Fly Fishing for Redfish in the Lowcountry
Beaufort’s tidal systems make shallow water fishing a favorite outdoor activity for locals and visitors.
Even though the weather is flirting with spring in Beaufort, we’re still seeing the winterish water conditions that are ideal for fly fishing redfish. Whether your polling from your flats boat, wading in the short Spartina grass or preying from your standup paddle board, saltwater fly fishing is all about sight casting for reds at low tide here in our Lowcountry.
The Red Drum goes by many names—redfish, Spottail Bass or simply reds—but there’s no mistaking this delicious fish when it’s pulled out of the water from the end of your line. Its dark red copper-colored back fades into a white belly and has a characteristic “beauty mark” that looks like an eyespot near the tail. They can be fished year-round in Beaufort’s plethora of fisheries along the Broad River, Coosaw River, Port Royal Sound and Harbor Island.I sat down to get the scoop from local pro, Captain Owen Plair, an Orvis endorsed fly fishing guide at Bay Street Outfitters who grew up fishing from the Broad River in his backyard.
“Fly fishing here you’re active,” says Capt. Owen. “You’re seeing the fish, you’re casting to the fish and you’re watching them eat your fly.”
While he says September through November is the best time to fish for reds because their bellies are slap full of shrimp staging up for the winter, his favorite time to go is in the winter season when the water’s about 50˚F, the bait’s gone, the sediment’s settled and the glassy water is crystal clear.
In the clearer water conditions redfish are more aware of their predators, schooling into the mudflats where predators like dolphins can’t reach. While in the summer time you’ll spot schools of 20-30 redfish, in the winter you’ll find schools of 200-500 fish at a time. It’s common for the fly fisherman of the area to have flats boats, smaller 15-20 ft boats with polling platforms that can drift in eight to ten inches of water at low tide.
Some may opt to wade in the mudflats, but be cautious of the rays in the pluff mud. If you’re looking for another active alternative, try fly fishing from a standup paddle board. It gives you access to the shallow waters like a kayak but a better vantage point like that of a flats boat’s.
Saltwater fly fishing will require bigger rods, bigger flies and bigger lines because you’re catching bigger fish. Let’s face it: your huge 20 inch mountain river trout is our small redfish. Use a seven to nine fly rod (for conventional spin fishing use a 10-20 test) and a braided line for abrasion resistance against the sharp grasses and oysters. Fly-wise in this winter season, redfish feed mostly on mud minnows and other small baits. Also, because you’re sight casting, saltwater fly fishing means longer 30-40 ft casts in 5-10 mph winds. According to Capt. Owen, the longer cast is necessary for redfish because you can’t get close to the fish without spooking them.
Bay Street Outfitters is Beaufort’s local fly fishing and light tackle outfitter and charter located at 815 Bay street.