How to Catch Redfish (Red Drum) w/ Live Bait - Redfish Fishing Tips & Techniques

It's no secret that Redfish, also know as Red Drum, are one of the most sought after saltwater gamefish. Anglers from Texas to Massachusetts to chase this plentiful inshore gamefish. With their freight-train like runs, beautiful color, and the many ways in which you can catch redfish, it's no suprise that anglers love to chase them. You can catch redfish on flats, under mangroves, off a dock, on an oyster bar, in a pass, off beaches, in a creek, or from a pier. But the question we're looking to answer in this article is not where to catch redfish. The question we're looking to answer is how to catch redfish (Red Drum) on live bait in the areas they like to frequent.

How To Catch Redfish (Red Drum) - A Man Holding A Redfish

To break down this method of how to catch redfish with live bait, we're going to separate this article into three main sections. We're going to break down fishing for redfish with white bait, pinfish, and shrimp. These are the three most used live baits for fishing for redfish in Florida, and these baits are almost guaranteed to catch you more fish. But before we get going here...Ff you are interested in catching redfish on Artificial Lures, check out this video:

How to Catch Redfish With Live Bait

While there is an endless number of baits that redfish eat, we're going to focus on the most popular live baits used for fishing for redfish in Florida. White Bait, Pinfish, and Shrimp are my go-to baits when it comes to catching big redfish fishing Florida's various estuaries. I'm confident that if there is a redfish in the area that I'm fishing, one of these baits will get that redfish to eat. And this is how...!

1. How To Catch Redfish With White Bait

When fishing shorelines on mid to high tides for big redfish, one of the most effective baits is a live white bait, also known as a pilchard. Depending on who you ask, there are many different ways to fish for redfish using white bait. Here, I will be teaching you my favorite methods for catching redfish in saltwater with white bait.

How To Catch Redfish Using Live Bait - White Bait In Hand

Hook Size for Redfish: So you may be wondering what the best size hook is for catching redfish with white bait. I recommend 1/0 to 3/0 size circle hooks.
 
For small white bait (2-3") I usually use smaller 1/0 size circle hooks to avoid affecting the way the bait swims.
 
For medium size white bait (3-4"), I use a 2/0 size hook.
 
And finally, for larger white bait (5"+), I  throw a 3/0 or larger size hook. The size of each individual hook is different from brand to brand, but I stick to 1/0 to 3/0 size depending on the size of the white bait I am using

Leader Size for Redfish: When fishing with white bait, I use 20# to 30# Fluorocarbon Leader. Choosing the right leader depends on the type of structure that I'm fishing for redfish.
 
When fishing flats and pot holes on low tides, I vary between 20 lbs and 25 lbs 100% Fluorocarbon Leader. The size of your leader depends on the size of the fish. If I'm targeting slot fish, I use 20# leader. If I'm targeting over slot or bull redfish, I will bump up to 25# leader.
 
When fishing the mangroves and docks for redfish, I'll bump up to 25# or 30# 100% Fluorocarbon Leader. This once again depends on the size of the fish I'm targeting. (The reason I say 100% is due to many "fluorocarbon leaders" being fluorocarbon coated monofilament,. This is not the same as 100% fluorocarbon. My recommendation is Infinity 100% Fluorocarbon Leader, but Seaguar and Yo-Zuri also work well).

100% Fluorocarbon Leader

Line Size: 15# to 20# Braided Fishing Line. When using an Osprey 3000 Spinning Reel, I use 15# braided fishing line. When using an Osprey 4000 Spinning Reel, I use 20# braided fishing line. I am a little stuck in my ways. I also fish 10# on my 2500s and 30# on my 5000s. I figure if I need more distance behind the cast, I'll bump down to a smaller size reel with lighter line. If I'm expecting to catch larger redfish or if I'm fishing heavier structure, I'll use a larger reel with a little stronger line. By spooling up my reels this way, it's very easy to know exactly what lbs test braid I am using when I pick up a set up.

Rod Size: I am not as picky with rods when I am fishing live bait versus when I am fishing artificial lures for redfish. My go-to is a good 7'6" Medium Action Rod, either a Bull Bay Sniper or Bull Bay Assault Rod. The reason I like 7'6" rods versus a 7' is due to the extra distance you can get on your casts. Now a days, fish are more pressured than ever before. Being able to cast further is a huge benefit, and often times makes all the difference.

