Tailing redfish are an amazing part of the low country lifestyle that only a relatively few individuals ever experience in their life. When you see a tailer, its satisfying enough just to watch it – to catch one on a fly rod … will turn a grown man into a little boy.
High tides during the new and full moons flood the expansive spartina flats around Charleston, and red drum will work their way into small feeder creeks, then on to the flats to feed on fiddler crabs and small baitfish. Fiddler crabs are like candy to reds, and they take full advantage of the opportunity to feed on them. When they nose down to suck the crabs out of their holes, the redfish tail will often lazily wave above the surface. This can be seen at a distance by someone with a trained eye.
I have read about tailers, and have tried countless times to find tails. Those I have found I have had only limited success catching – mostly due to lack of opportunity. It can be extremely frustrating. Once, after several unsuccessful attempts, I made a post on a local fishing forum, venting my frustration to no one in particular. My frustration apparently struck a nerve with Jeremy Mehlhaff, a local fly fishing guide who has been in my shoes, and overcome. He contacted me and gave me a few tips. From some of his prior posts, I knew of Jeremy and admired him being an innovative fisherman and also an excellent photographer. I could tell he, like me, was very analytical and always trying to understand why fish behave the way they do. In fact, his tips lead to me catching my first tailer the next year.
Fast-forward a few years, and for my 44th birthday I told my family what I really wanted for a present was to charter Jeremy. This would be a chance to focus on the fly rod only, and really get out of my comfort zone. I knew it would be a challenge. We talked, and being local, I was able to be flexible and wait for good conditions and for an opening in his guiding schedule. We picked a morning in October, and even though a strong cold front blew through the day before, the morning of the charter was picture perfect.
We set out in Jeremy’s Hells Bay skiff and flew through the small tidal creeks north of Isle of Palms. He knows these creeks like the back of his hand, and in short order we were at our first spot. We pushed onto the flat, through some tall grass, and were instantly surrounded by at least a dozen tails. It was an incredible sight to me. I had legitimate shots at at least 10 fish. You see, I am a novice fly caster. I can cast well enough but have trouble landing it just right, amongst a bunch of other bad habits. Thus, I had many misses. In my defense, the fish were rather skittish, as the flat was very calm, and water clear. One did take my fly, but I did not get a good hook set.
As we pushed on, Jeremy coached me through how to present the fly and complete my cast. Eventually we found three fish in close proximity. I made a passable cast, and he coached me through the presentation. The line came tight, strip strike, and I landed a fish. Not a monster, but a very nice little slot redfish.
We finished the day trying a few more spots, and ended up looking in deeper pools for cruisers. We did find some, and I almost had a couple fish.
To some, it might sound like a slow trip, but it far exceeded my expectations. If I had spinning gear, I would have caught a dozen fish. But this was all about the fly rod, and I was challenged like I hoped, and was able to hook two and land one. I learned so much and can’t wait to put it to use in the future. Personally, I would not hire anyone but Jeremy as a guide for this type of fishing. He is a true professional, extremely knowledgeable and willing to teach you all he knows. All you have to do is listen. Capt. Jeremy Mehlhaff (www.charlestonshallows.com)
I’m a firm believer that you have to get out of your comfort zone to reach a new level in anything you do. Whether it’s fishing with artificial baits only, getting up before dawn, or fly casting to a tailing fish in 9 inches of water – you will be rewarded for your efforts.
– Dave Fladd