Redfish of Winyah Bay

On The Fly Saltwater

Featured photo by Jimmy Jacobs

Georgetown, South Carolina is known as a fishing village, but not noted for fly casting. But that’s a misconception!

By Jimmy Jacobs

“It’s about the worst time to target redfish on the fly,” the guide offered as we headed out in his 18-foot Beavertail flats boat. That’s not really the kind of prediction you want to hear when leaving the boat ramp. But, as the day progressed, it made me wonder just how outstanding the action for redfish was during the better times!

It was the crack of dawn in the last week of August and the weather was already muggy as we launched at the end of South Island Road, just south of the city of Georgetown. The boat ramp is on the Intracoastal Waterway at the entrance to the Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center. That’s a 20,000-acre tract that the late owner of the Boston Red Sox donated to the state as a wildlife preserve. From there we ran north, across Mud Bay to the region collectively known as the North Inlet area.

Winyah Bay and Georgetown anchor the southern end of South Carolina’s famed Grand Strand. They are located just a bit shy of 40 miles south of the family vacation playground of Myrtle Beach.

Our guide was Capt. Tommy Scarborough, one of the pioneers of fly-fishing charters on these waters. Originally from the village of Duck on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, he sprang from a family history of involvement in the commercial fishing business.

Capt. Tommy Scarborough on the poling platform. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

The plan was to target redfish on the last of the falling tide and the early portion of the flood. For this we were headed back into the maze of tidal waters lined with marsh grass and dotted with shell bed mounds. Along the shores, great blue herons, snowy egrets and even a few pink-hued roseate spoonbills waded around looking for their morning repast.

Photos by Jimmy Jacobs.

Due to an overnight west wind, our fist surprise was finding the water exceptionally low, making it hard to reach some of the guide’s prime locations.

That situation promised to cut our window of opportunity short. We needed to get to the reds before the tide really began pouring into these creek channels. Once that happened the fish move farther into the shallows, usually out of casting reach, and eventually back into the flooded grass.

With Capt. Tommy up on the poling platform, we started the hunt. He prefers 7- to 8-weight rod- and-reel set ups for this action, matched with floating lines. Due to the off-colored water, these fish are not leader shy, so our leaders were 20-pound, with a 30-pound bite tippet. One of the hooked red’s favorite tactics is to stick its head down into the abundant shell beds to rub the leader on the sharp oyster edges. The heavier terminal material stands up better to this ploy.

Photo by Polly Dean.

The fishing started off a bit slow. Due to the mud-stained water common in the hotter months, we were casting to pushed wakes made by the reds as they scoured the bottom for crabs and other forage. All too often, a swirl of mud would appear at boat side when we spooked a redfish that had been laying dormant on the creek floor.

We were using crab imitations in earth tones. Capt. Scarborough sticks mainly to beige, tan and gold hues, but also occasionally turns to black patterns. He also prefers to have a fly on that is big and bushy enough to push some water to attract the attention of the redfish. With the water conditions we faced, he noted that getting the fly within a 4-inch radius of the red’s nose was the best hope for a hook up.

I eventually did get one of the reds to attack my fly, and in the shallow confines, it put up a rugged fight before coming to the boat. As it turned out, this roughly 22-inch red was the smallest of the trip.

The author with the first fish of the trip. Photo by Polly Dean.

Taking her turn on the casting deck, Polly Dean managed a couple of hook ups, but lost the fish on the way to the gunnel. But, the third time proved the charm as she boated a fish in the 27- to 28-inch range, probably weighing 6-plus pounds.

Polly Dean with her first-day redfish. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

After catching a couple of more reds, the tide put an end to the action and we headed in for the day.

Overnight the winds changed and on day two Capt. Tommy decided to hit the same area, where we now found normal water levels. This made the fish more accessible. This was particularly true at the junction of two tidal creeks where there was a slight bottom depression. As we prospected just upstream of that site, the surface down there suddenly erupted as dozens of reds torn into a school of bait fish.

The captain eased the boat down into casting range and in short order we had each put a couple of reds in the boat. All but one of the fish easily topped 25 inches.

The second day the reds were a bit more cooperative. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

The bottom line was we enjoyed a pair of good days of targeting redfish, at what was the worst time to be there. Which brings me back to the original question. Just how good is the redfish action at Georgetown when the bite is on? I suspect we’ll be planning a trip for the fall or spring to find out!

Capt. Tommy Scarborough can be contacted through his web site at Georgetown Coastal Adventures or call 843-546-3543.

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