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 Catch more speckled trout and redfish | Shark Fishing, lowcountry style | How to catch more, and bigger, shellcrackers at Santee |
  Sharks Provide Hot Summer ActionLook for livebottoms, not artificial reefs |
 Bonnetheads providing plenty of action | Trout Before Thanksgiving | A Good Fish Story | Redfish Rumba | Winter Reds
Catch more speckled trout and redfish with this small plastic lure
Z-Man Slim SwimZ is a small lure that fishes big
Brian Cope
While plenty of soft plastic lures are made to specifically target one species of fish, it’s no secret that anglers often successfully use those lures for other types of fish. It’s a little bit of serendipity for lure makers and anglers alike, and can often lead to claims of a “secret lure” catching all the fish.

The Z-Man Slim SwimZ is one of those lures that catches, well, everything, even though it was specifically designed for catching crappie. Capt. Rob Bennett of Lowcountry Inshore Charters said there is a lot to like about the Slim SwimZ, and he’s been using it a lot for speckled trout in the Bohicket area, where he’s been having some banner days catching these fish.

Bennett has been using the Slim SwimZ on Z-Man’s ShroomZ jighead. The 2 1/2-inch long bait pairs well with the jighead, and while many anglers may think the combination is too small for inshore fishing, that hasn’t been a problem for Bennett or any of his clients.

“I’ve been having 40 and 50 fish days out here on nothing but these lures, and it’s not just trout that are biting them. I’ve caught some nice redfish on this lure as well. They will bite it in a heartbeat,” said Bennett.

Looking for oyster shell banks with deeper water nearby is one way Bennett decides what makes a spot a good place to fish, and small feeder creeks are good too, especially at the mouth of those creeks where they meet the main river, and especially when the tide is running either into or out of that smaller creek.

While Bennett (843-367-3777) picks up a redfish or two while fishing for trout, he doesn’t mind targeting them in other areas either. This time of year, he’s finding them near docks. And where spartina grass, oyster shells, and docks all are present, he’s especially interested in these areas.

He works the SwimZ down the line of grass, and if he doesn’t get bitten early and often, he begins casting under the dock, careful not to let the lure settle on the bottom where it will often get snagged in oyster shells.

“You want to start reeling it before it sinks all the way to the bottom. Sometimes, the redfish will bite it as it’s falling just after you make your cast, and other times, they’ll hit it as soon as you begin reeling,” he said.

The SwimZ, like many Z-Man lures, is made with ElaZtech, a space-age plastic that can withstand the abuse dished out by many speckled trout and redfish. While some soft plastic lures are literally ruined after catching just a few fish, it’s not uncommon for lures made with ElaZtech to catch dozens of fish before they need replacing.
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Shark fishing, lowcountry style
Shrimp boats are key to catching the big ones
By Brian Cope
It’s Shark Week on the Discovery Channel, but for anglers who fish up and down South Carolina’s coastline, it’s been shark week for more than the past few days.

That’s especially true for anyone who has set foot onboard Capt. Rob Bennett’s boat in the last month or so. Bennett said since commercial shrimp season started, the shark fishing has been so hot that many anglers haven't had the desire to fish for anything else.

“It’s like shark alley out there. And this isn’t anchoring down, tossing out big baits on the bottom, and then sitting around waiting for a shark to show up. This is fast action, and for someone looking for an exciting fight on rod and reel, this is as exciting as it gets,” said Bennett, who operates LowCountry Inshore Charters (843-367-3777).

Bennett said the best action is behind shrimp boats. The sharks, like many other creatures, follow the shrimp boats, knowing that an easy meal will soon come their way, either from by-catches that are tossed overboard by shrimpers, or from sea life that gets naturally tumbled around and stunned by the shrimp nets dragging by.

“I pull up behind the shrimp boats, load a hook up with cut bait or shrimp – it doesn’t really matter as long as there is something on the hook – and I have my anglers toss it into the wash behind the nets. I only use one rod at a time, because it gets too crazy if you hook more than one at a time,” Bennett said.

“These sharks will sometimes come up and check out the bait, swimming on the right side of it, then the left side of it. It’s exciting to see. And when they hit the bait, it can sound like explosion on the water,” he said.

And that’s when the fun really begins. The drag of the reel zings as the shark makes a run, and the angler holding the rod gets a charge that only a shark can give.

