Rafael Redmond and his mother were fishing on Lake Murray earlier this year when another fisherman he knew from years before pulled up beside their boat.
“‘I know you. You’re the best fisherman here,’” the angler told Redmond, according to his mother.
Redmond was called the best before. Nearly two decades ago, Redmond was building a reputation as one of the finest fishermen in the Southeast.
Pursuing a passion inherited from his father, he won several tournaments around the region. Other pros praised his skills, and relatives believed that fishing, while already a major part of his life, could have been his career.
But that opportunity was cut short by a descent into drug use, according to relatives and court records. In the last 20 years, Redmond was arrested at least a dozen times, mostly on drug-related or theft charges.
In October, Redmond pleaded guilty in federal court to a conspiracy drug charge. Authorities say he was involved in a conspiracy in Lexington County to buy and sell methamphetamine, or meth. He faces at least 10 years in prison and could be sentenced to life.
Relatives grieve over what drugs did to the man they say still loves to fish.
“He has a heart,” a family member said. “He is a human being. It’s unfortunate that this has taken over.”
‘Footsteps of his father’
At 5 years old, Redmond was adopted by Henry Mack Redmond, a passionate fisherman with a professional record of tournament wins, top finishes and a sponsorship by Walmart. The younger Redmond grew up around Lake Murray, his mother, Tersey Ballentine, said. His father had a fishing pole in his son’s hands as soon as he could hold one. The family fished together as a hobby and a means of bonding.
Redmond told The State in 2000 that he didn’t have time for sports at Chapin High School.
“We were too anxious to get home after school and go hunting or fishing,” he said.
Redmond and his family traveled the Southeast to professional fishing tournaments in which the father and, sometimes, mother competed. Ballentine remembers the younger Redmond watching with excitement as his father’s catch was weighed.
“He followed in the footsteps of his father in fishing at a young age,” Ballentine said.
The elder Redmond taught his son how to make lures for crappie. The father called the lures Uncle Henry’s Slab Slayers.
Redmond fished his earliest competitive events with his father, according to Ballentine.
At 21, Redmond began his own professional fishing career with the American Crappie Association. He had a top-three finish at an event a year into his pro career. Two years later, just like he used to watch his father do, Redmond stood at a weigh-in of a major tournament with the winning catch.
Redmond and his teammate caught almost 28 pounds of crappie to win the Crappie USA Classic in Grenada, Mississippi, on the weekend of Sept. 20, 2000. The fishing association’s president described the water after two days of rain and wind as a “big milk chocolate soda.”
The win — on Redmond’s 25th birthday — earned the team $48,000 in cash and prizes, The State reported, including a boat.
When asked what helped him get the win, Redmond credited his father’s lures, according to Crappie World Magazine.
Winning and losing
David Kingsmore was Redmond’s partner in the 2000 tournament.
“You’re talking about one of the best fishermen in the state,” Kingsmore said about Redmond. “I’d put him up against anyone.”
With fishing and his skills in metal fabrication construction, Redmond “could have been his own boss,” Ballentine said.
What made him so good at the outdoor sport was a combination of personal qualities and skill. He had the tact needed for fishing, Kingsmore said.
Articles about Redmond from the early 2000s show he was knowledgeable about baits and lures and how to operate his boat in different water conditions. Whitey Outlaw, a South Carolina pro-fisherman who was named the Crappie USA Sportsman of the Year in 2000, praised Redmond’s abilities on the water in The State.
“Crappie spook very easily,” Redmond told The State after winning the Crappie USA Classic. “But in the muddy water we were able to position the boat right over them and fish without spooking them.”
Redmond also grew into being a good father to his own children.
“He volunteered time and coached,” for his kids’ teams,” a relative said. He taught his children to hunt and fish like his father had done, showing them how to “survive.”
The relative asked not to be named for personal reasons.
It was a running joke in the family that Redmond was always away hunting or fishing, “But he kept food on the table.”
Redmond was back on the podium in March 2003 for catching the biggest fish of the day during a Crappie USA event on Lake Murray.
In February 2004 a snow and ice storm hit South Carolina just a day before a nationally sanctioned fishing tournament on Lake Murray. In counties surrounding the lake, between half an inch and a foot of snow and ice fell, according to the Department of Natural Resources.
“Anglers did an excellent job trying to fish the aftermath of a major snow and ice storm,” the Crappie USA association said in a news release. “The area was pounded with an ice storm over the lake area.”
One of the anglers who did the best was Redmond, who placed first in one of the tournament’s divisions. The win came after he and a partner caught almost 15 pounds of fish on a day that started out at 28 degrees, Crappie USA reported at the time.
Beyond the angling victories, Redmond’s life was in turmoil.
He faced his first felony charge of fraud in Newberry County, according to legal filings. Court records and a background check don’t explain the circumstances of the charges, but they were eventually dropped.
Two family deaths only months apart ushered in a rise in crime and drug abuse for Redmond, according to relatives. The deaths were the beginning of a “downward spiral,” said a family member.
The father who took Redmond in, taught him fishing and how to make winning lures passed away in August 2003. Redmond’s grandmother, who he lived with and was close to as a child, died a few months later, Redmond’s mother said.
