Five tips for catching spadefish on nearshore reefs

nearshore spadefish
A school of spadefish can make a great day for anglers. (photo courtesy of Fine Catch Charters)

Chum and bait with cannonball jellyfish and hold on.

Capt. Chris Ossmann of Fine Catch Fishing Charters regularly targets schools of hungry spadefish, especially those that have been around the nearshore reefs out of Little River and Sunset Beach. Spadefish are hard-fighting, schooling fish, a great species to fill a cooler, and using these five tips will help.

Equipment. “A strong reel with a good drag is essential for these strong fish,” said Ossmann (843-655-6440), who recommends that anglers use about 18 inches of 14- to 25-pound fluorocarbon leader attached to a main line of 20-pound braid. Fishermen should crimp on the smallest split-shot that will keep their bait in place, due to the spadefish’s good eyesight. A No. 4 Octopus hook is ideal for catching spadefish. “For the most fun, use a 4000 series reel with a medium action rod.”

Search for the bait. “You can get away with shrimp and squid as bait when targeting spadefish,” said Ossmann, “but cannonball jellyfish are what they are after.” Ossmann suggests that anglers stop on their way out to the reef and scoop up a few floating jellyfish with a crab net. He said he’s caught up to 30 spadefish off chopped bits of a single jelly ball. It is important for anglers to catch a few extra to use as chum after anchoring up.

Anchoring, chumming are key steps

Anchor up. The most-important part of catching Spadefish is anchoring up in the correct location. Just a few yards off the reef, and the day might not be as productive as it could be. “Ride over the reef with your depth finder on so you can locate the schools of spadefish that are down on the reef,” said Ossmann, who recommends anglers get the anchor secured to the bottom and release rope out until they are directly above the school and tie off. “Spadefish hold tight to structure, so positioning the boat is key.”

Chum with jellyballs. Ossmann recommends chopping up a jellyball and tossing the pieces in the water. “The sinking bits of cannonball jellyfish will cause the spadefish to come to the surface to feed,” he said. Ossmann suggests anglers also lower an entire jellyball over the side on a rope to bring the spadefish up close to the boat. “These schools of fish can be anywhere from 15 to over 200 in size. So it is very important to have your gear ready and close by when the schools come up to the surface.”

Fast action in tight schools. When the fish come to the surface, it is important for the anglers to have to their rods ready. After an angler hooks a spadefish, other fish will follow the hooked spadefish for the duration of the fight. “Once, I went to net a hooked fish and ended up with four fish in the net,” Ossmann said. “There have been many days where all anglers on the boat will come back with their limit of spadefish.”

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