Depending on the size of the shark, Bennett may coach his angler while the boat sits in idle, or he may put the boat in gear to follow the shark. Once he gets within 30 feet or so of the shark, he lets the angler and shark battle it out.
“We’ve been catching some really big blacktip sharks lately. Some I’m sure are approaching the state record, but you can’t get a shark that size in the boat without gaffing and killing him, and we won’t do that unless the person is going to eat it,” said Bennett, who uses a long de-hooking tool to release the sharks once they are worn down and reeled to the side of the boat.

“We’ve been catching other species too. Everything from bull sharks to hammerheads,” said Bennett.
While kids who haven’t spent much time fishing for big fish are always excited about hooking into a shark, Bennett said even seasoned anglers get a thrill out of this. While accidentally catching a shark while fishing for other species isn’t uncommon, it’s a different feeling to target them in this way, to watch them approach the bait, and then to feel their raw power as they chomp down and fight.
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How to catch more, and bigger, shellcrackers at Santee
These tips will help you limit out more quickly

by Brian Cope
The shellcrackers are biting at Santee, and these tips will help you catch your share of big ones.

The shellcracker bite has been on fire at Santee for the past couple of weeks, and while plenty of anglers are catching their share of them, those who follow a few tips are having the best luck.

Capt. Rob Bennett of Lowcountry Inshore Charters spends most of his days fishing for inshore and offshore species off the coast of Edisto, but this time of year, he said the shellcracker bite is too hot to ignore.

Bennett said one of the main ingredients to filling a cooler up with these feisty panfish is a small johnboat.

“You’ve really got to get into the cypress trees and work your way through narrow openings between tree branches and bushes, so a small johnboat is a must,” he said.

Away from the banks, trees stand in the water, forming a line that looks like an inviting place to toss a live worm, and while anglers can certainly catch shellcrackers there, Bennett said the trick to getting your limit quickly is to go into those trees, and fish in about 2 feet of water.

“You can see every fish in there. The water is that clear and that shallow. You can see beds everywhere. And while you’re just getting in there, if you can smell the bream, you’re in the right spot,” said Bennett (843-367-3777).

These fish have a strong preference for worms, and Bennett said red wigglers are his go-to bait, and the best tactic is to fish them on the bottom while using a cork. He uses a number 6 hook.

“You want the worm on the bottom, but having a cork on works as a good strike indicator, and can help keep you from getting hung up. The fish really want to see that worm squirming around, so resist the urge to thread them onto the hook or to run the hook through the worm multiple times. Just hook it once, right through the top, or head of the worm, which leaves the worm's body free to wiggle. The shellcrackers just eat it up,” he said.

One thing Bennett has noticed about this technique is that it seems to catch more big fish than little fish.

“Almost all the fish we’ve been catching this way ore big ones. They’re a pound or bigger,” he said.

Because the water is so shallow and squeezing through the trees can be noisy, Bennett said it’s sometimes common to see whole beds of shellcrackers scatter, but he said anglers shouldn’t worry, because the fish will come back after a minute or two.
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Take a bite of a blacktip
Sharks provide plenty of hot summer action

Brian Cope  - August 06, 2015 at 9:00 am
August is one of the hottest months of the year, and with the heat, a good deal of fishing slows down. Many gamefish feed for very short periods of time and then find cool spots to lay low in throughout the heat of the day. The heat doesn’t seem to slow down the shark bite however, and Capt. Rob Bennett of Lowcountry Inshore Charters said one of the best fights anglers can hope for can happen this month when he’s targeting blacktip sharks.

“One thing that makes this month so great for blacktip sharks is the abundance of menhaden,” Bennett said. “These baitfish are traveling in huge schools just 2 to 3 miles off the beach, especially around Kiawah Island. These schools are easy to find, and it only takes one or two casts with a net to fill your livewell. I like to see rods bent all day, so the first thing I do is load my livewell.”

Anglers should hook menhaden through the nose with 8/0 hooks. Spinning reels in the 4500 class are good, and Bennett spools his with 65-pound Power Pro braid. He uses a combination of fluorocarbon and single-strand steel wire for a leader.

“From my main line, I tie a 3-foot section of 100-pound fluorocarbon. I add another 3-foot section of wire to that, with the hook on the wire end. The fluorocarbon adds flexibility, and the wire is to keep the sharks from biting through it,” he said.

