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'A different game'

11/21/2008

SAVANNAH, Ga. — When fishing guide Greg Davis gets on some redfish or speckled trout in the intracoastal around the mouth of the Savannah River, he urges his clients to catch them while they can.

He knows from 13 years of guiding experience around Savannah that the 6- to 9-foot tide that rushes in and out of the marshes on the Atlantic coast here make all the difference between catching fish and not. When a client begs off for a sandwich break, Davis will tell him to wait half an hour, 'cause there's no guarantee the fish will be biting from one instant to the next.

"They're the biggest tides short of Maine on the East Coast," he says. "The fish here move so much, not only up and down the bank but in and out. One minute you'll be polling in 6, 7 feet of water in the grass. Six hours later, it's mud, and there's no water within 75 yards of where you've been."

The window of opportunity in any given hot spot is brief, which ought to make for a good deal of scrambling this weekend in the ESPN Outdoors Saltwater Series Redbone Savannah Red Trout Celebrity Classic. Anglers and their guides will have to consider not only the terrain, but the 12 stages of the tide as they target speckled trout and redfish.

They'll receive 50 points for each fish caught on bait (probably the shrimp that teem in these waters); 100 points for each caught on artificial lures; and 200 for each caught on fly. Each redfish-trout pair, called a "slam," will earn a 50-point bonus.

Florida's Susan and Gary Ellis started the Redbone Series 20 years ago to raise money for cystic fibrosis research. Last year the series raised more than $1.5 million toward for Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and fighting the debilitating disease that affects the respiratory and other organ systems.

According to Davis, a successful angler in this tournament may expect to catch 60 or more trout a day. The challenge will be finding redfish at the right time — receding tide — before they retreat into the dense and omnipresent spartina grass, where the fish hide from the dolphins that can ride in on the high tide.

"Here, I know where they are, but there are six hours a day when I can't get to them," Davis said. "Our problem here is that you get an hour and a half, and then the tide starts out, and you better not be up there, 'cause you're going to spend eight hours in the marsh watching the mud grow."

A recent cold snap, with temperatures dipping below freezing at night, will likely have chased the shrimp into deeper waters. That will leave many trout hungry, and eager to bite. "They get very aggressive," Davis said.

But when they feed, the anglers better stick with them while they can. That water is always moving.

"You can catch fish one after another," Davis said. "When the tide slows? It's over. They've done their thing, they go to the bottom, they digest their food. They might not start feeding again until the mid-incoming, or you might get fish that start feeding as soon as that water starts back in.

"It's not necessarily, 'Where were you at?' When were you there? What was the tide doing? It's just a different game."