Best Lures for Redfish: What You Need to Know

While live bait remains popular, a new breed of anglers have turned to lures in their quest to catch more - and bigger- red drum.

 

Related Articles

Best Reel For Redfish And Speckled Trout Reviewed

Best Rod For Redfish and Speckled Trout - Amazing Inshore Performance

Kayak Fishing for Redfish

 

Live and cut bait remain popular among anglers targeting red drum. However, a new breed of fishermen is dedicated to improving their technique. They aim to master the subtle science of the cast and retrieve. They are turning more into lures.

Indeed, lures offer several advantages. They are reusable and ready to go without a bait shop stop or net throws. They are also versatile and exciting to fish. They demand extra from anglers.

The difference is skill, technique, and mastery of fishing. They separate weekend anglers from those for whom fishing is a passion.

If you want to know more about lure selection and techniques for redfish, keep reading!

Redfish basics

women holding fish

Red drums, colloquially called “redfish” or “reds,” are members of the genus Sciaenops and the species Ocellatus. Redfish are closely related to the black drum, known to science as Pogonias cromis. They live in the warm, shallow waters of the southern Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico.

red fish habitat map red fish Florida map

Reds spawn from mid-August to mid-October in estuarine environments, where the resulting fry seek shelter and food. There, they’ll feed and grow, until they reach sexual maturity at roughly four years.

At this point, they’ll weigh as much as 9 pounds and measure somewhere in the neighborhood of 27 inches.

Redfish hunt shallow waters, even when mature, stalking passes, mud flats, oyster beds, grass beds, and man-made structures like jetties, erosion barriers, bridges, and piers.

Especially active during moving tides, reds will wait in ambush for prey items like mullet, menhaden, pinfish, crabs, and shrimp to be pushed to them by the current, and they’re frequently found in large schools in these prime habitats.

Their down-ward turned mouths are designed to allow them to suck prey such as crabs from the bottom, and while you can find red drum at any point in the admittedly shallow water column, they hug the bottom more often than not.

Lure selection basics

While a wide range of lures, including soft plastics and topwater, are effective at catching reds, there are a few tips that are almost universally applicable.

Color selection

Since red drum is predominantly located in water that’s just a few feet deep, color choice is less a question of which wavelengths - and thus colors - of light are absorbed by water and more an issue of turbidity, watercolor, and matching the hatch.

In the often murky, muddy waters of the Gulf Coast, you’ll sometimes fare better with bright colors rather than the usually subdued hues of nature.

White, chartreuse, red, silver, gold, and other high-visibility colors and patterns make sense when visibility is limited, and a bit of flash that mimics a fish’s scales is never a bad idea.

But in the gin-clear water found in some places in Florida, natural colors are almost always best.

There, you must recognize what’s on the menu that day, and ensure that your lures reflect the colors, patterns, and movement of Nature’s bounty. I personally really like the DOA Shrimp

DOA Shrimp

For instance, if the shrimp are running while you’re fishing, speckled translucent lures will be very effective, while if finger mullet are the primary prey item, a lure that’s gray, blue, and subtly silver will work wonders. Yo-Zuri 3DB Pencils is a great option.

Yo-Zuri 3DB Pencil

Trebles or singles?

Ask any experienced angler, and they’ll tell you how well a sharp treble-hooked lure locks up. 

They’ll also tell you how those same sharp barbs bite anything they touch, from tackle bags to shirts and marsh grass to oyster shells.

Red fish in water

Throwing a treble-hooked lure to reds hunting tall grass is going to raise your blood pressure quickly.

There’s simply no question that treble hooks work, but in some situations they work a little bit too well.

If you’re throwing a great plug like Yo-Zuri’s Crystal 3D Minnow in 10 feet of clear water, working the length of a jetty over a clear bottom, those treble hooks are going to increase your odds of a solid hookset and make throwing your lure nearly impossible.

