Panfish of various species are among the most-common fish found throughout South Carolina’s rivers, and for many anglers, one is held in the highest regard. The redbreast sunfish is a hearty fighter and so brightly colored that its name leaves no one wondering where it came from.
It’s a special fish, special enough that it isn’t found in many places where other panfish are abundant. It’s rare to find redbreast in lakes or even ponds, and even a lot of South Carolina’s rivers don’t have them.
The Pee Dee River system, the Lynches River, the Edisto River and the Black River hold large populations of redbreast bream, and anglers flock to them this time of year to do battle.
One of the more-active panfish, redbreasts are often found in the flowing current, just away from the areas that other river bream like to inhabit. Anglers targeting redbreasts realize that they have to do things a little differently to catch them.
Bobby Izard of Sumter said he catches redbreast by doing two things differently than he does when fishing for bluegills or shellcracker.
“I use artificial lures only, and I fish faster than I would for other bream,” he said.
Using ultralight rods and reels, Izard is fond of small spinners and tiny crankbaits. He said you can’t have too many in your tackle box when fishing for redbreasts.
“If you’re in a river that has several different species of bream, you just won’t catch as many redbreast on live bait. Other bream seem to be more aggressive toward live bait, but redbreast are more aggressive toward artificial lures. And man, are these things fun to catch this way,” said Izard, who likened this type of fishing to fishing for bass.
The Edisto is his favorite river to target redbreasts.
“You can catch them in a lot of different places on the Edisto, but when you come up on some river houses that have a wooden retaining wall built on the river, you need to pay a lot of attention to that, especially this month,” he said.
Izard fishes out of a john boat; he uses his electric motor to slowly cruise back and forth along the wooden walls, casting toward them with his small lures.
“I’ll cruise past the wall, fishing the whole way, then I’ll cruise back down it. After I’ve down this a few times, I will pull closer to the wall, at the northernmost section of the wall where it changes to forest or just dirt bank, then I’ll cast down the length of the wall. This lets you cover more of the wall than you can when sitting parallel and casting directly at the wall,” he said.
When fishing the Little Pee Dee, Lynches, and the Black rivers, Izard focuses more on the mouth of smaller creeks emptying in to the main river. Any time he sees a secondary water source flowing in, he fishes it hard.
“When you’re fishing for redbreast, you can’t go wrong by casting into such areas. Redbreast, more than any of the other bream, love to sit above, below and directly in that moving water. I like to cast into the secondary flow, then reel my lure through it until it swims into the main river, slightly faster than the current is going. I want it moving faster than any debris like leaves or sticks that are caught in the current. This makes it look alive,” he said.
Izard said anglers shouldn’t be afraid to cast down current, then reel against it.
“It seems unnatural to some people to do it this way, but it works. Reel against the current at least part of the time. It makes it look like it’s swimming upriver. The fish are facing into the current, watching for something to eat. That gives them time to observe and reject your lure. When you’re reeling upcurrent, the lure breaks into their field of vision suddenly, and they make a reaction strike. It’s harder for them to turn it down,” he said.
Izard’s No. 1 tip for catching more redbreasts though, is one that very few anglers ever seem to try.
“The redbreast is known to eat throughout the night, so when other anglers are pulling off the water, they are missing out,” he said.
And once the sun has set and the moon has risen, Izard said he changes things up a little bit.
“I don’t know why, but this seems to work well after dark, but doesn’t seem to make much difference in daylight. But at night, I will have three different lures on three different rods. One is a Mepps Aglia, one is a Roadrunner, and one is a Betts Spin,” Izard said. “They all have blades on them but they all give off different sounds and vibrations. I alternate each time I cast. First the Mepps, then the Roadrunner, then the Betts. Something about each one being different, and each one being cast right after the others, just seems to turn them on.”