Freshwater Redfish

In the lakes and rivers around the United States, you will find a plethora of different fish ready to catch. Today, we’re focusing on one species of fish in particular. As you can see from the title of this guide, we’re talking about the Freshwater Redfish. 

What exactly is this fish, where can you find it, can you eat it, how do you fish for it, and what fun facts should you know about it? If you want to find the answers to all of these questions, carry on reading the guide below:

What is a Freshwater Redfish?

A Freshwater Redfish can go by many different names. Scientifically, it is referred to as the Sciaenops ocellatus. However, you will also commonly see it referred to as a red drum, channel, bass, puppy drum, or spottail bass. 

Regardless, this is a game fish that is found throughout North America in freshwater settings – such as rivers and lakes. As the name suggests, these fish have a dark red color on their backs, which makes them rather easy to spot and distinguish from other fish in the family. A key characteristic of the Freshwater Redfish is that it has an eyespot right on the tail. Like other members of the drum family, the Redfish makes a noise during the spawning season by contracting the muscles on its swim bladder. This creates a vibration that is heard as a thrum or croak when nearby. 

From a size perspective, a typical Freshwater Redfish will grow to be between 6-8 lbs in weight. This makes them a relatively light fish in comparison to others, but there have been some acceptions to this – which you will see in the fun facts section later on. 

These fish are part of a family called osmoregulators, which are characterized by their ability to live in both fresh and saltwater. Naturally, we are focusing on the freshwater variation of Redfish, but some can be found in saltwater as well. They are closely related to other fish in this family, including black drums, with which they can interbreed. 

Where to Fish for Redfish

Typically, this fish is found along the Eastern and Southern Atlantic, along with the Gulf of Mexico Coasts. While they are often found in lakes and rivers throughout Florida, most people will associate this fish with Louisiana and Texas. Indeed, this is where you are most likely to find, not only Redfish but the biggest Redfish available in the country. 

A few of the top lakes include:

  • Braunig
  • Calaveras
  • Fairfield

All three of these are found in Texas, and they all contain some common characteristics that are synonymous with the Freshwater Redfish’s ideal habitat. In essence, these fish like to live where there is deep, open, water. They like the deeper waters as they get uncomfortable when it is too warm. As such, they can swim towards the bottom when it gets hot, maintaining a body temperature that prevents them from being agitated. 

You are likely to find this species of fish in many lakes around the country, but the Deep South is where they are most prominent. With that being said, it is worth mentioning Florida yet again, as this is probably the second most abundant area for Freshwater Redfish. 

Redfish Fun Facts

There are lots of interesting things to know about Redfish that will help you understand the species. While these facts are enjoyable and can help you learn something new, they may also help you when you start fishing for them! 

So, let’s look at some of the best facts available:

  • When mature, adult females tend to be larger than males. A mature male Redfish can grow up to around 28 inches, while a female is known to reach 33 inches. 
  • Most Redfish will spawn during later summer and fall. You will know when spawning season is around as you can hear the male Redfish making the drumming sound to attract females. 
  • The largest-ever Redfish weighed over 94lb and was caught in 1984. This is substantially heavier than the average, being well over ten times the weight of a normal Redfish. 
  • All Freshwater Redfish have a spot near their tail, but some are born with more than one. Despite this, they still form part of the same species, and some of these spots are known to fade away as the fish matures, leaving just the one iconic tail spot. 
  • There’s an evolutionary reason for the tail spot, it is believed to confuse predators! The spot looks like an eye, making predators aim for the tail rather than the head. This gives the fish a greater chance of swimming away unharmed. 
  • Freshwater Redfish are carnivores and will eat just about any smaller marine life it can find. Some are known to eat crabs and shrimp, while a few will actually eat lizardfish and sea robins!
  • A healthy female Freshwater Redfish can lay a whopping 1.5 million eggs!
  • Redfish have a long lifecycle and can live for over a decade with relative ease. However, it’s not unheard of to see some Freshwater Redfish live to be 60 or older. 
  • The larger the fish gets, the firmer it will be in texture. Some fish over 15lb are believed to no longer have the typical flaky texture of fish. Instead, their meat is much tougher and takes on a texture that’s not too dissimilar to chicken!

Top Redfish Lures & Tips

The good news is that Redfish are relatively easy to catch and aren’t big enough to put up a huge fight. This means you don’t have to go all gung-ho with the gear you use to fish them. Most freshwater Redfish – particularly those inshore – will be rather small. As such, you can use many different types of rod to reel them in. Mostly, you can use anything up to a medium-light rod, anything more than this isn’t really necessary. 

As far as the reel goes, you’re looking at around 200 yards of 10lb test. This is ideal for Freshwater Redfish fishing, and a good drag will always help you. As always, the quality of your line makes the most difference here. It doesn’t matter how good the rest of your setup is, if the line is brittle and can break, you won’t catch a thing. 

You really don’t need to overcomplicate things when fishing for this species. Their temperament makes them very easy for you to catch, so a simple jig is all that’s required. A freeline will do you very well here, so don’t go crazy and start trying to tie the most advanced jig you can find!

What about bait and lures?

Freshwater fish can be caught using both live bait and lures. Shrimps, crabs, and blood worms are all popular meals for Redfish, making them great as bait. Understandably, live bait does cost a lot of money and it can get messy. You also have to deal with keeping the live bait somewhere, which is why you’ll be happy to know that lures work just as well. A few ideas that are worth considering include:

  • Flies
  • Crankbaits
  • Topwater lures
  • Plastic shrimp
  • Jerkbaits
  • Swimbaits
  • Jigs

The trick with all of these lures is to match the color to the bait in the area. For instance, look at the marine life in the lake you’re fishing, notice the prey that your Redfish are likely to be interested in, then use a lure that replicates the color. This will increase the likelihood that the fish will come and give you a nibble. 

One final word on fishing for Redfish, a gold spoon has often been used as a lure for them. It seems to attract their attention, particularly when trolled underwater. Many anglers suggest you use this as the last resort if nothing else seems to work. It’s thought that the shininess can lure them out of hiding. 

Can you eat Redfish?

Yes, you will be pleased to know that Freshwater Redfish is safe to eat. However, this is only if it is cooked thoroughly before eating. Most experts do not recommend eating it raw, just to be safe. Also, pregnant women can safely eat this fish as it is very low in mercury and safe for consumption one or two times per week. 

Tastewise, the smaller Redfish tend to be the best. This is where they have nice and flaky meat, quite similar to red snapper in terms of how it tastes and feels in the mouth. The beauty of this fish is that it doesn’t taste too strong, so it works in many different dishes. Grilled Redfish is perhaps the most popular, covering the fish in a marinade and grilling it until it is cooked through. 

All in all, the Freshwater Redfish is a great gamefish to catch throughout the US. It is best fished for in Texas and Louisiana, with many of the lakes here possessing mass amounts of the species. It is also easy for you to catch and safe to eat.