RED DRUM (Redfish)
Few large inshore gamefish have as great a geographical range as redfish, a mainstay for anglers from Virginia to Texas. Reds are at once one of the most accessible and prized species in that range. They strike live baits and lures (including topwaters) readily and often ferociously, making strong, determined runs until anglers can wear them down. Red drum are found both as solitary predators and in schools — sometimes visible as huge swaths of bright rust-colored water. Decades ago, tasty reds became overfished in much of the South, in no small part thanks to the Cajun craze for blackened redfish that swept the region and beyond. Gillnetting laws were subsequently tightened, along with size and bag limits, leaving populations generally healthy today. As with many game fish, the economic value of redfish in recreational fisheries is huge.
More appropriately, red drum would be called “reddish drum,” but that’s a bit awkward. The fact is, S. ocellatus tend to be a coppery color with reddish overtones even tending toward a brilliant gold in some areas, though they may also be a more muted silvery color. The black, gold-rimmed “eye spot” on the upper caudal peduncle, just before the tail fin, is another trademark. Often, redfish will display more than one such mark, occasionally with many along their sides. They have the characteristic elongate shape of the family of drums and croakers (Sciaenidae) to which they belong.
Few gamefish thrive in so many habitats — reds are caught on flats and in mangrove estuaries; in channels, inlets, and bays; in the surf of Atlantic beaches; and offshore around structure (such as oil rigs) in waters as deep as 200 feet and more. Smaller fish thrive on eelgrass flats and in shallower bays. Larger mature fish migrate to deeper, often outside waters where they may form schools over sandy-bottom areas.
Common from “rats” of a pound or two to 10 or 15 pounds inshore, to 20- to 40+-pound bull reds along beaches and inlets. Migratory, the big bulls become available seasonally in most areas. The IGFA all-tackle world record has stood since November 1984, when angler David Deuel wrestled a 94-pound, 2-ounce behemoth drum onto the sand on an Atlantic beach near Avon, North Carolina.
Fishing for Redfish
A great array of tactics and baits/lures account for redfish and with great variation within its range, depending upon depth, habitat, size of redfish and more. Many succumb to mullet (live or cut) and shrimp or crabs but probably more to lead head jigs and plastic tails than anything. Reds will readily go after diving lures as well, and it’s hard to beat their strikes on surface lures to get the blood rushing. (Their slightly underslung mouth can require multiple strikes to latch onto a bait firmly.) In areas (such as southwest Florida and eastern Florida’s Indian River), anglers can take advantage of exciting sight fisheries — with some great opportunities for fly-rod fishermen. Even in more opaque waters, if shallow, reds will often give away their location with tails waving above the surface as they hunt for food.
Available and accessible to boats large and small as well as shore/wade anglers from Virginia to Texas
Tough, persistent fighter
Caught on an almost endless array of lures and baits
Good flyfishing targets in some areas
Can become finicky and very spooky, particularly where schools are fished hard
If caught offshore in deeper water, may suffer barotrauma more easily than many other species, making release difficult when taken from 60 to 80 feet or more.