Author: David Fladd

Jacksonville Giants, Part 1

When I first spoke to Captain Matt Chipperfield from Jacksonville, FL, I told him my goal was to catch a 27″ or larger trout in FL.  And his response was “I usually tell my clients that it should take no more than three trips to put them on one of that size”, a pretty bold statement but Matt is a true scholar of big speckled trout and their behaviors and patterns.  Our first trip together was a little slow, with a few topwater redfish and one decent trout, maybe 19 or 20 inches.  I learned a lot, and we had a good time fishing, even if the catching was slow.  Our second trip was also fairly uneventful, but not for lack of trying.  It was a day where the fish weren’t actively feeding, so despite Matt’s best efforts and me making 10,000 casts, we only had a few fish to show.  That’s fishing, no matter what you see on Instagram.  After this trip, I asked Matt to set aside an optimal day for me in the early spring, aka Trout Prime Time.  

First Release Over 20 of the trip

Fast forward, and I asked Matt to be a speaker at our inaugural Cast It Forward fundraiser for Release Over 20 last February.  Matt’s talk was awesome, and can be watched here. There is a lot more to say about that, but in a nutshell, Matt was invited to be a guest on Flats Class TV with CA Richardson as a result of his speaking engagement at this event.  The resulting episode “Trout Sensei” can be viewed here.  Super rewarding to see all that go down!  At the event, Matt suggested a date for our trip in March.

As the date approached, it turned out I had a business trip to Jax about 2 weeks before the date.  I had planned to finish up midday so I asked Matt if he was available for a last minute bonus trip.  As luck would have it, he was – but the weather was pretty bad.  It was downpouring all morning with thunderstorms.  Looking at the radar, we pushed our launch time from 1 to 2 to 3pm.  I met Matt at the landing just as the last of the raindrops were falling and the front pushed through.  Conditions were perfect.  Overcast, dark and dreary with a slight breeze.  If you are a speckled trout junky like me, you know what I’m talking about.

We launched and you could hear the excitement in Matt’s voice as he observed the wildlife activity and pointed out redfish crushing bait in the shallows – pretty cool, but not our target.  As we motored to his chosen bank, we saw tons of activity above and below the water.

Throwing a Mirrolure MR17, I fan-casted the area and it wasn’t long before I got a nice thump and the first Release Over 20 speck came boat side.  That was followed by a few other nice, but smaller trout.  As Matt pushed along the bank, I made a long cast and started working the lure with an erratic cadence – and then it happened…

It looked like someone dropped a bathtub in the water.  A huge swirl and in surprise I pulled the lure away, but no matter – the big girl crushed it.  “That’s the one.  Take it all in and enjoy the experience”, said Matt.  After several drag pulling runs and a lot of praying for her not to come undone, an absolutely giant trout appeared.  Matt said it might be over 30…what??  We landed her and collectively freaked out.  Wow, what a fish!  She measured out at 29″ and 9 lbs.  We carefully handled her and released her back to be caught again.  I’m not sure I’ll ever catch a giant like that again.  To be honest, I’m still shaking.

The giant is raised from the water


29″ x 9 lbs Speckled Trout
There’s your proof
The pic of me holding the trout doesn’t do it justice. When Matt pulled her out I got this shot. Same fish…Giant!

We followed her up with another Release Over 20 trout, I was lucky to catch three that day.  That was a nice bonus, but after the 29, my year was made – hell, maybe my angling career was made.

Last Release Over 20 of the trip. Great day!!


You might be wondering why I’m writing a blog post on the Eye Strike website while we were fishing Mirrolures, and the truth is, we use what is the best for the conditions.  In fact, Matt often uses Eye Strike jigs under a cork here if the conditions are right for it. 

With this fish, I now have two states (TX and FL) toward my goal of getting a 27″+ trout in as many states as possible.  I’m really stoked about that!

If you’re ever in Jacksonville, FL.  Look up Captain Matt Chipperfield at Chips Coastal Charters.  Your may not get a giant on your first trip, but he wasn’t lying. This fish came on Trip #3.  Well done Captain, well done…

Part 2 coming soon…

Chandy Adventure

Pandemic cabin fever had us looking for another Tom-n-Huck adventure in pursuit of our favorite speckled fish, and this time our travels took us to Biloxi, MS to fish with my friend Kyle Johnson of Coastal Waters Outfitters.  Many of you will recognize Kyle as a member of The Speckled Truth – a social media group that advocates for catching – and conserving – large speckled trout.  If you haven’t listened to their podcast, I highly recommend it.

