The spadefish are biting around the nearshore reefs out of Georgetown; the secret to catching them is in finding jellyball jellyfish first. Capt. Robert McCarley of Reel Tight Charters said as long as you can find bait, you can lure in the spades and catch them on pieces of cut jellyball and small shrimp.

A spadefish trip on the reefs starts closer to shore, because anglers need to collect about a dozen jellyball jellyfish. McCarley has been finding them just off the beaches, scooping them up with a dip net and storing them in a 5-gallon bucket.

Once at the reefs, McCarley slides a coat hanger through about six jellyballs, ties the hanger onto some heavy duty line on an offshore rod-and-reel outfit and suspends the jellyballs beside the boat. He ties a 4-ounce sinker to the bottom of the coat hanger.

“Those jellyballs are really buoyant, so it takes some weight to get them to sink,” he said.

As the jellyballs drop in the water column, McCarley begins to feel spadefish taking bites out of them, and he slowly starts to reel them back toward the surface. The spadefish follow, then anglers toss in their baited hooks.

“I like to head and peel fresh shrimp, then thread the shrimp onto the hook, hiding the hook. Sometimes it doesn’t matter, but lately the spades have shied away at hooks that aren’t hidden,” he said.

If the spades don’t bite right away, McCarley will pull the jellyballs completely out of the water. With nothing left to bite, the spadefish will then often hit the shrimp. When they do, the angler is in for a fight.

“When they bite, you need to open the bail of your reel and let the spadefish take the bait for a few seconds,” said McCarley (843-458-4157). Even though these fish are hooked right next to the boat, often with only a few feet of fishing line out, they peel off drag like a mackerel.

The trick is to let the spadefish fight, reeling when you can gain back some line, but letting him run when you can’t. Pulling against the drag will tire the fish out. 

Although shrimp has been the go-to bait recently, sometimes spadefish prefer a piece of cut jellyball or even a very small, whole jellyball.

Spadefish have been running between 3 and 6 pounds, with some bigger ones mixed in. Spinning reels in the 2000 to 3000 series spooled with 20-pound test line and leaders, finished off with a 1/0 circle hook, make up the typical fishing rigs for spadefish. The Paradise Reef, Pawleys Island Reef, North Inlet Reef, and Hector Reef are all good places to find spadefish.