With the temperature dropping and the marsh turning gold, we spool up our cold water lines in preparation for the “winter low”. 9 PM sunsets on a flooded spartina flat is now just a memory. I find myself reminiscing about this past flood tide season at the many tails, eats, missed shots, and pure heartbreakers. Over time, I’ve learned a lot about redfish- what to do and what not to do to convince them to eat. I want to share a few important tips to keep in mind next time you’re on the bow of a skiff with the fly line between your toes.
1. Slow your pole
When poling a flat, every now and then I like to stop poling and take a minute to just sit, observe, and listen. It’s easy to cover a lot of ground fast searching for tails, but not always the best method. There’s a lot of tailing fish I would have passed if I hadn’t stopped and heard them in the grass. Move slow, and don’t rush poling up to a tailing fish. Unless they are cruising off and you need a “Hail Mary”, they aren’t going anywhere. Take your time. Position the skiff far enough away to give them room to move around without coming up on you, yet close enough to get a fly in front of them. Take the time to sit and watch how they’re acting before poling up on them.
2. Move the fly less, think more.
It may sound obvious, but in the moment, try to think about what your doing; think as the fish you’re casting to. A huge mistake I made, in the beginning, was stripping too fast and too early. You end up stripping the fly away before the fish even gets a glimpse of it. Let the fish do its thing, position your fly in its path and let it sit. That’s right, sit. As in stationery. Pick it up and reposition the fly if needed. When the fish has the fly on its nose, bump it and give it just enough movement to get its attention. Redfish will have their nose buried in the mud, and grass blocks their vision from that fly you’re stripping 2 feet in front of them. Another thing I try to pay attention to is the tail. I’ll wait (if possible) until the tail goes down and the fish is looking ahead to move the fly. It’s more likely he’ll see the fly and eat.
3. Presentation matters more than fly selection
In direct correlation with the paragraph above, presentation in the grass is everything. Tailing redfish in the grass are in hardcore feeding mode. They’re not picky. The issue is again, getting that fly in their vision. I’ve only had a handful of times that a fish has seen my fly and refused it. Mainly later in the tide when they’re full of crabs and not feeding as much. Throw anything crabby/shrimpy in whatever color you desire. They’ll smash it.
4. Keep an eye on entry/exit points
This is one that is sometimes overlooked. As the tide falls out I’ll always hang around the feeder creeks. There have been days I haven’t seen a fish, poled over to a feeder and sat and watched them as they eased off of the flat. Usually, these fish are cruising and you have a very small window to put a fly in front of them that they may or may not investigate (they’re full from munching on crabs, duh.) During fall, fish seem to feed throughout the tide so I always check the feeders before throwing the towel. When fishing a midday tide when the sun is up, I’ll hang around the edges and feeders more often. I’ve seen multiple fish come up onto the flat, tail for a few seconds, then leave. I think it’s due to their survival instinct. Redfish like to be hidden and/or close to safety. Usually, the later the tide, the braver the fish will be.
5. When in doubt, gurgle it out
The gurgler is by far my favorite fly to use on flood tides for a few reasons, but mainly because it’s almost impossible for the fish not to see it/check out. The only issue with a gurgler is getting it down in thick grass. I’ll usually carry two rods with me, one with a heavy dumbbell-weighted fly, and one with… yep, you guessed it. A gurgler. 9 times out of 10, redfish will be in the heavy stuff, but every now and then I’ll spot one cruising an open flat. Gurgler Time. There’s nothing more exciting to see a redfish slam a topwater fly. Especially in less than a foot of flooded spartina. Cast the gurgler in front of the fish and don’t be afraid to let it sit until you see the tail go down like I’ve mentioned above. When the fish is looking ahead, pop the gurgler using short, fast strips. Don’t slow down if you see him following, but don’t necessarily speed up. I like to keep the same pace, if anything, shorten your strips but speed up the time between. Setting the hook is one of the hardest parts. After seeing a redfish slurp a gurgler off of the surface, it’s easy to let excitement take over and set it too early. I like to let the fish take the fly, and wait a second before strip-setting to make sure he’s got it.
Flood tides are hands down one of the most unique experiences a fly angler can have, and I’m eagerly looking forward to next year. I hope these tips help bring more fish to hand.
Gavin Sellers is a fly angler and photographer from Georgia who is always ready for the next flood tide. Check him out @gavin_sellers on Instagram!