Casting to the Beat of a Different Drum
Redfish, or red drum, are big, powerful fish that can provide a larger-than-life fight and just enough of a challenge to keep fly fishers from all over headed south during the Summer in pursuit of them.
This article is going to mainly be about the best patterns of flies for these beastly creatures, but I will also discuss the behaviors, attributes, and forage of these fish in an attempt to get other fly anglers in the Northeast some much needed background.
Join me as I dive in to look at another species of fish that provides a host of new challenges to fly fishers!
Muscle and Bone
Redfish is a name that, regionally, is applied to many different species of fish. Here, redfish refers to Scianops Ocellatus or the red drum. Closely related to the black drum, these fish grow very rapidly, even in competitive environments. A mature redfish is anywhere from 3-5 years old, and these fish can live to sixty years in the wild. They are valuable gamefish in many parts of the world, but especially here in the US. Their range is large, from Massachusetts to Florida and in the Gulf. Louisiana, Virginia, and many more states have populations of redfish that attract not just fly fishers, but also those looking to harvest a fish that is great for the table.
Redfish are rusty red to bronze in color, that slowly fades to a white underbelly incrementally from their back downwards. They possess large, tough scales to protect them both from other fish and birds of prey, as well as other predators depending on their particular region. They possess a characteristic black eyespot near their powerful tails, and while it is possible for them to possess more than one set of eyespots, it is very rare for them to have none at all, though possible (make sure you have time for a picture if you ever come across one). These fish get big, with a common weight of 6-8 pounds plus for a redfish aged 3 years or more. Their mouth is downturned (sort of like a carp) and they spend their time searching for food like crabs, shrimp, and eventually baitfish of all kinds, hoovering flats and sandbars for food and stalking weedy outcroppings looking for small fish that have ventured too far from the protection of the structure.
Sight-fishing for these fish is a popular way of catching them on the fly. Redfish have a tendency to be “showy” and often hunt in water that is shallow enough to expose their false eye spots and tails.
On the fly rod, these fish fight long and hard, able to quickly strip line from your reel and test the quality of your leader and your knots. While they rarely jump or perform other acrobatics like some other fish, they are known to fight right into shallow water and mud, in erratic runs that can change direction fast. With their strength and endurance, your reaction time needs to be quick and your setup capable of long fights and steep parabolic bends.
Redfish provide an excellent challenge when using heavier fly tackle, and the pictures should speak for themselves–these fish are big and make for a great photo. Whether you’re in Louisiana or Massachusetts, consider targeting these fish when bass and other freshwater predators don’t seem challenging anymore.
Best Flies for Redfish
Crabs of all types make up a considerable amount of a young redfish’s diet, and they still delight in consuming them as they grow bigger and get older. Crab flies can be a little involved and take practice, but when mastered, can be all you need for a day of chasing redfish. Some dedicated anglers only have one or two crab imitations in their box for a day’s fun, and no other patterns. This speaks to the effectiveness of this type of pattern, so learn at least one of the flies below to up your chances at a redfish encounter.
1) Dubbed Body Shrimp
Although this is technically a shrimp, it is impressionistic enough to pass for a small crab. McFly Angler does what they do best and has produced a very informative tutorial, and has made quick work of a fairly complicated fly.
This shrimp has it all, eye stalks, floating rubber legs, and a furry, buggy-dubbed body. This pattern utilizes a dubbing loop, so if you’ve been avoiding that technique, now is the time to attempt it. It’s incredibly useful. And incredibly effective.
Dubbed Body Shrimp, by McFly Angler
2) The Alphlexo Crab
Here’s another fly that takes time, patience, and effort, but is extremely effective for many species, especially redfish.
The Alphlexo crab really possesses a true-to-nature profile and action. It’s got the eyes, it’s got the undulation, and the body material adds even more action to a very close imitation of many different juvenile crabs.
This is a fly that takes time to get right, but as with the Dubbed body Shrimp, it just works. Martyn White is a fantastic fly tyer and talented teacher, and this video breaks down the steps of this pattern succinctly and with purpose.
The Alphlexo Crab, by Martyn White
3) Sandy’s Crabby Patty, by McFly Angler
Back to McFly Angler here for a pattern that is not as involved and challenging as the others already described.
While technically this fly imitates a sand flea, I have included it here amongst other true crabs because of the impressionistic nature of this fly. Sand flea or not, the similarities in action and profile make this a cracking good redfish pattern, and more accessible to fly tyers of all skill levels.
