A number of factors affect redfish and where they live and travel. And, they all have to do with the environment around the fish.
TidesTides affect all fish, but in this piece we are talking about redfish specifically. Redfish will move with the tide; they will reposition themselves when the tidal currents change direction. They may feed on an incoming tide and not on an outgoing or vice versa. It depends on the specific area and the availability of baitfish – or lack thereof.
So let’s talk about tides in general. Redfish are opportunistic feeders. They will tend to position themselves where tidal currents will push bait to and past them, and feed on that bait accordingly. They are also called channel bass for a reason. They like to be in and along the edge of a channel or cut, because that is where the tidal currents are more concentrated and push more bait past the redfish. Find a channel or a cut where there is a bend in the channel or some obvious obstruction that somehow modifies the current flow. This could be structure on the bottom or plainly visible from the surface. Either way, reds will position themselves – on the bottom – in a location that allows them to take advantage of that current. Keep your bait on the bottom and along the edge of that ledge or structure that is changing the current flow. Reds may be on the back side of it on one tide and move to the other side of it when the tide changes direction.
In a shallow water situation, reds will move up onto a flat or area of shallow water to forage and feed at high tide, and then move off that flat into adjacent deeper water when the tide begins moving out. You should be able to find reds up on the flat at high tide. You should also be able to position yourself in that adjacent deeper water and catch them coming off the flat. When the tide gets low and changes, many anglers put the rods away and go fish elsewhere. But this is an ideal time to find redfish. They are going to be in that deeper water waiting for it to get deep enough for them to get back out on that flat. Yes – you can catch them on an incoming tide – I’ve done it many times.
SeasonRedfish migrate. It’s as simple as that. They don’t usually go north and south along the Atlantic, although many have been tagged and found to be doing that. What they usually do is migrate in and out of coastal inlets in the colder months. As fall approaches and the water temperatures begin dropping, reds along the Atlantic coast head for near shore reefs and wrecks. They can be caught in the colder months offshore in water as deep as 100 feet. And these are not the small, rat reds. These are big breeder fish that congregate on these reefs all winter.
Unfortunately, catching one of these behemoths usually means they will die. Redfish do not have the ability to control their swim or air bladder very quickly. That bladder serves as a balance and neutral buoyancy tool, and when the fish comes to the surface too quickly, the bladder expands and will usually be seen in the throat and mouth of the fish. You can vent the fish and nurse him on the surface before you release him, but odds are not in his favor to live through an offshore catch. My recommendation, along with knowledgeable guides and captains is to leave these fish alone! This is the breeding stock sized fish and we need all of them to survive the winter!
Bottom LineThe bottom line here is that season and tide are the two major factors that affect your locating redfish. If you do locate some fish, make a note – literally – of the tide stage, weather pattern, and specific location so that you can return on a similar day and find them again.
Redfish will be found along deep edges almost any time, and up in shallow water when the tide is high. Obviously not every deep edge will have fish and not every flat will have fish at high tide. You are going to have to find them. That’s why they call it fishing! While I do have a number of locations where I can usually find fish, not all the locations have fish all the time. I’ve been keeping a fishing log of where, when, and how I fish, what the tide was, what the weather was, and what bait I used for quite a number of years. I refer to this log before every trip and make note of the areas I caught fish in the past. This is particularly relevant for redfish because they are such creatures of habit. I’ll take these locations with me, refer to the tides for the day and plan my trip the night before. Then I fish my plan. And – guess what! Sometimes I don’t find even one redfish! Like I said – that’s why they call it fishing and don’t call it catching…