Surf Fishing Redfish: Tackle and Tactics for Success

redfish surf fishing tips and tackle

Photo Credit: Dena Standley

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Guest Post by Dena Standley

There is a special kind of magic in surf fishing for redfish. This fish has many names depending on what part of the country you are in, and the size of the fish. They are technically known as red drums, but along the gulf coast where surf fishing is most popular, they are usually called redfish or just reds. Bull reds are any redfish longer than 27 inches. 

It takes a lot of work, the right gear, and knowing where to be and when to be there, and it is still a roll of the dice about whether they will be running in the area you set up in. Yet anglers line the beach at dawn every morning, hoping today is the day that the big ones will be running.

Redfish are a great sportfish probably because they are sneaky. They may start off complacent, and save their fight for the very end. The next one might put on a show the second you set the hook, fool you into thinking you have finally worn him down, and make another hard run down the beach a few yards from landing.

When you find yourself in a school, the action can heat up fast, and you want to make sure you are ready with the right bait and tackle to handle it.

Rod, Reel, and Surf Fishing Rig for Redfish

You need at least an 8-foot pole, although a 10 or even 12-foot  surf rod will give you a longer cast and better leverage if you snag a bull red. They can reach enormous size with one of the largest on record weighing in at just over 94 pounds and 57 inches long. This isn’t the norm, of course, but you need to be prepared for a large fish with some fight.

There are many very good redfish rods for the surf on the market today from which to choose, from premium models to more budget-friendly offerings.

The Shakespeare Ugly Stik Bigwater is an excellent value as an everyday surfcasting rod. The PENN Prevail is an affordable graphite composite surf rod I happen to like a lot and is rather lightweight for the length, making it perfect for the surf. The 10 ft. PENN Spinfisher V or VI surf rod and reel combo is a great heavy-duty and versatile setup that will easily handle big redfish.

Whatever rod you prefer, keep it in good working order and check that it is free from any cracks or signs of corrosion before heading out for a day at the beach.

You also need rod holders/sand spikes for each rod you have. Some people make their own out of PVC pipe, just cutting one end into a wedge to drive into the sand. The only downside is that a big enough hit can pull your rod right out of the holder, and you will be sadder about missing a chance to land whatever could do that than about the rod and reel you lost.

This can happen with any rod holder meant to be stuck into the sand. The solution is a rear-mounted fishing rod rack. This attaches to the back of your truck and allows you to back up to your fishing spot and be ready to go. You can also store and transport your rods in this without the worry of tangling them together. Make sure it will fit whatever type of rod you use.

You want to look for a brand that offers an adjustable rod angle. Depending on the condition of the surf, you may need to adjust the angle of your rod for the best chance of making a catch.

You also want one made out of non-corrosive material. Saltwater and sand are brutal on metal. Lockable versions are also available, providing a great solution to no longer having to worry about theft of your valuable rods.

You will also need a good saltwater spinning reel. When surf fishing for reds, because of the size of the rigging and the variety of bait, you may get some great by-catches as well. When fishing for reds, it is not uncommon to land a nice-sized shark, ray, black drum, or a striper. You want to be prepared for any of these with a good quality, all-purpose reel.

As with anything fishing-related, you can spend as much or as little as you want. Most anglers strive for that middle ground where quality meets value. Some of the best ones to dependably get the job done are the PENN Slammer III, the more economical PENN Battle II, and Piscifon Carbon X

You also want good quality 25-30 pound braided line. Braid is the best fishing line for redfish because gives you enough line to get out of the breakers and into the deeper water, but it is still heavy-duty enough to stand up to most of what you will catch in the surf. Braided line has very little stretch and great castability which makes it a popular choice for redfish.

Sturdy gear and tackle not only make it easier to land the bigger bull reds but also increase the odds of survivability for catch and release. Using undersized gear will mean a longer fight which carries the risk of killing the fish. 

Rigging for redfish is a matter of preference, but almost all anglers agree that circle hooks are a must. These fish are almost always hooked in the corner of their mouths and, with the fight, they put up; other hooks just will not stand up to the task.

You will need steel leaders, with 8/O to 10/O circle hooks. Steel leaders are prone to corrosion so make sure you rinse them in fresh water after use. Reds do not typically bite through monofilament leaders, but most of the other fish you catch can.

