Redfish: The perfect fish for kayakers

So many redfish spend the late spring and summer in hard-to-reach places that kayaks become a great way to reach them.
So many redfish spend the late spring and summer in hard-to-reach places that kayaks become a great way to reach them.

June brings plenty of targets into Carolinas’ inshore area

If there was ever a fish perfectly suited for kayakers, it is the redfish. Skinny water boats go hand in hand with skinny water fish. And if you’re looking for a big, hard-fighting, fish that loves skinny water, reds fit that bill.

Another plus for anglers who don’t have the range to run up and down waterways looking for clean-water points and shell rakes is that redfish tend to school in sizeable groups that typically don’t stray far from one particular location.

Third, with “boating season” underway, some of the best places to get away from the boating crowd are shallow-water grass flats and tiny pockets tucked away in the back of creeks. What fish are you most likely to find tucked away in these places on a warm, spring day? That’s right. Redfish.

June brings warmer water and plenty of food into the back of coastal areas. Likewise, juvenile redfish that fit into the slot limits of 15 to 23 inches in South Carolina and 18 to 27 inches in North Carolina, tend to gravitate to those areas.

Two patterns tend to hold the lion’s share of puppy drum this time of year. Shallow-water creeks and the edges of larger creeks are one. Food is more plentiful than it was two or three months ago. But staying out of deeper water and away from dolphins is still a primary objective. If there is some barrier that has to be crossed — an oyster rake, a sandbar, or a pasture of grass with only a foot of water on it — you’re looking at prime water to find June redfish.

Topwater is good in low-light conditions

It’s safe to say that redfish are spooky pretty much year-round. But they remain ultra-spooky in small areas of shallow water where sounds are amplified. Look for redfish to be holding along the edges of anywhere you find water deep enough to contain them. June is a great month for topwater baits early and late and on the rare cloudy or overcast days.

If not pursuing a topwater bite, a weedless presentation of soft-plastic shrimp, crabs or baitfish is a great choice. Of course, don’t forget about presentations where live and fresh-cut baits are presented in high-traffic areas like drains, cuts and around structure.

A very popular pattern through the summer is fishing marsh-grass flats that only hold water around the full and new moons. Kayakers often stand in their boats and pole quietly across these flats looking for the tails of a school or pod of redfish. They upend themselves trying to suck fiddler crabs and other creatures from their newly flooded dens.

The best presentation from a kayak is to spend some time assessing the general direction the fish are heading, then pole or quietly paddle at an angle, to intercept them. Anglers then stop the length of a decent cast away.

When making the cast, land your bait well beyond and in front of the fish. Then allow the bait to settle into place and remain still. This presentation more mimics the “hide-and seek” behavior of most prey over meandering directly into oncoming danger.

Conserve the resource

Following a declining trend in the state’s redfish population, South Carolina’s General Assembly passed new creel limits for redfish anglers that became effective last July. The daily creel limit was changed from 3 fish per angler to 2. The second part of the change — a 6-fish boat limit regardless of the number of anglers on board — has little or no effect on kayaking anglers.

The limits were changed due in large part to efforts by the Coastal Conservation Association-South Carolina and anglers concerned about overuse of the resource due to higher populations in coastal areas, reduced numbers from cold-water fish kills, and fishing mortality from catch-and-release.

Under both the past and current legislation, fish are only legal to harvest when they fall between 15 and 23 inches in length — a size range that the fish attain by the age of 18 months.

The majority of kayak anglers practice 100-percent catch-and-release. But it’s estimated that nearly 15 percent of released fish die a from hooking mortality and poor handling.

Let them live

The S.C. Department of Natural Resources urges anglers who target red drum to use the following best practices for release:

Use a rig that minimizes the chance of hook damage: a short leader, fixed sinker weighing 3 ounces or more, and barbless, non-offset and non-stainless hooks;

Use gear that shortens the fight time: 20-pound and higher test line;

Keep the fish in the water as much as possible. If you want to take photographs, do so during the time you’re reviving and releasing it.

New Products

Egret’s 3.5-inch shrimp

Egret Baits, makers of the original Vudu Shrimp, have added a new “Weedless” version to its line. The bait is  designed for gliding through and over grass. It’s perfect for coastal marsh fishing for redfish, speckled trout and flounder.  It can also be used in open water when a “gliding” action may be better suited. It allows a slower presentation.

The bait has a wider tail to give it balance and buoyancy as you work it slowly through the shallows. The Vudu Weedless comes with a belly style hook configuration that makes it much more weedless than the original Vudu Shrimp. The bait, which comes rigged on a wide-gap, 3/0 hook, fishes great under a popping cork or free-lined with light tackle.

The 3 ½-inch bait comes in nine different colors, including natural brown, purple/chartreuse, new penny and clear. All baits come with a 1/8-ounce weight on a 3/0 hook and are sold in packs of two.

MSRP is $7.75.

Available at egretbaits.ecwid.com.

Hobie Mirage Passport

Hobie is world-renowned for designing pedal kayaks that are fun and functional. But one of the admitted drawbacks of owning a Hobie fishing kayak was the premium price tag attached.

Not any more.

Hobie has introduced the Mirage Passport, a kayak with a price tag that meets or beats premium-brand prices without the world-class pedal-drive system.

The Passport offers hands-free pedal propulsion with Hobie’s Mirage Drive Classic. The fins sweep through the water to propel you forward. The dual fins allow you to explore shallow waters and make shore landings a breeze by simply pushing one pedal forward so the fins fold up flat against the hull.

The Passport has molded-in rod holders and dual-mounting tracks that keep your accessories within reach while the 8-inch Twist-n-Seal Hatch keeps them dry. The easy-to-use steering system and simplified version of the twist-and-stow rudder puts navigation at your fingertips and a smile on your face.

The Passport is 10-foot-6 long and 34 inches wide, at a weight of 65 pounds.

MSRP is $1,299.00.

Available at www.hobie.com.

Best bets

NORTH CAROLINA

  • WHAT — Redfish
  • WHERE — Marsh bays and creeks behind Bear and Browns inlets near Swansboro
  • HOW — Throw hard topwater baits early and late, then fish scented, saltwater plastics that mimic shrimp or mullet through the day.
  • LAUNCH — Popular public ramps include Cedar Point at NC 24 on the ICW, Emerald Isle off NC 58 and Willis Boat Landing on Saltwater Lane in Hubert. Good private ramps include Dudley’s Marina at the Swansboro causeway and Casper’s on Water Street in Swansboro.
  • INSIDER TIP — Reds may be spooky until water temperatures reach 70 degrees. Poling into position and presenting free-lined baits with no popping cork work best.

SOUTH CAROLINA

  • WHAT — Redfish
  • WHERE — Shallow saltwater flats around Georgetown
  • HOW — Sight-fish for tailing redfish on full-moon tides from June 14-19. Look for any tide greater than 5.7 feet to push water onto flats. Sight-cast crab-imitating soft plastics or fly fishing.
  • LAUNCH — South Island Ferry on South Island Road, East Bay Park downtown, and the Campbell complex next to US 17 bridge.
  • INSIDER TIP — Don’t overwork baits for tailing redfish. Land the bait far enough away and in front of fish to prevent spooking then let the fish find the bait.

Phillip Gentry
About Phillip Gentry 734 Articles
Phillip Gentry of Greenville, S.C., is host of “Upstate Outdoors,” a weekly radio show that can be heard on Saturdays at noon on WORD 106.3 FM.