The Redfish Tradition
Catching a red drum is on the bucket list of pretty much everyone who likes to fish! For most of the people I fish with, they caught their first redfish when they were young, usually with their Dad, Uncle, or Grandfather. It’s just usually how the story goes. It’s a southern pastime, a coming of age of sorts, that’s happened for hundreds of years or longer. If this is how you caught your first red drum, you are very lucky and I hope you never forget that special moment!
The Majority of Other People
I also meet a TON of people who are beginners. They didn’t grow up in the southern low country, don’t have an angler for a parent or grandparent and have absolutely no clue how to catch a redfish, but sure would love to learn how! If this is you, rest assured, you are part of the large majority. Almost every time I’m fishing, I run across someone who after a vulnerable breakthrough begins to ask questions of how to go about catching their 1st red.
How to Catch Redfish for Beginners
In this guide, I’m going to step you through the method I share with anyone who asks me personally. This is NOT “THE” way or the “ONLY” way to catch redfish. I can immediately think of a dozen different ways. This guide is what I believe to be one of the highest probability ways to catch a red drum. Once you use this guide or another one that suites you to snag your first spot tail, you’ll have the confidence to start trying other techniques, bait, etc.
Total Time: 2 hours
Get a Basic Fishing Rod & Reel
You do NOT need a fancy fishing rod and reel combo to catch a red drum! My kids catch redfish on little Disney Princess fishing poles all the time. So do yourself a favor, use a rod and reel combo you already have in your garage or get one thats inexpensive from Walmart or similar if you aren’t going to be fishing every other weekend all year round. As long as the max drag is 10lbs+ (which pretty much every fishing reel is), you’ll probably be just fine. Just make sure to thoroughly rinse your rod and reel after use and don’t submerge it or let it get in sand. Sure, a really nice Penn or Daiwa reel with a St. Croix rod looks super sweet and has it’s benefits, but those are nice to have and not required.
Put on 10lb Test Line or Higher
Yes, certain types of line work better than others. Yes, its beneficial to have a clear leader tied on to braid with a double uni, FG, or Alberto knot. But, no you dont have to worry about any of this the first time you catch a red drum. So pick whatever 10lb test line fits your budget and get it and have the store put it on your reel preferably or do it yourself. Watch a YouTube tutorial of how to do that properly if you haven’t done it before. Biggest advice there is don’t overload it and try to keep the twists out. Braided line will be the easiest, but also the most expensive.
Buy or Create a Carolina Rig
You can buy pre-made Carolina rigs. It’s the quickest, easiest way to go. I personally do not use them bc of all the metal and over the top, thick line they use, but I have used them in many many cases and caught plenty of redfish. So, if creating your own Carolina rig is intimidating, just buy one. If nothing else, study the rig you buy so you’ll know how to make one yourself next time.
If you want to make your own Carolina rig, it simple! Run your mainline to a swivel. Tie on 1-2ft of leader line (I use mono and flouro) to the other side of your swivel. You can use beads or no beads. Let’s assume you use beads. Put one bead on the line, then an egg weight, then another bead. Then tie on a circle hook on the other end. For slot sized reds, I typically use a 1/0 sized hook. Common mistake is to use a huge hook. It’s not needed.
In this guide I choose to use a Carolina rig because it’s such a high percentage winner for me personally. But, there are dozens of rigs you can use to catch drum. I recommend using a Carolina rig until you’ve caught your first redfish, then experiment.
Buy or Catch Mullet or Shrimp
Sure, a live shrimp or live mullet is better than store-bought/frozen, but both work!
If you know how to throw a cast net, get some live mullet. It’s almost always the very best bait, especially on a Carolina rig. Unless you have your shrimping license, avoid getting live shrimp with your cast net. You may end up with a nice hefty ticket from our friends at DNR.
If you don’t know how to throw a cast net, don’t worry. Most people have no clue how to throw one even though they want to act like they’re a pro. In this case, just go to a bait shop or grocery store and get some frozen shrimp. If you want to get frozen mullet you can, but when it comes to frozen bait, my hook up ratio is WAY higher with shrimp. Frozen mullet falls apart and just doesn’t work very well.
Go Fishing Just After Low Tide
Timing and location are most important in my opinion. You can have everything right and go fishing at the wrong time and/or at the wrong spot and never catch a thing.
My favorite and most productive time to fish in the creeks are just as low tide rolls over and out of the slack tide. Basically, when the water starts moving again after a low tide.
If this event happens to occur around sunrise or sunset, it’s almost certainly going to be a fantastic time to fish. February is probably the only month of the year when this combo doesn’t produce.
The tide is more important than time of day in my opinion. Yes, you’ll probably catch more fish at sunrise and high tide than a rolling over low tide in the middle of a summer day, but it’s a different type of fishing at high tide and low tide. This guide is focused a technique that works best during a rolling over low tide. So keep going after that event and it should eventually work out.
