Best Bait for Red Drum

What is the Best Bait for Catching Red Drum?

Depends on who you ask right; Everyone has their own secret Red Drum bait.  However, Red Drum could be the most sought after saltwater fish on the south east coast. Red Drum are very aggressive feeders, really strong fighters, and are also excellent table fare. Being popular also means they have a big target on their head. Red Drum take around 4 years to achieve a length of 30 inches. Juvenile Red Drum also known as “Rat Reds” live in brackish inshore estuaries feeding primarily on shrimp, crabs, mollusks, small fish, and anything else they can catch. Around 4 years of age however, the Red Drum migrate offshore and join the Bull Red Drum spawning populations where they continue to grow to more than 30 pounds. Surviving 20 years or more, it is these spawning adults that need to be protected from harvest.

How to Catch Redfish in the South East US

Many state regulations use a slot limit to determine which Red Drum may be taken. For example, at the time of this writing Georgia DNR allows 5 Red Drum not less than 14 inches and no longer that 23 inches in length to be harvested. Which might be the best of any state in the south (jealous?) As long as catch and release is in effect, landing an over slot Red Drum can be a good time. Take a quick picture then gently return the Bull Red Drum back into the Sea by allowing the Red Drum to recover for a few minutes, or until then the fish lets you know it is ready.

Red Drum are recognizable because of their copper to bronze color and distinctive dark “eye” spots on the tail. Red Drum prefer warm saltwater and can be targeted in shallow flats, tailing along grassy mud banks, rock covered points, and oyster banks or shell beaches. Live shrimp, mud minnows and finger mullet are among the best baits to use. These baits can be fished on the bottom or floated along shallows using a popping cork. I prefer a 4” white Gulp shrimp on a 3/8 oz to 1/2 oz round gold hooked jig head and ideally with eyes on the jig head.

Massive Schools of Red Drum

Schools of Red Drum use structure and points as they move out of creeks on a falling tide. Many times this will mean staging on the down current points of oyster bars and rakes. When they are returning on the incoming tide, they roll into pockets, sloughs and cuts along the grass line. Anywhere that provides quick access to the flooded grass is where Red Drum will pause until the water gets high enough to get into the grass to tail.

How to Catch Shallow Water Red Drum

Sight casting along oyster beds for Red Drum has become popular among coastal anglers. This most often requires a boat or skiff capable of floating in only a few inches of water. Wade fishing can be just as effective if care is taken not to spook the Red Drum. Red Drum, like most saltwater fish, seek out structure and shelter that hold bait with easy access to escape from dolphin and shark attack. Under water structure such as bridges, piers, and jetties will all attract schools of Red Drum. Medium weight tackle offer the most action when landing these fish.

What is the “Best Bait for Red Drum”

When bottom fishing in strong tidal current, several ounces of weight may be required especially around jetties. Adjust tackle as necessary as you may require a stronger rod and reel with at least 30 pound braided line. Normally I prefer artificial shrimp, like the 4” Berkley Gulp shrimp. I have had great success free lining these on a jig head bounced along the bottom at the base of structure and drop offs. Some fishermen will not use anything but live shrimp at the end of a popping cork. My usual set up is a 7′ medium/heavy action one piece Ugly Stik rod paired with a Penn reel. I will string that with 50lb braid and a 3′ 20lb fluorocarbon leader.

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On cold but sunny days, the shallow water flats will warm up faster than the deeper water in the channel. Bait fish will move into the warmer water, and so will the Red Drum. Mud flats and grass flats along the Inter Coastal Waterway (ICW) will also tend to warm up faster. Look for days where high tide is around 12 to 3 in the afternoon. This gives plenty of time for the sun to warm the grass edge and mud and the Redfish will linger in these areas until the water cools or drops out to low tide. Red Drum tend to school together in winter so do not be in a hurry to move away from an area if one or two fish are caught.

As temps rise during the onset of spring and summer, Red Drum seek comfort zones. This may be around bridges, piers, or other structure that hold bait fish and easy escape routes. Dawn and dusk become the best time for wading the flats however bottom fishing near by drop offs should produce Red Drum at any time of day.  Another aspect that makes the Red Drum so popular is the eagerness to attack artificial lures such as gold spoons, soft plastics, top water lures that resemble mullet like the Heddon Spook series and other assorted jigs tipped with Gulp shrimp. These are generally more effective in shallow water and on drop offs. Look for schools of bait and cast near these areas. During the fall season Red Drum will hit anything that moves, and I mean anything.

Red Drum are excellent on the table. They can be difficult to fillet because their scales are large and tough, but a good ole Bubba Blade will always do the job. Once the fillet has been cut, carve out the red blood line that runs down the center length of the filet. Removing this nasty bloodline line improves your health and the taste of the Red Drum. I like baked or fried Red Drum however, blackened Red fish is hard to beat.

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best bait for red drum

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