Addison Rupert was pointing, trying to get his client to see what he was seeing.
“Look just under that dock and you’ll see a number of redfish under there. Can you see them? Here, try looking through these,” Rupert said, handing his sunglasses to his client on a cold, sunny January day.
Wearing the polarized shades, the other fisherman went from not having a clue to being in awe at the number of redfish hanging out under the dock. Able to see the fish, he pitched a Gulp bait to the reds, closed the bail on the spinning reel and immediately hooked up with a redfish. This is cold-weather redfishing in the Lowcountry.
Winter’s weather sends a lot of anglers indoors. Many have cleaned up their fishing gear and stowed it away, opting to stay snuggled up on the couch and wait for late March when the weather will warm enough for their liking. That’s a big mistake; they’re missing some of South Carolina’s hottest redfish action.
Rupert, who runs Lowcountry Outdoor Adventures, is one of two young guns in the fleet of guides working the waters around Charleston who love to pitch baits and lures to redfish in January. He and Garrett Lacy of Charleston Fishing Adventures both advise anglers to bundle up, put on a good pair of polarized shades, and brave the brisk days for redfish action that is different than any other time.
“This month, the redfish travel in schools that are much bigger than any you’ll see at any other time. They bunch up and cruise the shallows, and the water is usually gin-clear, so the schools are easy to spot,” Lacy said.
While it’s easy to find the schools, Lacy said it’s also easy to spook them, so he suggests anglers not get too close.
“I like to watch a school and get a feel for how fast they’re moving, and I like to keep my distance from them. I also don’t want to cast into the middle of the school, which will scatter the fish,” he said.
Instead, once Lacy determines the direction the school is moving, he pitches a bait or lure about 10 feet in front of the fish.
“This is a great time of year to cast live shrimp. It’s one of the few times when a live shrimp won’t get picked apart by anything but a redfish,” he said. “Once it gets cold, most of those smaller, bait-stealing fish move offshore or to the nearshore reefs. In January, redfish is the main species that sticks to the inshore creeks and channels, so it’s safe to toss out a live shrimp without fear of undesirable fish hitting it before a redfish does.”
January is also a great time to cast artificials, Lacy said.
“I like to use D.O.A. shrimp, and Gulp artificials are also good bets. Z-Man jerk baits are good, too,” he said. “It usually doesn’t take much to get them to bite. Once you get that cast out about 10 feet in front of them, I wouldn’t move the lure very much. They’ve seen it, for sure, and it’s usually one of the fish in the front of the school that will hit it.”
If one of the leading fish doesn’t pick it up, anglers should reel it in quickly, then pitch it about 10 feet in front of the school again. It’s also a good time to throw a different lure or bait; if they didn’t like the first one, they may pick up another lure with a different look. Sometimes, just seeing something different will cause an immediate strike.
“You’re not going to catch many fish from the same school. If you get one or two, you’re better off moving down the creek to find another school,” Lacy said. “There’s plenty of them out there this time of year. You can go back to one that you’ve already fished after you’ve left them for a while, but if you just stay on the same school for too long, they’re going to scatter.”
If the redfish aren’t biting at all, Lacy has one thing for anglers to try. It’s not a sure-fire tactic, but it can get the bite going when nothing else is working.
“If they just aren’t interested, I’ll throw a topwater lure like a Zara Spook. Give it a few twitches. Sometimes the fish will just blow up the water fighting to be the first to hit it,” he said.
Rupert finds a lot of redfish schools hanging out around docks in small, marsh creeks, especially close to Isle of Palms Marina.
“If you find a good dock that’s in the sunlight (that) has both shallow water and deeper water nearby, you’ll find redfish this time of year,” he said.
Rupert likes to use soft-plastic Gulp baits when he finds reds around a dock. When looking for fish around docks, he checks out docks he knows have four characteristics: sunlight, shallow water nearby, deeper water nearby and moving water nearby. If Rupert checks a dock that has all those ingredients, but doesn’t find reds, he will move to the nearest dock. It doesn’t take long to find the reds, he said.
“Once you find fish under a dock, you need to keep your distance. The water is crystal clear this time of year, and these fish are wary. They won’t tolerate you getting too close,” said Rupert, who likes to lower his Power Pole while he’s still a good cast away from the dock.
“You want it to take a good, strong cast to reach it. If it’s too easy to cast there, you’re too close,” he said.
Rupert will use anywhere from a 1/16-ounce jighead on up to 1/4-ounce, depending on conditions. He will use a variety of Gulp lures, from shrimp to minnows and crabs.
“Some days, they are more particular than others, but usually this time of year, if they are biting, they aren’t too picky about whether it’s a shrimp or mullet,” he said.
Once you find a school around a dock, Rupert pays close attention to the direction the fish are facing; they want to see baits coming from that direction. If you make a cast that requires you to bring a lure from behind them, it’s going to spook them. And just like Lacy won’t cast into the middle of a school, Rupert won’t cast into the middle of these fish — he doesn’t even like to cast under the dock.
“Getting that lure to land just on the outskirts of the dock is the best approach. They will come out and get it as long as it is close enough, but not too close,” said Rupert.
Jigheads with live minnows are also effective when fishing this way, and when using them, Rupert said it is even more important to try subtle changes if the fish aren’t responding.
“Changing the size of the jighead from 1/4-ounce to 1/8-ounce can mean the difference between not getting bit at all, and getting bit on every cast,” he said.
HOW TO GET THERE — US 17 and I-26 will get fishermen to Charleston from most parts of South Carolina. Popular public ramps are Remley’s Point and Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant and Wappoo Cut in the West Ashley area.
WHEN TO GO — Reds bite year-round in the waters around Charleston. They get into big schools in December and will stay ganged up until spring. January is a great time to be able to sight-cast to huge schools.
BEST TECHNIQUES — Redfish will be in huge schools in January, so look for them in marsh creeks and around docks. Once located, pitch a live shrimp or an artificial, soft-plastic shrimp in front of the school and let the reds find it.
FISHING INFO/GUIDES — Addison Rupert, Lowcountry Outdoor Adventures, 843-557-3476; Garrett Lacy, Charleston Fishing Adventures, 843-478-8216. See also Guides and Charters in Classifieds.
ACCOMMODATIONS — Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau, www.charlestoncvb.com.