Most anglers in Texas and Louisiana call the red drum redfish but some call it “channel bass” in parts of Florida. No matter the name it is the top inland sport fish on the Gulf Coast.
I thought it would be fun this weekend to dig into some of the rarely addressed attributes of this super popular local sport fish.
As a kid, I used to get a real kick out of the tag “channel bass” because I had a Lone Star Beer “Saltwater Fish of Texas” poster that had that name listed under the redfish. To this day, I cannot figure where the “bass” part came in. They look nothing like a largemouth or striper and their fight puts to shame anything from freshwater of comparable size.
The best description I have found for the physical traits and habits of the species is from a study entitled: “The Red Drum in Texas” by James A. Dailey, Coastal Fisheries Division, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD)
“The red drum is a member of the drum family whose cousins include the Atlantic croaker, spot, spotted seatrout, and black drum. The most distinguishing mark on the red drum is one large black spot on the upper part of the tail base. Having multiple spots is not uncommon for this fish but having no spots is extremely rare. The color of red drum ranges from a deep blackish, coppery color to nearly silver. The most common color is reddish-bronze.”
I disagree with that last sentence. A redfish is bronze, but I cannot find any red to them at all. Sometimes there is Orange but red?
We should call them “bronzefish.” Of course its probably too late to change that.
The species is fast growing, reaching approximately 11 inches and 1 pound in its first year, 17-22 inches and 3-1/2 pounds in two years, and 22-24 inches and 6-8 pounds in three years. The world record red drum weighed 96 pounds and hailed from North Carolina. The current Texas record is 55 pounds.
“Red drum reach sexual maturity between their third and fourth years when they are about thirty inches long. They spawn in the Gulf, possibly near the mouths of passes. On the Texas coast spawning occurs generally from mid-August through mid-October. Eggs hatch within 24 hours and are carried into the bays by tidal current. The larval red drum seeks quiet, shallow water with grassy or muddy bottoms,” according to TPWD.
For the first three years, redfish live in the bays or in the surf zone near passes and jetties. Evidence from TPWD’s tag returns show that they remain in the same area and generally move less than three miles from where fisheries officials tag them. I know this firsthand.
In June 1999, while fishing the Texas side of the Sabine jetties with Bill Killian of Orange, I caught a redfish that I had tagged more than three weeks ago at the cluster of rigs located just east of the jetties. I was hoping other anglers would catch some of the fish I had tagged, but never thought I would.
Nasty green algae covered the tag, but it was easy to read after I wiped it off. The tag’s number was 31. The big red was caught and released like all others that day and perhaps to be caught again by another angler. The chances of catching one’s own tagged fish has to be miniscule, but it proved these fish do not always move much.
TPWD notes that as they mature, they move from the bays to the Gulf of Mexico where they remain the rest of their lives, except for infrequent visits to the bays. Although there is little evidence of seasonal migrations, anglers find concentrations of red drum in rivers and tidal creeks during the winter.
“Daily movement from the shallows to deeper waters is influenced by tides and water temperatures.”
During late summer and early fall the big breeding-sized reds gather in the surf to spawn. We call this the “bull red run”.
Another phenomenon is “tailing,” which involves the reds tails sticking out of the water as they feed in the shallows. In some areas, anglers should call this “backing” because you see a lot more back and dorsal fin than spotted tail at a 45-degree angle. Either way, it is awesome.
TPWD has successfully stocked them in several freshwater reservoirs including Fairfield, Braunig, and Calaveras. They cannot spawn in these lakes, but they grow to immense size and take to the habitat like, well, a fish takes to water. Instead of feeding on crab, they eat crawfish and terrorize the perch, shad, bass, and other wimpy freshwater species.Redfish are highly adaptable, and this allows them to survive in many habitats and live to great age. According to the North Carolina Department of Environment and Fisheries, the oldest recorded specimen was 62 years old, caught in the Atlantic Ocean.
Chester Moore, Jr.