Voices of AnyCreek • Updated Thu, Aug 3, 2023
While bonefish and permit are widely touted as world-class targets for those on the hunt for tailing fish, a different species reigns king for anglers in the shallow estuaries and salt marshes of the North Florida Lowcountry. Redfish — also known as red drum, or spot tail — frequent these intracoastal habitats from the Mid Atlantic all the way to South Texas. Redfish thrive among the intricate tidal latticework of mud-banked creeks, snaking through dense clusters of spartina and other marsh grasses in search of fiddler crabs, mud minnows, and other unwary crustaceans seeking refuge within the dense intertidal vegetation.
words and imagery by Capt. William Cochran
Each year along the southeastern Atlantic coastline, we mark our calendars for dates when the moon phase strengthens the tide enough to exceed the banks of the salt marsh, covering vegetation beneath a steady surge of incoming water. Those that experience these famed “flood tides” can watch as wading birds, dolphins, and fish converge en masse on the marsh to feed in newly accessible flooded areas. It’s during the peaks of these tides when redfish belly-crawl through blades of spartina on the hunt for an easy meal. Once on the flats, redfish will tail much like bonefish or permit as they nose through the muddy bottom — head down, tail wagging languidly amongst the reeds. Around Amelia Island, fiddler crabs and shrimp make up the bulk of the redfish forage, so we typically throw fly patterns that imitate one of the two.
The best areas or “flats” for flood tide fishing have good creek access near spartina grass and remain 1 to 1.5 feet deep at the peak of high tide. As we pole along these grassy feeding grounds, we scan the water for wagging tails, subtle ripples, or backs sliding through the grass, betraying the presence of feeding redfish. We listen carefully for slurps of surface feeding as these fish consume their prey by cavitation and cue us in on their path. After spotting our target, we make our approach — keeping in mind that stealth and a solid lead go a long way. Present them with a convenient, unsuspecting meal, casting the fly a few feet in front of where the fish is feeding. Patiently work the fly to keep it in the strike zone for as long as possible, and recast if the fish deviates from its initial course. Consistent, small strips and a solid strip-set are needed to seal the deal. Once you connect, you’re in for a fight.
Capt. William Cochran is an Orvis-endorsed fly-fishing guide in the nation's oldest settlement, Amelia Island.
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