Needless to say, it wasn't your typical March day. A cool, low-pressure cell had worked its way up the coast, bringing grey clouds and lower-than-normal temperatures. Still, Everett and Brad White of Barrier Island Marine in Beaufort said they knew a couple of creeks in Dataw, Lady's, Judge and Morgan's islands where a few schools of resident redfish would be feeding.
After running for 20 minutes, Everett pulled the throttle back and eased up to an oyster rock stretching out from a point. He stepped forward and quickly lowered the trolling motor.
"The tide is still a little high for the reds to be gathered back where we're heading, so let's stop here for a while," Everett said. "There have been some speckled trout spread through here from this point back around the corner."
A speck bit on the first cast, and a few more were boated on a controlled drift up the creek bank before Everett decided the tide had dropped enough to catch some shrimp, and then head up the creek in search of reds.
The water was still cool, and Everett maneuvered over a deeper hole near the middle of the creek. He pointed to a couple of small blue dots on the fish finder and said that was what he was looking for. Every throw of his cast net brought up anywhere from two to 10 shrimp, and it wasn't long before he said he had close to the 12 dozen shrimp the S.C. Department of Natural Resources allows to be caught during the closed season and it was time to chase some reds.
The route to the reds was through a larger creek, then ran down to a smaller creek and through several creeks to one that had a stretch of bank with a crumbling bulkhead, several docks and one tree laying over in the water.
"There is a lot of structure here," White said. "It is almost impossible to fish on the bottom or work a lure. We'll switch to cork rigs and suspend some of these live shrimp under corks. When you get a strike, you'll need to set the hook hard and get on him quick. There are lots of places they can hang you up and break you off."
The bite didn't start immediately, but Everett and White said that, while the reds weren't always large, it had been their most consistent spot for several years. After 15 minutes, White's cork was suddenly jerked under. He leaned back into the strike, and the hooked fish pulled drag as it surged down the bank.
"That's what we came here for," White said. "I appreciate you coming out to play, Mr. Redfish. I hope you've got some brothers, sisters and cousins nearby."
The fish was inside the lower end of South Carolina's 15- to 23-inch slot limit, and after he'd worked it around the last branch of the laydown tree, Everett quickly scooped it up in the landing net.
"Hopefully that's just the first of many," Everett said as he deftly flipped a shrimp under the dock. His cork disappeared immediately, and he set the hook again.
"Whoa, alright," he said. "That was quick. I believe they may be here now. Get your rod, and get ready. It's time to do some catching."
The action was wide open for more than an hour, during which White added a flounder to finish out his "inshore grand slam" on a gray, March afternoon. Then, the tide stopped running and, almost liked someone had flipped a switch to off, the fish stopped biting.
Everett and White debated staying a while and seeing if the bite would fire up again on the rising tide, but they decided it would be close enough to dark getting back as it was and it had already been a pretty doggone good day.
HOW TO GET THERE: Beaufort is between Charleston and Savannah, Ga., spread over several islands in the Lowcountry. Highway access is limited, with US 21 the most important, because it crosses I-77, I-26, I-95 and US 17 as it makes it way from Rock Hill through Columbia, Orangeburg and Beaufort on its way to its terminus at Hunting Island State Park. The other main access is SC 170, which comes in from Hardeeville and I-95 just above the South Carolina-Georgia border. Two of the three main public boat ramps in the Beaufort area are just off US 21: at the end of Marina Rd. at the entrance to Parris Island and at Sands Beach Rd. in Port Royal. The third is next to Sea Island Parkway (US 21 Business) on Lady's Island.
WHEN TO GO: Redfish are available in the creeks and marshes around Beaufort most of the year. The cooling weather of fall may be the most comfortable for fishermen, but the fish may bite best as the water is warming in the spring. Everything in the marsh system becomes more active, and the redfish begin feeding heartily to quickly make up for any weight loss during the winter.
TACKLE/TECHNIQUE: Redfish are easily handled on medium to medium-heavy spinning or baitcasting outfits. Most fishermen prefer the extra sensitivity of the smaller-diameter superbraid lines, especially when the water is cooler and the fish may not be aggressive. A 15- to 24-inch leader of fluorocarbon or low visibility monofilament is typical. Spring reds will hit a variety of live and artificial baits. Live shrimp, mud minnows and scented soft-plastics are preferred, with the shrimp and minnows often suspended under a rattling or popping cork and minnows fished on the bottom on a Carolina rig. Go with as light a jighead or sinker as possible.
FISHING INFO/GUIDES: Capt. Danny Rourk, Tailwind Chaaters, 843-263-3863 or www.tailwindcharters.com; Capt. Charlie Beadon, Beaufort Sport Fishing, 843-592-0897 or www.beaufortsportfishing.com; Barrier Island Marine, 843-522-2040 or www.barrierislandmarine.com; Boat and Dock Supply, Port Royal, 843-986-0552; Bay Street Outfitters, 843-524-5250 or www.baystreetoutfitters.com. See also Guides & Charters in Classifieds.
ACCOMMODATIONS: Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce, 800-638-3525 or www.beaufortsc.org; Beaufort Travel & Tourism Guide, www.beaufort.org; Hunting Island State Park, 843-838-2011or www.huntingisland.com.