Yo-Zuri’s Crystal 3D Minnow

But that same lure armed with those hooks will be little more than an exercise in frustration if you’re working the tops of a weed bed. It’ll hook every blade of grass and snag every chance it gets.

In situations like that, you’re far better off with two alternative options.

The first is to clip the lowest-hanging hook with a stout pair of pliers or wire cutters. That will leave you two sharp treble hooks, but it will reduce snags somewhat. 

This trick works well on a variety of lures including topwater options like Zara Spooks, which can and do snag on grasses and other vegetation when water levels are low.

Your other options is to switch hooks to singles like a 2/0 VMC. This will dramatically reduce snags, allowing you to run your lures through weeds and grasses without too much trouble.

Single-hooked lures like this Nomad Design DTX Minnow really come into their own when the reds are schooled up near - or in - grass beds.

Noise and vibration

Red drum rely on their powerful sense of smell to locate prey items, explaining why cut bait like mullet is so effective. 

Rat L-Trap

And when visibility is good, they’ll key-in on potential meals with their keen eyesight.

But estuarial water conditions are commonly turbid, and recent rains can make salt marshes look more like coffee than water.

That’s a great time to reach for lures that add significant noise or vibration.

Now, most lures already do that to some degree, whether we’re talking about the vibrations created by a paddle tail plastic or the tight wobble of a plug. But it’s almost never a bad idea to up the ante when visibility is poor and throw something that really makes some noise.

Z-mans original

That can include everything from the tried-and-true Rat-L-Trap, to chatterbaits like the Z-man’s Original, to Zara Spooks worked with a “walk the dog” action.

Heddon Zara Spook

I’m not sure there’s a more effective shallow water lure than the Heddon Zara Spook.

When the reds can’t see much further than their nose, smell, sound, and vibration will take over, and they’ll target anything that vibrates and sounds like a prey item in distress.

Top and bottom

A final thing to consider when selecting your lure is the height at which it’ll run in the water column.

Reds really stick close to the bottom the majority of the time, even when they’ve been pushed off their primary hunting grounds for slightly deeper water. 

Of course, given that they often hunt in just inches of water, the bottom and the top can sometimes be the same thing. In water less khan 10 feet deep, there’s really no “mid-level,” since topwater and bottom-hugging aren’t really that distinct.

Red fish in lake

You’ll often find schools of reds hunting in just inches of water.

As a result, when I’m choosing my lures, I think about topwater options and deep diving crankbaits, plugs, jigs, or Carolina rigs with soft plastics like flukes, paddle tails, and creature baits.

creature bait

A Carolina-rigged fluke is deadly, no matter how deep or shallow the water.

I tend to skip everything in the middle, meaning that if a lure won’t run within feet of the bottom of the surface, I give it a pass.

Now the trick to this is to recognize what constitutes “top” and “bottom” where reds are concerned.

If I’m fishing for a red drum that has abandoned a pass for a relatively deep channel, the bottom is likely to be about 20 to 30 feet under my keel. In this situation, there’s a substantial difference between choosing a Carolina-rigged fluke that’s going to float a foot or two off the bottom and a Rat-L-Trap running at 6 feet or so.

Most of the time, the Carolina-rigged soft plastic will massively outperform that rattling crankbait in 15 feet of water - though reds can and will rush off the bottom to hit something attractive mid-water column. It’s just not nearly as attractive to them.

Conversely, if I’m launching a Zara Spook into a shallow pass that’s just 5 or 6 feet deep, “top” and “bottom” are close to the same thing. Shallow-diving plugs, twitch baits, topwater, and jigs will all perform beautifully in this situation, and there’s no question that red drum lurking near the bottom will rise a few feet to hammer these lures.

Chatterbaits and Carolina rigs

If you’re a regular bass angler - and the chances of that are pretty good - you’ll know just how effective chatterbaits can be. And if you’ve fished for bass on a clear bottom, you’ve undoubtedly rigged a worm or craw Carolina style.

chatterbait

You should reconsider any hesitation about throwing chatterbaits inshore for reds.

