As summer arrives, South Carolinians begin to make their vacation plans. It’s a time when beachgoers start venturing into the warming waters, and many begin seeing jellyfish while they’re tossing their Frisbees. But for anglers, the arrival of the cannonball jellies, aka jelly balls, can only mean one thing — it’s time to target spadefish.
The nearshore reefs begin to load up with spadefish as the waters warm, the same time the cannonball jellyfish show up in big schools, moving toward the beach And for spadefish, cannonballs are their prime rib.
Tom Cushman of Calmwater Fishing Charters in North Myrtle Beach said spadefish are one of his clients’ favorites species.
“Spadefish are one of the last prolific fishes around,” said Cushman (843-997-5850). “They can be real easy to catch, and you can catch them until your arms are tired.”
Cushman catches spades on strips of squid and small pieces of shrimp, but his favorite and the best all-around baits are small strips of jelly balls. He will net a couple of bucketfuls of jelly balls on the tide lines near the inlets and will head to the closest reefs.
“Spadefish will school up on any kind of structure with significant relief of 3 to 5 feet,” he said. “I have caught them at the Three-Mile, Long Bay and the BP-25 Reef. They pop up at the same reefs each year.”
Cushman will cruise up to a reef and scan it with his sonar. He will anchor over the reef structure and drop out a couple of jelly ball teasers to get the fish interested close to the boat.
“I start tossing strips of the jelly ball to them to get them feeding regularly. Then, I will slip a No. 1, low-profile hook in a piece of the strip and set the hook when he takes it.”
The fish start inhaling everything they see, and the hook-up will happen quickly — and then it’s on. Spadefish take off, leaving anglers in a frenzy to get some line back on the reel and get the fish to the boat.
Cushman said spadefish don’t always come to the surface to feed, especially on rougher days when they are spooked by boat movements.
“I will drop the strips down on a Carolina rig on the choppy days, but the fish always bite better on slick calm days,” he said.
Spadefish may not be the star of the show for most anglers, but it is not because of their unfriendly battles. Pound per pound, spadefish are one of the hardest pulling fishes anywhere. As soon as an angler sinks a hook into these fish’s lips, the drag will soon begin screaming off causing anglers to hang on for dear life.