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The Perfect Redfish Bait

Is there a perfect bait for redfish? Which baits are good baits for redfish?

By

Photo © Ron Brooks

Captain Kirk Waltz and a Breeder Redfish

Photo © Ron Brooks
We all want to know how to catch redfish. And catching redfish means we need bait. But which bait? Is there a prefect bait for redfish? Is there a best bait for redfish? The answer to both those questions is yes. But there is also a “it depends” tacked on to the end.

Feeding Frenzy

Almost everyone has been in a situation where the fish are really turned on. It seems as if they would eat any old kind of bait we put in front of them. And, in a schooling situation, where the whole school begins feeding, it can be just that way.

When a school of redfish begin feeding, competition for the available food turns things into a frenzy. Each fish is attempting to get something to eat, and they often strike at anything that moves, thinking that if they don’t get it, the other fish will and they will be left with nothing to eat. That’s an oversimplification, but it basically describes what is going on.

But feeding frenzies are few and far between for the average angler.

Catching Non-feeding Fish

The vast majority of us do not run into a feeding frenzy with redfish. We end up with the fish that may be casually feeding or not feeding at all. I once found a school of redfish way back up in a creek in clear water. We could see the fish! There were at least fifty fish in the school, and they just sat there sort of remaining stationary in the water. I tried everything I had in the boat to get one to eat, and all they would do is slowly move out of the way and let the bait go by the. I had live shrimp, live mud minnows and small crabs, and none of it attracted a strike.

So how do we determine what the perfect bait is for a meandering redfish? The truth is – the perfect bait is what the fish are eating at the time you fish for them! That perfect bait is going to change from situation to situation. Perhaps the best way to determine the perfect bait is to determine what bait NOT to use.

Catching Feeding Fish

Individual fish will feed on bait that is appropriate for where they are located. If they are casual feeders, as most reds are, they will tend to strike a bait as a reaction more than because they are hungry. It’s a case of opportunity, and redfish are opportunistic feeders. There are a couple of obvious places you need to know about so that you can be aware of what bait is present.
  • On the Mudflats
    At high tide in the estuaries, redfish will move up onto the mudflats to feed. They look for food in water that covers the mud. Here they find small crabs and other crustaceans. What they don’t find is a school of menhaden shad. So, while a live shrimp or crab or maybe even a finger mullet may be good, a menhaden shad would be totally out of place on the mud flats. If the flat is full of crabs, fish with a crab or crab imitation. If it’s shrimp they are eating, fish with shrimp. We call it “matching the hatch”, an old fly fishing term that says the fly you use needs to be the same as the insects that are floating or in the water.
  • In Deep Water
    Deeper water means a difference in available bait. Small crabs that are found on the mud flats are generally not found in deeper water. So the same issue is at work here. Fish with a bait that is going to be found in the area you are fishing.

Bottom Line

The bottom line to all of this is this: The perfect bait for redfish is what they are currently eating. Sometimes it takes some experimenting and bait changing to find out the key. But, once you determine what they are eating, catching them becomes easy.

Here’s a real life example: I was fishing some jetties and using live shrimp and a couple of flounder on the finger mullet for bait. I caught a couple of seatrout on the shrimp and mullet, but I just could not get a redfish to est. I knew they were there, but I could not get a bite. As I fished, a guide friend came around the rocks and began fishing next to me. He and his party immediately began hooking redfish one after another, often with double hook-ups. I could not even get a bite from a redfish. The difference? He had run the beach and caught a live well full of menhaden shad. The reds were feeding on the shad and would not eat anything else! On that day the perfect bait was a menhaden shad!

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