Tagged redfish reveals information for fishermen and scientists

Roger Qualman caught and released this tagged redfish on June 24 using live menhaden for bait while fishing near Drum Island in Charleston Harbor. Photo by Roger Qualman.

There’s a lot to be learned from a big red drum (now popularly referred to as redfish) caught and released on June 24 by Roger Qualman.

Qualman was fishing near the shipping channel close to Drum Island, using live menhaden for bait, when he got a strike from a nice fish.

He managed to bring the big redfish to the boat and brought it aboard for a few quick photos before releasing the obviously over-the-slot catch. Anglers are allowed to keep only three red drum per day and those fish must measure at least 15 inches but not more than 23 inches.

A bright yellow tag was embedded in the top of the fish, and Qualman reported the catch to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.

“The DNR responded quickly with a Fish History Report and a T-shirt,” Qualman said.

From the report Qualman (and DNR) learned that the fish was originally tagged on April 18 2016 by Chris Holt who was fishing in Charleston Harbor. Holt measured the fish at 37 inches when it was released.

A little over six weeks later, May 21, Sophia Kuhn caught the same tagged fish while fishing near Drum

Island, in the Shipyard Creek area of the Cooper River. Kuhn’s measurement was reported at 40 inches.

Then just over a week ago Qualman caught the same tagged fish.

“Our measurement was 38 inches, which means the fish shrunk? I like 40 inches better,” Qualman laughed.

Size differences in tagged fish are not uncommon, according to DNR, which on its Fish History Report states: “Differences in length and/or weight that appear to show a negative growth rate are the result of angler measuring technique. In some instances size is estimated while in others it is actually measured.”

“That fish has to be getting tired,” Qualman said. But undoubtedly it will continue to be caught and released somewhere in Charleston Harbor.

During its time between the initial tagging and Qualman’s catch, the fish was at liberty for 67 days and grew at least one inch. It was caught twice within a few hundred yards of where it had been previously caught, illustrating how little the big redfish tend to move around.

Redfish are the most popular target of recreational inshore anglers and also the most tagged. Just a few decades ago they were almost wiped out by overfishing, but have rebounded although there are still concerns about their numbers.

So when you catch one of these big bruisers take care of it. Keep the fight as short as possible by using appropriate tackle. Use circle hooks to avoid gut-hooking the fish. Make sure it’s properly revived when you release it, leading it back and forth in the current to allow water to flow across its gills and only let it go when it gives a healthy flip of the tail. If it’s tagged, record the number and leave the tag in the fish so scientists can continue to learn more about this special fish.