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Destinations: South Carolina, Georgia and late fall redfish

Skip Clement, Contributor

While the Big Easy folks think of their fishery as home to Jurassic Park’s version redfish, it is North Carolina that is easily the home of the heavyweight champions.

As for sizes, if North Carolinians could enter its inshore reds in other states’ record books, they’d own ‘em. The 51-pound and 58-pound record reds from Florida and Texas are surpassed every few summer nights at Pamlico Sound, sometimes three or four times in the same boat by the same angler, who might catch a brace of 60-pound “old” drum, take pictures and release ‘em.

That happens from June through October. During the fall, bull reds become targets for Ocracoke-to-Oregon Inlet, and surf anglers with bait make out like bandits. Off Wilmington and Southport, winter anglers regularly hook up with 50- and 60-pound reds at reefs and wrecks while fishing for kings or bluefins.

The world all-tackle red drum, documented by the International Game Fish Association came to shore at Avon (Hatteras, North Carolina), Nov. 7, 1984. The 94-pounds 2-ounces monster was landed by the late David G. Deuel. E. K. Harry Library – IGFA.

However, it is Georgia and South Carolina that get drafted in round one

Reds are also on anglers’ list Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. But the best of red fishing, in our opinion, is found in Georgia and South Carolina’s marshy coasts. It’s consistently up-and-running and predictable to the extent that other mentioned fisheries are not. I have yet to catch a redfish in either of those states that weren’t tailing. Granted, and of course, it does happen – a lot.

The southern fried South Carolina and Georgia reds are generally huskier than their brothers and sisters in Florida. Two, there are acres and acres of easy to access, and wildlife rich, coastal marsh. Three, they will hit a well-placed fly more readily than any place we know of, and finally, there is only a small calendar window of about a month and a half that they are not around, or very spotty due to cold weather. As soon as the bait arrives in the spring, 60 degrees being tip-off time, it is game on through late fall until bait is no longer available.

South Carolina coastal marsh red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus). Image South Carolina Department of Natural Resources/U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Armament

Fly rods:
Eight or nine

Reel:
Good drag – no more than 150 yards ever needed for reds, they are short burst fish, but their body shape can prove fly reel taxing on landing efforts.

Flies:
Shrimp, Clouser Minnow, Merkin Crab, Left’s Deceiver, Kwan, Gurgler, bait fish patterns – indigenous to SC/GA coasts, Woolly Bugger, and a Bay Street Outfitters’ Winter Shrimp. Note: See Bay Street / References below.

Fly Line:
Floating – bring Poly/Versi/SA leaders and tips.

Class tippet:
No more than 16-pound test.

Redfishing is all about tides and baits

If you have a personal watercraft or skiff, you can access this phenomenal southern redfish fishery. You will find them in miles and miles of creeks, rivers, estuaries, lagoons and lush, unending marshes teeming with life.

The new bonus here is that redfish in South Carolina and Georgia are now protected from commercial harvesting – thanks to efforts of only a few, including this author.
As would be the case anywhere, your best connection to guides, where and when to fish for reds is at a fly shop

The shops listed below are friendly, well stocked and very well staffed with guides or ready references

Savannah, Georgia:

River and Glen Trading Company, 24 Drayton Street, Savannah, GA 31401 / 912) 349-2352

Beaufort, South Carolina:

Bay Street Outfitters, 825 Bay Street, Beaufort, SC 29902 / (843) 524-5250

Charleston, South Carolina:

Low Country Fly Shop, 626 Coleman Blvd, Mt. Pleasant, SC 29464 (843) 388-5337

There are also these coastal fly shops which we have not visited:

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina:

Orvis Retail Store, The Market Commons, 1150 Farrow Parkway, Myrtle Beach, SC 29577 / 843-839-6900

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