The redfish is a highly-prized, inshore species for several reasons:
• The population is good, ensuring that plenty of fish are available;
• Redfish can be caught on a variety of live bait and artificial lure combinations and do not require sophisticated tackle;
• They are often caught in shallow water and do not require big boats to access their favored haunts;
• They are hard-fighting fish that can be found feeding at most stages of the tide, offering great sport on light tackle;
• And, they are awesome eating and can be properly prepared in a variety of ways.
But for some anglers, fishing for reds is more than just a sport - it is a passion.
Ken Privette is a year-round redfish addict from Mount Pleasant, and the summertime weather has the fish on some of his favorite patterns. As he puts it, the redfish action is "red hot" in the summer heat.
"In terms of fishing for reds, I live for sight-fishing," Privette said. "There are ways you can anchor and fish for them successfully, but my strategy is one that keeps me on the move. I want to see the fish, get close to it, and then catch it. Or better yet, have friends or family in the boat with me to catch it."
Privette has been a redfish addict for 15 years, ever since he bought his first flats boat. Before he discovered the allure of reds (and trout), he primarily fished for largemouth bass on Lake Moultrie - one of his favorite outdoor pastimes growing up.
"That's where I grew up, on Lake Moultrie," he said. "I've always loved to fish. I grew up fishing with my dad on the lake, and he still fishes there. But the main reason I moved to Mount Pleasant was to be close to saltwater fishing."
From July through August, outstanding redfishing exists in his local area. He fishes a lot of areas around Charleston, but the Intracoastal Waterway and the Wando River are two of his favored areas.
"There is no tidal period when you can't catch redfish at this time of the year," Privette said. "I certainly prefer some tides over the others. I love the high tide for tailing fish, but I also love to work the dead-low tide for fish along the edge of the (ICW). A rising tide is excellent as well. While not my favorite tide, a dropping tide will also put reds in predictable patterns where they can be caught in big numbers and sizes in shallow water."
His passion for reds peaks when discussing high tides and tailing fish. His thought process for tailing fish is different from many other anglers.
"A lot of fishermen think you've got to have a flood tide to catch tailing fish," Privette said, "but I've found that this simply isn't so. A flood tide does open a lot of redfishing possibilities and a lot of water to fish, but I catch a lot of tailing fish on a normal 5- to 5½-foot tide.
"The key is having the patience to look for these fish in isolated areas, along with stealth, "Privette said. "On a normal high tide, I slip into the creeks and silently push along the grasslines looking for tailing fish that are just back in the edges of the grass. Sometimes these fish may only be 15 or 20 feet from the boat when I see them. That's the reason for stealth; it's essential to slip in on them very quietly.
"But once spotted, they can be targeted and caught just like fishing (you are) the big flats on flood tides. The opportunity to spot tailing fish like this is actually quite common once you learn a few areas where the right combination of grass and shallow flats occur. Plus, finding tailing fish like this only has to happen a few times on a single normal high tide to be an awesome fishing trip.
"One key for me is to spot potential areas when fishing on low tide," he said. "Look for small flats near deeper creek runs with lots of fiddler crabs at low tide. Many times these small areas will have tailing reds at normal, high-tide levels."
Privette will use a variety of lures, much as he does when fishing large flats on a flood tide. He'll use live bait, particularly finger mullet, which ranks as one of his favored live baits. He also has great confidence in Berkeley Gulp! lures, as well as a fly rod and a variety of different fly patterns.
Privette said that preparation is a key to consistent success. Redfish can be very selective about what they'll hit from one day to the next. Thus, he is prepared with an assortment of different rigs, so he can offer whatever they want on a given day.
"I'll typically have six rigs with me, all pre-rigged in different ways, when I go redfishing," Privette said. "I have caught tailing reds on a specific lure pattern one day and go back to the same area the next and can't get them to bite it at all - but they will absolutely tear up a different lure or bait. Pre-trip preparation is something I take seriously.
"I want to be able to give them a big variety of choices with a minimum of lost fishing time," he said. "Once I hit the right pattern, I'm in the redfish catching business. It's not unlike changing lure colors or patterns on bass fishing when I was younger. I learned back then on largemouth, and it applies to redfish: give them exactly what they want, in the manner they want it, and you'll catch a lot more fish."
Flood tides are prime times to sight-fish for reds. Privette's approach is also very structured. It is intended to keep him in sight of fish from the time the water gets onto the flat until it gets too low a few hours later.
"I like to get in the grass as soon as the water will let me on the rising tide," Privette said. "The key for my success is a measured amount of patience mixed with observation once I get on the flat. The tendency for many anglers - and what I used to do - was to rush as far back on the flat on a flood tide as quickly as possible. What I discovered is that by going in as far as I could, I'd be passing the very fish I was after. Now I slowly move in, watching the area very closely. Instead of rushing past the fish, I usually see them working their way back, feeding as they go.