Bennett (843-367-3777) likes to target these sharks in areas that shrimp boats pull trawls, even if the shrimp boats are not passing through when he is fishing. Sharks get used to finding easy meals in these areas, so they stick close by, and it is not difficult to entice them into biting. These areas are usually within 3 miles of the beach.

“You can catch these big gamefish that close to the beach. The Gulf Stream is great if you’ve got plenty of time, but fishing this way, you can catch your share of these big sharks and be home in time for lunch,” said Bennett, who catches most of his sharks in water between 15 feet and 30 feet deep.

“No matter how many anglers I have on my boat, I only use two rods, because using more than that just isn’t necessary. We will get enough bites so everyone gets plenty of rod time. Having more than two rods would cause too much chaos,” said Bennett.

“These sharks range from 30 pounds to 150 pounds, and blacktips put on an awesome show from the time they bite until they are gaffed or cut loose. When they first hit, they pull line out so fast it sounds like a grenade going off. Once they realize they’re hooked, they usually jump five or six times — truly spectacular jumps. It’s an exciting fight that is as good a fight as any marlin puts on.”

But these sharks are good for more than just the show.

“A lot of people don’t like the taste of shark meat, and one reason is because most sharks don’t have urinary glands, so they urinate through their skin. This is one reason most shark meat has such a strong flavor. Blacktips are one of the few sharks that do have urinary glands, so this isn’t a problem when cooking,” said Bennett, adding that the meat is as tender and tasty as any seafood you’ll sample.

Bennett prefers to anchor down and to have both rods in rod holders after he puts the bait out. Once a rod doubles over, and angler grabs it, Bennett releases the anchor and cranks the outboard. With the angler standing on the front deck, Bennett chases down the shark, letting the angler reel in slack as he goes.

“Once I get within 30 feet of the shark, I put the outboard in idle, then let the angler and shark go at it,” Bennett said, explaining that this wears the shark down, making it easier to land.

Bennett said anglers need to make sure these sharks are over 54 inches long before gaffing them. He also said it’s important for anglers to be able to positively identify what species of shark they have because the size limit varies by species.

While blacktips are Bennett’s preferred species, he said they also catch spinner sharks and occasionally hook up with hammerheads.
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Look for livebottoms, not artificial reefs, for the best Lowcountry black sea bass
Concentrate on structure in 60 to 85 feet of water for best results
Brian Cope - December 30, 2014

Fish nearshore livebottoms and hold out for big black sea bass before filling your five-fish creel limit.
Back sea bass have been the bane of many trips for anglers fishing off the South Carolina coast; they are usually caught while fishing for other species, and they often bite so prolifically that anglers can have a hard time getting their target species to bite. But these fish are excellent table fare and fun to catch as long as they have some size to them. The secret to getting the big ones, according to Capt. Rob Bennett of Charleston’s Lowcountry Inshore Charters, is to stay away from the artificial reefs.

“The artificial reefs are covered up with black sea bass, and tons of them are undersized fish. Fishing over livebottom is the way to go for keeper black sea bass,” Bennett said.
While using squid as bait, Bennett noticed the bigger sea bass he was catching were all throwing up Spanish sardines, which closely resemble cigar minnows. Bennett didn’t have any cigar minnows on his boat, but he did have some live mud minnows. He switched over to those and slayed the big sea bass.

“They will bite cut squid as fast as you can get it down to them, but for the big sea bass, mud minnows are definitely the way to go,” said Bennett (843-367-3777), who has been catching the big fish on livebottom around shelves that vary from 60 to 85 feet deep.

Bennett said the best way to find these livebottoms is by using a good chart that shows them. He does most of his fishing off Kiawah and Edisto islands, but he said livebottom in areas up and down the coast are all excellent places to fish for big sea bass this time of year.

For gear, Bennett uses 4000-series spinning reels, 7- to 7 ½-ft medium heavy rods, 60-pound braided main line, 50-pound fluorocarbon leaders, 5/0 circle hooks, and 4-ounce sinkers. He strongly suggests spinning reels over casting reels. “Spinning reels are just a lot easier to use and faster to reel in,” he said.

