Catching redfish (or “spottail bass”) is a favorite pasttime of folks in the South Carolina lowcountry. I’ve been doing it in some form all my life, but usually as a tagalong with my father. To concretize my learnings from my last fishing trip, I’m writing this little guide to getting started:
- Check a tide chart. You’ll want to head out sometime when the tide is changing (ebbing or flowing). This is when redfish are most actively feeding near the shore.
- Drive or boat out to a good area of marsh. Find areas of marsh with good hanging cover, or one with small tidal inlets opening into the marsh from open water (as tide rises, fish will go into these to get food). Look for signs like feeding seabirds, sharks, or porpoises in the area. They’ll point you to the fish. You may also see splashes or disturbances in the water.
- Catch bait. Use a cast net to catch mullet or shrimp. Live shrimp or cut mullet are preferred for this kind of fish. You can catch mullet and shrimp in the same kinds of areas in which you’ll find redfish.
- Rig up your fishing rod. You’ll generally want a weighted line (so your bait will sink to the bottom). Add bait so that the hook passes through the shrimp or mullet twice, securing the bait and hiding the hook tip.
- Cast to a good spot. Find a spot near the shore that matches good redfish spot criteria (see #2). Release the bail (if you are using a reel), hold the line taut with your index finger, and release as you use the wrist of your rod hand to whip the line toward the water. Your line will generally go to where your eye is. Consider the direction of the current when you cast, and cast down-current rather than up.
- Wait. A redfish’s quarry will typically be sedentary, so your bait should be sedentary, too. Keep your line a little taut so you can feel nibbles, and to prevent the unfortunately common problem of hooking the shoreline’s many oyster shells. You may have to replace your bait from time to time – redfish are good at getting bait without getting hooked.
- Reel. When you hook a redfish, pull up on your line and reel as you lower again to “fight” the fish in toward your boat or your place on shore.
- Bring it in. If you have a fishing buddy with you, have them grab the fish with their hands or a net. Measure the fish to see if it’s a keeper (I think the SC minimum is 15 inches). If it is, remove the hook and put it on ice. If not, throw it back.
- Clean the fish. Use a knife edge (rubbing against scale grain) or a scaler to remove the scales from the fish. Then cut off the head at a diagonal from behind the eyes to behind the gills. Slit open the belly to remove the guts. You can stop here for cooking instructions in #10, or you can proceed to cut the meat into fillets.
- Cook the fish. One simple way to prepare redfish is to put the cleaned and seasoned body in foil and place it on a grill. I’ve been told 20 minutes is about right.
There you go. That’s one way to get your food from the wonderful big Atlantic Ocean.