The raucous cry of the marsh hen seems to carry on the cooler breeze and, as the wind brushes my face, I can’t help but smile. After all, it signals my favorite time of year: the fall fishing season.
Fall is a special time here in the Lowcountry for many reasons. The weather is cooler, the crowds thin and the bull redfish swarm inshore waters. The bulls, from 20 pounds up to the 50-pound mark, are here or offshore all year, but this time of year they come close in big numbers, with catches of 20 or more fish in a trip not uncommon.
The strength of these fish is incredible, rivaling any other fish its size, short of an amberjack or tuna. I usually fish heavy spinning reels with 50-pound braid and, even with a heavy drag, they will strip line off at an alarming pace – and do it several times in a battle. I have fished lighter tackle, but the lengthy battle takes a toll on these big fish and they must be released. The law requires that redfish over 23 inches must be returned to the water.
The smaller redfish also invade the creeks this time of year, offering the best light tackle sport available. Live or dead shrimp, cut mullet and menhaden are all favorite baits when fishing inshore. The “slot,” or keeper size, is 15 to 23 inches. By South Carolina law, you may keep three per person.
Redfish are not only a blast to catch, but they are delicious to eat as well.
Before Chef Paul Prudhomme introduced “blackened redfish,” these fish were locally known as spot tail bass or puppy drum. Their proper name is red drum.
The coloration is usually a deep burnt orange or copper across the back, with a single spot at the base of the tail. Some fish have multiple spots from the tail to the middle of the fish. A strong, broad tail and thick shoulders give the redfish all the horsepower it needs to make your day.
Armed with a set of fangs that would make any snake or vampire jealous, a voracious appetite and an explosive strike, the speckled sea trout ranks in the top three inshore gamefish, along with flounder and red drum.
One nice “gator” trout I caught last winter almost took the rod out of my hands when he struck the plastic bait I had tossed near the bank. My intentions were to let it sink a minute, so I had relaxed my grip on the rod and didn’t expect the force of the six-pound trout’s attack.
After a cold winter, the trout population sometimes dips, but the mild past winter holds the promise of booming schools of trout for the fall.
Last month, large schools of 13-inch fish were plentiful. And, with the trout’s appetite, they should be much larger in the coming months.
Some of the trout’s favorite prey is finger mullet, mud minnows and shrimp. One trout I cleaned recently had an eel in his stomach that was as long as the fish.
While the shrimp are plentiful in the creeks, I prefer to use them live. As the water temperature drops and the shrimp leave, I switch to artificial baits. I prefer soft plastics with paddle tails or screw tails with scented plastics, like the Gulp products. If I use hard lures, I like the Mirrolure or Mighty Mike. I’ve caught trout on a chunk of dead mullet on the bottom while fishing for redfish. The other methods I previously listed should produce better numbers of fish.
If using a live bait a popping cork with a three-foot leader and a 2/0 or 3/0 circle or kahle hook will produce good results.
Working the popping cork vigorously will increase your strikes. Where some fish spook easily, the trout is fearless. Long ago, we used to troll the grass edge of the creeks, and the motor never bothered them.
Easily identified by its sleek, silvery iridescence covered with spots, the speckled sea trout is beautiful. It is a hard-striking, tough-fighting fish, providing an angling experience that’s hard to beat. When taken to the table, the delicious, white flaky flesh is the proverbial icing on the cake!
I’m often surprised that many of my summer clients remark that they also come to Hilton Head in the fall or winter, but never think about fishing then. Reservations are much easier to come by, and the fishing is fantastic.
If you’re visiting the Island this season, don’t miss a great opportunity to enjoy some world-class fall fishing.
Capt. Miles Altman of Bayrunner Fishing Charters has more than 42 years experience fishing the waters surrounding Hilton Head Island. The Finatic boat can accommodate up to 12 passengers. Contact Miles at 843-290-6955 to book an inshore or offshore charter fishing trip.