Spadefish have been on the nearshore reefs and wrecks off South Carolina's coast for the past few weeks, and the bite is really heating up. Anglers should have no trouble locating them if they follow a few steps provided by Capt. Ben Powers of Reel Time Charters.
The first step to catching these fish is locating them. Powers (843-475-9660) said he’s finding most of the spadefish are on the larger portions of reefs in the 40 to 60 foot depths.
“Once you get over a reef, look for the largest piece of structure, like ones that are 200 to 300 feet long. Don’t anchor over the ones that are 60 to 80 feet long,” he said.
And if you don’t see any spadefish hanging around close to the surface, don’t get discouraged. Unless you have a stringer of cannonball jellies to dangle under water, just do some bottom fishing for black sea bass. As you reel those fish up, the spadefish will rise with them. They’ll suddenly appear and they’ll hang around the boat, giving you a target to toss bait to.
On days when you don’t see spadefish near the surface, Powers said the trick is to use a very long leader of 20 to 30 pound fluorocarbon, and make a Carolina rig out of it.
“I’ll tie a 1-ounce sinker above a barrel swivel, then use about an 8 foot long leader of fluorocarbon, then tie a sturdy 1/0 or 2/0 hook to it. And with a 3000 to 4000 series reel, I’ll drop a shrimp down, aiming for the middle of the water column. You don’t want to drop it too deep because that’s when the black sea bass will get it,” he said. “You need that very long leader to be fluorocarbon.”
Powers said the biggest obstacle to catching spadefish right now is having the proper bait. Cannonball jellies are the top bait, but they showed up early this year, and far fewer have stuck around than normally are present this time of year. So loading up on bait has been tough.
But anglers can still catch their share of spades, at least on most days.
“Spadefish are really finicky and unpredictable as far as what they’ll eat. One day, you can catch them on shrimp and squid, and the next day, they won’t bite anything but a a piece of jelly,” he said.
And when the spades are hanging out on the surface but just won’t take your bait, Powers said it’s time to try something a little unconventional. He puts his bait under a popping cork, and lets it sit on the surface. The fish are attracted to the cork, and will even bite at it. But while one fish is biting your cork, another one will find your bait and before you know it, you’re hooked up.
“When they are being finicky, it pays to have that cork holding your bait in one spot. They will find it and eventually eat it,” he said.
Powers said once spawning season closes for these fish, they’ll rarely bite anything but pieces of cannonball jellyfish, so if you can find those, you’ll be in great shape, even if it takes a chunk of time away from your fishing time.
“You’re really going to need those cannonball jellies later in the season,” he said.