Best Rod For Catching Redfish

Reel Size: 3000 or 4000 Spinning Reel. This depends on the size of the fish and the structure I am fishing while using white bait. When I fish the flats for slot fish using white bait, I throw Osprey 3000 Spinning Reels. When fishing the flats for big bull redfish using white bait, I throw Osprey 4000 Spinning Reels.

best reel for catching redfish (red drum)

Methods: 

On the flats, I like to free-line medium to large sized white bait for redfish. In potholes, I like to use a split shot with a small to medium sized white bait to help keep the bait in the pothole I'm fishing. (It's surprising how fast your bait will move out of the pothole). 
 
When fishing under the mangroves, I will use a medium to large sized white bait free-lined right up next to or under the mangroves. If I plan on waiting a while, I will throw a mid to large size white bait under a split shot with a cut tail. The reason I cut the tail is to get some scent in the water. 
Some spots are instantaneous and others take more time. So be patient. I prefer using the split shot to keep the bait in place when fishing deep under the mangroves in a tight pocket or a small opening in the groves. If the tide is moving fast enough to sweep the bait out from the mangroves, I will definitely use a split shot. If there isn't a lot of tidal movement in an area, I will switch between a free-lined white bait with and without a cut tail. If you aren't close to or underneath the mangroves, reel in and recast your bait to get it closer to the groves.

2. How To Catch Redfish With Pinfish

Using pin fish to catch redfish (red drum)

If white bait is the number one bait to throw when fishing the flats and mangroves for big redfish, I'd have to say that pinfish are a very close second. From my experience, some days redfish key in on pinfish better than white bait and vice versa. My recommendation when fishing live bait for redfish is to have both white and pin fish in the live well.

Hook Size: 1/0 to 6/0 circle hooks. I use pretty much the same set up for small and mid sized pinfish as I do for white bait, but I switch things up on larger pinfish. For small pinfish (2-3") I usually use smaller 1/0 circle hooks to avoid affecting the way the bait swims. For medium pinfish (3-4"), I use a 2/0 hook. And finally, for larger pinfish (5"+), I use a 3/0 when fishing the mangroves; I use a 4/0 size hook when fishing the flats; I use and a 5/0 or 6/0 when fishing passes and docks for bull redfish.
 
So why the larger hook when fishing the flats you might ask? For me, I'm trying to cast that pinfish as far as possible away from the boat when on the flats. By jumping up to a 4/0 size hook, I can dig the hook a little deeper into the bait which allows me to cast the further without throwing the bait off the hook. Additionally, the bait will stay on the hook longer, which is the goal when soaking cut pinfish on the flats. If you don't have a bait on the hook, then you won't catch any redfish. It's that simple.
 
When fishing the mangroves, I usually don't need to cast as far so I will bump down to a 3/0 hook when using medium and larger sized pinfish. The reason I bump up to 5/0 and 6/0 size hooks when fishing passes and docks is that those redfish are usually larger. Anglers must apply more pressure on those bigger redfish if they have any hope of landing them. Not to mention barnacle covered docks can cut you off, and every inch is a mile when fishing close quarters under docks for bull redfish. Once again, the size of each individual hook is a little different from brand to brand. But I will stick to 1/0 to 6/0 size depending on the size of bait that I am using.

Leader Size: 20# to 60# Fluorocarbon Leader. Once again, choosing the right leader depends on the type of structure that I'm fishing for redfish. When fishing the flats and pot holes on a low tide, I vary between 20# and 25# 100% Fluorocarbon Leader depending on the size of the fish. If I'm targeting slot fish, I use 20# leader. If I'm targeting over slot or bull redfish, I will bump up to 25# leader.

How To Catch Redfish

When fishing the mangroves for redfish with pinfish, I'll bump up to 25# and 30# 100% Fluorocarbon Leader. When fishing docks for big bull redfish, I will use 40# to 60# 100% Fluorocarbon Leader. When using larger fluorocarbon under docks, it all depends on water clarity. If the water is clear, I'll use 40# and once in a while I'll bump down to 30#. If the water is dirty, I'll fish 50# or 60# leader. My recommendation is Infinity 100% Fluorocarbon Leader, but Seaguar and Yo-Zuri also work well).

Line Size: 15# to 65# Braided Fishing Line. When using an Osprey 3000 Spinning Reel, I use 15# braided fishing line. When using an Osprey 4000 Spinning Reel, I use 20# braided fishing line. I am a little stuck in my ways. I also fish 10# on my 2500s and 30# on my 5000s. I figure if I need more distance behind the cast, I'll bump down to a smaller size reel with lighter line. If I'm expecting to catch larger redfish or if I'm fishing heavier structure, I'll use a larger reel with a little stronger line. When I'm fishing passes for big bull redfish, I will use 40# braided line. When fishing docks, I will bump up to 65# braided line. It sounds like over kill until it's tournament day and that 40" redfish you hooked into breaks you off on a dock because you used 40# braid instead of 65#. The same thing goes for any day of fishing, but tournament day REALLY makes you think about the nitty gritty details like the size of gear you use.

