In a perfect world, all red drum would be ravenous fools hellbent to strike any lure or bait tossed their way. But fishing pressure, clear water, shallow water and adverse weather conditions can make locating and triggering strikes from reds as difficult as anything in fishing. Here's how top anglers and guides turn tough conditions into consistent strikes from big, finicky red drum.
Fairhope, Alabama, guide Kevin Olmstead says cool-front redfishing can be challenging for anglers used to catching aggressive drum in ideal conditions. When a drop in temperature or unstable weather put reds off their feed, Olmstead recommends slowing lure retrieves and paying close attention to tackle details.
He favors 116-ounce jig heads with 2- to 3-inch soft-plastic grubs for lethargic redfish. He likes to cast, allow the lure to hit bottom and then, with short, slow rod twitches, impart subtle action to create soft bottom "puffs" behind the lure. The trail of bottom puffs from his jig imitates a fleeing crab or shrimp and tempts reluctant reds.
His favorite artificials are Berkley Gulp! lures in 3-inch Shaky Shad configurations, pearl-silver or smelt colored. He likes the built-in scent that tempts reluctant redfish.
A Bass Assassin jig head with a spring-lock screw to accommodate the grub works well. A small No. 2 short-shank hook is best for cold-water reds. Olmstead prefers subtle natural colors and a gray lead-head jig in clear water during cool fronts. In dark or choppy water, he likes a chartreuse jig head. "Chartreuse is a trigger for redfish," he says. "And I want that color up front, where the hook is, when reds are slow takers in cool water. This produces more hookups when conditions are tough."
Trolling covers water fast and is a good way to find redfish. Trolled natural baits are especially deadly when redfish are scattered and reluctant to strike. In many cases, a moving bait is most natural to redfish used to seeing food flee.
Mullet, menhaden, mud minnows, killifish, pilchards, pinfish and similar inshore species are all highly effective when trolled behind a boat, says Jacksonville, Florida, angler and guide Danny Patrick.
Live baits hooked through both lips (from the bottom up) or through both nostrils are standard for trolling. Some species are best barbed through the lips, and others through the nostrils or up through the lower jaw and out one nostril. Experience is the best teacher here.
For the most natural presentation, avoid weights and floats. But adding a bit of split shot or a rubber-core sinker makes sense in water over eight or 10 feet deep. In shallow water or over grass, rocks or jetties, a float ahead of a trolled live bait keeps it out of obstructions.
Speed kills baits, so troll slowly. Small outboards and sea anchors help keep speeds low. Electric motors are especially nimble around docks, jetties, seawalls and grass edges, all places where bait trolling excels and redfish reside.