooking your live bait options are only the first step. No less important is the way in which they’re rigged.
Even in shallow water, I like to use a popping cork. Since they simulate the sound and vibration of feeding baitfish, they act like redfish magnets, amplifying the effectiveness of your bait. They cast a country mile, letting you hit redfish without spooking them with your boat. And they allow you to easily run stout leader, an essential when you’re fishing near oyster beds.
I typically skip the expensive fluorocarbon, and run 20- to 40-pound Berkley Trilene Big Game. Plenty strong and very abrasion-resistant, it ties a lot better than fluoro, too. I measure my leader to keep my bait off the bottom, but close to it–maybe 8-10 inches off the mud and shells.
Ideally, you want to be fishing near, but not on the bottom, when your bait falls. But as you pop that cork, you’ll pull your hook and bait upward in the water column–a good thing–before letting it fall again.
The idea is to cast, let your bait sink for a moment, and then pop that cork a few times. Repeat as necessary–but it shouldn’t be long!
This presentation combines sound and motion, and it’s a proven technique on reds.
Best Lures for Redfish
Live bait isn’t the only option for reds, and there are plenty of good lure choices, whether you’re hitting them over mud flats in just a few feet of water or in deeper water, just offshore.
Any redfish angler can tell you that gold-colored spoons are money. Designed to help you work weeds like a pro, they’re one of the most effective lure choices for shallow water.
As Colby Creppel, a professional guide in Louisiana, explains, “Redfish like to hang out around that grass, and spoons work through grass easily.”
My favorite? The H&H Weedless in ¾, ½, and ¼ ounce sizes. It slips through weeds easily, flashes in the murkiest water, and has a more durable construction than competitors like the Johnson Sliver Minnow.
The trick to making your life easier with spoons is to run a swivel, avoiding line twist. Especially if you’re running mono main-line, or a mono or fluoro leader, you’ll want that swivel in place.
Lots of red-fishermen essentially sight fish. They’ll cruise near likely spots in very shallow water, knowing that reds are chasing prey items up into the weeds and muddy banks.
When they see tails or dorsal fins, they’ll start casting to them.
What do they throw?
One option is a topwater lure like the Rapala Saltwater Skitter Walk 11. Almost 4 ½ inches of gold-colored, mullet-shaped body, this buoyant topwater lure is designed to “walk the dog,” zig-zagging across the surface with an enticing action as you pump-and-rest.
Another top-flight choice is the Live Target Mullet Twitchbait. Deadly on everything from snook to flounder and specks to reds, this 4 ½ inch floating twitchbait moves, darts, and wriggles like the real thing.
Soft Plastics on Spinners
Pretty much whatever the water conditions, I like to throw something with vibration, flash, and action. And nothing seems to work as well as Strike King’s Redfish Magic when I’m working deeper water for reds.
Powered by a #4 Colorado blade, this big spinner is everything a red wants to eat! I like to pair it with a Z-MAN DieZel MinnowZ or a Gulp! Saltwater Shrimp, depending on the season and what’s in the food chain at the moment.
Both options provide scent and action, enhancing the effectiveness of the spinner.
Weedless-Rigged Soft Baits
As the water cools, reds will get a bit less active, and you need a slower, lower presentation to entice a strike. One way to do that is to offer a soft plastic on a jig head, preferably rigged weedless.
I rig these on either a 2/0 or 3/0 Gamakatsu Weighted Superline Spring Hook, let them sink, and slowly pop them off the bottom while retrieving. The idea is to let them flutter back down and rest for a moment, before lifting them again.
This yo-yo action is killer, and when combined with a premium soft bait, it’s a technique that really produces.
Redfish aren’t finicky eaters, but they do have preferences. And the more you know about what to throw, the more–and bigger–the reds you catch will be!
We hope these tips and recommendations help you catch more redfish, and we’d love to hear from you!
Please leave a comment below.