Bennett said anglers should also be cautious about throwing the first few sea bass they catch on ice. With a 5-fish daily creel limit, he said anglers should be selective on what they keep. He’s been catching sea bass up to 4 pounds and said anglers should shoot for these big ones rather than throw 15-inch fish into the cooler.
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Bonnetheads providing plenty of action in North Edisto River
Live crabs are the ticket for shallow-water shark action
Anglers in the Edisto area have seen the fishing pick up lately, with the speckled trout bite turning on, and anglers around nearshore reefs are catching plenty of spadefish and weakfish, but Capt. Rob Bennett of Lowcountry Inshore Charters said the hottest bite in the area is for bonnethead sharks right in the North Edisto River.

"The action is non-stop," said Bennett (843-367-3777), who said targeting bonnetheads with a boat full of kids is especially rewarding, because the action is fast and the sharks fight hard. "It's the biggest fish most of them have ever caught."

Bennett has been targeting these fish with live crabs, and has been catching them on all tides.

"If you use half a crab, these sharks will never find it. The spots and whiting, as well as other crabs, will peck at it until it falls off the hook," said Bennett, who uses whole, live crabs instead. That keeps the nuisance fish away and looks completely natural to bonnetheads foraging on the flats.

Bennett uses stout rods and spinning reels in the 4000 to 5000 size range. He uses 15- to 20-pound test for his main line and beefs up to 100-pound test for his leaders, which he likes to keep around 6 feet long. He uses 8/0 circle hooks and suggests keeping the rod in the rod holder until it doubles over.

"The circle hook does its job once the shark starts moving away, so there's no need to try and hook it. Let the rod holder do its job until the shark is hooked," he said.

Some anglers make the mistake of fishing for these sharks in the middle of creeks, Bennett said, but he catches far more bonnetheads in the shallow water flats next to grass lines.

"Really, if it looks like a place you'd fish for redfish, that's exactly where bonnetheads are hanging out," he said.
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Trout before Thanksgiving - Line up a shrimp buffet for North Edisto’s trout before turkey day arrives.
Dan Kibler - November 1, 2013 South Carolina Sportsman
     On a steel-gray, November afternoon, Rob Bennett of Lowcountry Inshore Charters cruised the lower section of the North Edisto River, checking areas where he’d been catching speckled trout to see which one best fit the level of the rising tide.
     He settled on a flat across the river and slightly downstream from the mouth of Leadenwah Creek, pointing to scattered oyster rocks and a current eddy near the mouth of a little drain creek.
     Hooking a live shrimp on a popping cork rig, it only took Bennett a cast or two before he was fast to a nice keeper trout that struck in several feet of water, perhaps 50 feet off the bank. In the back of his boat, another angler quickly hooked up with another speck, this one hitting a soft-plastic bait threaded onto a jighead under a cork.
     It didn’t take long until a dozen specks were resting in the cooler, with Bennett and his party laughing out loud every time another trout was fooled and yanked the cork under the surface.
     Welcome to late-fall trout fishing on the North Edisto and its tributaries.
     “We’ve caught some beautiful specks this year; I expect we’ll have tremendous trout fishing this fall,” said Bennett (843-367-3777). “We had such a mild winter last year, and those fish finished spawning in September and have started feeding again.
     “By late October, the trout will be everywhere — in the river and in the creeks — and there will be shrimp all over the place until mid-November. The water temperature from about Oct. 15 until Thanksgiving will be in that 65- to 72-degree range that the trout love. Water around 68 degrees is like heaven to them. And when you find one, there will be more with that one.”
