October Flood Tide Redfish
This unique way to catch redfish has anglers waiting on high tides, flooded grass and fish tails.
If you know of a better month than October for targeting inshore redfish in our Georgia waters, I’d love to know when. After a long, hot summer, cool and breezy days send the water temperature tumbling, causing several species of fish to feed with a ferocity.
Whether you call them redfish, spottail bass, reds, red drum, or a host of other nicknames, these big battlers are biting and will be through fall and into early winter.
So it makes sense that for the last several years I’ve been on the water during the fall months chasing reds.
Reds are relatively easy to find. They feed in large schools and can be caught by fishing shrimp or a host of artificial offerings around oyster mounds during the last two hours of the falling tide, and the first two hours of the incoming tide. Fun and simple fishing at its finest.
Not what this story is about.
I met Chandler White, of Waverly, last fall down at the Turtle River as I loaded up my boat after successfully catching a limit of reds. When I asked him how he and his fish partner had done that day, his response had my full attention.
“We did OK. Caught a few on the fly rod. It was a pretty good day. I just wish it was a flood tide, so we could really get on some good fish in the grass,” said Chandler.
Flood tide? His words were the opposite of what the typical inshore fishermen wants to hear. As a matter of fact, you say those words around most seasoned inshore anglers, and you won’t see them on the water for three days before or after a big flood tide.
I talked with Chandler a little more, grabbed his phone number and drove back to Waycross daydreaming of big redfish tailing in the grass.
Fast forward a year later, and I’m at a Brunswick boat ramp getting ready to hop in Chandler’s skiff, the water is starting to slowly creep into the grass, and I’m ready to get a GON story cooking.
After launching his 17-foot Ankona skiff, he turned the key, and his two-stroke 25 hp Mercury came to life as we shot down river. As we neared the grassline, he killed the engine and explained how we were going to be fishing.
“We still have a good hour or more before the conditions are going to be prime for the redfish to tail, but we will start working our way through the grass and see if there is any early action,” said Chandler.
Quietly and methodically, Chandler stood on his poling platform and used his 21-foot Stiffy Hybrid Push Pole to glide through the maze of grass as he scanned the horizon in search of activity.
After a few minutes, suddenly a redfish tail the size of both my hands put together protruded from the water about 30 feet directly in front of the boat.
“There he is, a nice red 12 o’clock. We might be able to catch him. He is feeding hard,” said Chandler.
While he got his fly rod out, he explained that fiddler crabs will burrow down in the sand, and the flood tides can push them out of their holes. Redfish move up with the tide as it goes, making an easy meal out of the vulnerable fiddlers. This rooting along the bottom causes the red to “tail” as it searches for crabs.
Chandler stripped line off his reel and began to whip his offering back and forth through the air, before making a final whip and laying his homemade fly 5 feet directly in the path of the red. As the fish eased closer, it continued to feed on fiddlers, not showing any interest in Chandler’s offering. The 30-plus-inch red continued to feed before disappearing into some taller grass.
“That’s how it goes sometimes. Some days they will hammer the fly, and sometimes they won’t even take a look at it. It’s a fun game to play, challenging but fun,” said Chandler.
To play the inshore fly fishing game, Chandler likes to use a 9-foot Sage fly rod paired with a Tibor Light Back Country Wide CL spooled with Rio Summer Redfish line.
He builds his own 9-foot, tapered leader that generally goes from 40-lb. test (4 feet), to 30-lb. (2 feet), to 20-lb. (1 foot) and down to 16-lb. (2 feet), depending on the thickness and coarseness of the grass he’s fishing.
“You can buy tapered leaders, but I prefer to make mine myself. It gives me the flexibility to build what I need for the conditions,” said Chandler
Chandler prefers to use flies that he makes in a variety of colors and styles. Most of what he makes resemble small crabs or shrimp, and he says that he will generally use more natural colors in clear water and opt for brighter patterns if the water is stained heavily.
We continued to work our way through the giant grass maze, and Chandler pointed to a distant grassline.
“That’s what we’re looking for, that shorter grass over there,” said Chandler “It’s called Spartina grass (cordgrass), but notice it is much shorter than the other grass we have been fishing. You can bet that we will find some fish over in it.”
Quickly pushing us toward the grassline, Chandler slowed the boat as the first redfish revealed its location as it created a wake beneath the water. Twenty yards past it another large fish was tailing.
Chandler made a quick cast, and the first fish approached the fly and showed some interest before continuing to cruise through the flooded grass.
“I’m gonna switch things up on them I think,” said Chandler. “I’ve been throwing a sinking fly, but I think I’m going to switch to a topwater version and see if I can get their attention with it.”
We approached our next fish, and despite the wind beginning to pick up, Chandler somehow made a long cast into the wind and landed his offering perfectly in front of the fish. The fish swirled at the fly, missing by a few inches.
“Reds are notoriously known for not having the best aim when killing a lure on top of the water, but most of the time they will keep coming back until they get it,” Chandler said.
The fish disappeared, and we continued to work our way up farther into the grass with the rising tide. As we searched for fish, I asked Chandler what tide levels were prime for a good flood tide bite.
“The magic numbers to me on the Georgia coast are 7.7 to 8.5,” said Chandler. “Those numbers can vary a little, depending on where you are fishing, but when I’m looking at a tide chart for a good flood tide, those are the numbers I’m looking for.”
Chandler said at these levels you can push your way around pretty good, if you have a good skiff or jonboat that will draft fairly shallow.
As far as where to fish reds in the grass, Chandler said the options are endless.
“ Anywhere grass floods up onto a flat that stays dry during normal lower tides, you can bet there will be reds there on the flood tide,” said Chandler. “Fishing for reds like this is really more like hunting. You know where the fish are, and you have to get out and stalk them until you find them.”
We continued to fish, despite the wind picking up and making boat control just shy of impossible. We had a few more opportunities to connect with fish that didn’t work out.
“You know a lot of folks will call this style of fishing crazy, and I don’t mind that. I love it man,” said Chandler. “You’re not going to catch 40 fish a day doing this. You might catch 10, you might not get a bite, but there is something special about the challenge. I live for it.”
As the sun was close to diving into the ocean and the moon began to reflect in the sky, we sat in the flooded grass, talking life, fishing and a little bit of everything else.
We hadn’t been able to connect on a single fish on a fly rod that we had spotted that afternoon. We could blame it on the wind, the fish or a variety of other excuses. There was no need though. It had been a good afternoon on the water. After all, sometimes life has nothing to do with whether you win or lose. Sometimes it’s all about how you play the game.
No Fly Rod? No Skiff? No Problem!
Would you like to get in on some flood-tide action but don’t have a suitable boat? Chandler says a cheap kayak is a great option to get you into the action. Areas near public boat ramps often have flats that will flood during a big tide, and a short paddle is all it takes to get there.
Chandler says if you’re not into the fly fishing game, spinning tackle is an excellent choice to sight-fish tailing reds. Fluke-style soft plastics work well fished weightless, as do a variety of other soft plastics. Bring along a piece of bamboo or some other type of stake-out pole to hold your kayak in place while you cast to tailing fish.
The Right Tide
Not enough water, and Chandler can’t access the grass. If there’s too much water, the fish are too scattered, and you can’t see their tails when they are feeding. Therefore, Chandler looks for high tides during daylight hours that are between 7.7 to 8.5.
To pinpoint the Georgia tides at your specific fishing area, go to Saltwatertides.com.
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