Old salts have learned that the sun will rise and set every day, but that matters little in terms of success. They know that if they understand and work with the tides, they will catch more fish.
This is certainly true with most inshore species, but very true at this time of the year for fishermen targeting redfish, one of the most popular fish found along the South Carolina coast.
One of the top areas during the November/December time frame is McClellanville, a great point of access for the expansive Bulls Bay and Cape Romain areas. Veteran fisherman Smoky Evans of Awendaw keys on these area and puts them in perspective.
"Tides are the key to my inshore fishing, shrimping, crabbing and everything," he said. "When fishing for redfish, it doesn't mean you can't catch them on just the low or high tide, but it does make a big different in how and where you fish. Without a doubt, the most important ingredient to your success is to understand the influence of the tides.
"When the tide is high, redfish will be scattered in the grass," Evans said. "When it's low, they will be cruising the shallow flats, and I mean all the way in the back of many of the creeks and bays, in very shallow water. When the tide is either rising or falling, they're moving one way or the other."
Evans said that both live bait and artificial lures will work over the next two months. Live bait tends to be his favorite tactic when the tide is about halfway up and rising and when dropping until it's out of the grass. He'll often use lures such as gold spoons when the tide is falling to low and the first couple hours of the rising tide.
"There is actually a good window of opportunity for both types of fishing in this area," Evans said. "There are so many creeks and small bays that it is impossible to fish them all. The key to an all-day fishing trip is to have both the low- and high-tide gear for fishing covered."
For low-tide fishing, Evans will use a gold spoon, green jig or other bright lure that he can work in very shallow water.
"This type of fishing is similar to hunting in a way, because you have to slip up on and find the fish without being spotted or heard," Evans said. "I'll slowly motor back into a creek where the back of it opens up into a shallow flat where the fish can cruise on a dropping or low tide. Once I get close, I'll push to the back and look for fish cruising in the shallow water. Of course, calm days are best, you can see the fish in the ultra-shallow water making a 'V' wake as they fin along.
"Reds are real spooky, and being very quiet is a must," he said. "If you move too fast while searching for them, you may blow them out of the area. Patience and keeping a close watch are keys to success.
"The last part of the falling tide and the first couple of hours of the rising tide is best for this fishing. That's when the fish have left the grass and are moving, en masse, through the flats in mere inches of water.
"Once I get a direction in terms of where they are headed, I'll maneuver the boat quickly, but quietly, to cut them off," he said. "Then I'll cast the lure in front of and past (them). I like to work it back on the surface so it makes a 'V' wake like a small, skittering baitfish. If you haven't spooked the reds, and they can be very skittish in this ultra-shallow water, odds are good they attack the bait.
"Sometimes, I've had three or four fish from a large school break off and race for the lure. That, my friend, can be some exciting fishing, and it's hard to just keep a steady retrieve going as you watch the reds zero in to kill your lure.
"But if you can control your nerves and not literally snatch the lure away from them, odds are very good you'll hook up," Evans said. "After that, go find another place similar to that one and repeat the process."
Evans said redfish will also be in fairly shallow water near visible targets, especially deeper pools of water in the backs of the creeks.
"If you see any type of baitfish activity in shallow water, especially near a deeper pool or near a deeper creek channel, that's always a good place to work a topwater lure, spoon or swimming minnow lure," he said. "This is a bit like largemouth bass fishing in that I look for specific targets to work my lures around, such as the points of shell beds, the edges around a deep hole and the ledge along a channel. One of the keys here is to stay on the move, looking for redfish action."
Fred Marks of Georgetown is another angler who has fished the water from Georgetown to Charleston for a number of years, He particularly enjoys fishing for redfish at this time of the year. He employs just about every tactic known to produce fish, and one of his favorites is to use live bait during the late fall and early winter.
Two of his favorite rigs involve the use of 17- to 20-pound test line and a 1/0 hook.
"There is a very popular commercial float rig named the 'Equalizer' - a cigar-shaped float," Marks said. "That will work very well for live bait fishing. I'll also use a simple bottom rig that has a small weight above a 2- to 3-foot leader. The primary baits I use are mud minnows or shrimp. Both of these will produce very good results.
"My approach is to fish the rig close to the grass when the tide is up or rising into the grass line," he said. "As the water continues to rise, the fish will be cruising along the edge lines. When the tide drops out and the fish are forced out of the grass, you can fish these same areas. However, my experience has been that the fishing is usually less productive on the falling tide, but it is certainly still quite good."
Marks uses the float to make a plopping noise when pulled. The idea is to make just enough commotion that a hungry redfish will investigate. When the red arrives - there's his meal waiting for him.
"Another tactic is to fish either one of these baits on the bottom using only a split shot as weight if the tide current is not too strong," he said. "When fishing a grass line, I like to have a drop-off close to the grass edge. Also, the junction of a smaller creek with a larger one is a high-percentage hangout for reds."
According to Marks, this is the type of area fishermen should look for when targeting reds.
"When the tide is rising and there is a point of grass between the junctions of two small creeks, it creates an excellent foraging area as well as creating an eddy," Marks said. "The water is often very clear, and sometimes you'll have to anchor the boat a good distance away and make long casts. If the area sets up properly and is large enough, you can use the tidal flow to take your bait - under the float rig - to the target. That presentation is sometimes lethal when anything else just doesn't seem to produce at all.
"Redfish are very picky sometimes and very easy to spook. Be quiet and precise with your presentation of bait or lure. If not, you may see fish all around you, but not get any redfish hookups."