     Bennett’s jumping-off point is the Cherry Point boat ramp in the village of Rockville, a mile or so upstream from the mouth of Bohicket Creek at the end of Maybank Highway. He’ll fish as far upstream in the river to Toogoodoo Creek, but he does most of his damage on the main river and — as the weather cools — in Toogoodoo, Steamboat, Leadenwah, Adams, Bohicket, Privateer and Ocella creeks. He makes an almost daily visit to at least one of those creeks to net live shrimp, which are his bread-and-butter baits.
     "I like to go back in the creeks an hour before low tide and catch shrimp; it’s pretty easy,” he said. “You can catch ’em anywhere, and there will be plenty all the way to Thanksgiving — at least you can catch enough to fish with.”
     When the water cools and the shrimp start to leave the river for the ocean, the fishing will actually get better for a couple of weeks as specks don’t have a ready made buffet line of crustaceans on which to feast and are a little more aggressive, especially to artificials.
     Bennett’s tactics are fairly simple. Look in certain kinds of places for trout and fish as many of them as you can until you find a school — then work them over.
     “Trout will be in the rivers and creeks, and I concentrate on oyster beds near creeks around points, where you get an eddy where the current runs around that point or oysters,” he said. “These are places where you’ve got current that’s running, water that’s a little swifter.
     “If you can find a flat with oyster rocks that will flood about two hours after the tide some in, that’s where the trout will be — in two, three or four feet of water. They will move up and scour that kind of flat,” Bennett said. “If you’re on a place like that and you aren’t catching them — but you know the tide is right and the fish should be there — cast to different places until you find ’em. You might have different people on the boat fishing spots that are 50 feet apart. The biggest part is, you’ve got look for them. If you’ve done all that and you’re not catching ’em, go ahead and leave, don’t spend much time there.
     “If you do find ’em and start to catch ’em, you need to get your fish in the boat and get your bait back out, because they’ll cut off and on just like that. They’re always moving.”
     As November progresses and the water temperature continues to fall, Bennett will look more and more in the creeks instead of on the main river, and the farther up in the creeks he goes, the more he starts looking for fish in deeper holes, places where trout can find the water temperatures with which they are more comfortable.
     “I think they move up the creeks as it gets colder; I know you can catch ’em way up in Church’s Creek around the (Maybank Highway) bridge in December,” he said. “They move up in Leadenwah, Bohicket, Toogoodoo, Ocella and Steamboat, and when they move, you’ll find ‘em in deeper holes.”
     Bennett likes to fish live shrimp and soft-plastic baits under a Betts’ Lowcountry Lightning cork. “It makes so much more of a pop when you work it, and I really like to pop it. I’ll pop it three times, then let it sit for five seconds, then pop it three more times and let it sit again,” he said.
     “I like to fish it with a two-foot leader under the cork, with one split shot about a foot or so above a No. 1/0 or 2/0 Kahle-style hook. I hook the shrimp right under the horn, in that clear spot, which will allow it to live longer.
     “All of the rods rigged with corks will have rods spooled with 50-pound Power Pro braid, because there’s no stretch, and I’ll have 50-pound monofilament leader. They can cut it if it’s any smaller. And if you’re in a place where you’re catching pinfish or yellowtails, move to another spot. There’s no need to feed them all your shrimp.”
     If Bennett isn’t fishing a live shrimp, his preference is a quarter-ounce D.O.A. shrimp in gold/metal flake, or a D.O.A. curlytail grub in electric chicken color on a quarter-ounce jighead. “Those are almost as good as live shrimp,” Bennett said.