Distance Premium Braided Line - Braided Fishing Line

Rod Size: I am not as picky with rods when I am fishing live bait for redfish versus when I am fishing artificial lures for redfish. My go-to is a good 7'6" Medium Action Rod, either a Bull Bay Sniper or Bull Bay Assault Rod when fishing flats and mangroves with pinfish. The reason I like 7'6" rods versus a 7' is due to the extra distance you can get on your casts. Now a days, fish are more pressured than ever before. Being able to cast further is a huge benefit, and often makes the difference between catching and not catching redfish.

When fishing passes for big bull redfish, I will bump up to a 7'6" Heavy Action rod. I like to have a longer rod when fishing passes because often times you're drifting very fast and need to cast a bait a good distance to get it in the right zone to get the bite. When fishing docks for big bull redfish, I will bump down to a 6'6" or 7' Heavy Action rod. Shorter rods offer more power when fishing in close quarters. I recommend the 7' and 7'6" Heavy Action Brute Force Boat Rod by Bull Bay Rods for docks and passes.

Reel Size: 3000 to 8000 Spinning Reel. This depends on the size of the fish and the structure I am fishing. When I fish the flats for slot fish using pinfish, I throw the Osprey SS 3000 Spinning Reels. When fishing the flats for big bull redfish, I bump up to Osprey SS 4000 Spinning Reels. When I fish the mangroves for slot and over slot redfish, I throw 4000s due to extra drag it offers and the need to pull fish away from the mangroves. When fishing passes, I usually use the Osprey 6000 Saltwater Series, but I will grab an 8000 Saltwater Series if I break off and need another rod. When fishing docks for big bull redfish, I will use the 8000 Saltwater Series. The extra drag capacity, line capacity, and retrieve per crank makes a big difference when fishing docks for big fish.

Methods: I don't love throwing pinfish on the flats for redfish due to the pinfish digging into the grass to hide. It is a pain when the tide is moving your line on the surface while your bait is stuck in the grass. This impacts your ability to feel the bite. It also makes it harder for redfish to find the bait.
 
If I am going to throw a pinfish on the flats, I will ALWAYS cut the tail to let the pinfish bleed. Due to the number of pinfish on the flats and the tendency for pinfish to dig themselves into the grass, you need a little scent to help redfish find the bait. When fishing potholes for redfish, I will also throw pinfish with cut tails. Sometimes I'll add a split shot to keep the pinfish in a certain location in the pothole. Pinfish like the grass. Given the opportunity, they will swim their way as deep as possible into the grass.
 
When fishing passes and docks for big redfish using pinfish, I will almost always use some sort of split shot to keep the bait on the bottom. Passes always have a lot of water flow, so it's necessary to use weight to keep the bait down on the bottom. Unfortunately, you will get caught up on rocks and break off. That's where the fish are, and that's part of the game of fishing for big bull redfish in passes. If the tide is picking up and the bait is not on the bottom, I will add extra split shots. When fishing docks for big bull redfish, I will adjust the number of split shots to keep my bait on the bottom and under the dock. The last thing I want is for my bait to move closer to a piling or to pull out from under the dock completely. I always make sure I use enough weight to keep the bait exactly where I want it under the dock.

3. How To Catch Redfish With Shrimp

I'm a little bit prideful (go figure a fisherman with an ego!), and I rarely buy bait. If I can't catch it myself, I don't usually throw it. But, I do make exceptions. And I have used shrimp for redfish more times than I can coun, and I am very confident that shrimp catch redfish when all else fails!
 
Hook Size: 3/0 1/8 oz or 3/8 oz jig heads. One of the easiest and most effective ways to catch redfish during the winter months is slow bumping shrimp off the bottom in shallow water creeks. (I'll go more in depth on how I fish creeks in the "Methods" section). I throw a 1/8 oz jig in 3-5' of water; a 1/4 oz jig in 5-8' of water, and 3/8 oz in 8'+ of water.