But it may seem strange to throw lures like chatterbaits or rig a fluke or paddle tail Carolina style when you’re fishing in saltwater.

But reconsider.

Everything that makes these perfect for bass recommends them for redfish as well.

Zoom Salty Super Fluke

Chatterbaits, especially when sweetened with a paddle tail or fluke like the Zoom Salty Super Fluke provide everything you want in a lure for red drum.

They provide plenty of flash and vibration, in addition to a blade that thumps like mad. Add to that their enticing skirt and the trailer you’ve added, and you’ve got a dynamite combination for reds in shallow water, deep water, near weed beds, and pretty much anywhere else.

They also cast like a dream, sink quickly, and can be worked by popping them off the bottom, cranking your reel to take up the slack, and letting them flutter to the bottom.

Trust me, reds can’t resist that action!

And while Carolina rigs sound like a bass-only option, consider how effective a soft plastic suspended a foot or two off the bottom that remains free to twitch and move can be.

Fluke, paddle tail, tube, shrimp: whatever soft plastic you choose is going to be deadly.

Jigs

Jigs are one of my favorite lure options for reds, wherever I’m fishing.

 

Z-MAN Redfish Eye Jighead

 

A good jig, whether that’s a Z-MAN Redfish Eye Jighead, a Reaction Tackle Tungsten Swim Jig, or even a 6th Sense Divine Shakey Head, will work wonders for you near jetties, in channels, passes, saltmarshes, and darn near anywhere else, too.

6th Sense Divine Shakey Head

Think about it: as good as a standard jig head is for working the bottom with a paddle tail or fluke, consider swim jigs and shaky heads with trailers like grubs like the Berkley Gulp Grub, the Strike King Strike King Rage Ned Worm, or other soft plastics.

Strike King Strike King Rage Ned Worm

Think outside the box when selecting your soft plastic trailers and jig heads.

Strike King Strike King Rage Ned Worm

Think outside the box when selecting your soft plastic trailers and jig heads.

Borrow everything you can from bass fishing when you’re working the bottom, including your jig techniques.

I love jigs in the marsh among the weeds and grass. They slide through thick vegetation without getting hung up, can be popped or swum just off the bottom, and reds simply devour them.

Even finesse options like the Ned rig are handy, as they can be weighted to allow the current to drag them around the edges and sides of jetties and small islands, moving just like natural prey items.

Spoons

Gold spoons are among the most reliable lures for reds you can find.

I prefer weedless designs when I’m in the marsh or working grass, like the Berkley Johnson, but I’ll throw treble-hooked version like the Eppinger Original Dardevle where getting snagged isn’t an issue.

Berkley JohnsonEppinger Original Dardevle

And I don’t just throw gold. 

Hammered nickel hammers reds like nobody’s business, and swapping the treble for a single makes the Dardevle a real winner in the grass, too.

Hammered nickel

I’ll run these lures through the tops of grass beds, down the length of a jetty or erosion barrier, down a beach, and across and through a pass during a moving tide. 

I’ll vary my retrieval speed, and add a few pops here and there, but the real magic is the spoon’s own wiggle.

“Deadly” is the only way to describe this legendary option.

Plugs

plug bait

Used correctly, a plug is more than a great search lure.

When you’re looking at a long erosion barrier, jetty, oyster bed, or patch of grass, a lure that can cover water quickly is essential. 

Plugs are fantastic search baits, and if you know how to use them, they can change the game for reds.

That’s a strong statement, so let me back it up!

You’ll remember my advice to think about the top and bottom, but not the middle.

A good plug like the Daiwa Salt Pro Minnow is designed to float. It sports a short bill that lets you pop it under the surface for a second or two, or run it steadily just a few inches deep. 

Either way, reds waiting near the bottom in shallow water are looking overhead for baitfish, and when they see your plug silhouetted against the sky, wriggling for all it’s worth, it’s game over!

