During the third week of March, the vernal equinox occurs, creating an equal number of daylight and dark hours all over the planet. For South Carolina anglers, March also marks the unveiling of the spring fishing season.
Daytime temperatures become increasingly pleasant, leaving painful, winter chills in the past. Not only does the air feel great, warming ocean waters trigger fishing along the scenic Georgetown shoreline, and it is not just any ole fish moving into the area; huge red drum invade the beachfront, and they come with a colossal appetite.
According to Steve Roff of Barrier Island Guide Service, these bull reds are unusually large, much larger than the typical bulls caught in the fall.
“These are true giants,” said Roff (843-446-7337). “We rarely catch any this time of year less than 45 inches long.”
Roff begins checking the ocean temperature in early March for a 60-degree benchmark.
“If it warms up, we will start catching them the first week of March; other years, it may be the second or the third week,” he said.
Warm water is definitely a key component to the arrival of these hefty migrants. When the temperatures gets right, Roff begins the hunt, cruising the beachfronts and near Georgetown County’s inlets, looking for any sign of baitfish near the sandbars.
“We are looking for any kind of bait off the beach on the deep side of the sandbars,” he said.
In March, the bait along the beach will not be nearly as widespread and abundant as the summer and fall. In fact, it is relatively scarce, but when he finds a pod of bait along the edge of one of these bars, there is a great chance that a school of bull reds will be just under the surface, looking for an easy meal.
Roff prefers the sandbars formed off local inlets: South Santee, North Santee, Pawley’s and North. He looks for the areas that have significant drop-offs where the water is 6 to 8 feet on the bar and 15 foot on the deep side. He will either anchor along the breaks or drift baits off the sand bar into the deep water.
Luckily, bull reds are famished and will eat about anything on the end of a short-leadered Carolina rig, including chunks of mullet and menhaden. Nevertheless, Roff’s go-to bait is always going to be fresh blue crab.
“We crush them on crabs. The big fish love them,” he said.
If Roff can get them, he will use a chunk of fresh blue crab every time. If fish are really feeding, he will take a 2-ounce bucktail jig tipped with a strip bait or Gulp trailer.
“To get a big thump on a bucktail jig is going to be a day-maker for sure. To catch a few of these giant fish this early in the year makes these trips very satisfying,” Roff said.