South Carolina anglers will have no trouble finding redfish in the Lowcountry this month. Getting them to bite, however, will take a little more patience and finesse than at other times of the year. The fish school in large groups through winter; their sheer mass gives them away to even the most-nonchalant angler.
“They school up for a number of reasons, but mainly, they are trying to stay warm and stay safe from dolphins, which feed on them pretty heavily this time of year,” said Charlie Beadon of Beaufort Fishing Adventures (843-592-0897).
One big advantage fishermen have is the clarity of the water.
“The winter offers us some of our best sight-fishing opportunities. As the water cools, the algae and plankton that normally cloud our waters dies. This gives us crystal-clear visibility,” he said.
That visibility helps make it easy to spot redfish, which Beadon said will be in schools so big that most anglers have to see them to believe it.
“I have seen schools of fish in the thousands; there are so many fish that you can’t even pick out singles because the bottom is tar black with fish,” he said.
But that allows the fish to see anglers, too, so Beadon said stealth is a must. The Broad River between Hilton Head and Beaufort is one of his main January spots, and he prefers to pole or run his trolling motor along the flats, keeping a good distance from the bank and keeping his eyes peeled for fish.
“I want to make a cast in front of the leading fish in these schools,” he said. “Casting in the middle will break the school up, and this will make the fish really wary and nervous. If I happen to see the school too late to get a cast to the front, I will cast to the outside edge of the school, which is not ideal, but not as bad as casting into the middle.”
Jigheads with Gulp lures are great options, Beadon said, if you stay a long cast away from the fish. He suggests letting the lure sink, then twitching and reeling it back. If a fish doesn’t take it, try to keep up with the leading fish in the school, and cast again.
“Stealth can’t be stressed enough this time of year. Wear good polarized shades, put the sun at your back, and look closely to find the schools. Then, stay back as far as possible and make long casts to the front of the schools. When a school breaks up, the fish will usually settle down after a few minutes, but it’s never a bad idea to go find another school. Even when these fish don’t show it, they can recognize your presence and feel pressured into shutting down,” he said.