I also like to throw a MirrOLure near jetties and other man-made structures, and I’ve even swapped the trebles for singles and run these little wonders in the marsh grass.

MirrOLure

MirrOLure has really dialed in the action and pattern on this lure.

MirrOLure has really dialed in the action and pattern on this lure.

If you haven’t ripped a MirrOLure plug through the tops of grass or around the edges of a pass during a moving tide, you’ll be amazed by how effective this little lure is.

And if you’re not careful, specks will devour this one, too.

Other plugs to consider include the ever-popular Nomad Design DTX Minnow and the X-Rap Long Cast Shallow. Both are deadly, and if I know I’m fishing in a marsh, I’ll rig them with single hooks and never look back!

X-Rap Long Cast Shallow

The X-Rap is among the most effective plugs money can buy.

But with all plugs, the question to ask yourself is “Where is the bottom?” If it’s not within 10 feet of the running depth of your lure, look for something else to throw.

Twitch baits

Twitch baits are something of a specialty lure, occupying a niche that almost nothing else does.

And although they look a lot like plugs, they’re very different in performance and the technique you use to work them. Yo-Zuri 3DB Pencils are deadly.

Yo-Zuri 3DB Pencil

Twitchbaits are the ideal weapon in a moving tide for finesse presentations. You cast your twitch bait upcurrent, letting it drift with the tide past where the reds are waiting. 

As it’s carried along, you give it a pop and twitch every few seconds, mimicking an injured finger mullet or menhaden. 

This drives hungry reds wild! Daiwa’s Saltiga Dorado Slider is nothing short of murder when you’re working a pass during a moving tide.

Daiwa’s Saltiga Dorado Slider

Think of twitch baits as the saltwater equivalent of a jerkbait.

They can remain in the strike zone for quite a long time, and a little action on the end of your rod is all it takes to send these lures darting and jerking, attracting plenty of attention but not really moving.

As a result, sluggish reds have time to see and feel that motion, driving them to strike even when water temperatures are lower than they’d like for active feeding.

Topwater

Perhaps the most exciting options for catching red drum are topwater lures.

In water of roughly 10 feet or less, the right topwater choices - worked properly - will call reds off the bottom for explosive strikes.

You’re looking for two things in a good topwater lure for reds: the right shape and size and plenty of surface-disturbing action.

Redfish are going to see your topwater lure silhouetted against the sky, and they’ll look for its general shape, size, and color before moving in for the kill.

Options like the Heddon Chug N’ Spook Popper, the Heddon One Knocker Spook, the Heddon Zara Spook, and the Heddon Torpedo are nothing short of dynamite!

Heddon Chug N’ Spook PopperHeddon Torpedo

For my money, Heddon has cornered the market on salty topwater lures for reds. If you don’t believe me, give any one of these lures a try in either bone or clear (for the torpedo). 

You’ll be a believer in minutes!

The poppers, torpedoes, and spooks can be jerked to pop them across the surface, worked with a “walk the dog action,” retrieved, or pulsed in a series of stops and starts.

I’ve never had more explosive strikes, and you can bet I’ve got a mess of Heddon topwater lures in my tacklebag when I hit the salt marsh.

If I’m fishing over grass that’s reaching to the surface, I’ll swap those sharp trebles for singles and never look back!

Final Thoughts

Your range of options for redfish lures is broad, covering everything from topwater to jigs, plugs to twitch baits, and Carolina-rigged flukes to chatterbaits.

What these lures have in common is an ability to target the bottom or the top of the water column, to look and act like prey items, and to attract attention in all conditions, all visibilities, and all water temperatures.

If you’re looking to reliably catch redfish as something more than an exercise in luck, and if you’re one of those anglers who wants more from fishing than soaking live bait on the bottom, give one or more of these lures a try.

You won’t be sorry!

As always, we’re here to answer any questions you might have, so please leave a comment below.

About The Author
John Baltes