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Ultimate Guide • Updated Fri, May 3, 2024

Ultimate Guide to Redfish Flies

Redfish, also known as red drum, are the bronze bruisers of shallow coastal waters found from Massachusetts to Mexico. These fish are often recognized by their one-spot tail, copper-burnished bodies, and propensity for putting up a spirited fight. With their aggressive feeding habits, redfish aren't overly picky, but precision in fly choice can elevate your success rate significantly. Selecting the right redfish flies can make all the difference between a day of casting practice and the victorious tug of a hooked fish.

This article covers:

  • Understanding the redfish diet
  • Understanding the redfish habitat
  • Selecting effective redfish flies
  • Essential redfish fly patterns
  • Your next redfish fishing adventure
  • Frequently asked questions about redfish flies

Understanding the redfish diet

A healthy color pattern of an adult redfish caught off Charleston, SC. Courtesy of Fly Fish Charleston.

Redfish are not picky eaters and are known for their aggressive feeding habits. Their menu is diverse, but a few favorites include crabs, shrimp, and baitfish. Anglers in any environment should know how to “match the hatch” - choosing a fly that closely imitates the natural food available in the water where you're fishing. For redfish, the "hatch" could be anything from a small crab scuttling along the bottom, a shrimp darting through the water column, or a baitfish swimming near the surface. To effectively match the hatch when targeting redfish, you need to observe the types of prey items available, their size and color, and their movement in the water. The key is to adjust your fly choice based on what you see in the water on any given day.

Understanding the redfish habitat

Releasing a redfish back into its inshore habitat in Savannah, GA. Courtesy of Tall Tides Charters.

These fish frequent various habitats such as shorelines, grass flats, sandbars, oyster bars, and tidal creeks. While adult redfish gather offshore to spawn in large schools, they return periodically to coastal rivers for feeding. In wintertime, they gravitate towards warmer waters, with their preferred temperature range spanning from 65 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Primarily bottom feeders, redfish heavily rely on their acute sense of smell to locate their prey. Anglers often spot redfish "tailing" on the flats, a behavior where they angle downward to forage for food on the seabed, their tails waving in plain sight. Popular spots to target redfish include Florida, the Lowcountry (South Carolina), LouisianaNorth Carolina, and Texas.

Selecting effective redfish flies

A healthy redfish caught off Charleston's prime inshore waters. Courtesy of Lowcountry Premier Fly Fishing

Selecting the perfect fly for redfish fishing requires careful consideration of water depth, bottom type, and water clarity. Each of these factors influences which fly will be most effective in attracting the attention of a redfish.

Considering water depth

Redfish can be found at various depths, from shallow flats to deeper inshore channels. For shallow waters (less than 1 foot deep), flies with bead chain eyes, or no eyes, are recommended as they sink slowly, allowing them to remain in the line of sight of cruising redfish. This makes them ideal for sight casting or targeting tailing fish. For deeper waters (2 feet or more), flies with lead eyes are more effective. These sink faster, making them suitable for reaching fish that feed closer to the bottom.

Considering bottom type

The type of bottom—whether it's sandy, muddy, or covered in seagrass—affects both where redfish choose to feed and how well they can see your fly. Lighter-colored flies work best over sandy bottoms, as they blend in with the surroundings. Over a muddy bottom, darker flies are typically more visible and effective. Seagrass bottoms present a unique challenge as your fly can easily get tangled or lost among the grasses. Flies that float above the grass or crawl along the bottom without snagging—like crab patterns—are a good choice here. In all cases, remember that versatility is key: having a range of flies that cover different water columns—from topwater to bottom-crawling—increases your chances of a successful catch.

Fishing the marshes near St. Augustine, FL. Courtesy of Historic Coast Outfitters.

Adapting to water clarity conditions

Water clarity is an important factor when choosing flies for redfish. Things like how deep the water is, what the bottom looks like, and how clear or murky the water is all affect which fly will work best and how likely you are to catch a redfish.

Muddy or stained water

In darker or muddier water, it's better to use darker flies. Dark colors stand out against the bright surface when a redfish is looking up, making it easier for redfish to see. The Redfish Crack is a prime tool for darker waters - it has a tail made of craft fur and chenille wraps that help it stand out even when visibility isn't great.