McFly Anglers always produces quality videos, and this is another streamlined tutorial from an awesome company.
Sandy’s Crabby Patty, by McFly Angler
Redfish grow long and heavy at a very fast rate, and this growth requires a lot of food. Redfish move from shrimp and crabs to baitfish quickly, and as they grow and become more powerful swimmers, it’s easier to chase down schools of minnows and gobble them up. Baitfish flies are a great choice if you’re looking to catch a big one. The patterns below have proved particularly effective for photo-worthy reds all over their range.
4) Gotcha Fly
While this fly was designed with bonefish in mind, the Gotcha fly works particularly well on redfish as well.
This is a simple, effective saltwater pattern that is as effective as it is streamlined and easy to tie. When I am lucky enough to grab a saltwater fly box at auction, there’s always some variant of this fly inside, and usually more than one. This is a great fly for all sorts of big, saltwater fish. It’s just a must-have!
InTheRiffle ranks right up there with McFly and Orvis as far as the effectiveness and simple tutorials go.
Check this out.
Gotcha Fly from InTheRiffle
5) Saltwater Clouser
I could not talk about baitfish fly patterns without mentioning the Clouser minnow, a fly designed originally with Susquehanna smallmouth in mind. This deadly effective and simple baitfish pattern doesn’t just work on rivers, in fact, it is particularly effective in saltwater too.
Everyone should know this pattern regardless of where they fish because as far as streamers go, it is a proven winner. The old saying is true, “If it eats baitfish, it’ll eat a Clouser minnow.”
While everyone has their own variants of this pattern, InTheRiffle goes above and beyond in this tutorial to show you their tips and tricks for making near-perfect baitfish imitations.
Saltwater Clouser by InTheRiffle
6) The Borski Slider
Our pals at Trident have created a great tutorial on a super-effective baitfish pattern that they say has fooled many a red into the boat. Slider-type flies work well on a variety of species, in saltwater and freshwater.
This one was another pattern originally designed for bonefish, but it quickly became a popular option for redfish as well. It’s able to move a lot of water while retaining a very tempting action.
This is a great fly, and if you read our blog, you’ll be familiar with this great company.
The Borski Slider from Trident
7) Project Healing Waters’ Redfish Fly
Project Healing Waters is an educational and therapeutic non-profit organization that brings fly fishing to those who need it most and can benefit from the therapeutic benefits of being outside and on the water. It is a great organization that takes veterans out to the water and uses the outdoors and fly fishing to combat PTSD and a host of other mental health-related challenges.
They are truly a great nonprofit, and I have often wanted to throw my hat into the ring and help them out, whether that be guiding, tying flies for them, and more.
Fly fishing has given me so much and helped me (and my mental health) in more ways than one, and I want other people to reap the benefits of it too.
That said, they have a cracking good redfish fly here, which, while technically a baitfish pattern too, is representative of all the qualities a good redfish fly needs. Lots of marabou, lots of action.
Project Healing Waters’ Redfish Fly
8) Going Weedless
Redfish love weedy flats where they know tasty forage will be present.
Here, McFly Angler has gone in-depth to show you how to make your favorite redfish fly weedless with some stiff mono. This technique is good to know for many different species, particularly for redfish.
Check this out and add this little technique to your bag of tricks. I find it also works great for bass flies, or any fly that you plan on using around “cabbage” or in super weedy environments.
Going Weedless, McFly Angler
Reeling it in
Redfish get big and are a very different challenge than many of the other freshwater fish that I have previously reviewed.
While they readily take a host of flies, even more, impressionistic ones, they remain enough of a challenge and strong enough to keep fly fishers traveling for a chance at an encounter every year. There’s a lot to love about these big bruiser fish, so much so that they have created a loyal cadre of fly fishers that just can’t seem to lose interest in finding and catching them.
The flies that made the above listing work great for redfish but also work for bonefish and, on a smaller scale with a smaller hook, even bass, and trout. I am a firm believer that becoming a better fly tyer means tying flies for fish that you might have never seen before.
Try these flies and consider traveling down south to the state of your choice and trying your hand at redfish. They are unlike anything you can find up here in the North, and provide a great challenge and something different for those of us that desire a new challenge. Sight-fishing for common carp is as close as I can get to a redfish experience here in PA right now, but a guy can dream. Tight lines my friends!