The tide was low as Capt. Mark Stacy headed to Tubbs Inlet to spend an hour or two fishing for redfish and flounder while waiting for the tide to rise enough to reach a section of marsh near Calabash where he had plans to chase redfish on the incoming tide.
His anglers picked off a handful of flounder and a couple of redfish that couldn’t resist live mullet minnows before he picked up and headed for the spot he wanted to fish, a marsh flat with thin grass covered by less than a foot of water, being careful when he arrived not to spook any fish that might be in residence. Finally, he turned the boat into a light breeze and used a pair of anchor pins to prevent it from swinging.
Then, Stacy got crabby.
He grabbed a crab from a bait bucket, removed the shell and cracked it into several pieces, then baited several simple rigs that featured an eighth-ounce split shot about eight inches above a wide-bend circle hook on 10 inches of fluorocarbon leader. Then, he cast the baits into some of the open spots in the grass around the boat.
“Now we wait,” Stacy said. “We’re on this flat nice and early, so the rising tide will help carry the crab scent across it and hopefully bring some hungry fish out to the baits. They could be right here and the action start in a couple of minutes, or it might take a while.”
The redfish must have been hungry and close. In less than five minutes, one of the rods suddenly bent deeply; Stacy picked it up and held the tip high to keep it out of the grass while the fish ran wildly across the flat.
“This is what it’s all about,” Stacy said excitedly. “I love fishing back in here. It’s a little early for these fish to be tailing, but they still come in here and feed on these flats.
“Redfish are rarely picky, but occasionally they get in moods of preferring one bait over others,” Stacy said. “One thing that never changes is that fresh crab is always at the top of their preferred food list. That works for us, too, as the oil in crab carries in the current and works as chum to bring redfish in to the baits.
“Regular blue crabs attract redfish well, but there is something even more special about peeler crabs,” Stacy said. “I try to have a few peelers aboard any time they are in season. Sometimes it seems like their scent will even move upcurrent. It really is uncanny how well they attract fish, especially redfish.”
Stacy was unhooking the first redfish when the next reel began screaming. He was easing the first red back into the water about the same time the second fish came to the boat and across the gunwale — when something else hit one of the other outfits with a little different pace.
“You’ve got something different going on there,” Stacy said. “There are a few other critters that chase bait up in here with the redfish, and I believe you’ve hooked his cousin, a black drum.”
Sure enough, a few minutes later a nice black drum was led within range of Stacy’s Boga Grip.
“Wow, that was quite a little flurry of action,” Stacy said. “Let’s get everything re-baited.”
Stacy broke out some more crab chunks and put a piece on each hook, then cast them to the same locations, explaining that redfish have such good noses, they know where the scent had been coming from, so he puts new baits back in the same areas as long as they are getting strikes.
A few minutes later, the action began and continued for an hour until it slowed and Stacy decided it was time to move farther into the marsh, where the rising tide had put more spots within reach. He poled the boat to the new flat — “I always pole on and off the flats to prevent blowing them out,” he said — where a similar spread took 15 minutes to attract the first redfish.
With the tide rising rapidly, Stacy decided to move to what he called a “sandfiddler bottom.”
“The tide has risen to the point the fish are spread all across the flats and aren’t just limited to the deeper spots,” Stacy said. “Crab is an excellent bait, but even the oil and scent can’t spread across this much water effectively. I’m going to move us just a little to a section where the bottom is exposed at low tide and I often see sandfiddlers. It has just flooded, so we’ll see if we can catch a red or two that is rooting some of them up for dinner.”
Two more redfish were feeding on the sandfiddler bottom, which finished off a morning that left Stacy’s party feeling as if crabs might have a better use than crab cakes in a restaurant.
HOW TO GET THERE — The saltwater marshes around the North Carolina-South Carolina state line can hold redfish from Ocean Isle Beach or Sunset Beach to North Myrtle Beach. US 17 runs parallel to this part of the coast; it can be accessed from most parts of the Carolinas via US 74, US 421, US 378, US 601 and US 501. Public ramps closest to the action are on the ICW at Brick Landing near Shallotte Point and under the bridges over the ICW at Ocean Isle and Sunset Beach, and on both sides of the ICW under the US 17 bridge at North Myrtle Beach.
WHEN TO GO — Red drum fishing in this area can be good year-round, but fish get active as the weather warms in April, and a spike in action usually takes place in June.
TACKLE/BAIT — Red drum are easily handled on medium-light to medium action spinning rods and 2500 to 3500 class reels, which should be spooled with 8- to 15-pound mono or braid. Rigs can be as simple as a 10-inch leader of 20-pound flurocarbon tied to a 1/0 to 3/0 circle hook with an eighth-ounce split shot crimped on eight inches above the hook. Pieces of crab are great baits for reds, but they will also hit live shrimp, live mud minnows or live finger mullet.
LIMITS/REGULATIONS — The state line runs through this area and is not marked. Both states require saltwater fishing licenses, and they are not reciprocal. Licenses are required for the water where you are fishing at any given time and for the state where the fishing trip begins and ends. Most fishermen carry licenses from both states when fishing this area. North Carolina manages redfish with an 18- to 27-inch slot and a 1-fish daily creel limit. South Carolina’s creel limit is three fish, with a 15- to 23-inch slot.
GUIDES/FISHING INFO — Mark Stacy, Ocean Isle Fishing Charters, 910-279-0119, www.oceanislefishingcharters.com; Mark Dickson, Shallow Minded Inshore Guide Service, 843-458-3055, www.fishmyrtlebeach.com; Ocean Isle Fishing Center, 910-575-FISH, www.oifc.com; Jimmy’s Marine and Tackle, Ocean Isle, 910-575-3600; www.jimmysmarine.com; Marine Service Center of Little River, 843-399-9283, www.marineservicecenter.com.
ACCOMMODATIONS — The Ocean Isle Inn, 910-579-0750, www.oceanisleinn.com; Harbourgate Marina, N. Myrtle Beach 843-280-2121, www.harbourgatemarina.com; Brunswick County Chamber of Commerce, 800-426-6644, www.brunswickcountychamber.org; North Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce, 877-332-2662, www.northmyrtlebeachchamber.com.
MAPS — Capt. Segull’s Nautical Charts, 888-473-4855, www.captainsegullcharts.com; Sealake Fishing Guides, 800-411-0185, www.thegoodspots.com; GMCO’s Chartbook of North Carolina, 888-420-6277, www.gmcomaps.com.