Low Country Channel Bass

 Ever wondered what your wildlife biologists are doing for your fishery? I got an education when the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources visitedGeorgetown,SCOctober 3rd-5th to sample our adult red drum population. Using a 56ft research vessel called theSilver Crescent, the folks from DNR tagged and released around 150 breeder-sized red drum and more than a hand full of sharks. TheSilver Crescentis a long-lining rig that deploys multiple lines of 600 lb. monofilament that stretch 1/3 mile across its target zone. Each line has 40 droppers with 15/0 circle hooks baited with cut mullet. Surprisingly, gut-hooked fish and fatalities are pretty much unheard of – they have this operation down to a science.

In the fall, thousands of man-sized red drum move inshore from the ocean to spawn. The large concentration of post-spawn fish makes the species an easy target for both biologists and recreational anglers alike . DNR samples adult red drum from August through December each year in order to keep a good handle on the population’s stability from one year to the next. They want to make sure that these breeding fish are healthy and in good numbers so that recreational anglers can enjoy year-round fishing in our estuaries well into the future. Good news – our adult red drum population looks healthy according to DNR biologists, meaning we can continue to expect great fishing in our shallow water estuaries!

The spawning redfish get a lot of attention from recreational anglers in the fall and SCDNR says there’s nothing wrong with that. We just need to approach the adult fish with a little respect – after all they are pumping our estuaries with new fish every year.  SCDNR biologists recommend the following:

1. Use circle hooks (we used 15/0) – that’s way bigger than my tarpon hooks! Not saying you should use 15/0 hooks, but they worked for us and it limits the number of swallowed hooks.

2. Use heavy tackle – stout rods, strong leader, and heavy line. Get the fish to the boat quick and avoid whipping its ass too bad. The intention is to release it alive. We see way to many floaters in muddy bay every year due to angler abuse.

3. Use short leaders – this helps prevent gut-hooking the fish which in many cases will kill the fish.

4. Limit your catch to just a few of the breeders. Get out there and get your picture taken with a giant redfish, but don’t sit there and hammer them all day. The fish are there to spawn – let em get it on. If you bring a fish out of the water for pictures, get them back into the water as soon as possible. Nothing wrong with a quick photo, but the longer the fish is out of water, the less the chance of them making a full recovery.

Nobody is trying to get on a soap-box at all – it is just important to acknowledge the work that DNR does each year so that we can continue enjoying our recreational angling opportunities. If you ever have any questions about how to handle these fish, just ask one of your local fisheries biologists at www.dnr.sc.gov .

 External tags for recreational anglers to report. DNR immediatley got a recapture from a  fish we tagged on Tuesday – the fish had moved 8 miles from where we tagged it the previous day!

 “Pit Tag” – these get embedded in the fish like microchipping your pet pooch. It will last a lifetime so they can keep track of the 40 and 50 year olds. The external tags can wear out after 10 years or so.

 Scanning a fish for a pit tag.

 A very special thanks to Bryan Frazier, DNR Biologist, for inviting me along and to biologists Henry DaVega, Erin Levesque, Michelle Taliercio, and Capt Rob Dunlap for putting up with me for the day. You guys are awesome at what you do – thanks for keeping an eye on our estuaries so that we can get out there and forget our worries ashore.

Jay Nelson