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Gulf Coast: Home Slider
April 13, 2012

Top Redfish Spots

A lot of the best redfishing happens along the northern Gulf Coast seashores.

Wherever redfish live, big bulls form great schools offering some of the most chaotic, unforgettable fishing imaginable. All you have to do is find ’em. The following three short features will help you do just that. — Doug Olander

Seeing Red?

Pros’ Tips for Finding Big Bulls Off the Carolinas and Virginia

By Ric Burnley

You never know where or when, but if you run into a school of monster red drum along the mid-Atlantic coast, you’d better be ready.

Anglers fishing from the Chesapeake Bay to South Carolina shores have a shot at seeing big reds from late spring to early fall. But with miles of coast and acres of ocean, locating the fish when they school at the surface becomes a true guessing game.

Narrow the Choices
Alpha predators in open water cover a lot of ground. An angler who stalks them must do the same. Certain factors can slightly narrow the field. “Look for temperature breaks, structure and bait,” says Virginia Beach captain Ben Shepherd (757-621-5094;

But even in a prime location, catching drum on the surface can be a crapshoot. “Something turns them on — it could be tide change, bait, wind,” says Capt. Aaron Beatson (252-256-8083;, who runs out of Oregon Inlet, North Carolina. “You’ll look around for six hours, and all of a sudden, they’ll appear from nowhere.”

Shepherd, Beatson and Charleston, South Carolina, captain Tucker Blythe (843-670-8629; love to find big schools of menhaden. “We’ll spot gannets dropping and haul ass,” says Blythe. Shepherd says big reds have a diverse palate, descending on any victims that cross their path — whether anchovies, shrimp or even crabs.

Beatson says low light — at dawn or dusk — seems to bring the fish to the surface. In the Chesapeake Bay, Shepherd likes moving current. “It must be easier for the drum to swim on the surface than fight the current down below,” he says.

If the drum don’t surface, that doesn’t mean they aren’t nearby. Blythe watches the fish finder; when he marks fish, he drops jigs.

Pick a Plan
Once the guides arrive at a likely area, they set up a game plan. “I zigzag back and forth in the drums’ preferred depth,” says Blythe. On any given day, that preference changes, but when Blythe finds reds at a certain depth, they usually linger.

To improve his odds, Beatson stays away from the crowds. Boat activity can make the fish submerge or leave the area, he says. However, he might watch the fringe of a fleet in case a school pops up just outside the commotion.

Weather can play a big role too. A little chop can make drum easier to spot, Shepherd says. Rough water also makes it easier to sneak up on the fish. Lacking perfect conditions, the guides look for other signs such as diving birds or busting fish. “You might luck out and run over them,” says Shepherd, “or you can see them pushing water when it’s calm.”

Stealth Approach
When drum do pop up, they stick out like a sore thumb. “The school looks like a big red blob on the surface,” says Beatson. Each guide boasts about seeing schools of 100, 200, and even 400 to 500 fish.

Traveling in a huge group might make the fish easy to spot, but it also works to the fish’s advantage. If one member of the group spooks, the whole bunch bolts. All three guides stress stealth: “Don’t change the rpm of the motor, and try to stay just inside casting distance,” says Shepherd.

Beatson adds: “Try to head them off at an angle. Don’t T-bone the school.”

Once in range, the guides instruct their anglers to cast in front of and just past the school, and then retrieve the lure just fast enough to keep it on the surface. If the fish scatter and dive, open the bail and let the lure sink.

If the fish disappear, don’t give up: Chances are, they’ll pop up again nearby. “Keep traveling in the direction the school was moving, and you’ll see them again,” says Beatson.

Beef for Bulls
Sturdy tackle can subdue the fish quickly for a healthy release and keep anglers close to the school. Pros use a 7½-foot or longer, heavy-action spinning rod and matching reel spooled with 50-pound braid and 12 inches of 80-pound fluorocarbon leader.

The fish eagerly scarf a 2- to 3-ounce jig or bucktail with a 10- to 13-inch Hogy tail or an 8- to 12-inch topwater popper. Beatson’s favorite weapon is a 3-ounce gold Hopkins spoon with a yellow feather.

Once the redfish is hooked, it usually charges back to the group. If the hooked red swims away, assign one person to watch the school.

Whenever anglers encounter big reds on the surface, they can potentially catch epic numbers of fish. “We had a day when we caught 12 big reds on fly,” says Blythe. Beatson recalls, “We’ve chased schools for miles, hooking one double after another.”

But Shepherd really puts this fishery into perspective: “If I told you about my best day, you’d call me a liar.”

About the Author Fishing offshore, inshore and from shore, Ric Burnley covers the mid-Atlantic for his website