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'A good fish story'
Catch of Giant Tarpon puts more than memories in '3-hour cruise'
by Thomas Brown
T&D Staff Writer
Lowcountry Inshore Charters with Captain Rob Bennett
For 17 Years Dr. Gary A. Delaney has been taking his family to their Kiawah Island vacation home to enjoy the quiet pleasures of the Lowcountry and South Carolina's coastal waters.

       Having never fished the waters that lie so close to the Atlantic Ocean, during the family's last respite in the coastal region Delaney decided to treat himself and his family to an afternoon of fishing on the North Edisto River and Bohicket Creek.        "Dr. Delaney hired me for a three hour charter," said Capt. Rob Bennett, owner of Inshore Charter on Johns Island. "He said he had never caught any fish down here in the 17 years that he's been coming and he wanted me to take him where he might catch a few trout or maybe some bass."
        As the charter wound down, nearing the end of the contracted time, the Delaneys had caught more than a half dozen of a variety of pan-sized fish. Thinking that the fishing party would end shortly, Bennett offered Delaney's son Michael the opportunity to cast for some tarpon, a game fish that sometimes approaches the coastal waters foraging for food.
       Not considering the possibility that he might chance upon a tarpon, which are rare in South Carolina waters, Michael agreed to cast the 20 pound test line with a clawless blue crab, the tarpon's favorite food, as bait.
       "We were all still fishing," Michael said. "I was talking to Rob when I noticed the balloon that he put on the line had taken off. I knew something had taken the bait."
        But neither Michael nor Bennett expected that their catch would be such a prize. As the game fish, searching for the end of it's tether; leapt from the water, the guide and the fisherman realized that, indeed, it was a prize.
        "We pulled the anchor and just let the fish pull us wherever he wanted to go," Michael said. "That's all you can do with a fish that size. You have to let him exhaust himself before you even think about trying to get him into the boat."
       Allowing the creature to go his way, the boat tagged along on the sole power of the fish's fury and fright. Viewing scenery that might have been missed if they were traveling on their own power; the charter group clocked the progress of Michael's prey.
       "When the fish took the line, we were a couple of miles from the ocean," Michael said. "It pulled eight miles from the ocean. It seemed like it would never get tired."
        Two hours and fifteen minutes later, the fight was finally beginning to drain from the game fish. As his body and his fury weakened, Michael began to reel him in.
       "I didn't know I could feel back pain like that," Michael said. "I felt like an old man. That was the longest fight I've ever had, on sea or land. I felt like I had been drug by a horse."
       Aided by Bennett, Michael pulled his prize onto the boat. It weighed in at 132 pounds, was more than 6 feet long and 36 inches around. It was only 22 pounds under the record for a tarpon caught in South Carolina's waters.
       "Everybody was very proud of Michael," Bennett said. "He handled it great and didn't give up even though he was tired. I'm glad I was part of that experience."
       Although he had fished in the open sea, Michael had never experienced the thrill of bagging a catch in this league before.
       "I had caught an 8 or 10 pound Mahi Mahi in the Gulf Stream," Michael said. "But nothing even close to this. We're going to mount it and put it on the wall at the beach house. It'll make a good fish story."
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Redfish Rumba
South Carolina's Dancing Drum? You Had To Be There.
by Rick Sennett
       If this sounds like a fish story, that's probably because it is. But not that kind of fish story. It was fishing like I'd never seen, or even knew existed. Anyhow, I'm going to take you out dancing with red fish.
       It was mid-July, and ISFA marketing muckety-muck Rocky Conte and I were heading to discuss the South Carolina Governor's Cup and State Citation program. Naturally, we stopped at every marina and tackle shop along the way, partly to hawk the magazine (hey, a guy's got to make a living), but mainly because like that, talking fish and making friends.
       As luck would have it, we met our guide for this adventure, quite by accident during one of these impromptu visits. Captain Rob Bennett, who runs Low Country Charters, told us the tale of fishing for upside-down reds, in a couple of inches of water, grass and mud. Not exactly saltwater fishing as I'd known it. The fish were the same saltwater drum that are the state fish of my home fishing grounds in North Carolina, except these creatures were in South Carolina, displaying a side of their personality (and, come to think of it, their anatomy) that most fisherman don't know much about.
       As he told us of this odd spectacle, he also informed us and that this very night "a perfect 6:1 tide", would occur, and if we were any kind of fisherman at all, we owed it to ourselves to find out what red fishing was all about.
       Not being the sort of fellas to turn down either a challenge of an adventure, we rearranged our schedule and made the half-hour drive south to Johns Island. By 5:30 PM or so, we were behind Rob's house, walking toward a dock running 450 into Bohicket Creek. The local tides are the area's answer to the Bay of Fundy, averaging more than 6 feet, and requiring long piers to handle the rise and fall of the water.
       Rob's a regular type of guy who works a normal job to feed his family, and runs charters to feed his soul. A dedicated naturalist, his enthusiasm for what he does is infectious. It's hard not to have a good time with a guide who cares deeply for the local environment, knows its secret places, respects its quarry, and loves his work. His quarry, on this day, would be red fish, also known as red drum, spot tailed bass, or -- as we were about to learn why -- tailers.
