Fall great time to battle big redfish from shore

Surf fishing enthusiast Rob Mallard with a large redfish. File photo.

It’s officially fall on the calendar and for a large number of anglers that means it is time to hit the surf. Big redfish are roaming the shallows, giving shorebound anglers their best opportunity to battle the big bruisers.

Surf fishing for redfish in South Carolina is almost entirely catch-and-release. If your red measures more than 23 inches, and most do, you have to release it. But surf fishing is seldom about putting meat on the table; it’s about spending time with friends and family in a beautiful place.

And we have plenty of beautiful places here in the Lowcountry. Some surf fishing locales, like Bulls’, Capers, Dewees and Morris Island, are accessible only by boat. But there are plenty of spots you can easily walk to and launch a bait into the water with a reasonably good opportunity to fight a big redfish — the north end of Folly Beach looking out toward Morris Island Light, the surf near Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island and Frampton Inlet near Edisto Beach, to name a few. Just stay away from the swimmers and surfers.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned over many years of fishing with and talking to surf fishing experts is that fishermen often are fishing beyond the fish. A big redfish can, and often will, swim in knee-deep water and you don’t need a 10- to 12-foot rod to reach those depths. The place you need to be chunking your bait is right in the midst of the breakers.

“If you don’t have breakers, you’re spitting in the wind,” said accomplished surf fisherman Rob Mallard, who generally uses seven- and eight-foot rods.

Another successful surf angler I fished with used seven-foot Ugly Stik spinning rods, reels spooled with 20-pound test line and quality store-bought double-hook dropper rigs. Most surf fishermen, however, prefer a fish-finder rig — a sliding pyramid sinker on the main line, followed by a swivel and length of heavy monofilament leader to protect against chafing.

Bait can be almost anything, whole or cut mullet, menhaden or shrimp. Remember that fresher is better.

Learning to read the water is a science. Veteran anglers suggest you spend time scouting the area you plan to fish at low tide so you can find the ditches and gullies that cause the waves to break. Then fish the incoming water.

While surf fishing is usually a minimalist pastime, there are accessories that can make your trip more enjoyable.

In addition to rods and reels, a sand spike is an almost indispensable accessory. It gives you a place to rest your rod and reel or fish a second one. Sand spikes are commercially available or it’s easy to make your own from a four- to five-foot length of PVC pipe. Cut one end at a 45-degree angle. You can set the spike by rocking it back and forth into wet sand and at the same time exerting downward force. Once it’s secure, loosen the drag on your reel so a big fish doesn’t snatch it away (believe me, it can happen) and step back and wait.

A great piece of surf fishing equipment is a cloth carpenter’s nail apron, often available in the tackle store but they also can be found at the hardware store. Tie the apron around your waist and you have a spot to store cut bait, sinkers and spare rigs (make sure you keep extra hooks dry).

Another nice surf fishing accessory, although not always necessary, is surf fishing cart or wagon with fat wheels so it will roll across the sand. You can carry rods and reels, a cooler, chairs and other things to your fishing spots.

Now get out there and enjoy one of the best fishing times of the year.