SeasonsThe season of the year determines where the reds will be located, and that in turn determines what they will be feeding on. As I said, its all about the bait, and the bait is all about the season of the year.
The first thing you need to realize is that baitfish migrate. They move with the weather - actually with the temperature. Most baitfish are warm water seekers. They tend to spend their winter and colder months in the south., and they migrate down there in huge schools.
So, when spring is near and the water begins to warm, they begin to move north up the coasts - in the US that's the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coasts. The key to catching redfish during this time is to realize that the reds are moving right along with them.
Redfish - big redfish - typically spend the colder winter months on offshore wrecks and reefs. Smaller reds will be in the inlets and some in the creeks, but the big boys congregate in deeper water. I've caught 20 and 30 pound reds as 35 to 40 miles far off the coast of Florida - but more on that in another article! These big reds will be moving in along the beaches as spring arrives.
Baitfish during this time will be menhaden shad (pogies), mullet, greenies or pilchards. Reds eat crabs and shellfish as well, but during this time, they feed on the easiest prey.
Look for huge schools of mullet moving north along the beaches. People talk about the mullet being so thick you can walk on them, and in some cases they are so thick it seems like you could. Pogies congregate on the surface, flipping around and moving with the tide. Redfish will be following these schools, staying on the bottom, just meandering along and feeding at will.
So the best bait here would be a live pogie or a small live mullet, fished on the bottom underneath the baitfish schools. This means being in the ocean and fishing just off the beach, so it will have to be a good calm day for most anglers. Anchor up in the path of oncoming bait and wait for the bite.
If you can't get live bait - either because you cant throw a cast net or are unwilling to purchase live bait, cut dead bait will sometimes work just as well. A big piece of mullet filet on a 7/0 hook fished on the bottom will often catch just as many fish as live bait..
Be aware that as the baitfish reach an inlet coming in from the ocean or gulf, the tide will carry them right on in the inlet. That means that the reds will be carried in as well. If the water has warmed, the bait fish will move farther into the inlet and tend to stay even as the tide rolls out., The reds will do the same thing, and in these situations, they can be caught with the very same bait. Look for where the baitfish are being herded by the tidal currents. There will generally be a ledge on a channel there and the reds will be running that ledge or channel edge. Put your bait on the bottom and hang on!
So - best bait in the spring? Live pogies or mullet fished under the migrating baitfish schools.
By summer, the baitfish have settled in for there summer homes. Water has warmed and redfish will be moving into the estuaries - creeks, rivers, bays. Some stay in the inlets around rocks and jetties, but in general they tend to scatter.
During the summer, reds feed mostly on an outgoing tide, looking for opportunity food. The creeks and rivers hold all forms of crustacean life and small crabs and shrimp become their targets.
Once again, if you understand the bait, you will be able to locate the fish. Small crabs and other crustaceans love to roam mud and grass flats at high tide. They feed all over these flats while the water is high. Reds - and other fish - will move onto these flats looking for an easy feed. As the water begins to drop, the fish realize the will be caught out of water, and they in turn drop into the surrounding creeks and outflows.
These locations are ideal for catching reds with small crabs, or live shrimp. Anglers often wade those hard bottom flats at high tide. As the tide turns, they move their boats and position them selves to ambush reds and other fish coming of the flats.
The baitfish around the inlets will be resident pogies - those who have decided not to move farther north, and shrimp. Summer is the time that shrimp migrate into estuaries to spawn. Reds follow them, and can be caught as far as 50 miles or more upstream in a saltwater estuary river. If there are shrimp in the area, there will be redfish as well.
In the fall, redfish become amorous. It's time for their annual spawning ritual. If you know where they spawn, you will catch the largest fish of the year. But we need a lot of caution here. The fish you will catch will be huge - 30 pounds or more. In most states you cant keep one that large, and this time of year you should not be keeping them anyway! This is the brood stock! Remove them and you remove multiple generations of future fish.
That said, we can catch and release these guys if we do it right and take care of the fish. Spawning take place in the inlets and rivers inside the inlets. The same spawning areas are used every year, and the fish are easy to find. Look for a deep channel adjacent to large flat or shallow area that the fish can feed on. They will tend to run the channel edge and can be caught along that edge.
The bait of preference for these big fish is a blue crab. A small live crab - maybe three inches in diameter - is ideal. If small live crabs are unavailable, take a larger crab and cut it in half or quarter it. Remove the hard shell and cut off the legs, leaving a chunk of exposed crab. Fish right on the bottom along the channel edge and hold on.
PLEASE use tackle large enough to bring these fish to the boat quickly. Big fish like this one light tackle may be fun, and they may fight for a long time, but they will literally fight themselves to death. Get them to the boat as quickly as possible and revive them well before releasing them.
I believe that puts the best bait in the fall as a live crab or piece of a live crab.
Depending on where you are located, winter can present some real obstacles to catching redfish. But, they can be caught, if you know where to look and what baits to use.
Winter means cold water, and cold water means lethargic fish in most cases. Those big redfish that have not moved south with the baitfish have moved offshore to deep water reefs and wrecks. Deep water is relative, so what I mean is water from 60 to 100 feet deep, with about 80 feet being the mort prevalent depth. Smaller fish will have moved inshore to creeks and shallow water estuaries.
The deep water fish should be left alone. Dragging them to the surface just kills them because of the pressure difference. Their swim bladders expand and cause internal injuries, even with venting.
Inshore, shallow water fish can be caught where you find them. If the water is could, they will be in a deeper hole in a creek. As the sun comes upo and warms the shallower water - like a mud flat - these fish will make their way to that shallow, warmer water. They can be caught on shrimp and small crabs.
What About Artificial Lures?Artificial lures can and will catch redfish. They range from top water plugs to jigs, to spinner baits, to deep running crank baits. They key is for the bait to imitate the baitfish that are found in the area.
I could tell you what I see as the best lure, and it would be what I use in a particular situation. But, other anglers use a different lure in the same situation and are just as successful. So - it becomes a matter of preference and of matching the feed that is currently happening.