This season, catching redfish 'is a blast'

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

The spring redfish bite in Brunswick County and the Little River, S.C., area has been the best in many years. The inshore redfish have hit consistently in the shallow water, and these have been very nice-sized fish.

Capt. Patrick Kelly, who goes by the handle Capt. Smiley and runs Captain Smiley Fishing Charters (http://www.captainsmileyfishingcharters.com) out of North Myrtle Beach, S.C., said he is amazed at how strong the redfish bite has been lately.

“It’s awesome right now,” he said. “We’ve been fishing for the redfish with ultralight gear and they really put a bend into your rod. When these redfish hit, your rod is bent double and your drag is just flying. It’s a blast.”

Spring redfish are schooled up tightly in large pods, and fishing guides like Smiley know they can be spooked easily. One of the biggest tricks to catching them is the approach you make before you ever put a line into the water.

Redfish schools are sensitive to any noise or movement in the winter, so you have to be careful when you are targeting them.

Smiley has been fishing for the redfish out of his 17-foot flats boat. He turns off his motor and poles to the redfish once he’s located a school.

“We’re fishing super shallow water right now,” he said. “I can stand on the platform and see the redfish schools. They’ll find holes about 3 feet deep and sit down there.”

Capt. Mark Dickson of Shallow Minded Charters (http://www.fishmyrtlebeach.com) has also been fishing the Little River, S.C., waterways and has found a full-tilt redfish bite going on in the backwater creeks.

“One day last week was the best fishing day of the year,” Dickson said, “and I’ve had the best overall March fishing for redfish I can remember. One day we caught 32 fish using just 48 live baits. You can’t beat those odds.”

Dickson says the redfish are moving out of their wintertime areas into the usual springtime haunts, but the amount of movement depends upon the weather.

“We’re really in a transitional period right now,” he said. “It warms up and the redfish are headed out into the spring hotspots. But then a cold front comes through and it pushes them right back into the winter places. It’s like the redfish aren’t quite sure what to do.”

According to Dickson, as the weather warms the redfish will swarm into the areas around the inlets and bridges.

“I think after this weekend they’ll finally settle into a springlike pattern,” Dickson said. “We’ll start seeing them around the Sunset Beach Bridge over the next few weeks.”

Spring redfish will hit both artificial lures and live bait.

“I’ve been using the Berkley Gulps on ¼ ounce jig heads,” Smiley said. “The New Penny Shrimp model works well. But you can also catch them using live mud minnows or even little pieces of shrimp.”

According to Smiley, the scent of the Gulp baits and similar lures offer a big advantage when casting to redfish. The key is to work the lure slowly and give the redfish time to pick up on the scent.

“A redfish is just like a catfish,” Smiley said. “You just work that scent real slow and they’ll find it. I love the scented baits because the redfish will smell the scent and come right to it. Then it’s on.”

Smiley has been working the backwater creeks and has also caught redfish near the Sunset Beach Bridge and along the flats of the Intracoastal Waterway.

“The redfish in the 18- to 30-inch class are really schooled up together right now,” Smiley said. “You can catch fish here year-round in shallow water, but during this time of the year they find their friends and really gang up together. During the summer you might find schools of four or five fish, whereas right now it’s 40 or 50. I saw one where it looked like there was 100.”

Smiley says the redfish are mainly schooling up for protection.

“The biggest redfish predators this time of year are the dolphins,” Smiley said. “The redfish bunch up in the shallows to get away from them, finding safety in numbers.”

Smiley fishes 6-foot ultralight rods for the redfish using 10-pound braided line with a 20-pound fluorocarbon leader. He makes the fluorocarbon leader about 4 feet long to prevent cutoffs from the rocks and shells.

“If you’ve got the fluorocarbon leader on, you’re going to get those redfish in,” Smiley said. “It really is just awesome fishing.”

The spring redfish bite is red-hot in the North Myrtle Beach and Little River area of South Carolina as anglers are fishing the shallow water creeks and finding hungry red drum in a feeding mood.

Dickson has been using live mud minnows to catch his redfish. At this time of the year mud minnows are available at the bait and tackle shops and can also be cast-netted in the creeks, whereas other top baits like finger mullet and live shrimp are impossible to find whether you try a cast net or go to the bait store.

“We’re fishing mud minnows on 1/4 oz. Mission Fishin jig heads and the bite gets to be nonstop,” Dickson said. “Quite a few have been between 27- and 30-inch redfish. I think the smallest this week was a 17-inch redfish.”

Although Dickson said that speckled trout haven’t started really hitting yet in the Myrtle Beach and Little River area, the redfish bite is more than making up for it.

“I have had to work a little harder to stay on the fish because there are a lot more people fishing the backwater creeks,” Dickson said, “but there seems to be plenty of fish for everyone to catch.”

The recreational creel limit on redfish in South Carolina is three redfish per day, and those redfish must be in a slot limit between 15 and 23 inches. In North Carolina the limit is one fish per day in a slot between 18 and 27 inches.

You can contact Capt. Smiley at (843) 361-7445 and Capt. Dickson at (843) 458-3055 or find links to both their websites and reports on my blog at http://saltyweeks.blogspot.com.

JEFFREY WEEKS is a fishing columnist for the Beacon. You may reach him at saltyweeks@gmail.com or follow updated fishing reports on his blog at http://saltyweeks.blogspot.com