Free-line baits for reds, trout

Lowcountry redfish are suckers for live mud minnows or finger mullet free-lined without weight. (Photo by Joe Dennis)

Probe shallow structure, drops along ICW near Isle of Palms

October is a great time for catching speckled trout and redfish in small creeks off the Intracoastal Waterway around South Carolina’s Isle of Palms, according to Joe Dennis of Captain J Hook Charters.

His technique is a little different, but it puts plenty of fish in the boat.

One of the most-common ways of catching these fish is using a Carolina rig: a weight, a bead and a swivel and a leader and hook tied to the swivel. This gets the bait to the bottom and keeps your line from twisting. Using popping corks is another popular tactic.

But Dennis (843-245-3762) said free-lining can be just as effective, and even better on some days.

“I catch a lot of trout and reds free-lining: no weight, no bead, no cork. Just a hook tied directly to the leader with a live mud minnow or menhaden on the hook,” he said.

Free-line your baits near grass lines

Dennis uses a swivel. He said that offers just enough weight to get the bait below the surface. It’s not heavy enough to take the bait to the bottom, which he said is a good thing, because it keeps it from getting hung up. The current keeps the bait floating freely and naturally.

When fishing this kind or rig, Dennis uses a medium to medium-light, 7-foot spinning rod with 15- to 20-pound Slime Line monofilament.

To find the fish, Dennis looks for oysters, rocks and deep drop-offs near grass lines. He said plenty of such places exist along the ICW in the Isle of Palms area north of Charleston Harbor.

“I love to fish around a grass line in 2 or 3 feet of water that drops down to 10 or more feet right off the grass line,” he said. “The trout and redfish love to hang out along places like this. It’s a good ambush spot for them. They patrol these areas looking for baitfish. When they see that baitfish free-lined in the water column, they just can’t resist.”

When the tide is completely slack, Dennis switches over and uses a Betts Billy Boy slip bobber.

“That slip bobber allows you to keep the bait just off the bottom,” Dennis said. “If you’re using a regular popping cork, you’re fixed to fishing at a certain depth the whole time. But with that slip bobber, you can quickly and easily change depths by just sliding the slip knot up or down.

About Brian Cope 2800 Articles
Brian Cope is the editor of Carolina Sportsman. He has won numerous awards for his writing, photography, and videography. He is a retired Air Force combat communications technician, and has a B.A. in English Literature from the University of South Carolina. You can reach him at

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply