Monday, June 26, 2017

Back to Chucktown for a Redfish Reunion

In my search for the heart-stopping, heavy breathing, time-stopping, endorphin release that is fishing for tailing redfish, I was drawn back to the Holy City.  I had been exploring the redfish flats around Wilmington, NC for the past few years, because it was closer and I always like to have options, but the past two years were disappointing with poor weather, tide cycle-long thunderstorms and no tailers to be found, so I was ready for a change.  Although further away, I had never not found fish around Charleston.

Carl was along for the adventure and we set out early last Saturday for the long drive south.  We rented a cabin in the KOA in Mt. Pleasant and so after hitting South of the Border, wound our way southeast along the back roads of SC finally merging with highway 17, just minutes from our doorstep.  It took about 9 hours door to door with bathroom breaks and food stops.

I like to travel with the engine off the transom, we we re-hung the Yamaha 25, unloaded the car, and then went to Charleston Angler to get into the mood.  Carl bought a few flies and I restocked my 16 lb. hard mono tippet.  Afterwards, we took a drive over to Folly Beach for dinner at the traditional stop - the Bowen Island Restaurant.   Overlooking the Sol Legare Creek, fried seafood and an ice cold beer are the order of the day and not even the line out the door could dissuade us from our pilgrimage.

After dinner, we couldn't resist the draw of the marsh as the sun started to go down.

The area around Charleston has wetlands as far as the eye can see and the marsh sunsets are epic!

We returned to the KOA and made preparations for the next day.

Sunday, I was planning for the longshot - an early morning low tide for waking fish and an afternoon high tide for tailing fish.  Impossible, I know, but the mind will not let the dream pass.

We launched at the Isle of Palms ramp on Morgan Creek.  On the way out the extended kill switch lanyard was dragging in the water and my attempt to retrieve it while running resulted in its liberation.  I jury rigged a solution using tippet and we proceeded uneventfully to Hamlin Sound.  We took one of the feeder creeks that dumped us out in the middle of the sound and proceeded to pole NE along the shoreline as we re-learned to discern nervous mullet from pushing redfish.  

We were throwing a simple shrimp fly that had worked in the past.  

We never saw any feeding birds, but in one spot where there seemed to be a lot of activity, I missed three hookups.  We poked around the NE corner of Hamiln Sound, but did not see any other fish so we motored out and continued on the Intercoastal to see if we could find a flat that might flood in the afternoon.  

I found a flat behind Capers Island where I had caught fish before and so we explored the island and flat and napped as we waited for the tide to rise.  

 The tide came up, not too deeply, but just enough for a single crawler to muscle his way in - hanging just on the edge between the short and tall grass where the ingress/egress point is.  Carl threw some casts at the fish, but it spooked and that was that.  

We ran back to the ramp and loaded up the boat full of anticipation for tomorrow's fishing when we were confident we'd get a good flooding tide.   Back at the KOA, we rinsed off the boat, put away the gear, showered, and headed out for a bite.  A full stomach made our eyelids heavy and, once in the air-conditioned cabin, we fell asleep quickly.

Monday morning, we stopped and got gas and coffee and then headed back to Isle of Palms to try the double again.  The wind was up a little on Hamlin Sound, and we saw no fish; I don't think I even threw a cast.  We ran aground trying to find our way into Copahee Sound, but eventually did get in.  
It was still pretty low, so we motored out and went to our spot behind Capers to wait out the rising tide.  

MANY hours passed and the waiting was killing me, but the tide rose and we spread out to wait for invading redfish.  The high tide peaked and then started to fall.  The marsh looked perfect, but we never saw a fish.

 The Intercoastal was rough with a steady 15-20 knot wind and that made it slow going but we eventually made it to ramp and then home to the KOA.  Boat rinse, shower, dinner, repeat.  No longshots for the double tide two step tomorrow.

Tuesday morning we slept in and went out for breakfast.  We would only fish the afternoon hightide - this time on the Wando River.  We made a stop at the Lowcountry Fly Shop in Mt. Pleasant and oogled at the Vedavoo packs, checked out their flies, and talked about the first two days of fishing.

We killed time and then met an old friend Richard for lunch at the Five Loaves in Mt. Pleasant (highly recommended!).  After a nice lunch and great conversation, we headed back to the campground to load up the 13' Whaler for her voyage on the Wando.

 Before the tide was high enough to flood the flats, we could hear the fish crashing bait in the nearby river shallows.  We finally saw our first tail and the hunt was on!  I chased a tail near the flat entry point and then crossed a creek in chest deep water to connect with another flat.  There I cast to, but could not entice, at least half a dozen tailing redfish - their tails were so BIG!  I was throwing a crab fly with a rabbit tail and letting it sit, hoping the fibers in the rabbit would wave at the fish to draw its attention.  Sadly, I got no love.  As the tide rose, I pushed deeper onto the flat, but did not see any more fish after that first hour.  We spotted a tail on an adjoining flat and Carl put some casts on him that had to be within the fish's eyesight.

He too got no love.  We stayed until the tide drained the flat, but it seemed the burst of tailing activity was right when the fish could get on the flat.  As the tide rose, I'm sure the fish were still there, we just couldn't seem them in the deeper water.  The weather made the Wando slick calm and the run back to the ramp was a breeze in my little Whaler.

Because ti was late, and we thought most restaurants would be closed if we went back to the KOA, washed the boat, showered, etc before venturing back out, we made a quick stop at the Burger King and ate fast food as we watched the Weather Channel talk about hurricane Cindy down in the Gulf.  After boat and gear maintenance in the dark, we showered and went to bed.

Wednesday morning was our last day to fish and we were encouraged by the activity we had seen the previous day - more than the last six days over two years we'd seen in NC.  The weather was forecast to be rainy mid-day, but we were hopeful it would clear by the time the flats would flood.

We made it to the ramp at around 2 pm, hoping to cast to those breaking fish before the flat flooded.  On the way out we were flagged down by a 15 year old boy and his two teenaged girl friends in a 20+ bay boat with an inoperable engine.  Being a proper mariner, I offered a tow which he gladly accepted.  Probably saved someone a whippin'.  So my little 13' Whaler with 25HP tiller steer Yamaha towed that big boat with three passengers several miles back to his family pier - practically back to the ramp.

After an admonition to "stay in school and don't do drugs", we nosed the Whaler back into the wind and headed for the flats.  Like the day before, we waited on the river's edge waiting for the tide to rise.  We heard reds crashing bait, but did not spot any tails like the day before.  We waited and waited and waited, scanning the flats for tails.

The flat was flooded perfectly, but we never saw a tail. Near the top of the tide, we felt we should look elsewhere wo we reluctantly left this flat and followed the advice of our friend Richard, and crossed the river to look at northside flats.  We scanned along one stretch, and then poled through a beautiful flat up behind an island, but nothing.  I looked at the chart for some likely places to find fish, and we slowly motored up into another area that looked promising.

I was poling around, and all hope seemed lost, but in the back of the flat, we heard a big splash, and then saw a tail.  The red was making a commotion to get through some accumulated rafting plant stalks.  There was debris all over where the fish was and I made some sloppy casts.  Finally the red just submerged and moved on.

I continued to pole along the edge of the grass and we spotted another tail.  Carl took a cast at 'em, but this fish too didn't bolt, but just submerged and decided not to play.  I kept poling along as the light continued to dim - time was running out.  I circled back and the fish Carl had cast to was active again and he took a few casts, but the fish was not interested.

After shooing the grasshoppers off the engine, we did the slow motor back to the ramp, checkling some shoreline for the Hail Mary fish, but she was never found.  We found fish and had some shots,but needed our A-game and just didn't bring it that day.

Overall, we covered a lot of area, found fish, made some heart-stopping casts, and waited breathlessly for the eat, but unfortunately it never came.  The Charleston marshes are expansive and beautiful, and that makes the fishing fun.  Can't wait to come back, but we might need to add another strategy to our approach...