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Keeping the fish in the water is the best way to ensure a successful redfish release. SCDNR photo

It's that time of year. Huge red drum, also known as redfish, can be found in inshore waters throughout Charleston and anywhere along the South Carolina coast.

Redfish are the state's most important inshore species, and there are protections in place for this popular fishery.

In state waters, red drum must be a minimum of 15 inches long and no more than 23 inches long in order for an angler to retain them. There also is a two-fish per angler limit and a six-fish per boat limit. Beyond the three-mile limit, in federal waters, no harvest of redfish is allowed. But there's more to protecting these fish than just tossing them back into the water.

Joey Coz, who leads the S.C. Department of Natural Resources' Marine Gamefish Tagging Program, said there are several considerations anglers should make when seeking out big red drum.

"Especially with the adult red drum, the bull reds, we are strong promoters of using a specific red drum designed to minimize gut-hooking the fish," Coz said. "Starting at the hook end, we recommend a 7/0 to 10/0 non-offset, non-stainless circle hook. The non-offset circle hooks have proven to be the least likely hook to end up in the gut of a fish. And the non-stainless hook will be able to rust out if it gets stuck in the fish."

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Recommended rigs that minimize gut-hooking a redfish. SCDNR photo

SCDNR also suggest filing the barb of the hook down which makes removal of the hook much easier. And keep the leader short, no more than 6 inches of 50- to 80-pound test monofilament, with a swivel on the opposite end of the hook. This rig can be fished either Carolina style, with a 3- to 6-ounce egg sinker on your main line, or with a 3-way swivel and a pyramid sinker. Coz also said anglers should use heavy enough tackle so the big redfish doesn't break off.

If you are fishing in deeper water, he said anglers should get the fish off the bottom but not reel it in quickly in hopes of reducing the chances of inducing barotrauma in the fish. Barotrauma is a buildup of swim bladder gases that makes it difficult for them to go back down. Fish caught deeper than 30 feet often suffer from this.

Most anglers are going to want to take a photo of their big trophy. A great photo method is keeping the fish in the water and having the angler kneel over the gunnel for a photo. But if you bring the fish in the boat, you should support the fish.

"Once you have the fish to the surface and to the boat, minimize the amount of handling you are doing with the fish," Coz said. "We recommend using a BogaGrip, get the fish by the lip and then grab the fish by the tail and support the weight of the body. Keep the fish horizontal. You don't want to hold the fish by its mouth. One thing I've noticed in a lot of photos is people slipping their fingers into the gills. You don't want to do that. Keep your hands away from the gills of the fish."

When you are ready to release the fish, hold it in the water with its head facing into the current so it can get oxygen going through its gills until you feel the fish ready to swim away from your grip. If the fish is caught from deeper waters, you may want to utilize a Equalizer or similar device, which is pressure sensitive and allows you to get the fish back to the depth at which they were caught.

Coz said red drum are tagged more than any other species in the gamefish tagging program. Recreational anglers have tagged and released nearly 200,000 fish since the 1970s. If you catch a tagged red drum, you should report it online at dnr.sc.gov/fish tag.

CIA Sheepshead Tournament

Adam Lytton won the 27th annual Charleston Inshore Anglers Sheepshead Tournament with a catch of 9.1 pounds. Jeremy Hyden was second with a sheepshead weighing 7.83 pounds, followed by Raymond Stivender (7.54), Marsh Sasser (7.46), Derrick Wheatley (7.16), David Szlam (7.14), Matt Bollenberg (6.78), Kevin Mischke (6.48), Jeff Brown (6.46) and David Shuler (6.38). Eppy Hernandez won the dogfish prize with a 3.06-pound catch and Luke Adams was the top youth angler with a 3.32-pound sheepshead. The tournament drew 131 anglers.

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