Redfish, sea trout the focus

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Near the site where the first shot was fired in America's Civil War, anglers will begin taking shots at redfish and sea trout this weekend. Charleston's abundant saltwater marshes, located near historic Fort Sumter, will be the focus of the ESPN Saltwater Series Mercury Redbone Lowcountry Red Trout Celebrity Classic, beginning Saturday.

You practically needed to be a fish to breathe Friday in the heavy downpour that fell all day long on Charleston. But those weather conditions are expected to give way to sunshine Saturday. And Sunday should be even better.

"Sunday you should see Charleston (fishing) at it's finest," said Mark Richards, who grew up on James Island, just across the Ashley River from downtown Charleston. "Fall is typically a transition time for fish here, but it's been so warm that a lot of the bait hasn't left the creeks. The (redfish and sea trout) are starting to school up."

That should make for some high point totals in this two-day event. Chris Wilson has guided in all six of the previous Lowcountry Red Trout events, which, like all Redbone tournaments, serve as fundraisers for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. In 2002, Wilson, another Charleston native, guided the winning team.

"The way to win it is with trout-redfish combinations, because of those bonus points," said Wilson, in reference to the extra 100 points awarded to each team after their first redfish/sea trout combination.

But it's likely to be the redfish that provide the foundation for any team's winning formula in this catch-and-release tournament.

"In 2002, we caught something like 36 or 37 redfish the first day," Wilson said. "We caught about 19 redfish the second day. We only had a couple of trout on each day.

"You can stay in the running if you really work those redfish once you get on them."

That's because the 18-inch minimum length limit (from nose to tip of the tail) on redfish is easier to achieve than the 15-inch minimum length limit on spotted sea trout. Although it should be noted that the current South Carolina record for sea trout is 11 pounds, 13 ounces, the 1- and 2-pound trout are a more typical catch.

"To stay in the hunt (for the team title), you need about 10 redfish and 10 sea trout per, or 20 redfish," said Wilson, who has worked as a guide since graduating from high school here 12 years ago. "But those bonus points (for the combo) really make a difference."

Wilson has guided as far away as Venezuela and various places in the Caribbean Sea. One of the men he has looked up to in his guiding career — Flip Pallot, host of ESPN's "Walker Cay Chronicles" — will also be competing here.

Pallot and his partner, Ken Holseberg, will be guided by Champ Smith, a renowned guide here.

Between the competition, the history of Charleston and some good weather on the way, it should add up to another interesting step in the process of "catching the cure" for cystic fibrosis.

Richards worked as a tugboat captain in his high school years. After that, he and his father helped build "probably 20 to 30 percent" of the artificial reefs in the Charleston area. Many were made from old Navy ships sunk after being salvaged and environmentally "scrubbed."

Richards, who has since founded a company — PolyClean — that cleans plastic resins for large petrochemical companies, most enjoys catching fish on fly tackle. But in this tournament, where live bait and artificial lures on spinning tackle can also be used, he acknowledged his fly rod probably won't come out of its case until Sunday, when the Charleston waters have had a chance to settle from Friday's heavy rain.

Richards, 42, and his wife, Susanne, both grew up on James Island. Their parents still live there, too. Four decades near this city, which was founded in 1670, have given him a deep appreciation for its rich history. His present home on James Island features a mound in the back yard that once served as the mount for a Civil War era cannon.

"Charleston was the central part of the Confederacy," Richards noted. "It was the first state to secede (from the Union)."

And this weekend it will be the site of a much more civil war — a fishing tournament with the ultimate goal of curing cystic fibrosis.