Bull redfish are easy to come by in Hilton Head Island's lagoon these days, and Capt. Stacy Garbett said the key to battling one is to keep the freshest live bait possible on your hook
"This time of year, these fish have so much to choose from in terms of bait that they aren’t going to take a serious look at any artificials, but they will hit a live bait, especially big menhaden," he said.
And when he says "freshest live bait possible," he doesn't mean one that is simply alive. It needs to be fresh and kicking.
"I've seen many a redfish turn away from a live bait that isn't swimming like mad to get away. These fish are old and smart. If something doesn’t seem right to them, they'll pass on an easy meal, especially with so much live bait in the lagoon," said Garbett.
While the key to hooking these fish is fresh bait, the key to landing them is another story. This is a narrow waterway with tree branches growing into the water, submerged shell banks, and dead logs throughout. Redfish have plenty to wrap around and break your line.
"These big reds – they’re going to have their say-so in their first run, so all you can do is pray and steer them as best you can away from cover," said Garbett, who said keeping your drag locked down is essential in this body of water. “You’ve got to have strong line and a tight drag. If you have light line and a light drag, they will take you straight into these trees and hang you up or break your line.”
Garbett (843-684-0570) suggests anglers look closely at the shorelines throughout the lagoon system and pay close attention to the small breaks or open areas between the outstretched limbs of shore-bound trees. Casting to those areas will often result in a bite from a redfish.
Having heavy duty braid and a fairly tight drag is a big help. This keeps the fish from pulling too much against the drag, and allows the angler – if he makes no mistakes – to keep the fish as much away from all the obstructions as possible.
Garbett prefers 2000 and 3000 series Shimano spinning reels on 6-foot-6 to 7-foot G. Loomis medium-heavy rods, braided lines that range from 30- to 80-pound test and strong, No. 1/0 hooks. He free-lines live menhaden without a weight, and he likes to use one rod with a popping cork and another rod without a cork until he sees if the fish are preferring one over the other.