Salt Strong - rigging shrimp to catch redfish

 

1/0 to 3/0 J-hook. Shrimp flee from predators by "shooting" backwards away from the predator chasing them. If you've ever free-lined large shrimp in a creek, you've probably seen snapper chase the shrimp to the surface and cause the shrimp to jump backwards out of the water. Due to this instinct for shrimp to flee backwards, I highly recommend fishing free-lined shrimp by hooking the shrimp with a long shank 1/0 to 3/0 size J-hook through the tail. You'll want to thread the hook up through the tail of the shrimp until the eye of the hook is almost inside of the shrimp.

using shrimp to catch redfishusing shrimp to catch redfish

 

If you are sight fishing for redfish with shrimp on shallow grass flats, you can use a modified version of the above method to make the shrimp weedless. You will want to thread the hook through to the first "notch" in the shrimp's tail. At this point, you will push the tip of the hook through the bottom of the shrimp right at that first notch. Then you will thread the hook through until the eye of the hook is almost inside the tail end of the shrimp. From there, you will rotate the hook and dig it into the bottom of the mid section of the shrimp. You want to bury the tip of the hook into the shrimp so that the tip does not protrude through the body of the shrimp. This will make the hook entirely weedless, but will still allow you to set the hook into the fish once it eats.

rigging shrimp weedless to catch redfish (red drum)

Another method for hooking shrimp for fishing redfish, is using a circle hook under a cork. You will tie about 24" of fluorocarbon leader under the cork, and then tie a 1/0 to 3/0 size circle hook to the fluorocarbon leader. When hooking the shrimp, I typically hook the shrimp just barely underneath its horn on its head. This will allow the shrimp to swim more freely, which is what you want when fishing a popping cork. Every 15 seconds or so I will pop the cork and then let it sit. The idea is that the redfish will look up to where it heard the pop, and then will see a free floating shrimp that it will hopefully eat!

Leader Size: 15# to 25# Fluorocarbon Leader. Choosing the right leader depends on the size of redfish I'm chasing and the structure I'm fishing. I'm sure you're recognizing a theme here. If I'm fishing the flats, I'll back off the drag a little bit and use 15# 100% Fluorocarbon Leader. This is due to the lighter line allowing the shrimp to "swim" more freely. But, if I'm expecting to catch larger slot to over slot redfish, I will increase the fluorocarbon to 20#.
 
When fishing creeks for redfish using shrimp on jig heads, I will throw 20# test. If there is a good bit of structure nearby that the fish could break me off on, I'll bump up to 25# fluorocarbon leader. When fishing the mangroves or docks, I almost always use 25# Fluorocarbon Leader. Due to the potential of breaking off on structure, I like to have a littler heavier diameter line. But, I do not like to bump up to 30# due to it affecting how the shrimp "swims". 25# is the max size leader I will use when fishing for redfish with shrimp.

Line Size: 10# to 20# Braided Fishing Line. When fishing the flats with shrimp, I will throw an Osprey CE 2500 Spinning Reel with 10# braid. This allows me to cast the shrimp (which are very light and are notorious for coming off a hook) further. When fishing creeks for redfish, I'll throw an Osprey 3000 Spinning Reel with 15# braid. The reason I like a little heavier braid in creeks is to put a little more pressure on the redfish. These creeks will have oyster beds and nearby mangrove shoots that can break you off. Even though many of these fish are juvenile, or juvi, redfish, they have a lot of spunk when the weather is cold and they're in the creeks. I like to put a little more pressure on these creek fish to reel them in faster before they break me off. When fishing mangroves or docks for redfish, I will use an Osprey SS 3000 or 4000 Spinning Reel with 15# to 20# braid. If I'm expecting to catch larger bull redfish, I will bump up to a 4000 size fishing reel with 20# braid.

Rod Size: I am not nearly as picky with rods when I am fishing live bait for redfish versus when I am fishing artificial lures for redfish. My go-to is a good 7'6" Medium Action Rod, either a Bull Bay Sniper or Bull Bay Assault Rod when fishing flats and mangroves with shrimp. The reason I like 7'6" rods versus a 7' is due to the extra distance you can get on your casts, which is especially helpful when throwing shrimp. Being able to cast further is a huge benefit, and often makes the difference between catching and not catching redfish.

When sight fishing for redfish using the weedless method of rigging shrimp, I am a little more particular with the rod I use. That's due to the accuracy needed to cast to and entice the redfish into eating. In these sight fishing situations, I use a 7'6" 6-12# Bull Bay Stealth Sniper Rod. This rod is very light weight, accurate, and casts a mile. It is my go to for sight fishing redfish. If you prefer cork grips over EVA grips, you can also use the Bull Bay 7'6" 6-12# Sniper Rod which comes with cork grips.

Reel Size: 2500 to 4000 Spinning Reel. This, once again, depends on the size of the fish and the structure I am fishing. When I fish the flats for slot fish using shrimp, I throw the Osprey CE 2500 Spinning Reel. When fishing the flats for big redfish using shrimp, I bump up to Osprey 3000 Spinning Reels. When fishing creeks for juvenile redfish or lower slot redfish, I will throw a Osprey CE 3000 fishing reel. When I fish the mangroves for slot and over slot redfish, I throw 4000s due to extra drag it offers and the need to pull fish away from the mangroves.