"The reds don't rush all the way back to the back; they work their way in," he said. "Many times I'll see one fish maybe 100 yards away, but by watching close for a minute or too, I'll pick out another two or three fish between me and that fish. Instead of rushing to the first one I see, I often will have two or three opportunities I used to miss.
"I generally still end up in the back of the flat as the water gets near the highest level, but the difference is I usually have been catching fish all the way back there. The same process is true on the reverse as the water begins to drop."
Privette prefers flats with a creek or deep-water drainage area winding through them. Those are the routes that redfish will use, so they will be close to them as the water floods onto the flat. They will also be the focal point of their retreat to deeper water as the tide begins to drop.
Privette also loves to leave his boat and wade-fish on the flood tides.
"This is great fun in the summertime, to get in the water with the fish," he said. "If I'm careful, I can slip up on the fish better this way than by having a higher profile by being in the boat. I have to move slowly and watch for fish constantly, but sometimes I'll slip right up on fish before I see them. Don't get impatient and force the issue; just move with the fish, and you can stay in consistent action.
"I don't necessarily cast directly to them at first, especially with live bait," he said. "If I'm using a finger mullet - which I'll often cast with no weight other than the hook - I'll cast several feet in front of them, in the direction they seem to be moving. Typically, they'll hear the baitfish in the water, and they move right in to it and take it. Then the battle is on."
This is one of Privette's favorite ways to fish when he takes a less-experienced fishermen with him. The live bait provides a high percentage of hookups. When fishing alone or with more experienced fishermen, he loves to use a fly rod.
"Hooking reds on fly rods on the shallow flats is about as good as fishing can get, in my opinion," Privette said. "I always carry a pretty wide assortment of flies with me, again, to give them exactly what they want.
"I like bright colored patterns such as chartreuse, green or yellow. One of my favorite lures is called the 'Deceiver.' It is a non-weighted fly (that sinks) just barely goes under the water. There are also shrimp-pattern flies that are non-weighed, and I've found that realism in the fly pattern is, at times, crucial to success."
Sight fishing continues to be a tactic on which Privette relies, even when he isn't fishing on a normal or flood tide for tailing fish. His technique for low-water fishing also often relies on sight during the summer.
"Another way I love to spot these fish is actually at low or near low tide," he said. "Actually, dead low tide can be extremely good for reds.
"I'll motor along the main run of the Intracoastal Waterway at low tide, when the water is usually calm," he said. "I look for the slight wake of fish moving in shallow water. Many times, small schools of reds will be observed at this time. There may be only three to 10 fish in the school, but you can see them pretty easily. Get a quick fix on the direction they are moving and slip in on them. If you stay far enough off the shoreline, you can use a trolling motor; if not, use a push pole. Cast live bait just in front of the movement, and odds for a hookup are excellent.
"Unlike during the winter, when any sound or noise can spook them in shallow water, I think they are used to the noise that finger mullet make. I'll cast the bait in about an 8- to 10-foot radius of their location. I have also started using the Berkeley Gulp! lures in the shrimp or mullet patterns with awesome results. But small jigs and even flies on fly rods will be very productive in situations such as this."
Privette also employs other tactics when the tide is moving. He has specific focal points.
"During mid-tide time periods, I like to fish oyster-shell beds as well as creek mouths," he said. "These are the areas finger mullet and other live bait will congregate; that's where I expect to find the reds. Different patterns will work here. Sometimes, I'll use live bait about two feet under a popping cork and let it drift over the shell bed or in front of the creek mouth. Artificial lures can be awesome as well."
While Privette loves to focus on shallow water and sight fishing, there are other ways to take redfish during the summer. One is fishing in the surf.
Bubba Geddings will focus on specific targets for summertime redfish in the Charleston area.
"Redfish will feed extremely well in the surf, close to shore, especially if they have identifiable travel routes," Geddings said. "Sometimes I'll find a good eddy - where a major creek enters the surf - that will be very productive during certain stages of the tide. Also, any place where there's a gully or washout-type hole along the beach has the potential to hold reds in good numbers. Typically, I prefer the 2-hour time periods on either side of low tide as the prime times to surf fish."
In addition, Geddings said that anchoring and fishing along deep holes in the Charleston Harbor can be very productive, especially for big redfish.
"There are some excellent places along the channel, especially on the Sullivan's Island side of the channel. Typically, live bait such as finger mullet will produce plenty of fish. Or a big chunk of cut mullet is very good for large reds.
"Look for areas along the channel with baitfish along the drops, or find a small cut or point along the underwater ledge," he said. "This will create a slightly different current pattern, which can be all you need to attract and hold a big redfish as it forages along the ledge.
"Another excellent spot for large redfish is locally known as 'Dynamite Hole' on the south jetty in the harbor. Two hours before and after low tide are best, because the water can get pretty rough when the tide gets rolling in or out. But this place will produce big reds consistently. It is bottom fishing, and I recommend quality rodholders. I suggest using 7-foot rods with 20-pound test line for the big fish potentially caught in this area."