A critical step to being productive on the water is to know your adversary. So, before we begin to jump into tips of how to present your bait to the redfish, let’s discuss the redfish’s winter cycle behavioral patterns and their environmental changes so that when we are on the water we can make more accurate predictions which in-turn leads to more opportunities at catching fish. It is also important to note that these insights are based on passionately fishing the waters of Charleston, SC both as an angler and charter guide. Therefore, depending upon where you are located and targeting your redfish population you may notice that the behaviors may fluctuate slightly depending on where you are situated along the coast.
Now, as the inshore waters temperatures along the coast of Charleston, South Carolina begin to decline we will see our redfish populations begin to split into two separate groups. The larger bulls which are redfish measured approximately twenty-seven inches and up will begin to head offshore for deeper waters which offers them warmer temperatures as the smaller redfish population typically those around 24 inches and below will stay inshore and begin to school up to make themselves a larger target against their foe known as the relentless bottlenose dolphin who loves redfish more than you do.
During these cold months as you target the inshore redfish population, you will find that it can prove both challenging and rewarding, only if you can stomach the downtime before finding a hungry school and then enjoying a power hour of catching them on every cast. However, why does it seem that only some anglers get to experience those epic bites while the majority of inshore anglers fishing in Charleston SC tend to run into the school of redfish that are lock jawed? We frequently hear of the finicky feeding patterns of redfish during the winter cycle but seldomly investigate why. In this article, we are going to discuss a few possibilities for their uneasiness and identify some options to overcome it.
If you talk to inshore fishermen from different states, you will quickly find that there are different methods and styles to how they target redfish. Likewise, redfish populations from region to region seem to play by different rules with some being more aggressive while others are timid and easily spooked. If you’re inshore fishing in Charleston, SC you will find that you have to do things right to be consistently productive on the water due to the increased pressure on our redfish population. So, what causes our redfish to become so picky especially during the winter cycle? Well apart from the pressure imposed on them from fishermen combined with the increased boat traffic activity, it is the environmental changes that trigger the fish to react differently and seem hyper aware. So, let’s talk about these environmental changes we see in Charleston, SC as they may differ along the coast stretching around the panhandle to Louisiana.
The first and most obvious is the decline in the water temperature which not only affects the redfish movements and feeding habits, but more importantly it affects the activity of the bait the redfish feeds on. Blue crabs will go for deeper waters and submerge themselves in the mud to stay warm throughout winter, baitfish school up and become scarce while many move offshore, shrimp ride the tide into the ocean, and fiddler crabs are buried far from the digging depth of a redfish’s snout. So, what does this mean for the angler targeting the inshore redfish? It means that the inshore waters have calmed down and so should you in your approach, your cast and in your retrieve. This lack of activity in the water all adds to that “hypersensitivity” anglers feel redfish have when they are pitching lures to a school claiming that they won’t eat. It is the opposite from the summer months when the waters are filled with life, movement, boat traffic, dirtier water, etc. In those months, the redfish may not notice your aggressive boating approach or the Hail Mary casting errors because they themselves are busy aggressively searching and feeding versus being huddled up in still calm clear water paying careful attention to their surroundings.
Secondly, you are likely to find the fish laid up, meaning they are not moving. However, you are moving towards them in a boat. So, they are still in a silent body of water and yet here we come in 16-24’ of fiberglass riding a few horses parking on their front lawn lobbing three-point jump shots right on top of them and we wonder why they aren’t eating. Another obstacle that we have to be aware of that adds to the fish’s advantage is the clarity of the water. In the winter months, it can get gin clear so if you can see the fish then chances are he can see you. However, don’t be dismayed; the crystal clear water coupled with a laid-up fish in a silent body of water can stump the most seasoned anglers.