Pyramid weights are good for calmer days when the surf isn’t pounding and the current is not too strong. If conditions are a little rougher, you will want to consider spider weights which tend to help set the weight by digging into the sand.

The amount of weight you need to use will also be determined by the conditions. A one-ounce weight will work for calm to moderate conditions, but you may need to use 2-ounce, or even 3-ounce, weights for rougher conditions.

Best Baits for Redfish in the Surf

Every angler that fishes for reds has their favorite kind of bait, but the truth is these guys are not picky about what they will eat. Their only preference seems to be that it is fresh, especially in murkier water where their sense of smell is what will drive them to the bait.

When fishing in clear water or by boat, reds are frequently caught using plastic lures. They are rarely successful in the murkier waters close to shore all along the gulf coast.

Most anglers use a casting net to catch bait in the surf and then use it for live or cut bait for fishing. Most areas will also have local bait shops offering fresh bait if you have not mastered it or do not want to invest in a casting net. Whether fresh or cut, here are some of their favorites:

  • Mullet
  • Rays
  • Ladyfish
  • Blue Crab (different states have varying regulations about what size and type of crabs can be used for bait. Make sure your crabs are legal.)
  • Squid and shrimp (although these usually work better on the smaller reds. Bull reds tend to be a little more selective.)
  • Croakers
  • Sheephead
  • Whitings

Location and Timing Are Everything

redfish surf fishing techniques

Photo Credit: Dena Standley

Finding your spot to set up for the day is made up of experience, facts, and a little fisherman’s instinct thrown in. Scouting your location is one of the most pleasurable parts of surf fishing. For reds, you definitely want to find a place that has some shore and underwater terrain.

Cutouts, sandbars, sloughs, and troughs are all things to keep your eye out for. Gullies between the shore and offshore sandbars are popular places to find redfish schools trolling for bait.

Channel breaks between sandbars are used by most predator fish to follow smaller baitfish into the shallower water. Spot these channel breaks by looking for a difference in the patterns of waves breaking a small distance offshore.

You also want to keep your eyes open for seashell points, which are points of the beach that extend further into the surf and will have a large number of shells washed up by the rolling surf. Any of these features are potentially great places to set up for fishing for redfish. 

Once you have picked your location, now it is time to set up your spread. Most anglers prefer to have at least 2-3 rods, set up in rod holders and spaced far enough apart to cover a significant amount of water. You want them far enough apart to avoid any tangled lines, but not so far that you cannot get to them quickly at the first sign of a bite.

Early morning and late evening are popular times to find the bigger bull reds in shallower water. They tend to spend the middle of the day in the cooler, deeper waters that are farther offshore than you can reach by surf fishing. However, fish aren’t bound by rules, and large reds have definitely been caught midday within a 100-yards of the beach. 

The best time to fish for reds is during their spawning season. This varies in different parts of the country. Along the gulf coast, it can happen anytime between July-October. September is considered the prime time, and this is the month most anglers try to plan their trips to the beach specifically to catch reds.

Along the Atlantic seaboard, red drums are caught in the surf anytime from early spring until mid-November. Surf fishing is more difficult along a large swath of the Atlantic seaboard as many of the beaches have restricted fishing, or closed access altogether to protect various species of birds and marine animals. Most drum fishing in the Atlantic is done from public fishing piers or by boat. 

It Never Gets Old

Surf fishing for redfish, or any other species, is addictive, and one of the biggest thrills is that no matter what bait or rigging you use, you can never be sure exactly what is on the other end of the line. The hard work of getting your gear prepared, getting up before dawn, finding your favorite spot, and getting your hooks in the water all disappears the second the rod doubles over.

The feeling of setting the hook, frantically reeling in slack line, fighting a big red on the other end, and finally landing the fish is what brings me back time and time again. Spending time along beside the ocean means that even a bad day of fishing is still a really good day.

About the Author:

My name is Dena Standley. I am a wife, mom, and freelance writer. My passions are reading, writing, traveling, and spending as much time as possible near or on the ocean. A favorite hobby for my entire family is saltwater fishing, and we spend as much of our summer as possible on the Texas Gulf Coast.

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About Dorado

John Pardal, aka Dorado, is the editor as well as an author for Reel Adventure Fishing. He has fished extensively up and down the U.S. Atlantic coast, throughout much of Florida and a bit of the Caribbean. John loves writing about all aspects of sportfishing and is passionate about conservation and promoting sustainable fishing.