As we wind up the “bull redfish” season here in Charleston, it seems like many people have had a chance to catch one, and no doubt, it is a favorite of charter captains. They are a relatively easy fish to target and catch, yet there are things we as conservation-oriented anglers can do to ensure their survival. These fish are majestic – and provide lots of fun for us to catch, yet they also are responsible for breeding new redfish for us to enjoy.
I just had our annual “guys trip” and one of the goals was to get bulls for my brother Kevin and friend Keith. Tossing out cut bait is way out of my comfort zone as an artificial lure fisherman, but I’ve done it in the past and it’s not rocket surgery – but more a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
A great place to target them is the Charleston jetties. They can be pretty much anywhere along the rocks and sooner or later if you set up, you’re likely to get a customer. Use enough weight to get to the bottom (4 to 6 oz), heavy tackle and leader, and a big in-line circle hook (6/0+). Cut up fresh cast-netted bait such as mullet or menhaden, or even a bluefish if you can catch one on rod & reel. They are very prevalent this time of year.
The jetties are no more than 25 ft deep and releasing a redfish there is more about letting it revive under your control until it has gathered enough strength to strongly kick away on it’s own. I advise people to use a lip grip device and swim it along side the boat as long as it takes.
Another popular spot is the “Grillage”, which is an underwater cliff located off Sullivan’s island. It goes from roughly 30 ft to 75 ft. In my opinion this spot should be a Marine Protected Area (MPA) as it’s a known spawning ground for mature reds, and also is a source of kill off of these big reds by anglers maybe unknowingly releasing them improperly. I’ve witnessed two incidents in two trips that surely resulted in dead fish. One was a guide, who kept the fish out of of the water for 5 min plus, then threw the fish in head first like a tuna. Second was a group in a large boat with very high gunnels who caught a fish, kept it out of the water for a good 5 min plus, then dropped it back in because they could not reach over the side and get to the water. Both of these fish were caught in 40+ feet and surely needed venting.
What is venting? When brought up quickly from that deep, the redfishes swim bladder fills with air and it cannot release it. It might kick away briefly but it will float back up downstream, surely to die. The known best way to release them is with a descending device, which I am sure most anglers know nothing about, nor have invested in one. The second best way is to vent them. This is better shown by the attached resources but basically involves inserting a needle to puncture the bladder in a small spot, then gently pushing the belly to remove the air. This will quickly heal and allow the fish to swim back to depth.
Here are some helpful resources on proper catch & release of these deep fish. Hope you find these educational and if you target these fish, please do so armed with knowledge and tools needed to protect them for the future.
And yes, mission accomplished, as the photo’s show. Big fish and big smiles for my anglers!
CCA overview of best practices
YouTube example of Venting
Here is a good venting tool from O’Hero