Henry Redmond’s death was hard on everyone in the family, Ballentine remembered. For the father’s son, “it was devastating to him.”
In the depths
Redmond came up against a flurry of arrests as his fishing career tapered off.
On March 23, 2005, Lexington County Sheriff’s Department came to Redmond’s Little Mountain home with a search warrant and found more than 400 grams of “a mixture that contained crank,” or crystal meth, an officer’s report said. Redmond had a handgun on him as well. He was charged with trafficking methamphetamine and using a gun to facilitate selling drugs.
Prosecutors dropped the weapon and trafficking charges, and Redmond pleaded guilty to drug possession and criminal conspiracy, court documents show. He was sentenced to five years in prison suspended to three years probation and nearly $2,000 in fines.
Other misdemeanor charges soon piled up, including convictions for petty larceny and simple possession of marijuana. Drug abuse became more common for Redmond, family members said.
“It’s like clockwork,” a close relative said about Redmond’s struggles with meth. “When you’re dealing with someone with addiction, they get better, they get better, then they fall off.”
Redmond’s mother believes the loss of his father loomed over his drug use.
“I think that had a lot to do with the depression,” she said.
By 2007, Redmond had fallen out of the Crappie USA rankings.
Over the next five years, Redmond was charged with 12 felonies, although some were dropped. He pleaded guilty to burglary and drug possession.
In April 2008, a truck was seen coming from the back of an abandoned industrial plant on Bush River Road around 12:30 a.m., The State reported at the time. When a Lexington County deputy stopped the truck, more than 100 pounds of stolen copper was in the bed and Redmond was behind the wheel, according to the newspaper.
“Inside, authorities found power tools, multiple receipts from scrap metal buyers, and a list of closed industrial plants in the Midlands,” The State reported.
In that case, Redmond was found guilty of petty larceny, a misdemeanor.
In 2010, he was charged with burglary and criminal conspiracy in the attempted theft of metals in Abbeville County, according to court records. He later pleaded guilty to both charges and was again given a suspended prison sentence.
In 2012, he was arrested three times on charges of breaking into places or stealing.
In March of that year, a Highway Patrol trooper found Redmond in his truck on the side of a road near Interstate 385 in Laurens County, according to the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office. A deputy found electrical breakers and tools used for burglary inside. Redmond also had marijuana on him, according to the sheriff’s office.
An investigation determined that the breakers were stolen from a business in Fountain Inn, South Carolina.
He pleaded guilty to burglary and grand larceny of items worth more than $10,000 and marijuana possession, court records show. He again received a suspended prison sentence.
Two weeks after his arrest in Laurens County, Redmond was charged with possession of cocaine or a meth-based drug and petty larceny in Lexington County. He later pleaded guilty to resisting arrest, petty larceny and drug possession, receiving a four-year prison sentence that was suspended to four years probation.
He got back in the boat for competition in 2014. The last ranking available for Redmond with the Crappie USA association came that year when he placed sixth in another competition on Lake Murray. Redmond, along with a partner, caught almost 21 pounds of crappie, missing the top five by less than one tenth of a pound.
The big one
Getting back on the water wasn’t enough to keep Redmond out of trouble.
In February 2017, Redmond ran from Irmo police in a stolen vehicle, according to court documents. Police say when they stopped him, they found meth and Loratab, an opioid. Charges for a stolen vehicle, running from police along with possession with intent to distribute meth are pending in Richland County against Redmond.
Most recently, federal authorities busted up what they say was a conspiracy to buy and sell meth in Lexington County that included Redmond. After his guilty plea on Oct. 12, he’ll serve at least 10 years in prison without the possibility of parole.
Along with Redmond, federal prosecutors got convictions for nine others in the meth scheme, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.
“Evidence offered during their guilty pleas included audio and video surveillance of several defendants involved in drug trafficking and firearm possession,” the South Carolina U.S. Attorney’s Office said in the statement.
The U.S. Attorney’s office said children were present during one of the drug exchanges, but it didn’t identify the defendant or defendants involved in that exchange.
A judge is yet to sentence those who pleaded in the case.
To Kingsmore, Redmond’s former fishing partner, it’s sad that fishing couldn’t keep Redmond away from the drugs and crime that haunted him.
“Sometimes you get in a pit fall and you can’t get up,” Kingsmore said. “The last 15 or 20 years have been rough for him.”
A close relative said the meth use and criminal past doesn’t overshadow Redmond being “good-hearted,” as his mother called him. But the troubles have obscured his fishing and life accomplishments.
To Ballentine, Redmond’s mother, he remains a fisherman. She remembered a time on Lake Murray when he was young, and Redmond was with his father and her in the boat. They cast their lines and tagged the fish they caught, helping with an upcoming tournament in which anglers tried to reel in the tagged fish.
The elder Redmond showed his son how to tag a fish without hurting it. They pushed a needle through the back fin of a fish, securing the marker. Then they let the fish go.
“To this day he still loves fishing,” Ballentine said.
David Travis Bland @dtravisbland