It appears the redfish bite has turned into a feeding frenzy in the aftermath of Hurricane Nate.
Redfish are normally bottom feeders, crunching on juvenile crabs and other crustaceans. When Nate rolled through it stirred the bottom and gave redfish (red drum) a smorgasbord to get fattened up for the slower pace of winter. Plus, the fall run of mullet gives redfish another target as they forage this fall. When the redfish are not following a school of mullet, they do prefer to hang around some type of structure. You’re likely find them at some ambush point near a reef structure, oyster bed, rock jetty or piling.
If you’re good with a cast net, haul in some baitfish to throw in the livewell as you search for the reds. Menhaden (pogies), alewives and small mullet will work well. If cast-netting is not an option, run by the bait store and pick up live shrimp and bull minnows if they have them. If you insist on artificial lures, it’s hard to beat a Johnson Silver Minnow gold spoon or a single-blade spinnerbait with heavy wire designed to stand up to the hard-fighting redfish. Ease around the edges of the bayous and bays, looking for likely spots. The spinnerbait allows you to cover a lot of water, and the erratic action of the spoon is irresistible for the redfish.
When it comes to tackle, these fall redfish tend to be larger than those you caught in the spring and summer. That’s why I recommend moving up to at least 15-pound test line and in some cases 20-pound is better. The downside of using light line is that it takes longer to reel in the fish, which causes more stress for the fish. Redfish are hardy, but there’s no need to make it more difficult for the fish to survive.
A medium-heavy rod will allow you to keep constant pressure on the fish, and a reel with a quality drag system is essential when fighting these brutes.
The recovery of the redfish population along the Gulf of Mexico is an amazing success story. Redfish were overlooked as quality table fare until the late 1980s, when Chef Paul Prudhomme’s blackened redfish recipe created a booming demand for the firm-fleshed fish. That demand led to overfishing, and the fish stocks were in trouble. Thankfully, no netting of redfish is allowed in federal waters, which allowed the species to rebound rapidly. Recreational anglers also must adhere to strict daily creel limits.
In Alabama, redfish are protected from overfishing by a three-fish bag limit that includes a slot limit, which allows anglers to keep fish between 16 and 26 inches. One redfish larger than 26 inches is allowed per angler per day because of a possible state record fish. Bull reds, those redfish larger than 26 inches, are better returned to the water to spawn another generation of slot-size reds. Take a photo and release the fish to fight another day.
Along with the fishing restrictions, restocking efforts by the Alabama Marine Resources Division (MRD) continue. The MRD’s Claude Peteet Mariculture Center in Gulf Shores has a state-of-the-art hatchery, which has been spawning redfish for the past year. The fry produced from the spawning have been released in several estuaries in coastal Alabama.
MRD officials said the released fry will grow to about 12 to 14 inches in about a year. Female redfish will reach spawning age in two to three years, which will ensure Alabama’s anglers will have plenty of redfish to catch each fall for generations to come.