Cold-water redfishing

By Matt Winter

Published in The Post and Courier, Feb. 15, 2014

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Matt Winter with a nice red caught in February.

We had them pretty well hemmed in. Just a few yards up the creek, more than two dozen redfish meandered through the shallows, the blue edges of their tails shining in the clear, sunlit water.

Capt. Tucker Blythe of Grey Ghost Charters had motored and then poled his 19-foot East Cape Vantage to the marshy end of this tidal creek, skimming over water so clear it seemed like we were fishing in an aquarium.

We had pushed up the narrowing waterway as far as we could go, then kept inching forward as the tide came in.

We had already caught and released one spot-tail out of this school, a beautiful but smaller member of the school that fell for an orange jerk-shad Blythe had worked slowly ahead of the mass of fish.

After the ruckus of that catch, the fish shut down . which was a real shame, since one of them turned out to be a bruiser, maybe 20 pounds.

It was my turn at the bow when this fish emerged from the school and moved slowly toward us, stopping just a few feet ahead of the boat. I slowly worked the same soft-plastic lure by its massive head, twice, before he had enough.

The big red backed up a few inches, then with an amazing burst of speed, shot around the boat, its back slicing the surface of the water.

I laughed, turned around and shrugged my shoulders at Blythe, who was perched on the poling platform watching the fish torpedo around the boat and down the creek behind us.

“I tried, man. He wasn’t having it.”

“Yeah,” Tucker said, “he was just trying to figure out how to get around the boat.”

And so it would go all day: We’d ease back to the farthest reaches of a creek and sight-cast soft-plastic lures to captive schools of nervous redfish. We’d catch one or two, then the school would clam up.

Two redfish and a mullet rest in the clear, wintertime shallows near Charleston.

It was fairly typical for this time of year, Blythe said.

“Back in December, we’d find a school like that and catch three of four out of it before they’d shut down.”

But the relatively slow fishing was fine with me. Actually catching these fish seemed like a bonus. The real treat, at least for me, was getting a clear view of big schools of redfish doing their wintertime thing. It’s a rare sight, one relatively few people get to enjoy.

It takes a fair amount of know-how – and a seriously shallow-drafting boat – to partake in this amazing wintertime fishery. But it’s worth the effort and expense.

If you want to give it a try, the best advice may be to pony up a few bucks for a guide to show you the ropes.

But if you’re determined to give it a go on your own, here are a few tips, courtesy of Capt. Blythe:

Watch your water: When you’re fishing shallow, you’ve got to pay attention to the tides. You should only head far up these creeks on a rising tide. If the water drops while you’re back there, you’ll be high and dry until the tide rises again.

Keep looking: Cold-water redfishing isn’t a cast-and-wait deal. The water this time of year is surprisingly clear, so you’ll be actively looking for fish. Keep searching until you find the schools.

Look for the fish, themselves, and for their tell-tale wakes. You might even spot a few tails breaking the surface from time to time.

Take it easy: Redfish in the shallows can be easily spooked. Bombing a clunky bottom rig with a big chunk of bait into the middle of a school usually won’t pay off.

Try casting a smaller soft-plastic lure, rigged weedless, far past the school, even into the marsh grass or on shore if you need to. Gently work the lure to where the fish seem to be headed. Let it sit on the bottom, then give it a twitch as the first fish approaches.

Be stealthy on the boat, too. These fish can hear, see and even feel the approach of a boat. Jumping around onboard or dropping tackle on the deck can spook a school.

 

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