Simply stated, the most consistently good inshore saltwater fly fishing available in Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia is for red drum. And with big autumn tides pushed by giant storms like Hurricane Florence, right now is the time to limber up a long fly rod and have at 'em locally.
Great fishing can be found almost anywhere there are flooded grass beds off area sounds, river mouth areas and the Intracoastal Waterway throughout the Georgia coastline and along the East Coast of Florida about as far south as Cape Canaveral.
Fly-rod redfish action can be outstanding in this region because there are plenty of fish, and the habitat is ideal for reds to muscle into shallow, newly flooded grassy areas looking for food — chiefly crabs.
It's often uncrowded fishing for anglers who work a bit to get off the well-beaten waterways, or pushpole so far back into shallow water that average boats and anglers can't follow.
If you're a kayaker, this is a choice time for using your yak, if for no other reason than to get far back into areas others fear to roam. Then get out and wade, and use your eyes to locate redfish as they "tail" and feed in the shallows.
Flooded tide autumn reds can be found in virtually any tidal creek, bay or sound along our coast. During rising tides, fish "push" onto newly flooded grass flats where they feed on crabs, shrimp and baitfish. Anglers cast weedless streamers and crab imitations to redfish seen tailing, much like is done for bonefish.
During falling tides, reds cruise along tidal banks where small creeks flow into larger water. They frequently boil the surface and scatter baitfish, making easy targets for fly-rodders.
This, in fact, is much of the fun of fly-rod redfishing. It's much easier fishing than chasing spooky bonefish, temperamental permit or snooty snook. Reds are usually obliging feeders and not especially spooky. In a good day, it's common for a fly rod redfishermen to catch a dozen or more fish, while having chances at two or three times that many.
This isn't to say that in hard-pressured local areas that reds don't get shy, or don't move to other flats and areas where they're not harassed. But there's plenty of elbow room in area grass flat shallows, and those who work the hardest usually locate the most reds that are susceptible to taking a well-placed streamer fly or even a popping bug.
Such fast action isn't available for many of the more touted flats marine fish, which is why for fly fishermen new to the saltwater environment, redfish are a good species to begin with. A few days of fly rod red drum angling will greatly aid an angler who has visions of one day chasing tarpon, snook, bonefish and permit with a long rod.
Fly-rodders often score big with redfish, since the subtle fall of a streamer or popper rarely spooks them. Reds relish the enticing movements of a whole new series of flies that are constantly being developed by an ever-growing legion of fly-rod redfishermen, along the many hundreds of miles of southern East and Gulf coasts where the fish are available.
Redfish on shallow flats feed primarily on small crabs, shrimp and baitfish, such as mullet and mud minnows. Flies that imitate such forage work great. While at times weedless streamers are almost a must, flats anglers often work water as deep as 4 feet, so poppers and standard streamers work too.
A good selection of streamers and bugs tied on size 2 to 2/0 hooks should be carried by redfish fly-rodders. Weedless streamers like Keel Flies and Bent Back patterns are good to have when working weedy areas or very shallow oyster bars.
Productive redfish fly colors are chartreuse, black and orange, with flies tied of marabou and bucktail, with liberal use of crystal flash. The "Clouser Minnow" is a good pattern. Epoxy flies are always deadly. The "Goozer Fly" is another excellent redfish pattern. It's the brainchild of the late Ponte Vedra Beach angler and commercial fly tier Mike Wallis. The pattern is tied on a bent-back hook and has a lot of marabou and flashabou with a chenille body.
A personal favorite redfish fly is an epoxy number designed by guide Jim Dupre that resembles a flashy Johnson spoon, which is one of the best all-around takers of redfish. Called the Dupre "Spoonfly" it's easy to cast, yet has the same enticing wobbling and flashy movements that a Johnson Spoon has, and it's weedless. On redfish, it's a killer.
A good all-around redfish fly outfit is something most bass fishermen probably already own. It consists of an 8- or 9-weight rod, equipped with a weight-forward floating line, and a 9-foot tapered leader with a short length of 20- to 30-pound test shock tippet. A couple hundred yards of 12- to 20-pound test backing line on a reel makes sense in case a heavy redfish is hooked, though most fish weigh 3 to 8 pounds.
For that same reason a marine-designed reel with capable drag is a good choice, though the old Pflueger Medalist 1498 is serviceable for cost-conscious anglers.
You can reach Bob McNally at firstname.lastname@example.org.