Fish — And Shoot — The Flood Tide

Moon and weather combine for special high tides that bring hungry redfish into the grass. And hunting marsh hens is a fun add-on!

Jaryd Hurst | November 1, 2020

The calendar shifts to early fall, and many outdoorsmen across the whitetail’s range are thinking about deer season and the rut. However, for those of us lucky enough to live near the coast, fall brings an opportunity that can’t be passed up: Nor’easters and the accompanying flood tides.

Flood tides are a natural occurring phenomenon that occur every year with a certain set of weather and moon conditions. A full moon naturally makes for larger tidal swings, and when that happens with a stiff northeastern wind, it pushes even more water into the coastal estuaries along the Georgia coastline. Flooded are the spartina marsh and sawgrass, allowing predators, primarily redfish, access to a food source they normally can’t reach. This pattern can happen during any calendar month, however it is most common in the fall and winter.

While casting for redfish, listen for that tell-tale clacking sound of a marsh hen. Gallinules and rails are not great fliers, so wing-shots are not near as challenging as a covey flush, but it’s great fun.

Redfish are eager to swim into shallow flooded marsh to feed on various crustaceans that are normally safe from predation. Targeting these shallow tailing redfish is extremely fun and more akin spot and stalk hunting than it is to fishing.

From Charleston to Merritt Island, you will find many anglers in shallow drafting skiffs poling their way through the flooded grass with fly rods and spinning rods. This perfect storm of conditions makes targeting redfish with a fly rod, which is normally a difficult endeavor, much easier. Any 6 to 8 weight fly rod setup with a gurgler or crab imitation will work. Most common colors are purples, blacks and browns.

Targeting these fish with spinning tackle is also common place with both live bait and artificial lures. Due to the shallow water, these redfish can be extremely spooky, so scale down all your terminal tackle accordingly. I prefer 10- or 12-lb. test, and on occasion will bump up to 15 if I’m breaking fish off consistently. For live bait, small live shrimp is ideal. However small finger mullet work well, too. If you prefer artificial, it’s tough to beat a Gulp Shrimp on a jig head. I like as light of a jig head as I can use and still cast effectively. For colors, I prefer all white. In my experience, all white will produce more bites, however a natural color such as New Penny will produce the bigger bites, but it is more difficult to see in the water.

Sight and hearing play a key role. A quality pair of polarized glasses will cut the glare and allow you to see the tails and dorsals of feeding redfish protruding above the water line. Often, you can hear the fish sucking down live prey or hear the a swirl of a tail in the grass. To be successful, be stealthy on your approach and limit boat noise as much as possible. Experienced anglers know to limit the amount of “hull slap” while poling into casting position. The weather conditions that make flood tide fishing possible can also make it difficult to be successful. Go slow and be patient while maneuvering the vessel.

The high tides that can occur along the coast in November and December will bring tailing redfish—and other predatory fish—into the grass for some awesome sight fishing action.

With advancements in technology, many anglers are utilizing drones to get video of the entire marsh to find actively feeding fish and get a direction of travel. While it’s not necessary to be successful, it can help you find fish faster and will also yield some awesome video footage to show to family and friends later! If you have access to a drone, I would recommend bringing it with you for this purpose. Even if it doesn’t directly help you catch fish, it’s just fun.

Although you will see custom skiffs made specifically for this style of fishing, a 16-foot jonboat a tiller handle and a cooler to stand on will get the job done. I do encourage you to purchase a quality push pole. They are expensive, however if you wield a heavy, cumbersome and cheaply made push pole for four, you will wish you had spent the extra few bucks on a carbon fiber push pole.

High Tide Extracurricular: Marsh Hens

Marsh hen seasons align with flood tide season and provides the chance for a unique “Cast & Blast.” When heading out after flood tide fish, don’t forget your shotgun and a box of bird shot. If you find yourself limited out on redfish, break out the scattergun and put a few marsh hens in the boat.

If you’re looking for marsh hens in the regs, marsh hen is the common name for gallinules and rails. There are four flavors of rails listed in the Georgia hunting regs—king and clapper, sora and Virginia. There is a limit of 15 per day for king and clapper, and 25 for sora and Virginia. The daily limit for gallinules is 15 per day.

Georgia has a split season for rail again this year. The first season was Sept. 17 to Oct. 21, and the second season is Nov. 13 to Dec. 17. The seasons for gallinules are Nov. 21-29 and Dec. 12 – Jan. 31.

When the tide is high, look for any bush, tree or vegetation that is tall enough for marsh hens to get up and out of the incoming water. Ease up to the vegetation using the push pole, and flush the birds out just like quail. Use an open choke such as improved cylinder and a small shot size like No. 8s. Rails and gallinules are big and slow, so let them get up and out in front of you before folding them up. Don’t lead them much, if at all.

Marsh hens and tailing redfish are an easy, accessible and affordable outdoor activity that nearly anyone can be successful at. It’s a great way to introduce newcomers as there is almost always action. In the coming months, keep an eye on the tide charts looking for large positive high tides and watch the weather for Nor’easters. When they overlap with each other, it creates an exciting opportunity that is hard to beat in the fun category.

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