"Tombo" Milliken knew the second he saw the tail swirl in the shallow water of Bulls Bay he was about to encounter a big school of large redfish.

He knew what they were because he had fished the same school a day or two earlier.

Turning to his fishing partner, who was not as well-educated about the traits of what many coastal anglers call "spot-tail bass," he offered a bet.

"We've been fishing for an hour and a half without much success," Milliken said. "If you catch a 10-pound redfish in the next three casts, you get to buy me dinner and drinks tonight."

"Yeah, right," said his fishing buddy.

"On his second cast," Milliken said, "he caught a 12-pound redfish. That night he had to buy my dinner and drinks. Down the road, he eventually figured out what happened, but he was more than willing to honor the bet after catching that fish."

Thomas Milliken, Jr. - "Tombo" to family and friends - grew up with a fishing rod in his hands, but for much of his life he, like his dad, Tom Sr., chased the "other bass" in fresh water, the largemouth.

"One of the things we learned very quickly was just how local these redfish really are," said Milliken, who grew up and lives in Columbia. "They truly live in the same specific area.

"If you find the fish at a certain bank, point or cove one day, unless they're fished out or eaten by porpoises - which is their No. 1 predator - or spooked off by fishing pressure, unless something changes, they'll stay there."

In fact, Milliken said, anglers can spook a school of redfish and leave for an hour or so and when they come back, the fish will be in the same area.

"Even better, come back the next day during the same tide cycle," he said.

But while human fishing pressure may pose the greatest threat to coastal redfish populations, Milliken said predation by porpoises can be devastating, as well as spectacular.

"I was out fishing one day and saw a school of porpoises come through feeding on a school of redfish," he said. "The porpoises came up into 2 feet of water or less, up against the mud bank and an oyster rake, and they were flipping 5- to 7-pound redfish into the air."

When he and his dad first began fishing for redfish at the South Carolina coast about 1995, they assumed red drum migrated similar to other species.

"But we quickly learned these fish don't move, and that's how they can be fished out from overfishing or can be pushed out by too much fishing pressure," he said.

Milliken Sr. toyed with bass tournament fishing when the Ray Scott tournaments ignited the bass-fishing craze of the early 1970s, and he has always appreciated the excitement of pitting his skills against fish, Tombo said.

"Most of what I know about fishing came from him," Milliken Jr. said. "We always enjoyed throwing artificial baits and shallow-water fishing, and when we figured out we could catch these redfish in shallow water, we both just said, 'Wow. This is cool.' "

The Milliken family owns a house at McClellanville, a small coastal fishing village north of Charleston, and they concentrate their redfishing efforts from Price's Inlet just south of Bulls Bay, northward through Bulls Bay and the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, up to Winyah Bay at Georgetown and North Inlet just north of Winyah Bay.

To satisfy the competitive urge developed in bass tournaments, they try to fish several saltwater tournaments each year, especially the Creek Fishing Tournament at McClellanville, which is held annually to benefit the Archibald Rutledge Academy, a private school in the coastal village.

"You fish for trout, flounder and redfish, and there are usually between 75 and 90 boats in the tournament," Milliken said.

Teaming with his dad and brothers, they won the tournament in 2002 and finished third in 1999, 2001 and 2002.

"We fish year round for redfish, and I really enjoy fishing with my dad, my brothers and the rest of the family and even taking clients out and introducing them to fishing for redfish," Milliken said. "We fish artificials and live bait, depending on conditions.

"When the water is clear and the wind isn't blowing, I enjoy fishing artificials, primarily gold and copper spoons, and jigs and grubs.

"But the tougher the conditions, when the water is murky or muddy or the wind is blowing, I usually go with live bait - mullet, mud minnows or shrimp. And just because the water is muddy, it doesn't mean the redfish are not there. It just makes it a little more difficult to catch them."

And the wind, he said, can be just as helpful as it sometimes can cause problems.

"The wind is always blowing at the coast, and that's just a fact we have to deal with," he said. "I've learned to let the wind be a friend.

"Instead of pulling into an area to get out of the wind, pull up to a windswept point, a windswept bank, or into a windswept cove. You'll find the bait being blown across the bay by the wind. The bait will stack up, the fish will be there and you can have some fun."

In May, Milliken said, redfish will be moving into a summer pattern, and the larger schools will break up into two to perhaps five or six fish in a general area - and they may move around quite a bit.

Although fishing for redfish this time of year can sometimes be hit or miss because of the transition, it also can be exciting because of the variables that always exist in inshore saltwater fishing.

"In April, once the temperature rises to 60 degrees the trout move inshore quickly and by May the temperature is generally well into the 60-degree range," he said. "So you may be fishing for redfish and begin catching trout, or vice versa. There is definitely an element of surprise in May."

While one species may overlap the other, Milliken said they do follow general patterns.

"I like to fish the rising tide for redfish and the falling tide for trout," he said. "The time of day matters less than the tide stage.

"In May, I start using more live bait as it becomes more available, with a 1/0 circle hook, either under a Cajun Thunder popping cork, on a Carolina rig or just with a hook and a split shot."

The circle hook is a must for redfishing, said Milliken, because it saves a lot of fish that might die if they are released.

"The primary reason to use a circle hook is that nine times out of 10 the hookup will be in the corner of the mouth, which makes it easy to retrieve the hook," Milliken said. "And there is no foul hooking with a circle hook.

"Two, when you're taking an inexperienced fishermen along, the fish is just more likely to hook itself than with a traditional J-hook.

"And three, the circle hook will not hang up in the weeds, grass or oysters as easily as a traditional hook."

Milliken said it was the catch-and-release ethic that convinced him to switch to circle hooks. As chairman of the Coastal Conservation Association of South Carolina, he's keenly interested in protecting overfished saltwater stocks. This year CCA-S.C. pushed hard for the legislature to adjust limits on redfish, flounder, trout, black drum and sheepshead to provide more protection for those species.

"Charlie Wenner (DNR marine biologist who has done considerable study on S.C. redfish stocks) has done some studies that show the circle hooks catch the fish in the corner of the mouth or top of the lip as opposed to being gut hooked with a J-hook," Milliken said. "That is what you want with catch and release."

A DNR-certified tagger, Milliken releases most of the redfish he catches.

"I believe it's very, very important to handle the fish carefully and get it back into the water as quickly as possible," he said.

A case in point is the experience he had with his cousin one day, fishing off the North Santee River. They tagged a number of fish and released them that day.

"The next day at the same spot and the same time of day we caught the same fish we had caught and tagged the day before," he said. "That really opened my eyes as far as catch and release and conservation of our fishery resources."

In fact, studies by Dr. Wenner show most fish are recaptured within 5 miles of where they were tagged and released.

The great thing about fishing for redfish is their willingness to cooperate, Milliken said.

"I've taken a number of clients and friends who brought their young children along to introduce them to saltwater fishing," he said. "The redfish fishery is one that once the fish turn on you can catch a lot of fish and seeing those youngsters get excited catching those fish is very rewarding."