Cast & Blast

Cast and Blast: From vacation to the 'running of the bulls'

Off-The-Hook Charters put Maggie, left, and Rocky Vendetti, visitors from New Jersey, onto some fine bull reds.
Off-The-Hook Charters put Maggie, left, and Rocky Vendetti, visitors from New Jersey, onto some fine bull reds. Submitted photo

Before I get going here, I just have to tell you a bit about the last few days in the Shenandoah National Forest in Virginia.

For the second year in a row, my wife, ex-wife, in-laws and my daughter Camden and her husband Andrew rented a cabin in the national forest there to celebrate my granddaughter Alice's birthday. This year she turned 2, but what a difference a year makes.

Blond with vibrant blue eyes, you may remember a tale where I confessed that on the day of her birth I was dying to know what my daughter had named her, and somewhere in my squirrely mind, I confused what she told me and ended up announcing to the world that Martha Jefferson was her name when in fact that was the name of the hospital.

Even now two years later, people still ask me how little Martha Jefferson is doing, a joke that will no doubt be on my gravestone.

Witty as hell at 2, Alice had me in stitches the entire trip but birthday or not, I was able to sneak off with my fly rod and hit some of the trout streams near the cabin. Remember a few columns ago when I predicted an early autumn?

Well, up there at least, the leaves were falling like snow, making wading up the streams even more spectacular.

Did I catch any trout? Even though I wasn't able to fish all that long, I did manage to catch some browns, rainbows and absolutely gorgeous brook trout, but because of a lack of rain, the rivers were pretty low.

But what I really wanted to tell you was what happened to me in one of the skinniest parts of the river. The water was no more than five inches deep and just as I was about to go past that point I saw it. A rainbow trout that was every bit of 24-26 inches long.

With shaking hands, I made one cast that made a perfect drift and the fish didn't move. Over and over I made nervous casts until that fish finally eased to the left and disappeared under a small overhang on the bank.

Obsessed with catching that slob, every morning I would get up and give it a go and every day that fish would shun my offerings. Even now I dream about that monster with the point being that wise, old fish like that don't get big by being stupid.

The same thing applies to fishing around these parts. Some of my best catches have come from tiny little pockets of water that most people ignore. Believe me when I say I will try again next year to catch "Old Bow," because he has become my white whale haunting my dreams night after night.

Speaking of early autumns, when I returned home I heard that the "running of the bulls" had started. Not cattle, but bull redfish that can reach the 40- to 50-pound range, some even larger.

Out of curiosity, I looked back through my fishing diary and the run has begun earlier than last year but regardless of that fact, catching bull reds is a blast, and if you catch one (maybe two) on light tackle, it is a fight you'll never forget.

Why only one or two on light tackle? Bull redfish gather up in groups this time of the year for one reason and one reason only, to breed. These monsters are the future of our redfish fishery and I encourage anybody planning to go after them to use stout tackle and circle hooks only.

Circle hooks prevent fish from getting gut hooked and do your best to get them to the boat as fast as you can. Catching them this way prevents over-stressing these prized beauties and after a picture or two, try and get them back in the water as soon as possible.

The best method for releasing bull reds is to hold them by the tail with their face into the current and gently wiggle the fish back and forth until it can swim away on its own.

On a good day you can catch one after another, and it's when this happens that anglers tend to get lazy and simply toss them overboard. These fish guarantee the future of our healthy redfish population so treat them with kid gloves no matter if you catch just one or catch 30.

If you want to know how to catch bull reds, it's not rocket science. Using a fish finder rig and a pyramid weight large enough to keep the bait on the bottom, use about two or three feet of 40lb leader and a large circle hook.

Bull reds are not picky about what they eat, but for me at least, a half a blue crab, a strip of fresh mullet or a menhaden are my top three baits for catching multiple bulls.

As for where to catch them, many of our artificial reefs are loaded with them right now, as are places like the Broad River Bridge and hard bottom areas in and around the mouth of Port Royal Sound.

Finally, I would like to thank so many of you that e-mailed me after my column about the Collin Stokes Memorial Inshore Tournament scheduled for Oct. 10 out of Shelter Cove Marina on Hilton Head.

You can contact me with any questions or plan to fish it by being at the Captain's Meetingon Friday in front of the Shelter Cove Marina Store.

It's not about how much you can win, it's about how much you care for the Stokes family and all that Al Stokes and the Waddell Mariculture Center have done for us all.