Winter Redfishing in Hilton Head, SC


Winter Redfishing

Captain Charlie Beadon

winter redfishDuring the winter months most fishing activity slows down due to cold water temperature. Fish are cold blooded animals meaning that they can not regulate their body temperature, and will take on the same temperature as the surrounding water. As the water becomes colder, a fish’s metabolism slows down and the fish become lethargic. This is where the problem comes in for fisherman; when fish eat less and becomes less active we generally get less shots at catching them. Armed with a little bit of knowledge however, you can pick the best times to go after winter redfish and have a very successful trip.

Where do you go to catch redfish in the winter?

When water temperatures drop (typically below 55 degrees) redfish will start to school up on shallow water mud flats. Flats are areas that have very little bottom contour (flat bottom) over a particular area, and generally offer food and shelter for redfish. During this time it is not uncommon to see schools of 100 or more fish huddled together in a tight area. If you find a school of redfish early in the season you can go back to that same spot through out the winter and find the same group of fish lying in the same spots. When redfish are schooling on shallow mudflats they will generally move in and out with the tide trying to stay in roughly a foot of water. This is where you will want to concentrate you efforts when looking for fish, and also keep an eye on points, shell mounds or any raised structure on the flat.

Why do redfish school up on shallow mud flats in the winter?

The main reasons that redfish school up on shallow mud flats in the winter are for protection, warmth, and safety in numbers. During the winter much of the food that dolphins feed on (such as menhaden and mullet) are gone, therefore redfish become a larger part of the dolphin’s diet. To keep away from the dolphins redfish will stay in shallow water where the dolphins can’t enter. During midday mud flats also offer warmth as the sun heats up the dark mud bottom. Finally, by grouping up in a school, redfish have many eyes to look for predators; if one fish sees something out of place it will alert the rest of the school.

redfishHow do you locate Redfish in the winter?

There is no clear cut answer to this question. The best way to find these fish is by spending time on the water looking for them. The good news however, is that when you do find a school of fish you can generally go back to that same area through out the season and find the same group of fish. If you spend enough time with a particular group of fish through out a season you can learn their habits, what they do under various weather conditions and how they move with the raising and falling tide. The best way to get started is to look at a map and locate some flats. Generally, you will find that the flats are most productive when there is a foot or so of water on them. Many of the mud flats in this area will run from the shoreline outward for 150 or more yards and the fish will move in and out with the tide to stay out of reach of the dolphins. Knowing that the fish will be in this area you can use a trolling motor or push pole to ease down the shoreline and scan for redfish moving around or pushing off as you go over them. When you find a school of fish the best thing to do is to anchor or stake up near the fish and try to catch them from a stationary position.

How do you catch a winter redfish?

Though a redfish’s metabolism slows in the winter they still have to eat. The two main things to keep in mind when presenting bait to winter reds are to make a good presentation and then work the bait slowly. It is imperative that you make a good presentation to these fish because if you spook just one fish the whole school will take off. I generally like to lead these fish by four or five feet when I cast to them. Secondly, because these fish are cold and moving slowly you have to work your bait the same way. A slow retrieve or dead bait on the bottom will generally work best for these fish.

What are the best conditions to target winter redfish?

The three main factors to consider when targeting winter reds are tide, temperature, and wind conditions. The ideal conditions would be a low tide on a warm day with very little or no wind. Unfortunately, we can’t always have these perfect conditions, but we can try to line them up as close as possible, and if you can get out on a day when conditions are ideal it will be well worth it. Since these fish school up on the shallow water flats, low tide will be the best time to target them. Generally these fish will feed on warmer days thus getting out when the temperature warms up will increase your chances of getting the fish to eat. Warmer days will also cause the fish to be more active, and allow you to see them pushing around on the flats. The main reason that you want to fish on calm days, or fish a flat that lies in the lee of the wind, is that it makes seeing the fish a whole lot easier. Good luck and “catch em up”!

Captain Charlie Beadon