From Charleston, SC south to Savannah, GA, also known as the Lowcountry, redfishing on the fly is on...
Just off the bow, say one oíclock, moving left to right, Scott points to a series of ripples and swirls almost undetectable to the untrained eye. Remaining motionless and silent, he waves his arm indicating to stop poling. Quickly the fly is airborne - in the smoothest stroke and loop that I have seen all year guiding (particularly from a guy who squats 500 lbs.+ regularly). With a bit of an underhand motion at the end of the forward cast, the seaducer lands like a mayfly imitation on a spring creek. Another swirl and weíre hooked up with a fiesty 5 lb. redfish. Scott admires the triple spots and blue edging along the tail as he releases yet another flycaught red. He is particularly thrilled with the catch, not so much from getting some rare bow time, but from using his new Glommis 7 wt. for the first time since he got it a 2 months ago. For me, I take a huge sigh of relief, afterall poling the Southeastís premier guide is the ultimate challenge to my own guiding skills. Plus I am now moving 18 ft. forward as quick as that red ate the fly.
After a long hot Carolina summer, yet a productive guide season for carp, cooling temperatures close one door while opening another. From Charleston, SC south to Savannah, GA, also known as the Lowcountry, redfishing on the fly is on. There is no question lowcountry redfishing is a year round fishery. With that being said, the fall/winter season is just awesome and my favorite time to hit it.
As Capt. Richard Stuhr, a Charleston area guide points out, Our Fall/Winter red drum fishing runs from mid-late Oct. all the way into February. Around the middle to the end of Oct., when water temperatures begin to cool, the mullet, menhaden shrimp and assorted food sources begin to migrate to deeper water. Cooler water and a dwindling food supply prompt the drum to school more intensely than in warmer months. Cooler water temperatures also mean better visiility as the algae blooms of summer die out, creating excellent sight-fishing conditions. This is the time to fish with artificial lures. Artificial means a blend of fur, flash and feathers aleast, to this angler.
As with any sight fishing scenario, stealth is the key to success if you want to go thru this new door. As Capt. Scott Wagner puts it when you think you are going slow, go even slower. On low tides, water levels of 6-8 inches and where the fish are going to be located. At his depth, redfish schools seek shelter for marauding dolphins and search for food on these vast flats. Dropping your pliers on the deck, careless approaches to areas holding fish, lining fish or just making poor presentations will lower success rates close to zero. Instead, come prepared! A few simple things can tremendously help your day. Many times, guides can put a client on fish. If you repeatedly blow the shots from not being able to throw 40 ft. (all you need) fairly accurately, it becomes quite frustrating for all. Guided trips cost money so why not fish rather that cast. Start with learning to Flatís Cast - simply roll cast your fly from your hand forward, followed by a waterhaul that leads into a shooting backcast, then present. What this does is reduces your false casting and will hopefully decreases any useless body english.Save that for pool shooting. Be ready to cast in any direction, including a backcast presentation, especially when schools surround the boat. A good guide will teach and focus you on other nuances and skills needed if he knows you can cast the required forty. If a guide has to get you within a rod lenght or two for a shot, you will get good at seeing mud trails. Being stealthy enables you to spot fish before they spot you. Put a fly in their path when they are happy and your on. Regardless of your quarry, this sightfishing setup, when performed correctly, will increase your odds of catching fish.
Speaking of guides, for your first few trips to the Lowcountry, hire one. When you research your guide, remember there is a difference betweeen fly fishing friendly and fly fishing specialist. Contact me if you would like and I will be glad to assist you any way that I can.
The majority of the areaís fishing is best navigated from a flatís skiff. Charleston tides can be 5 ft. and Savannahís tides can be 7 ft. plus. With that kind of range, water depths and fishing conditions can and do change dramaticallly and quickly. Add in fickle winds from frontal systems to tidal fluctuations, and youíll spoil a day like drinking sour milk from the carton. To note wade fishing is fairly limited. Yet wading on soft mud flats is a effective way to keep your feet still while casting. Iíve been told to try snowshoes, but until I see it done, Iím sticking to the bow.
