St. Petersburg Times
tampabay.com


One of the most popular inshore gamefish, red drum, commonly called redfish, are prized for their fighting prowess and value as table fair. Whether caught on artificial lures, live bait or fly rod, these tackle-busters are well worth the effort.

Tailing redfish
One of the easiest way to spot a redfish is to spot its tail as it roots in the grass beds and bottom for crustaceans.

Life history
Red drum can live more than 40 years. They spend most of their early lives in inland bays and estuaries before moving offshore to spawn, usually in the fall when daylight hours decrease and water temperatures begin to cool. Redfish can reach lengths of 45 inches and weigh up to 80 pounds. Fish caught on the Atlantic Coast are usually larger than those caught on the Gulf Coast.


Red drum, commonly called redfish

Range
Redfish can be found in inshore and offshore waters throughout the Atlantic, from Massachusetts to Key West, and Gulf of Mexico.

Stock Enhancement
In 1999, the FWC and Sarasota's Mote Marine Laboratory began a large-scale redfish stock enhancement project in Tampa Bay. More than 3.5-million juvenile redfish have been released into the Alafia and Little Manatee rivers, and more than one million are expected to be released in 2004.

Fin Clip Program
Marine biologists need angler help with a “Fin Clip” program that will help determine the success of hatchery-reared redfish released into Tampa Bay. Anglers are provided with a free Fin Clip Kit which can be used to collect a nickel-sized piece of tissue (grows back) from the second dorsal (back) fin of any redfish caught in Tampa Bay. DNA extracted from the fin clip provides valuable information to biologists concerning hatchery redfish survival, growth, distribution and contribution to the fishery. Fin Clip Kits can be obtained by calling the Redfish Hotline at 1-800-367-4461 or by emailing redfishlab@mote.org.

Acoustic Tracking Study
Biologists are tracking redfish with new acoustic technology. Transponders are implanted in the body cavities of hatchery and wild redfish measuring 7 to 12 inches that are released in the Alafia River. The acoustic transponders release a series of pings that identify each fish. Each transponder lasts for about seven months and costs $250. You'll know an “acoustic” redfish by an external orange tag in the back. Anglers should leave the tag intact, record the tag information and release the fish. Anglers can call the Hotline at 1-800- 367-4461.

graphic by ROSSIE NEWSON • text by TERRY TOMALIN and JASON LUSK of the Times

Tactics

Redfish frequent a variety of habitats: grass flats, sand bars, mangrove shorelines, oyster-lined creeks, even docks. Look for large concentrations of black mullet or feeding birds. Feeding redfish show their tails or display a “deep V” (head wakes). Redfish are creatures of habit. If you find an area they use more than once, chances are you will find them there again in similar tidal and atmospheric conditions. If you spot a school, don’t chase it with a trolling motor. It is better to just get upwind of the school and use a push pole, or drift back down to the school.


Regulations

Red drum are protected from commercial fishing throughout the Gulf of Mexico, with the exception of Mississippi, which has a very limited inshore fishery. In Florida, recreationally caught red drum must not be less than 18 inches or more than 27 inches. Anglers may keep one fish per day.


Tackle

Cardinal C674 center-drag reel

Use a stouter rod than for trout, preferrably a 7-foot medium/heavy action rod with a fast taper and a line weight range of 8-17 pounds. Try spinning reels such as a Cardinal C674 center-drag reel or similar models from Shimano and Diawa.

Sources: Florida Marine Research Institute's Sea Stats; Carole Neidig, Mote Marine Laboratory; C.A. Richardson of flatsclass.com, International Game Fish Association's Book of World Record Game Fishes.


Lure selection

The best bet is to “match the hatch.” Choose a bait that mimics the natural forage. Redfish eat almost anything but prefer crustaceans, pinfish and mullet. Some suggestions: Mirrolure’s Top Dog Jr. (gold); Johnson’s weedless gold spoon; Berkley Powerbait’s 4-inch tube bait (rootbeer with goldflake) Hank Brown’s 3/8-ounce bucktail (chartreuse and white); Mirrolure’s 7M (chartreuse back and gold sides); Berkley Powerbait’s 5-inch jerk shad (gold flake and black back).

Mirrolure's Top Gog Jr. (gold)



Exude Mangrove Red 5 inch



Captain Mike's Spoon