Emerald Coast Pier Fishing Guide – Red Drum (Redfish)

   05.05.22

Emerald Coast Pier Fishing Guide – Red Drum (Redfish)

Red Drum – also called Redfish (Reds) – and when larger Bull Reds, are the most sought-after drum species on the piers. One of the largest and hardest fighting fish on the pier are active through most of the colder months. These qualities make the Red Drum one of the top fish to go after on the Emerald Coast Piers.

Capable of reaching up to 61 inches and over 90 Lb, the red drum can be a bruiser to fight. They are copper-bronze colored on their back and sides with large scales covering their whole body. This fades to white color on their bellies, there will also be an eyespot or spots right at the base of their tail. Though occasionally they don’t have a spot at all. Equipped with a powerful underslung jaw with small teeth, they do most of their chewing with powerful pharyngeal teeth than can crush whatever they eat. To differentiate Red Drum from Black Drum, an easy tell is the lack of barbels on the Redfish’s lower jaw.

They are the true comeback story of conservation in the Gulf of Mexico. Before the 1980s outside of South Louisiana, there wasn’t much commercial demand for Red Drum. The biggest pressure they faced was from sports fishermen. That all changed when Blackened Redfish was introduced by Chef Paul and a craze of Cajun Cooking became popular all across the nation.

Commercial fishermen had known for decades where the large bull reds gathered offshore to spawn, but these large fish had a course flesh that wasn’t worth going after. But with Blackened redfish now in high demand, these spawning fish were caught and sold by the millions. Along with the pressure put on them by sportfishing, the red drum stocks collapsed. After closures and changing of regulations and 2 decades of work, the redfish stocks came back. Nowadays, it’s not an uncommon sight to see schools of these fish turning the water gold with the light shining off their scales.

Bull Red brought up in pier net

Tackle – Red Drum

Red drum from the pier needs a heavier set of gear than other fish off the pier. They are usually larger over 25″ in length and are often caught off the pilings or form in between them. So, you need that heavier gear to be able to muscle them out from the pier before they cut you off on a piling. You need a rod and reel capable of handling 15 Lb of drag. I recommend 30 Lb braid on a 4,000 – 5,000 size reel matched with a 7 ft medium-heavy rod. Then, have some 20 – 30 Lb monofilament or fluorocarbon leader. You will also need some egg weights and swivels to make Carolina rigs to target the Red Drum.

Freshly caught squid for Red Drum bait

Technique – Red Drum

Redfish tend to be a bit shallower and hug on the bottom, but can be found all the way to the end of the pier. Setting out a bait on a Carolina rig in the water around the first “T” of the pier is probably your best bet. Depending on water conditions you can actually see the schools of Red Drum milling about either under the pier or a ways out from it. You can actively sight cast for them and try to set a bait in front of their path, but they can be very spooky and will bolt if they sense something wrong. Or, you can find an area they are around and just set a bait out and wait for them to eventually show up.

Either way, you should use fresh bait. My favorite for the spring is freshly caught squid either from the night before or if you’re there early enough you can catch during the morning. You will need squid jigs and a bit of patience though. The next best bait would be larger live shrimp or very large sand fleas, the problem with these two baits is they can be picked apart easily by small fish. Redfish will also take live or dead baitfish like herring and cigar minnows. All of these should be rigged on a Carolina rig on an 18″ – 24″ leader. You can try to target them with artificial lures like jigs and spoons, but this isn’t the way most people will catch Redfish.

Live shrimp also work great for Red Drum

Table Fare – Red Drum

As table fare, they are a good choice. They have good quality white meat that is firm and have a larger flake. As their visit to the brink of extinction shows, they are excellent blackened or fried. Another popular method of cooking Red Drum is on the half shell. You leave the skin and scales on the fillet, and then season the meat side of the fillet. After which you throw the whole thing onto a grill or in the oven until done. This leaves the fish incredibly moist and tender.

Slot red Drum caught right after sundown

Parting Words – Red Drum

Red drum are incredibly fun to fight and great on the table, but a few things have to be known about them. Most gulf coast states have a slot size limit for redfish. In Florida you are only allowed to keep redfish that are over 18″ and under 27″, anything larger or smaller has to be let go. Most redfish you catch on the beach piers will usually be over the slot limit. I’ve had trips where we’ve caught ten redfish for all of them to be over the slot.

Another important thing is, to have a pier net if you plan to target redfish. They’re heavy and you’re not going to be able to winch them up 20ft with your fishing reel. You will need the net to lift the redfish up to the deck and as well as lower them back to the water. DO NOT DROP THEM OVER THE SIDE. It’s a long drop back to the water and the impact can rupture their swimbladders. I’ve seen too many reds die because someone is lazy and just drops them over the rail.

Other than that, expect to lose a lot of terminal tackle. Redfish are incredibly strong and will usually run the pier. So, don’t be discouraged if you lose fish to the pilings. It’s all part of red drum fishing on the pier.

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