Redfish have become one of the most popular gamefish. Anglers spend a good deal of time searching the waters of the Eastern United States and the Gulf of Mexico trying their hand at filling their creel. After all, what can be better than a day landing reds one after another? Landing some of the biggest redfish, the big bulls, that is what.
Once you have been bitten by the need to catch redfish it is only natural to up your game and target the bigger, harder-to-catch bulls.
But how do you do this? Where do you find them? How do you trick the ones that have outsmarted countless other anglers? Let us show you and help get you started on your new journey for big redfish.
A different shade of red
This first lesson in catching bull redfish consistently is to forget what you learned when targeting their younger cousins. Bulls are a different sort of fish altogether. Although the same species the bulls have behavior, patterns, and habits unlike the rest of their family. If you want to find bulls you will need to learn new tactics.
What you will need
The first change you will need to make concerns the gear you will be using. Bull redfish are bigger, tougher, and often deeper than the reds you normally target. This means your gear will need to be upgraded if you are to land them successfully.
Although there will be slight variations depending on the specific technique used, the following list should get you started.
- 7′-8′ Medium Heavy rod
- 4500 – 6000 series real (lighter side is popping corks, heavier if using cut bait)
- 20-80 lb. braided mainline
- 15-50 lb. fluorocarbon leader material
- 5’0 circle hooks
- Various jig heads, depending on water depth
- 4″-6″ versions of favorite plastics
- Popping cork rigs
Where to look
Redfish are found throughout the mid-Atlantic and Southeastern United States including the Atlantic coast south of the Chesapeake Bay, Florida Panhandle, and the Gulf of Mexico. Bulls are found in the same areas, however, not in the same shallows, you may be accustomed to fishing.
While younger redfish are often found along grass edges, in flooded mangroves, or near shallow oyster beds the bulls will be deeper. Big bull redfish will spend the majority of their time in deep offshore areas that are difficult to fish. However, the annual fall spawn draws them nearer to shore and this is when you want to target them.
Even when they move inshore bulls will still prefer the deeper water of channels, nearshore shelves, or depressions. A good starting point is downstream from the shallows where the younger, smaller redfish are found. The bulls will frequent in the wider, deeper waters of the bays and inlets rather than the estuaries themselves. Look for an area that offers protection from the current and concealment for ambush feeding.
When to hit the water
Big bull redfish can be caught year-round but spend much of the time in deeper, hard-to-access areas. As the water temperature rises, they will move closer to shore, with peak activity occurring when the water reaches 60 degrees. The fall decrease in temperatures will see this activity reverse with bulls returning to deeper offshore areas for the winter.
If fishing in the northern part of their range peak activity will occur between May and September. For those in the southern areas, including the Florida Panhandle and the Gulf of Mexico, activity will continue into mid-winter. During milder years there may only be a month or two when bull redfish are no longer found nearby.
Putting them in the boat
One of the things about fishing for redfish is the many different methods and tactics that can be used. The same holds for bull reds. Everyone has a favorite method and many of them work well, but some work better than others.
Because bull redfish spend much of their time in deeper water a prime tactic is bottom fishing. This is where the heavier tackle and live or cut bait comes into play. Dropping a live blue crab or bunker chunk on a heavy line and waiting for a bull to take it can produce some nice fish, but is it also means plenty of waiting between bite and competing with other species. There is a better method available.
Instead of going deep and waiting for a hungry bull to beat the skate, crabs, and other predators for a chance to take your bait use their instincts against them. By playing on their need to feed you can bring the bulls to you and increase your catch rate.
The first step is to determine where they are feeding. This is done by locating schools of baitfish, or the birds that are drawn to them. Then you need to get there quickly. When the baitfish move, follow them. This is a tactic that is successful with many species of gamefish.
Once you are within casting distance of the baitfish there are several options including the popping cork, live or cut bait, and even artificials. Let’s take a look at each.
Popping corks are a time-tested favorite when it comes to catching redfish. When using it to target bulls remember to upgrade your tackle and bait size accordingly. This will help make your offering more enticing to the bigger fish. It is also a perfect opportunity to try some realistic plastics.
Cast the cork into or across the baitfish. Retrieve slowing with sharp, fast jerks followed by a pause. This combination of actions will imitate a wounded, bait fish trying to avoid capture and is what the attacking redfish are looking for.
Live lining fresh bait is another popular tactic that is especially successful when following baitfish. By casting into or near the school they are already feeding on you are offering the bulls an easy-to-catch meal at a time when they are actively searching for food. It is important to match your bait to what they are already feeding on and make sure it is as fresh as possible. Again, by bumping up the size a bit you can more easily target only the bigger fish.
Finally, there are artificial lures. Redfish are known for aggressively chasing a wide variety of artificial lures including spoons, large top waters, and bucktails. Artificial lures are a great way to target bull redfish regardless of where you may find them. If they are actively feeding near the surface, top waters or plastic swims baits in the 4″-6″ range are a good option. When holding near the bottom, bucktails tipped with fresh bait can draw bulls out of hiding. Spoons can be used to locate fish that may be on the move searching for their next meal.
Anyone who has fished for redfish knows that they were hooked as soon as they landed the first fish. Their aggressive attacks and incredible fishing ability will have you see spots in your dreams. That is until you catch your first bull. Once this happens the redfish of your past will dwarf in comparison and so will the experience
Good luck and good fishing!