The Perfect Inshore Fish: Red Drum

By: Terry Gibson


Anglers debate endlessly over which target species is "the perfect fish." Hey, I'm a committee of one. But as someone who's targeted redfish around the state for decades, and having written extensively about the species, I'd like to nominate the red drum for the perfect inshore fish award.

They're "perfect" because you can catch them just about anywhere you prefer to visit in this great state. About 30 years ago, the first redfish I caught came to the boat off a flat in Florida Bay, just south of Flamingo, in Everglades National Park. My eight-year-old eyes could not believe how such a beautiful fish could also strike so aggressively and fight so hard.

Any fish that you can catch by sight-fishing ranks high on the perfecto-meter. Redfish often root shrimp and crabs out of the bottom in water so shallow that the tail and sometimes the back of the fish wave in the air. We call that behavior "tailing," and it creates some of the most exciting sight-fishing in the land.

The spotted, waving, blue-tinged tails are mesmerizing – one of nature's works of art in terms of camouflage. The blue-tinged tail is the color of the sky. The spot is a "false eye" designed to tempt ospreys and other predators to strike at the tail instead of the head, where teeth and talons can get a stronger purchase. Throw anything that resembles a shrimp or crab in front of a tailing red and that fish is going to scarf it.

You can also catch red drum fishing live or dead bait under a popping cork, by blind-casting jigs and spoons, and with topwater plugs. They're voracious!

You should pick a redfishing destination based somewhat on the season. During the winter months, I love to sight-fish the large schools that gaggle up in northeast and northwest Florida. Picture waving tails in the shadows of live oaks in and among golden spartina grass. And picture huge schools moving up and down these sublime shorelines. Top areas include the marshes around St. Augustine, Jacksonville, Amelia Island, Alligator Point, Steinhatchee and Pensacola. You can't go wrong in the Indian River or Mosquito lagoons, in Tampa Bay, or in the Everglades marshes of Southwest Florida.

Make sure you ask your guide about which tactics work best. But, a nice thing about redfish is that they're almost always hungry, and not too picky--usually.

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