Try to Fish at a Creek Mouth
Location is extremely important. You’re probably like Duh! haha. But, unfortunately you’re probably not going to get old man Smathers to share his favorite fishing hole locations with you. He probably hasn’t even told his own son about every single one of them! Your best bet is to find your own spots.
Ive gotten to the point after many years of fishing where I can look on google maps and immediately find 3-4 spots id like to try.
Your best bet is going to be an inshore creek mouth. A semi-tight creek mouth that T’s into a wider channel is perfect. If there is a drop-off at the mouth and/or some structure, even better, but it’s not required.
Rig Up Your Bait
If you’re fishing with live mullet, hook it in the top of the back or through the lip. Try not to draw a ton of blood. Less blood means it will live longer.
If your fishing with frozen shrimp, just put it on the hook. So many people want to act like there’s a right and wrong way to do this. I’ll tell you right now, a red drum does NOT care. They are not picky eaters and they will eat that shrimp regardless.
Now one thing to note with shrimp: Lots of other fish are going to come eat your shrimp. It’s going to frustrate you. You will have to re-bait your rig over and over again. You’ll also catch a bunch of other fish besides a red drum. Just stay at it! Eventually you’ll get your drum!
Also, if you end up catching a croaker or whiting with your shrimp, thats great. Take a knife and carefully cut it into smaller chunks or fillets and use that instead of your shrimp. Redfish will eat whiting and croaker and it will stay on your hook a lot better.
Cast Into Creek Mouth
Ok so this one is pretty straightforward. Depending on leader length, you want to use a slow, long casting technique with a Carolina rig. Just lob it out there into the middle of the creek mouth!
Take Out Your Slack and Wait
This is going to be a tough one, but just dead stick your cast. Cast it out there, take in most of your slack and just sit there and wait. Yes, there is a way to work a Carolina rig. There are two techniques I use, drag or hop depending on oysters in that area. But, you do not need to to move the rig. I am trying to get you your first red. In my opinion, your best chance is to cast it and let it be.
Now if your get some bites and especially if you are using shrimp and think your bait is gone, bring in your line to check it and re-bait if needed. Then get it back out there and just chill. You’re gonna know when a red hits!
Let The Redfish Tire Out
Ok! So eventually I believe the steps above are going to get your first redfish on the hook. When that happens, you’re gonna know! Especially if she’s a biggin! When reds hit, they usually hit hard. Then they run hard; sometimes just for a few minutes and sometimes for tens of minutes. It just depends on the size and fight in each particular fish. I honestly believe, pound for pound, red drum are some of the best fighters out there and are by far my favorite fish in the world to catch!
The key to landing a red is to fight it properly. I always teach my kids to keep their rod tip at about a 45 degree angle and pulling away from the direction of the fish. With a. circle hook you dont necessarily need to set the hook, but you want to make sure to keep the pressure on it.
Now this does not mean you should have your drag all the way tight and be ripping lips like you may be used to doing with largemouth bass or others. You want to pressure, but you also want the red to be able to pull some drag and tire out.
You’re gonna want to avoid oysters like the plague, but it happens to the best of us. Especially if you are using braid, oysters will quickly cut your line when it’s under pressure. So by all means, let the redfish tire out, but don’t let him go on the other side of an oyster bed. In time, you’ll understand this delicate balance I’m trying to describe.
I quit using a net for red drum a while ago. Ive gotten to where I can land even very large drum in a boat or on land with no net. It’s very rare one can sneak away from me. I would say on a boat you should probably use a net for your first few, but on shore its not really needed. Just gently drag them to the shore and careful hand line them.
Take a Great Picture & Put the Fish Back or Eat It!
Congratulations!! You caught your first red at this point in the guide! Woohoo! Now before you go fishing, do me a favor. Look up the slot size or limits in your area. Think long and hard whether you’ll be keeping the fish to eat or putting him back. Have a ruler or measuring device with you if you plan to eat what you catch.
If you don’t plan to keep it, be nice to the fish! Get a great picture. Look at it in amazement, and then get it back in the water gently. I want that fish living and growing so the next time I’m in your parts, I can catch the sorry sucker! haha.
Estimated Cost: 100 USD
- Fishing Rod & Reel
- 10lb Test Fishing Line
- Pre-Made Carolina Rig or an Egg Weight, Circle Hook, and Swivel
- Shrimp or Mullet (Fresh or Frozen)
I Want to See Your 1st Redfish!
If this guide helps you catch your 1st redfish, I would love to see a picture and hear about it. I writhe these articles because I love fishing, want to share it with others, and to make a few bucks to fund my habit ha. But, theres nothing better than the feeling I get when someone tells me I’ve truly helped them snag a prized catch for the first time. Leave a comment below, shoot me an email, or send me a message on YouTube, IG, or TikTok.
Until next time, Tight Lines!