**Attention: as of May 2021 Catch-and-release only measures for red drum have been extended through May 31, 2022, from the Pasco/Hernando county line south through Gordon Pass in Collier County, including all waters in Hillsborough County.**
Red Drum, A.K.A Redfish, are among the most popular fish to catch in Florida. Red Drum fishing is fantastic year-round in our beautiful coastal waters. These beauties can also be referred to as Red Bass, Channel Bass, Spot-Tail Bass and puppy drum.
The game-fish quality is decent for this species. They have good stamina, strength and have long runs. The Red Drum can be fished year-round in state and local waters. There is no closed season, so go out there and get ‘em!
What do Red Drum look like?
Larger Channel Bass can have off colors, but generally they have a reddish to bronze back with a white underbelly. Occasionally, you may catch an overall pale drum. A prominent asset to this fish’s design is a ringed spot on the tail; however, some may have more than 1 spot at the base of the tail and very rarely you may catch one without a spot at all.
Be careful to not get them confused with the Black Drum, when in the water, Redfish silhouettes look remarkably like Black Drum. A large differentiator is the fact that Redfish never have chin barbels. Additionally, the Black Drum never has the black spot on the tail base.
They can vary quite drastically in size. Most caught are between 10-12 lbs. Reds up toward 30 lbs. are not totally uncommon though, so keep your eye out for ‘em. Here in Florida, you can catch them as large as 60 lbs. if you are lucky! The average length of this species is 18 to 28 inches, but they can grow up to 61 inches.
Rules and Regulations
Redfish can be caught year-round throughout the state, meaning there are no regulated closed seasons. There however are slot limits and a daily bag limit in place. Throughout the state, the regulated slot limit is no smaller than 18” and no larger than 27” in total length. In the northwest and south zones, the daily bag limit stands at 1 fish per person per day and in the northeast portion of the state, each person can take 2 fish per day. The per vessel limit remains the same in all zones, 8 fish per vessel.
Due to the overfishing of Redfish in the 80’s, commercial fishing has been banned in Florida. Since commercial fisherman cannot fish for Red Drum in Florida, you will likely not see it for sale in the stores or local markets. To eat this delicious fish, you will have to catch it yourself!
The 2 forms of legal gear for catching Redfish are cast nets and of course, hook and line. Spearfishing, gigging and bow-fishing are all forms of illegal gear for catching your lot of Red Drum. Additionally, using multiple hooks loaded with natural bait, dead or alive, is prohibited. If on a vessel, once caught, the fish must stay in its whole condition until you land ashore.
Where can I find plenty of Redfish?
Redfish is one of Florida’s most widely spread fish, spread all throughout the state. A fishing trip to either coast should be able to produce your daily bag limit of this delicious fish. Some well-known spots include: Mosquito Lagoon, Mayport, Indian River Lagoon, Everglades National Park, Florida Bay and of course, our very own Pine Island Sound.
The young Reds stick to the inshore channels until they reach about 20 inches. Once they get that large, they then migrate to the population that sticks near the shores. The large fish can generally be found in coastal waters, playing in the surf of the beaches up and down the gulf coast and the northern half of the east coast. When not playing in the surf, they can be found in other shallow waters such as seagrass beds, areas with muddy/ sandy bottoms, spring bed creeks, oyster beds and mangroves.
During winter, Red Drum flock to the channels of Florida, thus earning one of their nicknames, ‘Channel Bass’. While Reds are known to travel in and out of the local rivers and creeks periodically throughout the year, during winter, most of them swarm into these waterways looking for any lasting warm water.
All fish have their spawning season; to spawn, Redfish venture into open water, schooling with other spawning Reds. When ready, the females venture back near the shorelines to lay their eggs. Spawning season tends to run from mid-August to mid-October.
Tips & Tricks for catching your Red Drum
The most popular method of baiting a Red is to float live shrimp, paired under a popping cork. If that doesn’t work, their second favorite bait is minnow, so take a shot with fresh minnow if available. They love all fish and invertebrates so you can also try with crabs, mullet, and pinfish. Redfish are notorious eaters; live or dead bait will work, whichever is handy.
As far as artificial lures are considered, weedless spoons and soft-bodied jigs with plastic tails are your best bet. If you are up to a challenge, you can throw out a top-water plug or other swimming plugs to try and catch their attention.
When talking about gear, just about all kinds of casting tackle can be successful, even fly gear. Speaking of fly gear, poppers and large streamers will get the job done. Typical surf rods and medium to light outfits work whether fishing off the beach, bridge, pier and even offshore. If you are a beginner, don’t fear, Reds are easy and not difficult to catch most any standard options you may have will do the trick.
How to cook my Redfish
As mentioned earlier, to be able to eat this fish, you more than likely will have to go out and catch it yourself. The commercial fishing ban in Florida makes it highly unlikely that Red Drum will be sold or purchased in local Florida markets or restaurants. If you can make your catch, we suggest smaller Redfish; fish 10 lbs. or less tend to have the best flavor. Anything larger seems to taste less delicious, which is a good thing since the larger, more mature, fish are currently protected.
When cleaning your catch, be sure to remove all red fleshy portions. From our experience, the red bits or flesh have a rathe, undesirable taste. Remember to remove all the bones from the fillets as well. Nothing is worse than enjoying your meal and then biting in to a fish bone.
Redfish, being a mild fish, can be cooked in various ways. You can grill it, bake it, sauté it, stew it and roast it. By popular vote, blackened (Cajun or simply) is one of the best ways to cook this fish. Making your mouth water? Check out our own Blackened Red Drum with a Kick recipe!
Looking for other flavors that will pair nicely with Redfish? You can try the ever so common, citrus-y and lemon-y herb butter, Asian style with ginger and honey glazed or live on the wild side and try it buffalo style. You can also try making fish tacos or a fish sandwich out of a hefty fillet.
For the recreational fisherman, Red Drum can be caught year-round. Fishing in the right location, with the right gear, and your gamefish drive, you should be able to catch your redfish bag limit and have plenty of fun while you do it.
Don’t be afraid to try out both coasts and with live bait, dead bait and artificial lures. Remember during winter to try hitting up some of your local channels; Redfish gather there to get their share of any lasting warm water.
After you catch the perfect Red for the day, put it on ice so you can cook it up for dinner. Try to play around with recipes. Cooking fish is a fun experience because so many flavors work well with this mild fish. Bake it, grill it, roast it, or even make a stew with it. The ball is in your court once you get to dry land!