Methods: When sight fishing for tailing redfish, I will use the weedless method for rigging my shrimp. I will pole a kayak, Gheenoe, or skiff onto shallow flats (12-18" of water), and look for signs of redfish. The tell-tale sign is a redfish tail "flagging" you down. But other signs include boils ( an up flow in the water due to a redfish digging into the grass and their tail "kicking" water towards the surface); a slight tip of a tailing wagging back and forth as a redfish traverses the flat; and also seeing blue herons on the flat. If you see a heron on a flat, there will be a redfish nearby.

When slow bumping creeks with shrimp on jig heads, I anchor up or power pole down near a shallow edge of the creek. I will then throw my shrimp up current and slow reel it back to me with the current. When working the bait, I slowly raise the tip of my rod to the sky and then I will reel down almost to the water. I will repeat this as many times as I can before the bait has been retrieved all the way to the boat. It's surprising how many fish will eat right underneath your boat.
 
When fishing docks, I will throw a shrimp on a jig head or a shrimp under a cork. If throwing a shrimp on a jig head, I will align myself to where I can cast parallel to the dock and work the shrimp along the edge of the dock pilings. I use the same retrieve I use when fishing creeks. When fishing with a shrimp under a cork, I will position myself perpendicular to the dock and will fish the cork underneath the dock itself.
 
When fishing mangroves, I will use a little split shot right next to the hook. This makes the shrimp easier to cast, and will also keep the shrimp in place under the mangroves. I will rip the tail off of the shrimp to get a little extra scent in the water. This technique is more of a "bait and wait" technique. Cast your shrimp up near or underneath the mangroves, and wait until you get a bite.
 
These are three of the methods that I have used for over 10 years to successfully catch big redfish in many scenarios in the state of Florida. Whether you're a novice angler or an experienced angler, the above methods will help you catch more redfish. Stay tuned as I will be breaking down how to catch redfish on artificial baits in my next article.
 
While these are my preferred methods for catching Redfish in Florida, there are many other productive methods. For some extra tips on catching Redfish under popping corks, catching Redfish with a Carolina Rig (or Fish Finder Rig), and catching Redfish using a jig head, check out this video:

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Redfish

What is the best bait to use for catching redfish?

The best bait for catching redfish depends on the situation you are in. As I have described in detail above, white bait works great on flats and mangrove shorelines for redfish. Pinfish are also a good alternative for fishing flats and mangroves for redfish, but are more effective when fishing deeper water (like under docks and deeper mangrove shorelines) due to the pinfish's tendency to swim to the bottom. Shrimp are the best bait for fishing for redfish in creeks during the winter time.

Do you need a fluorocarbon leader for catching redfish?

I highly recommend using a 100% Fluorocarbon Leader when fishing for redfish. 100% Fluorocarbon Leader has lower memory, more abrasion resistance, and is clearer than monofilament fishing line. I also want to add that you will want to use Fluorocarbon leader over using straight braided line. Fluorocarbon leader is more abrasion resistance, less visible to fish, and also holds knot strength much better that braided fishing line. If all else fails and you do not have any fluorocarbon leader available, you are better off using monofilament fishing line for leader over using straight braided line.

What is the best time of day for catching redfish?

The answer to this question is quite subjective. The best time of day to catch redfish really depends on the time of year and the tidal flow during the time that you're fishing. During the heat summer, I find that the best time of day to catch redfish is early in the morning around sunrise and also late in the evening around sunset. However, I do find that redfish eat well at varying times of the during summer high tides up under the mangroves. The shade of mangroves keeps the water temps cooler, and can keep the redfish chewing during the heat of the day. During winter cold fronts, I find that the best time of day for redfish is once the sun is high and the flats have had a chance to warm up near the middle of the day (10:30 AM to 2:30 PM to be specific). However, I have also had luck early in the morning on warmer winter days in a little bit deeper water.

A good rule of thumb is to look at the temperature before you go out fishing. If it's too hot for you outside, it's probably too hot for the fish too. But if you insist on fishing anyways, look for redfish in shaded areas under mangroves or docks. On the flip side, if it's too cold for you outside, it's probably too cold for the fish as well. Consider going a little later in the day when the temperature starts to warm, especially during those bird blue sky winter days. However, if the only opportunity you have to fish is while it's frigid outside, try fishing deeper water where the water temperature is warmer. Once it does begin to warm up, you can slowly work your way onto the flats as the redfish as likely to do the same.

Good Fishing,

- Ty Nelson

 

Fish Better. Fish Florida.