South Carolina Redfish Recaptured Twice After 21 Years

It has long been proven that red drum are capable of long lives.  Another generally accepted fact is they don’t do a lot of moving around in an estuary system, but not much is known about how mature red drum move about in the ocean.  South Carolina tagged red drum A033559 may shed some light on this.  It was recaptured in June, for the second time. This was 21 years after it was originally tagged and 10 years since it was recaptured the first time.

In June, Andy Ball, of Charlotte, and several of his classmates from the South Mecklenburg High School class of 1985, got together and booked a day of fishing with Capt. Dan Scarborough of Georgetown Coastal Adventures in Georgetown, S.C.  It was to be a class reunion of sorts and they planned to have a big time, but no one had any inkling of an idea just what that big time would include. Everyone had fun and caught fish, but Ball had an encounter of the large redfish kind, with S.C. red drum A033559 while fishing at the Winyah Bay Jetties.  None of the men, especially Ball, will ever forget this day of fishing.

Things were going well, with everyone catching fish and having a good time, when Bell hooked a fish everyone immediately knew was different.  This fish ran hard and didn’t give up easily.  When Bell finally brought the tired drum to boatside, it was obvious why the fight had been so challenging.  This drum was three and a half feet long.

The fishermen also noticed something else. There was a yellow plastic tag protruding from the base of the big drum’s dorsal fin.  This drum had been caught before, so now the men wanted to get accurate measurements before releasing it again.  South Carolina regulations require releasing all red drum longer than 23 inches and this one was close to double that.  S.C. red drum A033559 was quickly measured at 41 inches and released.

 

Tagging device preloaded with tags. Photo courtesy of SCDNR
Tagging device preloaded with tags. Photo courtesy of SCDNR

The next week Ball contacted Morgan Hart, tagging coordinator for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, to report the tag number, length, girth and location where he had caught the big drum.  Hart enters the information and then sends the fish’s tagging history to the fisherman who caught it and the fisherman who originally tagged it.  This gives the fishery managers and both fishermen some insight into the life and travels of that fish.

When Hart ran the compiled history of SC red drum A033559, she was in for a big surprise.  It had first been tagged more than 21 years earlier.  It had also already been recaptured once – ten years ago.

Hart knew the tag number was different than anything she had recorded or updated and anxiously awaited the report.  She said she was amazed to the point her mouth fell open when she realized how long it has been since this fish was tagged. This is the longest period from tagging to recovery since she has been coordinating the tagging program.

Kevin Mischke tagged this drum in 1997 while fishing in Wappoo Cut, near James Island (Charleston).  It was already a mature drum at 35 inches.  Mischke, who worked as a volunteer tagger from 1990 to 2006, was happy to hear of the recapture and especially so since the fish was still alive, healthy and contributing to future generations of S.C. red drum.

Screen shot of tagging record for SC red drum A033559
Screen shot of tagging record for SC red drum A033559

Hart said there is another chapter for S.C. red drum A033559.  It was also recaptured and released in 2008 by Warren Wood.  In the eleven years since first being tagged it had grown to 40 inches and moved to the Winyah Bay Jetties.  This is the same location where Ball recaptured it in June of this year.

The fact that it had only added a single inch of length in that 10 years is another validation of fisheries biologists research showing these fish are very slow growing.  SCDNR records show it as an inch longer and a pound lighter than when recaptured and released in 2008.

Fisheries research shows red drum are long lived fish. South Carolina fisheries biologists have documented red drum to more than 40 years.  It is obvious this one was more than 21 years old.  In his book,Fishes of the Southeastern United States, Dr. Charles Manooch gives the average length of 7 year old drum as 35.6 inches, so it is reasonable to believe this drum was 6-7 years old when first tagged and would be approximately 27-28 years old now.

During the past 25 years, S.C. fishermen have voluntarily tagged and released more than 61,000 red drum.  Nearly 10,000 of these fish have been recaptured, several up to four times.  The tags used on S.C. fish are thin nylon/plastic cords that have an identifying number for that fish and the SCDNR number to call to report its recapture.

Tag bases are inserted into the fish just below the dorsal fin where they are harmless to the fish, protected and easy for fishermen to see.  As shown with this recapture and release, the tags can remain anchored to the fish and readable for several decades.

S.C. tagged fish can be reported online at www.dnr.sc.gov/marine/tagfish/tagfish.htmlor by calling 843-953-9832.  You will need the tag number, the date of recapture, the location (general), species and length.  Anglers interested in learning more about the SCDNR tagging program should visit the tagging section of the SCDNR website at www.dnr.sc.govor contact tagging program coordinator Morgan Hart at [email protected].

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Capt. Jerry Dilsaver has been fishing since he was a child and writing about fishing, hunting and the outdoors since 1986. He is from Southport-Oak Island, N.C. and continues to live there in semi-retirement. His writing features this area prominently, but he has fished and written about the East Coast from Virginia to Florida, the Gulf Coast, California, Alaska and several of the Great Lakes in the U.S., plus several countries in Central America and several Caribbean Islands. He has been on staff at Carolina Adventure, North Carolina Sportsman and South Carolina Sportsman Magazines and his byline has appeared in several other magazines and newspapers.