Ask saltwater anglers on the Atlantic coast or Gulf of Mexico what their favorite fish to hook onto is, and chances are the answer will be Red Drum. Pound for pound, red drum are some of the hardest fighting fish out there, as these aquatic bruisers dig deep and are always ready to rumble with any rod and reel attempting to land them. And also pound for pound, they make some of the finest meals of anything in the ocean. Scrappy and delicious, red fishing in the Gulf of Mexico is a sport anglers dream.
Also sometimes referred to as redfish, channel bass and just plain old “reds”, Red Drum are so named for the drumming croak sound they make when distressed. They have dark, coppery red scales on their backs, which slowly fade to white underbellies. And their most distinguishing feature is the black spot near the base of the tail which almost all members of their species share. Some fish may have multiple spots, but there is always at least one spot. No one knows for sure why they evolved the spots, but the prevailing theory among marine biologists is that it has to do with confusing any predators looking to make a meal of them.
Drum can be found all over in the water column, but mainly frequent shallow grass beds and oyster bars where they root around like piggish vacuum cleaners hunting by both touch and sight for crabs, shrimp and smaller fish. Red drums are voracious feeders though, and they regularly catch meals at the surface. Mullet, pinfish and menhaden are also popular live bait choices for reds. For those anglers who prefer fishing with artificial lures, top water twitch baits, skitter walkers, jerk baits and assorted popping corks all make excellent options.
Because of their tendency to inhabit shallow waters, kayaks, sups and smaller individual fishing platform vessels are becoming incredibly popular among inshore sport anglers after Red Drum. These craft, often paddled, allow fishermen to get into thinner waters where Redfish hunt schools of mullet migrating with the tidal flows. Getting into these areas via smaller craft opens up more area for Red Drum anglers than larger powerboats. And these versatile watercraft make for great sight fishing platforms, which is always a plus with fly fishermen.
Most areas in Florida allow recreational anglers to keep one fish per day between 18-28 inches. The average Red Fish in this size range weighs on average 5-8 pounds, and easily makes a gourmet seafood dinner for a family of four. Red Fish are so delicious, that during the 1980’s restaurant demand led to overfishing and brought redfish nearly to extinction in the Gulf. Thankfully though, strict rules on sizes and limits were introduced, and these favorites of sport fishers and dinner plates have rebounded nicely. If you fish anywhere in the Southeastern United States or East Coast, you are missing out if you aren’t after the reds.