Every spring, anglers flock to salt marshes in the South in pursuit of redfish. The popular game fish feast on fiddler crabs during the spring tides that flood the spartina grass flats around full and new moons. Redfish are perfectly designed for hunting crustaceans in the shallows. Their downward-facing mouths have shell-cracking crushers and their wide bodies and tails allow them to belly-crawl to areas few other fish can reach. Their copper hue makes them hard to see in stained water, and the black spots on their tails act as a false eye, confusing osprey and other predators.
The top destination for catching tailing redfish is the South Carolina Lowcountry, but they can also be targeted on grass flats in North Carolina, Georgia, and parts of northeast Florida. As redfish forage in the flooded grass, they do headstands in the calf-deep water and wave their tails like flags, providing anglers with thrilling sight-fishing opportunities. These fish can weigh up to about 15 pounds and spend the first few years of their lives in the relative safety of the marsh before joining the adult “bull” redfish in open water. The best flood tide fishing is from April through September, which is when fiddler crabs are most active. To make the most of this year’s flood tide redfish season, follow these six tips.
1) Arrive Early
Redfish feed aggressively during the incoming tide, so be sure to arrive two hours before high tide. In most areas, that’s when the water will begin to fill the otherwise dry flats. It’s also wise to fish the flood tides that occur late in the day, as redfish tend to tail the most in the evenings. When you reach your flat of choice, position yourself near a natural entry point, such as a feeder creek or deep edge. As the water rises, remember to look not only for tails but also for blades of grass moving and parting, which is also a telltale sign of a redfish on the prowl. Be sure to listen, too. It’s common to hear redfish ambush fleeing shrimp or mullet on their way onto the flat. If you do hear a commotion, go check it out—you may just find the culprit tailing nearby.
2) Be Stealthy When Stalking Tailing Redfish
Flood tide fishing in the Lowcountry is typically done by skiff or on foot. Fishing from a stand-up paddleboard is also effective and allows you to see better and cover more ground than you can while wading. Regardless of how you choose to reach the fish, a stealthy approach is key. While redfish may seem oblivious to you while they’re tailing, one careless step or thump of a push pole can send them bolting for deeper water. Once you locate a fish, determine which way it’s moving. Some fish will zig-zag and tail sporadically while others will tail along a natural contour line, such as a bank or row of especially dense grass. Next, try to get into casting position as quietly as possible. To avoid spooking the fish, limit your false casting and make your first cast count.
3) Presentation Trumps Fly Selection When Casting to Redfish
Tailing redfish are not picky. They are in full-on feeding mode, so your presentation matters more than the fly you choose. Black, brown, and tan flies that resemble fiddler crabs are always a good bet. These weighted flies often include a bright contrasting color, such as orange or purple, which draws the fish’s attention. Since you’re fishing in thick grass, having a weed guard on your fly is a must. The Kwan, the Drum Beater, and the Kung Fu Crab are tried-and-true patterns. Twitching a topwater Gurgler fly across the surface is also a great way to get the attention of a redfish looking for its next meal.
4) Take Your Time When Stripping a Fly
Once you’ve located a tailing fish, creep within casting range. Most tailing fish will hang around for a while, so you don’t need to rush. Focus instead on positioning yourself so that your cast will intersect the fish’s path at an angle of at least 90 degrees. This way, your fly will move across the fish’s face or away from the fish. You never want your fly to move toward the fish, which is a guaranteed way to spook it. As the fish approaches your fly, start to slowly retrieve it, like a crawling crab. Don’t rush—stripping quickly will snag your fly in the grass and scare the fish. Another strategy that works very well is to let the fly sit still before giving it a couple of twitches when the fish’s head is about a foot away. This will often produce an explosive strike.
5) Plan an Exit Strategy
As the tide falls, redfish begin to leave the flat in search of deeper water. But before you call it day, it’s worth looking around the feeder creeks that serve as exit points. If you’re lucky, you might catch one last fish before your window of opportunity closes.
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6) Use the Right Equipment For Flood-Tide Redfish
To effectively target flood tide redfish, you need to gear up specifically for the endeavor. Here’s what you need to be successful on the salt marsh.
A nine-foot 8-weight fly rod is perfect for flood tide fishing. The Orvis Helios 3D is a phenomenal rod. The Redington Predator is a great value at a lower price point.
A fully-sealed drag is a necessity for any type of saltwater fly-fishing. There are a number of excellent reels on the market, including the Nautilus NV-G and the Orvis Hydros. Both are sure to slow down a charging redfish.
Catching tailing redfish requires a subtle presentation. For this reason, you need to use a weight-forward line with a mid-length taper, like RIO’s Redfish line. These versatile lines load the rod easily and perform well at close range.
A tapered nine-foot 16- to 20-pound nylon leader, like RIO’s Redfish/Seatrout Leader, is ideal for flood tide fishing in salt marshes.
Never wade without wearing shoes or boots, like the Orvis Christmas Island Bootie. There are razor-sharp oysters throughout the marsh, as well as stingrays. To avoid skin irritation from the grass, it’s smart to wear long pants too.