The ways the two inshore fishing guides approach catching redfish in the Charleston area this month couldn't be more different - but both are very effective.
Yates fishes almost exclusively in the Wando River, he fishes the marshes, and he fishes shrimp - the artificial DOA version and the real, live kind - almost without fail.
Hough will fish around Charleston Harbor, down in the Stono River to the south, and up the Intracoastal Waterway from Sullivan's Island to Sewee Bay and the southern end of Bulls Bay - and everywhere in-between. He fishes mostly with live and cut finger mullet and chunks of blue crab.
The fact that both of them really knock out the redfish this month probably says a lot more about the quality of the fishing than anything else. May is truly the breakout month for inshore angling.
"They've been starving all winter," said Yates, who runs Tyjo Knot Charters. "Now, they want to eat."
And a redfish with an appetite is truly something to behold.
"It's on - from May on until December," Yates said. "I've had some 40- and 50-fish days in May on reds. You've got a lot of purists who want to do the fly-rod thing, this is the time to do it. If you can find 'em, they'll bite."
To make it easier to "find 'em," Hough, who run Flat Spot Charters, keeps a journal of his trips that he can refer to and see what kinds of places he's found fish on certain stages of the tide and under certain weather conditions in past seasons.
"That will encourage you to stick with a spot if you don't get bit right away," he said.
Hough said that current and dirty water are two situations most fishermen must face in the spring.
"You want to fish places where the current is not moving as hard," he said. "I like to fish on a west wind, and I like to fish the mouth of creeks where you've got the current coming out of the creek going against the current in the waterway - that creates kind of an eddy and causes a lot of stuff to be trapped in one place."
Similarly, he said, when the current running through an inlet meets the current running through the waterway, you get some places with slack water where reds can feed without having to fight the moving water.
"The water around the inlets tends to be the dirtiest water in the waterway," he said. "But that can be good if there's not too much current. There are four factors to consider: slow-moving water, water temperature, water clarity and bait."
The situation Yates is waiting for is falling water in the marsh.
"When the tide starts to drop, the fish start backing out of the grass. That's when you want to sit next to a little channel, and as the tide drops out of the grass, they have to come right past you," he said. "I look for spots where I can see all over the place, where I can tell they're going to go when the water starts to drop, and you can set up at places where they've got to come right to you. You flip a live shrimp out there, or a Zara Spook, and they rock it.
"I'll be on one school on a key spot, and some days they'll all be keeper-sized fish, and other days they'll all be 27- to 30-inch fish," he said. "They grow up, live and die with their siblings. But sometimes, you might get a 30-inch fish mixed in with some slot-sized fish."
Like Yates, Hough looks for areas where he can set up and have the redfish come to him, even though he's not back in the marsh where they're likely to have a constricted travel path.
"I like to fish around the mouth of a creek," he said. "They'll be back up there, gorging on fiddler crabs - especially on the full moon - and as soon as the tide turns, they follow it back out."
Hough likes to set up on long stretches of bigger creeks, places that might have a series of oyster beds on the same bank where reds will stop to feed on their way out of the marsh. Little oyster points are the best, because they'll deflect a lot of the current. Hough will set up and anchor downcurrent, waiting for reds to come by in waves.
Graze Like Cattle
Capt. Jeff Yates will rarely leave the Wando River for any reason, especially when the water warms up in early May and redfish start to stir after spending the winter and early spring way up in the shallows in giant schools for protection against bottlenose dolphin - their main predator besides man.
"In the winter, when they're in those gigantic schools, they'll stay out of the grass," Yates said. "In May, when the water starts to warm up, they'll spread out on those grass flats. When the grass turns green in May, that's when they get back up on the grass flats on a rising tide and start tailing.
"They are grazing, just like cattle. They'll go to different grass flats like cattle moving to different pastures. We'll find 'em on one flat, then they'll move to another one. We fish the area so much, we sort of know where they're supposed to be."
Although they will be cruising by themselves or in small pods, they'll still be relating to their winter schools. The fish you catch in an area will usually be from the same year-class and about the same size, Yates said, and you'll often see quite a few fish scattered out on the same grass flat.
"When you see fish tailing, you rarely see them side-by-side," he said. "You'll see one behind another, and you'll see tails pop up five or 10 or 15 yards apart. I've seen 15 in an area a hundred yards square, all working the same general area.
"Tailing is real good on an incoming tide, but when if shifts, that's when they start to head back toward deep water. If there's a lot of water in a creek, those fish may never come out of it."
Crabs are excellent spring baits for redfish, and Jamie Hough is quick to break a blue crab into several pieces, impaling each on a 1/0 or 2/0 Gamakatsu Nautilus circle hook. He'll fish a couple of quarter-ounce split shot about a foot to 18 inches above the hook, and he'll fan-cast baits to likely looking spots where he's found fish feeding in the past - then wait.
"Crab is a great bait this time of year, but cut finger mullet is probably my staple. When it gets hotter, I'll go to shrimp or mud minnows, but in May, it's usually finger mullet. I'll fish either cut mullet, or I'll fish a live mullet with its tail cut off," Hough said.
"One of the most important things about fishing with dead bait is to leave the rod in the rod-holder," he said. "A redfish will bump the bait with his nose before he hits it. If you're holding the rod in your hand and he bumps it, you move it. He might not be able to find it again.
"I like to put the rods in the rod holders, loosen the drags way down, and leave them. As long as you're not fishing around structure, you're fine. When he finally hits it and eats it, you don't set the hook. You let Rodney Rodholder set it. You just lift the rod tip up, and with that circle hook, all you have to do is wind in the slack."
Hough uses medium-light, 7-foot Shakespeare Ugly Stick custom inshore graphite rods and 6- to 12-pound Berkley Fireline braid on Pfleuger Medalist spinning reels. He'll use a short leader of 15- to 20-pound fluorocarbon, tying the leader on with a Spider Hitch so the line is doubled.
"You'd be surprised how many times you catch a fish and look and you've had one piece of line break, but the other one didn't," he said. "You're fishing around the oysters, and it's easy for them to cut the line."
One reason Jeff Yates sticks with the Wando River is because the live shrimp show up there much earlier than in the waterway and around inlets.
"The shrimp will get here by the beginning of May; I've caught them as early as April. That's when the reds in the Wando get geared up to bite - in May, when the shrimp show up," he said.
Before he finds enough shrimp to fill his livewell easily, Yates sticks with an imitation DOA shrimp, fishing the pre-rigged baits on light spinning tackle. His favorite colors are gold and silver
"I just straight-line them - no cork, nothing like that," he said. "I'll fish them until the shrimp get here. When I start losing a lot of DOA tails, when the bluefish move in with the shrimp, then I'll go to live shrimp.
"I'll fish shrimp just on a hook, no weight or anything. A shrimp will weigh about a quarter-ounce, so you can still fling him a ways - farther than you think you can. You get set up on a place where the reds have to come past you as the water falls out of the grass. You've got to judge where he's going to come into your opening. If you see one coming, you try and throw maybe five feet ahead of him and five feet past him, then move it into his path. Once you get it there, you just wiggle it once, and it's on."