Redfish in the surf

Bruiser reds can be found from the beach, if you know where to look
fly fishing redfish beach surf
James Ferguson of Blackfly Outfitters tangles with a redfish in the Florida surf (photo: Andrew Mizell).

I admit it. I love redfish. Pictures of them adorn my living room wall and kitchen. It doesn’t matter where or when, I will try to find them.

I’ve caught them on the flats and in the river; on high tide and low tide; in spartina grass and turtle grass. Last summer, the surf became my focus.

I heard rumors of reds in the Northeast Florida surf for years, but most of my buddies scoffed at the notion of fishing for reds on the beach. But as it turns out, redfish do indeed make their way to the surf and yes you can catch them on fly.

It’s not easy, but, if the conditions are right and the stars align, it’s very doable. Here’s how.

What You Need

Break out your heavier fly rods; at least an 8-weight, a 9 or 10-weight is better. You will have to throw heavier flies and redfish in the surf can be bruisers. Given that the current can be swift, landing one is not as easy as on the flats. Even though reds are the primary target, big jacks can show up and take you into your backing in the blink of an eye.

A floating line will do, but an intermediate sink tip is better, because you need to get the fly down, which is not an easy task with consistent wave action.

A healthy dose of sunscreen is recommended, along with a buff, quality sunglasses and a cap with a wide bill to keep the sun off your face and the glare to a minimum.

Count on long walks before you see your first fish. Buy a good pair of flats boots with firm support. You can walk barefoot, but sand can scrape up your feet if you hoof it a few miles. Plus, pieces of shell can pierce the skin.

Carry plenty of water to stay hydrated. Remember, there’s no shade on the beach. Better safe than sorry.

Where to Fish

Find an inlet. The reason? Simple. Inlets create water movement, which is essential for funneling baitfish, creating ample oxygen and cooler water temperatures. Food and comfort. Redfish like both.

For anglers, the beaches near inlets tend to be cleaner, which means better visibility. You can blind cast for reds, but you’ll likely end up with a case of nasty tennis elbow from trying to search for fish. Sight fishing the beach is the way to go.

Fort George Inlet, St. Augustine Inlet and Matanzas Inlet are all viable options on the First Coast of Florida, but an adventurous angler can find similar spots throughout much of the redfish’s range.

Once you find an inlet, look for troughs and sandbars on a low incoming tide. Fish follow the water over the dry sand looking for bait. If you find mullet, look for the reds. If you can, fish with the wind and sun at your back.

fly fishing redfish beach surf
Photo: Andrew Mizell

Try to stay in shin deep water. Once the water level climbs above knee level, it’s probably time to think about shutting it down. The fish are tougher to see by then, and the sharks, once they have enough water to feel comfortable, usually make an appearance and have been known to inhale a hooked redfish.

Needless to say, it pays to have a firm grasp of your surroundings.

Time of Year

Redfish are generally in the surf when the water temperatures reach the mid-70s. Here in North Florida, this is usually in mid to late spring. As you move farther north in the redfish’s range, you may have to wait until later in the year to find reds in the surf.

Often, you’ll need flat, calm conditions to consistently see fish. I use to gauge the conditions. Flat is perfect, 0-1 foot is good, 1-2 feet is doable.

In many cases, the surf doesn’t flatten out until the wind subsides to a gentle breeze and the temperatures rise past the 90-degree mark.

It can hot, humid and downright oppressive. If you’re sweating before you’ve made your first cast, you know your timing is right probably right.

Reds on the beach are not easy. Legwork is required. But once you catch one, you won’t be disappointed.


Great Read! Caught my first Red last May on Florida panhandle from beach surf. One thing I saw another fly fisherman doing was to carry a 6ft ladder out to perch on above the water. We had cruising schools of jacks, ladyfish and pompano to keep us occupied while waiting for the school of reds. The guy on the ladder avoided hypothermia, had a better vantage point for sighting the schools as they approached and was further from the cruising sharks. This was best on incoming tide first thing in the morning and fishing cooled as the resort crowds started to swim between 10:30 and 11:30. I wish I had read your article before I went!

North Carolina has outstanding redfish action in the surf, especially in the winter. In my area the beaches are south facing and the north wind lays the waves down for easy wading......we fish the bars that develop in front of some of the lesser inlets and often have large schools of slot and above slot reds moving along the have to be careful to mind the tide if you wade the outer bars but the results can be nothing short of spectacular......