       Rob outfitted us with tackle, and we headed toward the North Ediston River. He took us out in his Pro Sports flats boats, which he's already replaced with a 15 foot Boston Whaler. Both sport an 8 inch draft for navigating the backwaters where Rob knows the magic is hiding.
        After a half-hour ride, all the while soaking in the breathtaking scenery, we neared our goal, an acre of grassland and mud flat among the tidal estuaries nestled behind the Sea Islands that run all the way from Cape Romain to Savannah. Rob told us that once the tide came in at 7:00 PM, we would have an hour and a half or get into and out of our fishing hole, unless we were prepared to volunteer to mud portage a half ton of flats boat, (which we most emphatically weren't.)
       We arrived a little ahead of the tide. Rob killed the engine and broke out an 18 foot push pole. We wouldn't really need a full 8 inches of water to get started fishing. Rob could muscle us through a certain amount of mud and grass before the fast-flooding waters gave access to the center of the marsh. Despite the scenery, what Rocky and I really wanted, after hearing the unlikely sounding stories was to see the red fish.
        Sometimes, a fisherman can get to thinking that he knows about fish. Usually, such thoughts are rewarded, not with fish, but with another critter altogether-crow-served up in a nice healthy portion. Last month, in this very magazine, we told you all about catching drum (reds) as they waited obligingly in the ocean surf. Unfortunately the southern reds apparently aren't reading our publication, since the obviously had no clue as to how to act.
       In the first place, they were congregating in not-yet flooded mudflats. The wet grasslands were uneven, with a high perimeter surrounding a couple of deeper spots in the center that filled up mysteriously, as we searched for a path wet enough to accommodate our boat. The reds had the advantage on us, what with their shallower draft, though they had the disadvantage of not being air breathers. But they are fighters, and they got themselves to the fishing hole before it was even a fishing hole. What attracted them was fiddler crabs who were improvident enough to assume that they could chill out topside till the tide came in. The more the ambitious reds scooted up on the grass flats with the fist inch of tide water and commenced feasting on straggling fiddlers.
       Unfortunately, we needed a bit more water than the fish did, so for a while we were stranded onlookers in the crystalline silence of the primordial wetland, as savage fish and primitive crustaceans danced an accent dance.
       There is an unwritten law among the local guides -- the first one onto the fishing hole wins. The next guy has to move to completely out of site. So, as Rob impatiently poled his way around the grass flats looking for some way to put us on the reds, the July evening became very quiet, quiet enough that we could hear the crunching sound of red fish enjoying a crab feast. Now I've been a salt water fisherman for some time, but this was like nothing I'd ever experienced. Who would have thought you could sit in a swamp and listen to fish eat dinner? It turns out that when you are around red fish, there is an awful lot to hear and see.
        As the tide came in, Rob taught us to spot the drum by looking at the blades of grass a straight ahead. The fish would push right through, 3 or 4 blades would spread into a V-shape and then close rightback up as the fish moved on. Mind you, this isn't an inch or two of your back yard Bermuda grass we're talking about. This two feet of Spartina marsh grass, and the fish that fight their way through the tangle average 25 inches - 37 inches long and weigh from 5 to 15 pounds.
        As the flats boat slides through the marsh, you see the dorsal fins of the reds slicing the water. Then the bury their heads down in a crab borough and all you see is a few inches of their tail. The water is maybe 6 inches deep, but the fish are buried another foot or so into the mud, leaving a view of the upside down fish for the uninitiated gawker. Sometimes the reds get so involved in digging out the crabs that they actually tumble over, flipping over onto their backs. Acrobatic fish break dancing on a July evening. It's a dancehall and a three ring circus, and somewhere in the haze and excitement you remember that you are supposed to be listening to your captain.
       What he's saying is, that if we hope to catch any of these canny reds, we'd better listen very carefully. Rob said he would put us on to dozens of reds, and if we followed his instructions, we'd bring a couple of lovely specimens to the boat. He told us that he would be very precise in his instructions --"Cast 30 yards at 2 o'clock, and keep quiet because these fish are skittish this time of year"-- so we had to trust him.
       What the captain sees is very different from the fisherman's view, so trust is the only option. Rob sat on a platform above the engine, with a good view down into the water. We were a foot of three lower, where the evening sun turns the water's surface to a white glare. So, while Rocky and I were acting like tourist, staring at some fish 20 yards away at 4 o'clock that probably already had a mouth full of crab dinner, Rob was telling us to cast for a hungry fish he was polling toward. I thought maybe he said 2 o'clock somewhere.
       Rob tells us that the red is an opportunistic feeder, and all you have to do is place your cast a few feet past his head and pull your lure right by him. The red will give up on another boring, elusive crab for your tasty looking and convenient lure. What you'll get if you follow his directions, is the thrill of a 36 inch fish, running like blazes through 12 inches of water for 75 feet.