Knowledge of a specific area is just one piece of the puzzle. Putting it to work on the water is another. Iím always amazed how guides fish one flat at one stage of the tide on any particular day with relation to the prevalent winds. As wind direction and tides change so will certain flat conditions. For example, my favorite Savannah flat, fishes perfect on an early morning incoming tide with wind less that 10 knots from the southwest. This same flat, on a north wind or afternoon sea breeze, is mud. Clear water is a definite plus and worth seeking. Look for flats that are alive anytime of the year (rays, birds, sharks, mullet,etc.)
Capt. Wagner, my good friend and Savannah area guide suggests planning well in advance as far getting that tide advantage: A perfect tide is low around 10am-2pm. That way, you combine high sun with low water conditions-an ideal sight fishing scenario. Winter redfishing is best on these mid-day low tides. Winter redfishing is not usually associated with tailing fish, usually waking fish in shallow water, but a few warm days with perfect conditons and do not be surprised to see a flap in the air. We certainly will follow the tide into the spartina grass when conditions permit. Remember, the higher the tide the shallower the fish will get. If you do try fishing on your own, you will need a shallow draft skiff. Be warned: Not all flats boats are equal!! My Waterman glides thru 6 inches of water with 2 anglers and is silent. Other boats, sometimes weighing more than 1000 lbs., may list 6 inches as the draft, but I think the designer forgets to factor in an engine, anglers, gear and beer on ice. I suggest bringing along Flyfishing Thru a Midlife Crisis and a flashlight to wait on the tide to come in. Donít get me wrong, if we are going to the Marquesas, we will take your bigger boat. Remember, at low tides, these schools are skinny and again, you guessed it, at high tide they are skinny. Skinny means safety and that dark shallow mud flat is like a redfish hottub on a cold day. Be aware that both sides of the tides have a magic window when fishing is best based on water depths. Learn the patterns to be in the right place at the right time. A foot of water on the edge of the grass vs 6 inches is quite different.
Flyfishing, regardless of what you pursue, is best kept simple. Alot like my other job to support three girls of putting people to sleep (waking them up too!), stick to what works. 7-9 wt. rods will cover most days. 9-10 ft. tapered knotless leaders to say 12-15 lb. tippets. Reds are typically just not that leader shy. I know guys who put on straight twenty and do just fine. Some Pressured schools from the other guys and on those skittish fish days, I may lengthen to a 12 ft. leader with a bit of flurocarbon added. The flurocarbon will also help around abrasive oyster bars. A few flies will usually suffice most situations. Carry seaducers and EPís for shallow water and clousers or deceivers for deeper shots. Roundout the selection with a few weedless crab patterns in the grass and a Dupree spoon as a searching pattern on any deeper edges/pockets in the grass. If you find redfish popping bait or tailing, the presentation is all that counts. Flies landing to hard will spook a red for sure. If they are tailing put it on their nose. But for cruising or waking fish put the fly out in front of them letting it sit. As he approaches give it a twitch. Aim for the front point of that V. Once they mud off your done. Just move slowly ahead. One red means more reds ahead.
Driving South on I-95, you can almost hear the beat of the drum from the countless creeks, flats and marshes that make the Lowcountry a perfect flyfishing destination. Within a days drive from most east coast metro area a long weekend is about pright. My rule is if the time on the water is twice the travel time it worth. Give it a go, whether youíre a first timer or an old salty dog, for dependable redfishing. Donít forget the family and be sure to try the crab cakes.
Capt. Paul Rose lives and guides for carp in the Charlotte,NC area from May to Oct and for redfish in the Lowcountry from Oct to Feb. Reach him at 7046166662 or on the web at carolinabonefishing.com.