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November 17, 2010

Chill Out for Redfish

Cold weather means red-hot redfishing in Charleston's back bays.

Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston fishing mapWhat: Red drum.

When: November through March.

Where: Charleston area back bays and tidal marshes.

Capt. Shane Sinclair

Capt. Chris Wilson

Capt. John Crislip

Rods: 71/2-foot medium graphite spinning rods with fast action, like the Shimano Teramar or Quantum Cabo Inshore; 8- to 9-weight fly rods, depending on the wind and size of the flies.

Reels: 3000-class spinning reels, such as the Shimano Stradic, Daiwa Coastal or Penn Slammer; 8-weight fly reels that hold at least 100 yards of backing, like those made by Tibor, Ross or Temple Fork Outfitters.

Lines: 10-pound braided line with a fluorocarbon leader ranging from 12- to 30-pound-test, depending on water clarity.

Baits: Brined dead finger mullet (or live if available) or quartered chunks of blue crab.

Lures: Weedless jerkbaits, paddle-tail jigs or scented shrimp baits in dark colors like olive, pumpkin or root beer on 1/16- or 1/8-ounce jig heads. Topwater plugs in mullet patterns, such as MirrOlure Top Dog, Rapala Skitter Walk or Heddon Zara Spook.

Flies: Gold, tan, brown or copper Borski Sliders, Toads, Merkin and EP Crabs, and shrimp patterns. Puglisi Mullet flies are also sometimes effective.

Winter reds are drawn to scent, and no bait puts out more than crab, Sinclair says. Cut the legs off of a fresh blue crab, quarter it and pin a piece to a 2/0 circle hook. Soaked on the bottom, it is irresistible. Live finger mullet or brined dead finger mullet are good substitutes. Sinclair hooks his through the hard part of the nose with a No. 2 hook. He uses a couple of feet of 30-pound monofilament leader for either bait rig and connects the hooks with clinch knots.  
To mimic the natural action of bloodworms, a mainstay in the winter redfish diet, Sinclair downsizes his lures. He casts a 1/16-ounce jig head hooked into the nose of a dark-colored D.O.A. C.A.L. paddle-tail grub ahead of cruising fish and lets it sit. The light jig head holds the bottom, while the tail stands up in the current and undulates. Slow, occasional twitches of the rod are the only action necessary with this setup.  
Back-bay redfish are wary in the clear winter water. When fly-fishing, Wilson lengthens his leaders to 12 feet and downsizes to 12-pound tippet and smaller flies. Tan, brown and olive EP Crab flies in sizes 2 and 4 are Wilson's favorites. He ties one on using a loop knot to maximize the action and retrieves with a strip-strip-pause rhythm before letting the fly sink. "The fish usually eat it as it settles on the bottom," he says.
Muted, natural shades of D.O.A. standard 14-ounce shrimp work well for wary winter redfish. Gold glitter, olive and root-beer shrimp hopped slightly with light twitches of the rod tip draw strikes as they flutter along the bottom.
Midday, when the tide is higher, cast topwater plugs, says Wilson. That's when the fish are active and likely to chase a surface bait. Look for reds sunning themselves on top of heat-holding oyster bars. A walk-the-dog cadence will draw strikes, but the action must be subtle. Typically the strike comes when the lure is sitting still between twitches.
If reds are reluctant to bite stationary baits, Crislip switches to Gulp! jerkbaits rigged with weedless hooks. These lures let him cover more water and can be worked faster than shrimp. Crislip recommends hopping the jerkbaits slightly, following with a short pause and repeating the sequence.