What Do Redfish Eat? (Feeding Patterns Explained)

UPDATED 31 JULY 2022

by Robert Ceran

Are you wondering what red fish like to eat, and what their feeding habits are?

If you’re an angler planning to target redfish, it’s essential to know what they eat, since you can use that to choose the best baits for catching them.

However, it can be challenging to know exactly what redfish are feeding on at a given time or in a given location, since that can vary depending on a range of factors.

What do redfish eat

In this article we’ll walk you through the most important food sources of redfish, and will also discuss how their diet changes depending on the season as well as redfish age.

What do redfish eat the most?

The three types of food that redfish eat the most are:

  • Shrimp
  • Crabs
  • Fish

Each of these food types covers a wide variety of different species, and the main species that redfish feed on at any given time depends on their size, location, as well as the season (more on that below).

What do baby redfish eat?

After hatching, redfish larvae are carried to shallow inshore waters by incoming tides. Here they feed on zooplankton (mainly crustacean larvae and small worms) in shallow seagrass beds and creeks.

Once redfish reach a size around 8 inches, they start eating small fish species in addition to crustaceans, including silversides, gobies, sheepshead minnows, and young croakers. 

After reaching a size of 12 inches, juvenile redfish start eating many of the same types of food that adult redfish feed on. This includes fully grown shrimps, small crabs, and small fish.

A study conducted on redfish feeding habits in Galveston Bay, Texas, found that young red drum between 11.5 inches and 30 inches feed mostly on white shrimp, blue crab, and gulf menhaden.

However, the relative amounts of each of these forage animals taken by the redfish was found to change significantly over the course of each year, following a seasonal pattern. 

While gulf menhaden were most often eaten in spring, white shrimp were more often eaten in fall. This suggests that the best time to rig a shrimp for redfish is in fall. 

What do bull redfish eat?

The main forage of bull redfish consists of fish and crabs. A study conducted in North and South Carolina found that large bull red drum switch to eating predominantly fish, with crabs becoming much less important for their diet.

This particular study found the Atlantic menhaden to be the most common food fish of large bull redfish.

However, keep in mind that the exact fish species that bull redfish are feeding on depends on the species that are most common in their environment, which can vary from location to location. 

In some areas menhaden are their main prey, while in other areas it is mullets or croakers.

What kind of fish do redfish eat?

The fish species that are most commonly eaten by redfish are:

  • Menhaden (aka bunker or pogie)
  • Mullet
  • Pinfish
  • Croaker
  • Pilchard

The exact fish species that red drum eat most depends on their location, and on the seasonal availability of their forage.

If you’re an angler, you may be wondering if you should use fish as live bait for redfish, or if dead bait or cut bait are better. The great thing is that any of these can work well, and personally my favorite redfish bait is cut mullet.

The advantage of live bait is that it tends to move around and attract the attention of nearby red drum. Cut bait, on the other hand, creates more scent in the water, which also attracts hungry redfish.

The best strategy is to experiment with different kinds of bait presentation, until you find what the redfish want.

Where do redfish feed?

Redfish feed in a wide variety of habitats, from sandy estuaries to mud flats, seagrass flats, oyster beds, creeks, bays, and deep channels. 

In general, smaller redfish will feed in more shallow water between 1 and 6 feet, while larger adult redfish move into deeper water zones to feed.

When a school of redfish feed in shallow water, you can observe a phenomenon called “tailing”. Since the redfish are positioned nose down as they churn up the bottom, their tails protrude above the water surface.

Do redfish like to feed off the bottom?

Yes, redfish are predominantly bottom feeders, as evidenced by their overbite, which is ideal for picking up prey from the bottom.

This makes sense, given that a large part of their diet consists of shrimp and crabs, which are usually found on the bottom.

However, as bull redfish grow larger, they switch to eating more and more fish, and as they do so, they can also be observed hunting bait fish close to the surface.

In fact, bull redfish like to push a school of baitfish up to the surface, where they can pin them down and pick off individual fish. If you find a school of red drum behaving like this, you can even catch them with topwater lures.

When do redfish feed?

Redfish feed most actively during the early morning hours, as well as the late evening. At these times of the day you can find them actively feeding in the shallows. 

However, as the shallow water zones are heated up by the midday sun, redfish retreat to deeper water, or they will try to hide in the shade of mangroves or bridges. Their feeding activity is much lower during the middle of the day.

Do redfish feed at night?

Yes, redfish feed very actively at night, which explains why night fishing for redfish is so popular. During the night, you can encounter bull redfish in very shallow waters, where they come to hunt crabs and bait fish in the darkness.

What is a redfish feeding frenzy?

A redfish feeding frenzy occurs when a group of redfish have a school of baitfish pinned down in shallow water or close to the surface, and they close in all at once to pounce on the fish.

This results in hundreds of redfish breaking the surface and wildly splashing as they try to feast on their prey.

Seasonal redfish feeding patterns

As mentioned above, a study conducted in Galveston Bay found that the prey species eaten most by redfish varies a lot between seasons.

During spring, the most common forage species was Gulf menhaden, while in fall it was white shrimp.

The researchers observed that these trends were an accurate reflection of how common the forage species were in Galveston Bay during different seasons.

In other words, redfish are opportunistic feeders that eat the forage species that is most abundant at any given time.

If you’re on a fishing charter boat, and there’s a chance of catching redfish or red snapper, it’s important to be able to tell them apart, as that will increase your bag limit.

Final remarks

This concludes our article on what redfish eat. You might be asking yourself, how can I use this information to catch more redfish?

If you’re planning to catch fish within the redfish slot limit of your state, then shrimp, small crabs, and small fish are your best bait choices.

On the other hand, if you’re targeting bull redfish, then using fully grown crabs and large bait fish (either cut or whole) as bait are your best bet.