One of America’s most popular inshore game fish, the red drum is prized as a trophy and as a meal. And one thing is certain: no angler can resist the excitement of catching hard-fighting reds.
Often lured into a bite with live bait, hook choice for redfish is critical. Not only must it match the size of the bait you’re offering, it needs to match the size of the fish you’re chasing, as well. Options like shrimp, mullet, pinfish, and crabs all find their way onto hooks, and reds vary in length and weight from keeper-sized to true monsters.
That can make choosing the right hook for reds a little complicated, so let’s take a closer look.
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Only scientists use the name Sciaenops ocellatus for this species, with pretty much every fisherman calling them red drum, redfish, or simply reds.
Figuring out how they got this common name doesn’t take a lot of brain power. When vividly colored, their distinctive bright copper to orange-red scales are among nature’s finest displays.
However, many red drum sport more muted tones, fading to a dusky mauve or brownish-red.
Red drum can be a dull red-brown as well, but the distinctive tail spot is a dead give away.
You’ll also notice an unmistakable spot on the tail just forward of their final fin, and plenty of fishermen can tell you tales of sight-fishing reds in water so shallow that this spot was visible above the surface!
Plentiful in the inshore and tidal waters of the Gulf coast, and found as far north in the Atlantic as Virginia, reds are known to prefer a moving tide that drags unsuspecting prey into an ambush.
Mullet, poggie, pilchards, shrimp, crabs, cut and live bait: the range of options for reds is as impressive as their appetite.
Voracious predators, mature males reach average lengths of about 28 inches, while females average roughly 33 inches. Reds can, in fact, grow to as long as a whopping 45 inches and 50 line-snapping pounds, but legal keepers will slide into a slot limit of 16 to 27 inches in states like Louisiana.
And therein lies the problem for hook selection: a wide variety of baits combines with the red’s varying size to make a one-hook solution impossible.
The Best Hook for Redfish
Right out of the gate, I’m going to recommend that you stick with in-line circle hooks for reds.
While standard J-hooks can and do catch them, you’ll have more positive hooksets, less deep hooking situations, and you’ll land more reds of all sizes if you switch to circle hooks.
The reason is simple.
Standard hooks require a firm hookset timed to the instant that the red hits your bait. A moment too late and the fish is gone, a second or two too late and the hook is swallowed, probably killing the fish.
Circle hooks avoid the need for precise timing, allowing you to run more than one rod without missing strikes or getting your hooks caught in the reds’ guts. That has been demonstrated to decrease the mortality of released fish, something we can all agree is a good thing.
And by design, when the fish takes the bait, the hook turns and drives home into the corner of the jaw.
All you need to do is tighten your line by cranking your reel.
My go-to hook is a 2/0 Owner 5314 Mutu Light Circle Hook. Thin enough to keep live bait alive and kicking but strong enough to keep a bull red locked to your line, these hooks are among the best I’ve used for inshore fishing.
A 2/0 hook is about perfect for rigging shrimp, one of my favorite live bait options for reds, and it’s the right size for slot-limit fish.
For crabs, pilchard, mullet, and other larger live bait, I’ll step up in size to a 3/0, 4/0, or even 5/0 hook. Ideal for large bait like live mullet, these hook sizes are what you want when you’re chasing bull reds.
Red drum offer heart-pounding excitement, helping to explain why this species is as popular as it is.
But hook selection can be tricky, necessitating that you keep circle hooks of 2/0, 3/0, 4/0, and 5/0 ready to hand depending on the size of your bait and the fish that are biting.
We hope that you’ve learned something from this article, and as always, we’re here to answer any questions you might have.
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