Flood Tide Redfish

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Photo by Bryan Bowers

Photo by Bryan Bowers

By Owen Plair

I always tell my clients that the flood tides are a gift, to anglers, from mother nature.

Targeting tailing redfish on flood tides, from Northern Florida all the way to North Carolina, is one of the most unique opportunities for fly anglers. Something about seeing a tail slowly cut through the top of the water column, surrounded by short spartina grass, on a flat that is only covered by water a few times a month is simply special. Watching these fish casually tail their way through the flat, digging their noses in the mud looking for fiddler crabs is almost as fun as watching them at the end of your fly line.

This is a simple and short explanation of this unique style of redfish and will be the introduction to more articles on flood tide redfishing, which will be more detailed on characteristics of flats, fishing, presentations, fly selection, and equipment.

What is a flood tide?

A flood tide is a larger than normal tide that pushes water onto short spartina grass flats, allowing redfish to feast on the thousands of fiddler crabs that live there. In areas where flood tides occur, there is a lot more tidal flow than most redfisheries in the US. For example, here in Beaufort our average tide is between 6-7 ft, but your flood tides would be 7.5-8.5 ft which pushes enough water on these short grass flats for the redfish to move in.

On average we get around 10-15 of these tides per month, depending on moon phases, and only fish the floods from the middle of March till the end of November, depending on weather patterns. Once the water temp gets below 65 the fiddlers go down and the redfish stop tailing. No food means no tails. Tide charts are your best friend when it comes to flood tides and I seem to find myself always looking forward to the next set of floods!

How do you fish a flood tide?

When fishing the flood you usually want to start around 2 hours before high tide, so you can be there when the fish are just starting to move onto the flat with the incoming tide. I find that most of the action is going to be the last hour of incoming and the first hour of outgoing, depending on the height of the tide for that day. The fish are actively feeding while on these flats, so after about 2 hours you start to see fewer tails because, as you can imagine, most of the fish are full after gorging on the buffet of fiddler crabs. This is, however, not always the case, especially in the fall when fish seem to feed nonstop through the tide.

As the tide floods you are looking for tails, because the fish are sticking their noses in the mud looking for crabs and this brings their tails out of the water. Sometimes you can also hear a fish going crazy in the grass, see them cruising with their backs out, or swimming in the shallow water making their way around the flat. Looking outside the box on the flat is key. You want to open your vision to everything that’s possibly going on, which will help see the tail from a distance.

What kind of flies and leaders?

Of course you want to match the hatch and nothing beats a good ole crab pattern. Redfish are not picky during these flood tides because they are in hard core feeding mode so as long as it looks something like a crab or any kind of bait, they’ll smash it! Shrimp patterns and baitfish patterns also work on the flood especially for cruising fish later in the tide, who may not be tailing.

Two essentials for a flood tide pattern are a weed guard and weighted eyes. With all the short spartina grass around you have to have a weed guard to stay off the grass and have a heavy enough fly to get down to the strike zone when the fish are tailing. I like to use a 20 lb flouro leader between 7-10 ft depending on wind and sky conditions. Tapered leaders are best for a quiet presentation to the fish and getting those heavier flies turned over.

The best part about chasing tailing redfish on the flood is being able to target them on foot. These short spartina flats have a hard bottom because they’re baking in the sun 80% of the time. That is also why the spartina grass is so short. Its a very cool experience standing on the flat and watching the tide flood in. It’s almost like an avalanche of water rushing onto the flat. You can literally be standing on dry ground and within an hour be casting to a tailing redfish in the same area. Walking around looking for a tailing fish seems to bring out the primal side of us as humans because its more like hunting than fishing.

Fishing from the skiff is a great way to target tailing redfish on flood tides. On a skiff you can not only cover more water but you can see more fish. Being on the poling platform gives you a huge advantage when spotting fish from a distance and also allows your angler on the bow a better vantage point if he’s never seen a tailing redfish. Fishing the flood from the boat, it’s also easier to get close to the fish. Walking fast to fish from a distance is a good way to spook them. Poling the skiff puts up almost no wake to alert the fish. On clear days you can even see the body of the fish from the boat while it’s tailing which helps you as an angler adjust your cast if the fish is constantly changing direction. Walking is fun but fishing from the boat can sometimes be a lot more productive. It means better shots at fish and also more water covered for that session.

Stay tuned for info on flood tide redfish and learning about this unique style of fishing.

Tight Lines,

Owen Plair
Gink & Gasoline
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10 thoughts on “Flood Tide Redfish

  1. Great piece Owen. You got all the major points in one article. I could not agree more. I always wade. The reason being I want to be on the flat before the water and the fish. I am able to learn where the fish come onto the flat and therefore where they may leave on the outgoing. I find the fish are often working long before the skinny water skiffs can float the marsh. Covering more water and better visibility are a plus of course, but maximum time to fish the flood is always a concern. Thanks

  2. Terrific article, Owen. I am an old Florida redfisher who now lives on a trout stream in North Georgia. In Florida, I lived on a redfish flat near Ft. Desoto and fished from my Hughes Redfisher or my kayak or I waded from one of those vessels. The vessels got me in range, and the wading allowed for a stealthy approach, as I often fished alone.I am intrigued by the prospect of fishing for Georgia, SC, or NC redfish. Good to hear the spartina flats are firm, as that is a key to comfortable wading. To me the keys to redfishing were getting the tide right and a good presentation. It took a lot of experience to learn by trial and error. I expect getting a good guide can set you on the right track in your neck of the woods and shorten the learning curve.

  3. Went to the ga coast a few weeks back for my first tailing redfish trip. This may now be my new favorite form of fishing – possibly exceeding good ole dry fly.

  4. Owen,
    Nice article. I’ll be out there on there looking for those reds during what may be the last months of this year to find them in the grass.

  5. Pingback: Flood Tide Redfish, Part 3 | Fly Fishing | Gink and Gasoline | How to Fly Fish | Trout Fishing | Fly Tying | Fly Fishing Blog

  6. Pingback: Story: "Flood Tide Redfish" | MidCurrent

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