        Or, if you fish like I did, experienced-but-thunderstruck, you could splat your cast right on top of your fish, and BOOM! watch as he stops dancing and searches for a quieter dining spot. It was embarrassing. Here I was, a big-shot fishing executive trying desperately to demonstrate the magnificence of my technique to my guide, and I was so overwhelmed by the sights and sounds happening around me that these fish were in more danger of going deaf from my excited yammering than they were from the hooks--which I was spraying wildly around all points of the compass. My only consolation was that Rocky wasn't doing any better. He was so caught up in the scene that he couldn't keep from commenting on it either.
       Which was sort of a shame, it was a place to whisper because of the beauty of the scene. Because of the complete unreality of a seeing a world full of dancing fish. Because, if you were real quiet you could hear the reds croaking, enjoying their meals, maybe, or calling their friends to the feast. Who knows? I've never talked to a fish at mealtime before. And it was a place to whisper because Captain Rob told you in a soft-but-certain tones that if you didn't you'd scare the fish.
       Though whispering was in order of the day, I was so awestruck that I couldn't contain my excitement, nor could I concentrate well enough to place my cast in the right spot.
       But in the end, it didn't really matter. Rob was disappointed, in a professional sort of way, that in spite of his heroic efforts we didn't haul any reds to the boat. But I've got a different take on the situation. That evening out on the salt water flats was the ultimate in catch-and-release fishing, which is something that I believe in with all my heart. We never set a hook but we caught the image of those dancing, tailing fish in our minds forever. We found unexpected wildlife memories that will last a lifetime.
        We also found something else, a new friend. On the way back Rob called his new bride, Leize, whom he insisted that we describe as, "the best looking wife around", and told her he was bringing two strangers home for dinner. Leize didn't bat an eye. She caught some shrimp from casting net off the back porch, steamed them up with sausage and served them with fresh corn on the cob and tomatoes from her daddy's farm. A few cold ones were served as we caught the glow of the setting sun. Rob told us more about how the red season runs from May to October, then fiddlers go dormant in the winter, so the reds head for happier hunting grounds. But, he knows where to find 'em in the winter, and says they aren't so finicky then. If your cast lands in the same country, they'll grab your hook.
       As for me, I'm going back to see those fish dance and listen to 'em talk. This time, I'm going to take my own tackle, I'll be quiet as a mouse, and I'll be ready to follow Rob's directions to a "T". I'm not going to give up till I show him, myself and the reds, what I can do with a casting rod in my hands. In the meantime, I have indelible memories to tide me over.
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LowCountry Outdoors
Winter Reds
by Captain Rob Bennett
       One of the most popular fish to catch in our area is redfish, also known as spottail bass. Some people believe that this is the best time of year to fish for them. For the most part, fishing charters have ended for the season until springtime, and this leaves me some time to do some fishing on my own. Winter is a beautiful time on the river because the ducks have migrated down and there is very little boat traffic to disturb the tranquility. This gives me the opportunity to look for some big reds.
       Redfish are highly predictable, and they repeat the same patters year after year. True to their timing, around the first of December they will start to bunch up in big schools on mud flats. Fishing ranging from 5 to 15 pounds, in groups of 10 to 200 fish will hang out in water 1 to 3 feet deep. Anyone with a shallow draft boat and a keen eye can spot these fish when they are on the prowl. The best time to find reds is on the end of the outgoing tide and the beginning of the incoming tide. It helps if the wind is not blowing because of the submarine type wake the fish makes is very visible on a calm day.
        Just recently, a buddy and myself treated ourselves to an afternoon of chasing reds. Armed with spinning rods with 10-pound test line, we were prepared to do battle with just about any sized redfish. Fishing for reds is a lot like hunting; you do not do any casting until you have spotted a pod of fish. Generally, one person poles the boat from a platform and looks for fish while the angler in the front of the boat waits for instructions on which direction to cast. As soon as we pulled up on a familiar flat, my buddy jumped on the platform and whispered to me that he immediately had spotted a school of about 20 fish at "two-o-clock." I asked him the distance and he instructed me that in about 10 more yards to make a throw. As he gently poled a little closer to the feeding reds, I sent out a 40-yard cast and gently twitched the gold spoon back towards the boat. With an explosion like someone had thrown dynamite in the water I was into my first red of the day.
        The fish Peeled 75-yards off the reel in less than 5 seconds and it took close to 10 minutes to get him to boatside. The fish weighed close to 14 pounds and we released him as soon as we got the hook from his mouth. We caught six more fish that afternoon, alternating on the platform so both of us had a chance to challenge our angling skills. Light tackle is preferred way for us take these fish because it makes catching them much more fun.
       Maybe I will see you in the river this winter, so lets wish for some calm windless days.
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