Clear water

On the other hand, when fishing in clear water, it's best to use more naturally colored flies, such as ones in tan, white, or brown colors. These colors more naturally imitate food that redfish eat in these waters. An example of this type of fly is the Shrimpadillo Crab Fly; its lighter weight and tan-colored textured shell body closely resemble young blue crabs–a top choice on the redfish menu.

Essential redfish fly patterns

Here are some must-have flies, each with its unique appeal to redfish:

Kwan Fly

The Kwan fly – also called the redfish toad – shines in sight fishing for redfish in shallow waters due to its gentle landing, ease of casting over long distances, and slow sink rate that allows for enticing movement. Traditionally, it's crafted with a tail of Craft Fur, a hint of flash, a small attractor/egg hot spot, a palmered hackle collar, segmented sections of yarn or EP fibers, and either bead chain or lead eyes. Its fundamental design mimics various staples of the redfish diet, including shrimp, small baitfish, and crabs. With numerous color variations and weights available, it can be tailored to suit different water clarities and depths. Among saltwater fly fishermen, the classic natural hues of brown, tan, orange, and white remain perennial favorites.

Utilizing this pattern proves fruitful in shallow water feeding scenarios, particularly on flats. Your choice of line—floating, intermediate, or sinking—depends on factors like depth and current. Adaptability is key, and oftentimes, simply adjusting the weight of this pattern while using a floating line suffices to position yourself effectively.

Redfish Crack

When the water gets stained, the Redfish Crack stands out with its striking profile. The combination of a Craft Fur tail and chenille body creates an enticing silhouette that is hard for any redfish to ignore, especially in low-visibility environments. Sporting a substantial front collar that displaces water and offers head-to-tail contrast, this pattern boasts high visibility and allure for fish. It particularly shines in stained or murky waters prevalent along the Texas and Louisiana coastlines. A quick, short-strip retrieval closely mimics the motion of a fleeing shrimp, with the head pulsating to entice bites. Originally designed for redfish, it proves equally effective for large sea trout on the flats.

Redfish Classic Gurgler

A topwater treat, this fly brings explosive strikes with its foam body and lively tail made from marabou, bucktail, or synthetic fibers. Ideal for calm mornings or evenings when redfish are feeding on the surface, Gurglers burst forth with pops, splashes, and enticing noise during retrieval. Employing short, brisk strips imparts a lively gurgle to the fly, mimicking the movements of a fleeing shrimp or injured baitfish. Their ability to seize fish's attention and provoke instinctive bites makes them irresistible to redfish. Typically featuring a foam body with a pronounced front head and a tail crafted from marabou, bucktail, or synthetic fibers, Gurglers become a staple in your fly box.

A stunning redfish being properly released near St. Augustine, FL. Courtesy of Historic Coast Outfitters.

Popcorn Shrimp Spoon Fly

In clearer waters, flies like the Popcorn Shrimp Spoon Fly can be effective. It's not just its flashy appearance that attracts redfish but also its low-frequency vibration sounds that mimic a distressed shrimp. Most saltwater fly shops stock an array of spoons, each with subtle distinctions worth noting upon close examination. Factors like the spoon's shape, hook angle, and material quantity tied at the bend influence its sinking, wobbling, and fluttering actions in the water. The spoon fly distinguishes itself through its ability to flash and emit low-frequency vibrations during retrieval. To maximize its effectiveness, retrieve the fly slowly with brief pauses, allowing it to shimmer gracefully through the water column. The flicker and flutter of this presentation are irresistible to fish, drawing them in with undeniable allure.

Shrimpadillo Crab Fly

Another good option for clear waters is the Shrimpadillo Crab Fly, which looks like a young blue crab - one of redfish's favorite foods. Its tan-colored textured shell body and bright orange claw tips are hard for any redfish to resist. A variation of the Spoon fly, this fly is a combination of a crab, shrimp, and spoon fly in its design.

Your next redfish fishing adventure

POV: You're releasing a redfish you caught in beautiful Rockport, TX. Courtesy of Rockport Fly Fishing Outfitters.

It's time to put this knowledge into action. Success in redfish fishing isn't solely about having the best flies, it's about adapting to the fishing conditions and evolving with them. As you prepare for your next fishing trip, remember that AnyCreek is here to lead the way. We offer expert advice and top-notch guides to ensure that when you're out on the water, you have everything you need for success.

Frequently asked questions about redfish flies

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