Capt. Todd Stamps had just returned from a trip to Brazil for peacock bass and black piranha, armed with a pocketful of TBS jigs manufactured by a fishing buddy of his in Florida.

Where could he go? Stamps didn't have to travel far from his home base at the Isle of Palms Marina to test the leadheads on schools of winter redfish.

He ran to Bulls Bay, part of the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, and on his third cast, he forgot all about the peacock bass.

He flung a 3-inch Gulp "molting shrimp" toward a shell point, and he started his retrieve. The little piece of soft plastic never made it home. A nice redfish stopped the grub and immediately bent the rod over.

A few minutes later, Stamps measured the fish at 29 inches and eight pounds. He shrugged his shoulders and said, "You can't ever tell what's gonna bite next."

In January, however, it's a pretty good bet that it will be redfish tugging on your line.

Bulls Bay and the waters of the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge and Intracoastal Waterway offer some great fishing opportunities in winter.

There are so many marshy points, shell brakes, oyster mounds and feeder creeks that seeing them conjures up something similar to a treasure hunt for anglers searching for a productive spot.

Clear waters and hearty fish are just two of the characteristics that equal hard-fighting redfish in winter. Add to those facts the tendency of reds to gang up in large schools, and you've got an excellent chance for excellent fishing.

"January is some of the best clear-water (fishing) of the entire year, and this tends to trend into February," Stamps said.

Old-timers tell of a time before the Santee River was impounded when Bulls Bay stayed clear almost year-round, and it's not hard to imagine that when viewing the pristine area from the casting deck of a boat.

Stamps said that being able to recognize areas that will hold winter redfish - and being careful to approach them quietly - are keys to success.

When fishing an ebbing tide, identify waters moving over or parallel to formations of oyster shells that have been shaped by tidal influence. Once you have zeroed in on this type of spot, it's time to start fishing.

"Don't charge into that spot with the big motor; rather, stop and approach under the power of your trolling motor, or maybe just pole in - in order to keep your target zone quiet," he said. "Puppy drum stay schooled up this time of year, so you may have multiple shots at your fish as long as you remain stealthy. When you do catch a redfish, it likely will disturb the entire school, and you would be wise to pull back for a brief bit and let them settle back into a routine."

A redfish routine?

That's right, if a certain school of redfish is found on a certain point, it's likely the fish have found all the necessary ingredients there to sustain them: a spot to ambush bait, a place to push into the marsh grass, and possibly a deep hole for escape cover.

This routine allows experienced anglers to return to varied areas over and over and deal with the same fish.

Stamps said, "Schooling fish all tend to run about the same size," meaning that in a school of reds measuring 16 to 18 inches, you are not likely to find one over 20 inches. Conversely, in a school of larger fish you won't likely find many puppy drum.

Another reason redfish stay in tight schools and in shallow waters is to avoid predators like porpoises, which target them more in the winter after a lot of their usual food sources have left inshore areas for the ocean.

Clear, shallow waters also offer the reds a place to warm up in the sun during cold spells - something that is great for anglers because a cold and sluggish drum will seldom take a bait.

Stamps fishes from a Scout 177, a 17-foot flats boat with a poling platform powered by a 115-HP Yamaha outboard.

Stamps likes to fish under clear skies, with light southeast winds, during half-falling tides. He believes that morning and afternoon trips tend to be more productive than mid-day trips. He uses a Minn-Kota trolling motor and a 6-foot Power Pole shallow-water anchor that allows him to halt the boat's forward progress quickly when he sees that he is in position to make a certain cast. Stamps is methodical and likes to set up well beyond the fish and make a lengthy cast to the strike zone.

Stamps, who also operates the website, chooses a 7-foot Total Backcountry Slam custom rod, outfitted with a Penn 1000 spinning reel spooled with green 10-pound Power Pro braid. He uses an Albright knot to attach the 14-pound Vanish fluorocarbon leader to his running line. He ties the leadhead jig and grub with a loop knot to give the jig more action.

"If you use a barrel knot, you pinch-off some of the grub's action," he said.

Stamps also values a bait that makes a small splash when entering the water, especially when he's sight-fishing. One such lure is the Bite-A-Bait in a black-and-silver mullet pattern, which has a diving-lip and a floating motion that makes it a "small-splasher" and a top producer.

When he's searching or prospecting for redfish, Stamps uses a 5-foot-6 Ugly Stick medium-action spinning rod outfitted with a Penn 4300 SS reel. One bait that has shown consistency is the 5-inch Exude slug/worm in a smoke and gold-flake pattern called "golden bream" rigged on a Daichi "taildragger" blood-red hook.

Other artificial baits that work well are a 4-inch Gulp shrimp in root beer/gold, and Strike King's 5-inch Zulu Pumpkin belly grub.

When fly-fishing with his Temple Fork outfit, a 4-piece TiCr 9-weight rod and a 375 reel, Stamps like to dip his purple-and-black Bunny Blinny fly into the juice in the bags that contain his Gulp baits, giving the fly an extra fishy temptation.

Winter winds are the rule, not the exception. Stamps said, "Even in the windiest conditions, it's all about boat position. You don't want a bow in your fishing line - keep a straight line between your bait and you're rod tip for the best feel on the strike."

When the wind does blow in Bulls Bay, it can get rough in a hurry. Captains know how to use marshy islands and back channels as waypoints to fish, plus mitigating the effects of a constant northeast blow.

Redfish average 15 to 20 inches long, weighing from 1-1/2 to three pounds, but when they stop your bait, you know it.

"They pull like a tractor: not speedy, but rather they apply torque and can keep 10 yards of your line peeled off longer than other fish," Stamps said. "The best fishing is usually on the downcurrent side of oyster breaks."

When fishing around high tide, you can expect some incidental spotted seatrout, particularly near structure. The trout bite seems to slack as the water recedes and exposes the flats where redfish like to lurk. While live bait is available at the tackle shops year-round, January is a time of year where artificial baits should be plenty productive.

When fishing for small redfish, anglers must be aware of size and creel limits. The daily creel limit is three redfish, with a 15- to 23-inch slot in which all fish must measure to keep.

The slot has changed several times over the years, including 2007 when the Coastal Conservation Association's Finfish Management plan was passed and adopted by the South Carolina General Assembly.

Mike Able, a guide and owner of Haddrell's Point Tackle Shops in Charleston, is the Government Relations committee chairman for the CCA SC.

He said, "We have reached a critical point in managing our marine resources, and this legislation promotes a proactive change in the management of our state marine fisheries. As more and more people move to the Palmetto State and realize the availability of these fish and the incredible angling experience they provide, we expect to see a growing interest in the responsible stewardship of the resources."