How To: Sight Fishing for Tailing Redfish


From Texas to Virginia, there are countless anglers with only one thing on their mind: redfish. Without a doubt, redfish, also known as red drum or simply “reds”, are a favorite among anglers throughout the Gulf states and along the East Coast of the U.S. This golden or bronze colored fish is an excellent gamefish and really fun to fight to the boat. There are several techniques to getting your next redfish on the line. Because reds move from deep to shallow waters and back from season to season, the time of year is an important factor when deciding on what technique you’ll use. Sight fishing is just one technique available, and it’s also one of the most exciting. This is when anglers will watch the surface of the water and target the schools of redfish as they feed. We’ll break it down so you can enjoy this really fun way of tracking down your next redfish.

Water Levels

Sight fishing for redfish is primarily a shallow water technique, and since reds are typically in shallow waters during cooler months, you’re looking at late Fall to early Spring for the best conditions. This is, of course, a very general rule. There are some places where the water is shallow throughout the year, so anglers can be sight fishing redfish twelve months of the year in these locations.

The water level is among the most important factors when it comes to spotting a redfish. Anglers will watch the surface for the back and tail of the redfish to breach the shallow water while they feed off the bottom. This behavior is known as “tailing,” and is high on the list of things you want to see when searching for reds.

Watch the Tides

Spotting inshore reds is as much of a question of "where" as it is "when." For most areas, the tides’ movement is a key factor when it comes to finding tailing redfish. High tides bring the water to the shoreline, creating more space for the reds to explore. They really like sandy bottom locations, so this is perfect in areas like Texas bays and the backcountry of the Florida Keys. As the tide recedes, the reds move on as well. Having an understanding of when and where the tide is moving will help you on your next red fishing trip.

Keep the Noise Down

Like other fish, redfish are prone to spook if they hear danger. Your boat’s motor could give away your position, making this excursion all for naught. Heck, even if big waves come along and hit the side of the hull it will spook the reds. We recommend wading if you can, poling your way through the shallow waters. You can also locate yourself upwind and then drift to the schools of fish for a stealthier approach. Another option is to anchor yourself where you know the reds will migrate and let them come to you. Experience and knowledge of the area help for this certain technique.

Migrating Season

Having an understanding of the reds’ migration season is also important when it comes to sight fishing them. That’s because the Fall season is typically the beginning of the spawning season and they’ll move in big numbers. If you’re fishing in Texas or North Carolina this is a great time to practice sight fishing. You can also hire a professional fishing guide during the migration season, as they’ll know where the fish are moving, and help you make the most of the seasonal run. There are some areas where migration is not a factor, and you’ll want to know that as well. The local guide will have all the info on the usual habits of the redfish in your area.

Polarized Sunglasses

Usually the best fishing happens on overcast days. The cloud cover seems to bring the fish out more than sunny days. But that’s not to say you won’t be fishing when the sun is shining. And for those brighter days, you’ll want a pair of polarized glasses. Polarized glasses have a special lens that helps to cut through the reflections from the sun on the water. Whether it's overcast or clear, the reflection-eliminating nature of polarized glasses will be beneficial. Because you’ll be intently watching the surface of the water, these sunglasses are a must-have when looking for tailing reds. They will help you watch the water much more effectively, without getting blinded by the sun’s rays.

Spotting Your Next Red

All in all this is a technique that is easy to learn but may take a few trips to really master it. Spotting tailing reds is all dependent on water levels and the tide, the rest is up to you. Keep the noise down and wear good sunglasses and you’ll improve your chances even more. Search for an experienced local guide that can teach you this technique, and you’ll be set for the next trip!

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