It's not exactly a civil war, but if you're headed to Edisto Island to catch redfish this fall, you need to decide which side you're on. The North Edisto and South Edisto rivers, they're similar only by name. They fish as different as night and day.

A look at the map offers some explanation. The Edisto River rises independently in two forks in Aiken County and flows across the lower third of South Carolina as a freshwater river. Below Willtown Bluff, where the river transitions from brackish to saltwater, the river splits - at least in name - and flows on either side of Edisto Island. The South Edisto retains the bulk of the flow, while the North Edisto splits off into a significantly smaller branch to join with the much-larger Wadmalaw River. Other than a little freshwater drainage from the Toogoodoo and Caw Caw Swamps, the North Edisto, via the Wadmalaw, is almost entirely a saltwater system.

What's it all mean? All other scientific stream flow and salinity data aside, the North Edisto tends to be much clearer than the South Edisto. It has extensive, shallow mud flats and oysters. The South Edisto doesn't have the shallow flats, but it has a lot of man-made structure, including docks and seawalls, and more laydown trees line its steeper banks.

How that affects the feeding habits of redfish and how fishermen should target them, that's for the experts to explain.

If you fish for largemouth bass, you've probably heard of Ron Davis Jr. If you haven't, you've heard his company, RAD Lures, and its brainchild, the Chatterbait. Davis now lives on Edisto Island, where he splits his time developing new designs for Strike King Lures and guiding fishermen on the North Edisto River.

Being a designer of artificial lures, it's not a shock that Davis really prefers artificial baits for reds, and it also explains his affinity for the North Edisto.

"Any of the flats you'll find marked on the Top Spots maps will hold fish this month," he said, "(as well as) any major shallow water areas off the main river that have oysters on them. Concentrate on flats that hold one to two feet of water at low tide; they're all going to hold redfish during October. You've got all the major ones right there across from Bohicket Creek, Leadenwah Creek, White Point, Dawhoo Flats, Light Point Flats - all of those places are going to hold plenty of redfish."

Davis finds it easiest to cast to reds on low tide on the flats, but he's also a big fan of this month's high, tailing tides, when as much as 7 to 8 feet will flood the marsh grass on the new and full moons.

"Your best opportunity to catch redfish during the new moon and full moon is get way up on the short-grass flats with your trolling motor and just sight-fish for them," he said. "Now, there are some instances - and it's mainly during the heat of summer - where a small flats boat will get to the fish better than I can in my boat. I've got an 18 ½-foot Tidewater bay boat and a 19-foot Ranger, and a trolling motor is plenty for fishing the grass. A lot of people don't understand that a trolling motor will get you almost everywhere you need to be. It's just a matter of putting your trolling motor down and going and finding them."

Davis fishes a Chatterbait, along with topwater baits, spoons, spinners and straight plastics, when he's fishing the flats. When he's up in the grass, he prefers something that really gets through the grass without binding or sinking straight to the bottom, and he's a big believer in scented baits.

"I'll throw a flutter hook with a scented plastic when I'm fishing the grass," he said. "You can throw Gulp!, you can throw Z-man with Pro-cure, or any other plastics with some kind of scent on them," he said. "You can also throw live bait - Falcon Lures makes a perfect weedless live bait hook for this, basically a Kahle-style hook with a weed guard and a eighth-ounce weight. Hook a live shrimp, finger mullet or mud minnow on it and toss that in front of them. We call that the 'cheating method,' but if you don't spook him on the entry, you're about 80-percent sure you're going to catch one that way."

Having grown up on Edisto Island, Jimmy Skinner is intimately familiar with the South Edisto, as it provides the best access to Edisto Beach, where he lives and works. Skinner, who works as a guide, commercial crabber and oysterman, spends more than 200 days a year on the river.

For what the South Edisto lacks in shallow flats, it makes up for with plenty of ditches and hard structures that make great places for reds to hold and ambush prey.

That's why Skinner's primary tactics are a mixture of live-bait and cut-bait presentations from an anchored boat near targets. Being a commercial crabber, Skinner has a particular fondness for using cracked crab when fishing for redfish.

"Both trout and redfish love to hide in and around all the structure you'll find on the south side of the island," Skinner said. "Trout tend to hold on the edges of the structure, while redfish would rather lay back in the structure, so you'll have to really get your baits back in there to catch them."

More prime locations include sections of seawall; you won't have to go far to find plenty of this type of structure around the South Edisto, up in some of the feeder creeks like Big Bay, St. Pierre and Bailey.

"The older the seawall, the better," Skinner said. "An old seawall extending along the bank will harbor substantial oyster growth. Most of them will also be littered with boat docks. Typically, the water depths will range from 8 to 10 feet around these docks on any tide. Redfish love to cruise up and down those seawalls."

One of Skinner's favorite pursuits in the fall is to follow the South Edisto out through the mouth of St. Helena Sound and fish off near the beach on live bottom or rock piles that will hold bull redfish staging before they head offshore for the winter.

"It's kind of a waiting game," he said. "We pass the time by bottom-fishing for whiting, then a school of bull reds will come through and you might get five or six big bites right together. One of the best baits is a fresh caught whole or cut whiting, but we also catch some pretty big reds just bottom fishing with a piece of shrimp."

 

DESTINATION INFORMATION

WHERE TO GO/HOW TO GET THERE - Edisto Island is a barrier island south of Seabrook Island and north of St. Helena Sound. It is accessed from US 17 via SC 174. Three public boat landings service Edisto Island: Live Oak Landing, off Palmetto Road inside Edisto Island State Park; Steamboat Landing on Steamboat Landing Rd. off SC 174; and Dawhoo Landing on SC 174 at the Dawhoo Bridge across the ICW.

TACTICS/TECHNIQUES - The North Edisto River is a fishery better suited to fishing artificial baits on oyster flats at low tide and grass flats on flood tides. With a greater influx of freshwater, more shoreline development, boat docks and laydown trees, the South Edisto tends to fish better using cut but-and-wait tactics. The same tactics apply on larger bull redfish on hardbottoms outside the mouth of the South Edisto.

ACCOMMODATIONS - Hotels are not available on Edisto Island. Edisto Beach State Park (843-869-2756) has a campground and a few cabin rentals, but they need to be reserved well in advance. Cottage rentals are available through several real-estate companies: Atwood Realty, 866-713-5214, www.atwoodvacations.com; Prudential Kapp-Lyons Realty, 843-869-2516, www.kapplyons.com; Edisto Realty, 866-756-6538, www.edistorealty.com.

FISHING INFO/GUIDES - Capt. Jimmy Skinner, Fontaine Charters, 843-270-8087 or www.fontainecharters.com; Capt. Ron Davis, 843-513-0143. See also Guides & Charters in Classifieds.

MAPS - Maps Unique, 910-458-9923, www.mapsunique.com; Sealake Fishing Guides, 1-800-411-0185, www.thegoodspots.com.