How to Catch Redfish From a Kayak
Redfish are one of the most sought after inshore species and are an ideal target for kayak fishermen. They're strong and aggressive, can be had on a variety of artificial lures, and make for exciting sight fishing in shallow water. Learning how to catch redfish will make your inshore kayak fishing pursuits well worth the time and effort.
Redfish are found all throughout the Gulf South from Texas to Florida, and up the Atlantic coast as far as Massachusetts.
While redfish do head to deep water, they are regular visitors to inshore marshes and estuaries, which is perhaps the best place to hunt them in a kayak.
Redfish can get big: over 45 inches long and over 50 pounds. You'll often hear anglers talk about "slot" and "bull" redfish. "Slot" redfish are those that fall within the legal size limit range, which depending on state regulations, is between 18-27 inches. "Bull" redfish are those that are over 27 inches, but the title is usually reserved for the largest fish, those in the 35-50 inch, 20-45 pound range.
Redfish feed on a variety of forage, with bait fish, shrimp, and blue crabs at the top of the list. When redfish come into the marshes, they scour grass lines and oyster beds for food, often moving into very shallow water to do so.
Even though redfish can get big, super heavy gear isn't needed, especially when fishing inshore. Since fishing artificial lures can be very productive, many kayak fishermen opt for a lighter setup that is better for making repetitive casts.
A good starting point for a redfish setup is a medium to medium-heavy action rod paired with a 2500-4500 series reel. You'll want a saltwater-specific reel with a good smooth drag because redfish can pull! 10-20lb braided line is all you need.
If you primarily fish for redfish inshore, use a 20-25 lb test monofilament or fluorocarbon leader. If the area you're fishing has lots of structure or oyster beds, fluorocarbon offers more abrasion resistance.
The length of your leader should be determined based on water clarity. At a minimum, use a 24-inch leader, but if the water is very clear, consider using a longer leader, around 4 feet.
Many different lures can be used to catch redfish, with the most popular being soft plastics, topwater lures, and spoons.
Soft plastics for redfish such as swimbaits and jerkbaits can be rigged on jig heads, on weedless hooks, or under a popping cork. If you're dealing with heavy currents or tidal movement, use a heavier jig head to get the lure down in the strike zone. For fishing close to the grass line, weedless hooks are very helpful and can significantly increase your hook up rate, without constantly snagging the grass. Popping corks aren't usually the first choice for redfish, but if nothing else is working, they may save the day.
When selecting style and color for soft plastics, try to match what the fish are actively feeding on. Darker colors generally work best when water visibility is low, and lighter colors are best in clear water and on bright, sunny days. Check with local bait shops or online fishing reports for advice on what lures are working.
Plugs and poppers can be particularly effective when sight fishing for actively feeding fish. Schools of redfish sometimes push mullet or other bait fish into a 'bait ball,' and when that happens, throwing a topwater lure into the mix will often trigger explosive strikes.
Gold and silver weedless spoons are a long time favorite of inshore fishermen after redfish. The most popular spoon for redfish is probably the "Secret Redfish Spoon" by H&H. It has a swivel that allows the spoon to twist, wobble and flutter freely without twisting your line and has built in weed guard that's very helpful when fishing in the grass.
Your eyes and ears are your greatest tools when stalking redfish. A good pair of polarized sunglasses can be priceless in the marsh.
The stealthy, silent nature of a kayak makes it the ideal vessel to find redfish. Stay as quiet as possible and keep your eyes and ears wide open.
Sight fishing is one of the most exciting and effective ways to pursue redfish.
Many kayak fishermen use kayaks that are designed for stand up fishing. If you're getting ready to buy a new kayak and foresee lots of redfish in your future, definitely get a kayak built for standing.
Birds. If you see birds over the water, you can be relatively certain that there are bait fish or shrimp below them, and below the bait: redfish.
Cruising pods. Often times redfish forage in small groups known as pods. They'll cruise the shoreline hunting crabs and bait fish, and things can get pretty competitive within the pod. Each fish will be trying to beat the others to the bait... or your lure.
Wakes. A cruising redfish will sometimes come up to the surface just enough to create a wake, like a mini submarine.
Tails. When redfish feed in very shallow water, their tails will poke up out of the water.
Scattering bait fish. When pods of redfish key into a school of bait fish, the bait will often ball up, and when a redfish blasts through bait ball, the bait fish will go fleeing across the surface of the water.
Once you've found some redfish, it's time for action. Most of the time, when redfish are actively feeding, a well-placed lure will get eaten. But redfish can get spooky, especially when feeding in super shallow water.
When casting to a feeding redfish, you'll want to be sure not to land your lure with a "plop" as it could scare the fish away. Generally, you want your cast to lead the redfish anywhere from 5-10 feet, then start your retrieve.
Each feeding situation -- solo redfish cruising the grass, pods crushing bait fish, tailers eating crabs -- will call for different lure presentations. In each situation, the general procedure is to anticipate where the fish is heading, cast ahead, start your retrieve and wait for the take.
Many times, especially when fishing in shallow water, you'll see a redfish take your lure. When you see the take, set the hook. If the water is murky or if you're fishing in deeper water, wait till you feel a steady pull on your line before you set the hook.
Redfish fight hard and will make several runs before you can land them. Some kayak fishermen use landing nets for redfish, but many others have started using lip-grips. Being smaller and lighter than a net, a lip-grip is much easier to manage in a kayak.
Once you tire out a redfish, you'll be able to float it next to your kayak, then use the lip-grip to either release the fish or hoist it aboard to take home.
Many would agree that kayak fishing for redfish is just about as good as it gets. If you like sight-casting to big, powerful fish, learning how to catch redfish should definitely be next on your kayak fishing checklist. Redfish are excellent table fare too, and if you need a great recipe to try, check out our post about how to cook redfish.