There’s no denying the skill, thrill and satisfaction that comes with catching redfish on lures. However, for consistently producing more and bigger ones, don’t turn your nose up at natural baits. Soaking dead baits might sound boring or basic at a glance. I understand that initial thought. Yet dead-baiting does offer challenges. Since it requires a more stationary approach, you better know where redfish are holding before setting the first offering. And there are specific tactics that dramatically bolster one’s success and can also help reduce mortality. I talked with five redfish pros to get their thoughts on how to get the most out of dead-baiting.
Capt. Spud Woodward
A Georgia Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist for 34 years, Spud Woodward claims the most significant change in dead- and live-baiting for redfish is the short-leader, inline-circle-hook rig, which prevents deep-hooking. “With long leaders, redfish swallow baits more easily,” Woodward says. “This is undoubtedly detrimental to their survival.”
Woodward uses a 9/0 inline circle hook with a mashed barb, snelled to a 2-foot section of 60-pound leader. About 5 inches above the hook he adds a crimp, plastic bead, sinker, and then another bead and a final crimp. The beads and crimps should be snugged up to the sinker. He finishes the leader with a surgeon’s loop, which he attaches to a snap swivel on the fishing line.
Woodward says crabs are good bait, but he reasons their meat is quickly plucked by small croakers and pinfish. “I prefer the head section of whatever fish I’m using for bait,” Woodward says. “I’ll run the hook under the lower jaw and out the upper jaw. It’s critical to leave the tip of the circle hook clearly exposed for it to work.”
Another tip? “In heavy currents or turbulent surf, chunk baits occasionally come off a mashed hook barb,” he says. “After putting a bait on the hook, I’ll add a piece of durable synthetic bait, like Fish Bites. The synthetic bait helps keep the natural bait on the hook, while providing its own scent attraction.”
Woodward suggests acquiring a variety of the freshest baits, preferably caught during your outing.
“On days when menhaden isn’t working, we’ll catch and use half of a whiting,” Woodward says. “Switching bait types could make a big difference in getting fish to eat. Also, to prevent the bait from rolling along the bottom, I’ll use a flat-sided sinker.”
Capt. Zachery Hoffman
Based out Seaford, Virginia, Zachery Hoffman has plenty of experience catching bull reds in the lower Chesapeake Bay.
“When conditions permit, I’ll set four to six rods with a mix of baits that might include spot, menhaden, mullet and even blue crab,” Hoffman says. “If they’re keying in on a particular bait, we’ll change out the ones they’re not paying attention to. Fresh-caught baits are always best.”
Hoffman stresses the importance of knowing the avenues these fish travel and anchoring accordingly, whether by bridge tunnel islands, along bottom ledges and contours, or near rocks and holes.
“There are some holes tight to the shoreline where big schools of red drum congregate. Given this scenario, we’ll repeatedly cast cut baits into that hole and catch them by the numbers,” Hoffman says.
“Schools of red drum continually circle the area and will ultimately come upon our baits. It’s also good to have wind and current running in the same direction. Sometimes we don’t get that, and setting a lot of baits becomes challenging.”
Capt. Mike Frenette
Venice, Louisiana’s Mike Frenette is among the best at catching trophy redfish, be it on lures or dead baits. “Dead-baiting is by far the perfect way to introduce anglers to the sport of catching big redfish,” Frenette claims. “As they gain experience, they can graduate to using lures.
“Redfish eat just about anything, but crabs are their favorite,” Frenette reports. “I’ll take a blue crab, remove its claws, and use a knife to split it evenly from the head downward. I’ll run a circle hook through the swim fin area, cast it out, and put the rod in a gunwale holder. If the fish are there, the bite comes quickly.”
Frenette uses 4 feet of 40-pound fluorocarbon capped by a 60- to 80-pound barrel swivel, to which the fishing line attaches. An egg sinker rides on the fishing line.
“We have big redfish here, so each bait is a half of an adult blue crab,” Frenette explains. “For smaller redfish, we section the crab into four pieces. Mullet are good secondary baits, plus they’re usually easy to get. Again, the size of the redfish determines the size of the baits we’ll use.”
Given the numbers of redfish in his waters, Frenette claims there’s little need to chum. However, if he must light up a bite, he’ll dispatch tiny pieces of mullet behind the boat. “The big thing here is moving water, be it an incoming or outgoing tide,” Frenette explains. “If the tide is slack, find somewhere else to fish with moving water.”
Capt. Mike Goodwine
Catching redfish in the Tampa Bay complex is Goodwine’s specialty. A noted live-baiter, there are times when dead baits are the only way to score. “During summer, when water temps get hot, dead bait excels,” Goodwine says. “I believe it’s because redfish get lazy and don’t want to chase down food in that hot water. They prefer those cooler holes and bait coming to them.”
Goodwine claims his best dead bait is a threadfin herring. He’ll even use frozen ones. He’ll take a bait, cut off its head and tail, and run a 1/0 or 2/0 hook through its belly and out by the pectoral fins. A small split shot rides above the hook. Goodwine suggests baiting with large threadfins, which last longer under pinfish barrages. His second favorite dead bait is cut pinfish.
Based on conditions, two to four rods are deployed. “It’s important to leave those rods in gunwale holders,” Goodwine advises. “The baits have to appear natural lying on the bottom. Any movements should reflect those of pinfish picking at them and any current slightly rolling them about. The absolute worst is when a customer holds the rod and constantly moves the bait; it’s so unnatural, it scares off fish.”
Despite having to replace baits constantly from pinfish forages, Goodwine swears the ensuing commotion and vibrations draw in redfish, so much so that he often supercharges the situation. “I’ll cut a few threadfins into tiny pieces,” Goodwine says. “I’ll take 20 to 30 tidbits, put them in my chum bat, and broadcast them over where my baits are soaking. It stokes up the pinfish and overall feeding illusion; redfish can’t ignore it.”
For his take on when to switch to dead-baiting, Goodwine says: “When we’re fishing live white baits, I’m constantly replacing tired ones. If I see pinfish eating the discards, that’s my cue to switch to dead baits.”
Capt. Jim Willcox
A premier backcountry guide out of Islamorada in the Florida Keys, Willcox claims dead-baiting for redfish is necessary when water temperatures cool. “Their metabolisms slow, and they’ll seek deeper holes within backcountry creeks rather than roam islands and beaches,” Willcox says.
Although cut mullet and pinfish are good baits under these conditions, Willcox admits he’s a shrimp man. Shrimp are easy to buy and work with, he reasons. “I’ll take a piece of fresh shrimp, impale it onto a jig head and cast into holes. It won’t go unnoticed. The same can be accomplished with a 1/0 circle hook and small egg sinker. In either case, I’ll use 40-pound leader for redfish, given the structure-rich environments we’re fishing in.”
Having fished with Willcox, I noticed a trick he uses when the bite is slow. He thawed a pack of frozen shrimp and instructed us to tip our jigs with pieces of them. When questioned on why he uses frozen over sections of live ones, he rationalized that the scent of older, frozen shrimp is stronger; therefore, it makes a difference when the bite is off. As if to prove his point, we began catching redfish using the frozen shrimp. “When it’s cold and redfish are in deep holes, throw a few pieces of shrimp up-current,” Willcox says. “Those tidbits will drift down into that hole and fire up the redfish. This is how you run up the numbers.”