Lowcountry Winter Redfish

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By Owen Plair

What makes the winter fishing for redfish so special?

There are not many fisheries that have a winter time season, due to migratory fish, cold temps, snow, and ice. One of the many great things about the Lowcountry is that it is a year round fishery for Redfish. When the bright green spartina grass starts to fade to brown and the water temperature dips below 65 degrees; you know winter fishing has arrived here on the coast of South Carolina.

One thing that’s special about the winter is the low tide fishery, which is mainly what we are fishing. The fiddlers go down in the winter which takes away the opportunity for tailing fish on the flood tides. During the low tides from mid December until the end of March, fishing can be some of the most visual of the year as large schools of 20-200 Redfish cruise the shallow water mud flats.

DSCF1288In the winter, water clarity is the best it gets all year. Colder water and less rain provides gin clear water on the mud flats, and small creeks. Clear winter skies make it easier to see these large schools as far as 50-100 yards from the boat, as they cruise down the mud flats in 8-10 inches of water. It’s as close to bone fishing that you can get and an absolute blast watching 5 or 6 different fish chase the fly.

Redfish school up in high numbers during the winter time to stay safe from dolphin, which are their number one predator. The dolphin also take advantage of the clear water and large schools during low tide, since there are not as many mullet or other bait fish for them to feed on. The redfish naturally feel more comfortable cruising the flats in numbers, when threatened by feeding dolphin.

Like I mentioned above, there are not a lot of baitfish and shrimp around during the winter months. One good thing about this is that the redfish have fewer chances to feed, so presenting the fly and getting an eat is almost automatic. The down side is, it can be hard to find the fish sometimes because you won’t see them busting bait, tailing, or pushing water as often. During the winter months I change my tactics, looking for and focusing more on darker shadows moving, flashing/rolling fish, and small swirls where the fish are floating, or creating mud clouds while feeding.

My fly selection gets a lot more technical during the winter months. I’m going with a lot of smaller, natural color flies. Small eyes and hooks create a lighter presentation, which is the key on a calm winter day, when making a presentation to 100 redfish.

DSC6510-300x165 Some examples of patterns are the Kwan Shrimp, Raz Ma Taz, EP Everglades, LC Shrimp, and various other custom winter redfish patterns. I’ve even had days where small Gotchas and Crazy Charlies worked great in the technical creeks. You want to go with a 9-11ft Flourocarbon leader between 10-12lb test for the clear water, lighter presentations, and to keep from spooking the big schools when leading them on the cast.

Weather is a huge factor in the winter and seems to keep me off the water more than on. If it’s blowing 20-25 I’m not fishing, which seems to happen more in the winter months. Good winter weather can produce some of the best days of the entire year. I’m not a numbers guy, but when you can see a fish come out of a school of 100 to eat your fly, it’s pretty damn fun.

I mostly fish local clients in the winter because of the unpredictable weather but I also have a lot of people who come for a tune-up a few days before a bonefish trip, because the fishing is so similar. I mostly fish 4-6 hour days in the winter because you want to fish two hours before and two hours after low tide for the optimal action.

Running the skiff 35mph with a 45 degree air temperature isn’t that much fun, but when you start combing the flat and see your first school, things warm right back up.

Owen Plair
Gink & Gasoline
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10 thoughts on “Lowcountry Winter Redfish

  1. A couple of weeks ago we were watching dolphins “beaching” themselves on those mudflats in 6 – 8″ of water…crazy!

    Do you slow down your retrieve a lot or just keep experimenting? What do you change first if you get a few refusals?

    • It all really depends on how the fish are acting that day. But during the winter I’m using a very short and fast trip, called “ticking” which you use a lot snook/tarpon fishing. Basically making the fly swim at a steady slow rate rather than long fast strips. Leaves the fly in the strike zone longer and allows the fish time to eat. They can be lazy some days in the winter and I’ve found the ticking strip to work very well.

      I also will change patterns to smaller or larger sizes depending on how aggressive the fish are that day when eating. Sometimes if your getting slow bites you’ll want to use a much smaller fly or lighter colors for the clear water.

  2. Great piece Owen, pretty much covers winter fishing here in Georgia as well. Weather is the main factor and finding those schools of fish. I am always amazed at the variety of year class fish in the school, puppy drum to the big guys.

  3. Moving from atlanta to South Carolina next month. Going to miss trout fishing but this article has me very excited to be there in the winter!

    • You can fish the low country from a kayak but it’s challenging. The mud is soft and deep and the tides strong. I got myself in trouble one day when some bad weather came up on an outgoing tide. Be careful.

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