Spring causes redfish to break out of the winter pattern of staying in large schools. They break up into smaller pods and fan out across the marshes of the Lowcountry looking for bait. Caleb Davis, age 15, and his father Ron, mimic that behavior as they scan and scour the marsh looking for redfish to show up in some of the usual spots. Confident in their fishing abilities, they have been entering a few redfish tournaments and they have experienced some strong results.
The Inshore Fishing Association (IFA) held its 2012 Redfish Tour in Savannah on March 24. The tourney format calls for two-man teams to compete and the Edisto anglers call themselves Team Too Sweet. Caleb Davis is a freshman at Colleton Prep, and he had the hot hand, catching the two best redfish that they then weighed in to claim third place – worth a $1700 check from IFA and $1000 of gear from Cabelas – out of 38 teams.
Team Too Sweet had done well in the IFA Charleston event before, finishing in third place in 2011 and coming in second place back in 2010. Fishing in a smaller regional event called the Lowcountry Redfish Cup out of Beaufort on March 10, 2012, Team Too Sweet finished strong again, taking second place. The Edisto anglers fish out of a 19-foot Ranger Cayman boat with a 200-Etec motor, and are hoping to power into a first place finish at some point.
“I am usually the only youth angler at these redfish tournaments, and seeing our team do well is something I really enjoy,” said Caleb Davis. “For the Savannah IFA, we pre-fished on Thursday in the Hilton Head Area, and even though we had to launch from the Coffee Bluff marina in Savannah at 7 a.m., we drove the boat one-hour and twenty-minutes back to Hilton Head to fish where we knew some fish were holding.”
“We began fishing at 8:30 under clear skies along a marsh that was protected by a shell bank,” said Davis. “I caught a 22-inch redfish right off the bat and put him in the live well. It wasn’t until 11:30 that I caught another keeper redfish that went 21.5-inches, and the clouds were rolling in when our trolling motor died. We decided right then that we should head back to Coffee Bluff for the weigh-in.” The IFA weighs two redfish per team and the heaviest aggregate weight determines the winner.
Any friends from school interested in joining you on the redfish tournament trail, I asked? “Not many of my classmates do much fishing for redfish, since they tend to do a lot of freshwater bass fishing,” said Davis. “But hey, we moved to the Lowcountry from Greenwood about five years ago and my father and grandfather had the same type of bass fishing heritage.”
Caleb’s grandfather, Ronald Davis of Rock Hill S.C. fished for bass exclusively in the Catawba River and Lake Murray and invented his own blade bait, or Chatter Bait, to entice lunker bass to strike.
“After bass fishing pro Bryan Thrift won the 2006 FLW Tour event in Okeechobee Florida with the Chatter Bait, the lure became a household name,” said Davis. Now his father Ron is designing a new proto-type blade bait for use on saltwater redfish.
“My Dad has been coming down to Edisto Island to fish for ten or fifteen years, using a john boat to explore the waters of the South Edisto River,” said Caleb. “Our house now is near the Steamboat Landing which feeds into the North Edisto River, and this is where we began to learn about flats fishing in the marsh, and now I’d say we have an idea where to find nearly every flats-based redfish near that ramp.” Davis says that when the water is murky from rain or high current, they elect to fish around or under docks since redfish also like to hold near structure.
Team Too Sweet loves gin clear water so that they can sight-fish for reds. “When not fishing Dad’s trial lures, we understand that using other baits can give us a different presentation,” said Davis. “If the redfish want more finesse we’ll cast and retrieve a Gulp shrimp rigged on a flutter hook. For an aggressive presentation, we go with an obnoxious spinner bait that makes the redfish want to chase it. With the water warming up early this year due to the mild winter, we are already seeing a lot of aggressive chasing.”
“When the wind conditions are light I will pick up a fly rod to target tailing redfish in the marsh flats,” said Davis. “I don’t stick with a specific fly pattern because I switch back and forth between a fly that imitates a mullet and one that imitates a shrimp. In summer, I like using white, yellow and green flies that carry a lot of silver flash to get the attention of the redfish.”
Despite his youth, speaking to Caleb Davis about redfishing is insightful, since he has lots of on the water experience. What are his summer plans?
“I’ll work a few days a week at Whaley’s restaurant on Edisto, and any day that the weather is good I’ll be fishing inshore, practicing ahead of our next tournaments in June and July,” said Davis, who has his own 16-foot G3 john boat.
As for longer-range plans?
“My goal in life, after turning 18 and graduating from high school, is to become a successful charter guide,” said Davis.
This serious saltwater angler mentions college too, but you can bet that any school he attends will be within casting distance of some spartina grass that could be holding a redfish!
Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at Low countryOutdoors.com