Kyle has been a big supporter of Release Over 20 and he and I have had several conversations about trout and conservation over the past few years.  He’s very knowledgeable about the fishery and has worked closely with CCA Mississippi and their DNR over the years.  He had encouraged Ralph and I to come down and fish, given that his area is unique in that it’s a great fishery but also has a ton to offer outside of fishing.  If you do much trophy trout fishing, these two factors don’t often coincide – where fishing is good is usually very remote, and vice versa.  As an example, if you happen to stay at the Golden Nugget Casino, you only need to walk across the parking lot to step onto his boat.  And that is, in fact, what we did.  

Within about 20 miles of Biloxi is a unique fishery called the Chandeleur Islands.  This chain of sandbar islands resides off the coast of Mississippi and Louisiana and offers an amazing variety of fish – especially large redfish and speckled trout.  Kyle has outfitted himself with a rig that can get him there in almost any weather conditions, and float shallow enough to get close enough to wade fish.  So that was our target, hoping to get two full days of fishing there and experience all it has to offer.

We flew into Gulfport airport and took an Uber to Biloxi, only about 30 minutes away.  Unfortunately, a strong front that had been forecast had pushed in and our first day would not allow fishing Chandeleur, but Kyle had a good plan B in place.  We settled in at the casino, had a nice dinner and tried our luck at the Black Jack table.

Day 1 – We met Kyle, pulled on our waders, and hopped on his awesome Blue Wave center console.  Winds were cranking about 20 mph from the North and i’m not gonna lie, it was pretty cold.  We were prepared for it thankfully.

Our destination was one of the barrier islands off of Biloxi that has a saltwater lagoon on the inside of the island.  Getting there was no easy task.  Kyle had to anchor off the beach into the wind, and we had to wade across the shore break and onto the front beach.  From there, we crossed some sandbars an on to the lagoon. 

Wading into the lagoon we started throwing soft plastics on Eye Strike jigs and also Mirrolure DD’s.  Within a short time Kyle got struck with a solid trout over 20″.  It became evident that the DD was the lure of choice after Kyle followed with another nice speck.  I don’t throw a lot of twitch baits so I was watching Kyle and trying to mimic what he was doing, but I was not getting struck.  After a while, Kyle said “I don’t think you’re working it hard enough.  Speed it up and make sure you really load the rod with hard snaps”.  So, I started to really work my lure hard and (I’m not even joking) on that same retrieve I got slammed.  Unfortunately I missed that fish but I now knew the technique.  It was funny because I was throwing a white DD that I brought and Kyle was using “The Truth” – a purple color that Speckled Truth markets.  After he caught three to my zero, he offered to switch with me.  Shortly after, he gets another nice fish!  We had a good laugh after I said “It’s not the arrow, it’s the indian!” a phrase coined by Mike McBride of Texas fishing fame.

We filmed a video of Kyle releasing his fish that I posted on the Release Over 20 Instagram page and we moved on to another part of the lagoon.  I ended up with a slam of smallish fish over there and Ralph had a few also.  Toward the end of our day, I did get a fair speck, around 18″ or so on the DD.  

A little more luck at Black Jack

The wind had not subsided as we returned to the marina, but the forecast was looking promising for Day 2, and “Chandy” was a go, given a somewhat late start time of 10am.  Ralph and I took some Advil, had a hot shower, and got some rest for another full day. 

Day 2.  The forecast held and the wind lay down to almost nothing, so we plopped down in some beanbags while Kyle cranked up the classic rock and let the Suzuki’s eat.  We were at Chandy in no time and it was really cool how different it is out there.  Crystal clear water and literally no sign or sound of man, except for a couple other charter outfitters who were there for the same reason as we were.  

Capt Kyle leaving port. Kyle is an awesome captain, and highly recommended

As we picked our way over the outer sandbar, we saw pelicans diving and dolphin working the shallows – all good signs.  At our first stop Kyle was expecting to see redfish – big ones, and a lot of them.  I had rigged up a prototype jig of a new line we are working on with Z-Man and hoping to get some quality media pics using them.  As we eased in, we started looking for fish.  I looked down and saw what at first glance looked like a clump of grass – but it was keeping pace with the trolling motor.  I pitched the jig rigged with a 5″ Diezel Minnows to it and a big red absolutely crushed it with no hesitation.  Off to the races with several drag pulling runs when all of the sudden – pop…  I had noticed my braid was frayed the day before and made a mental note to fix it, but did I?  No….  Another dumb ass move by your’s truly.  

After that it was a sight-caster’s heaven.  Lots of big reds kept floating up giving us plenty of opportunities to pitch in front and just past them and present it just right – only to get rejected.  Now, this usually does not happen out there due to the lack of angling pressure.  But we at one point had about 15 reds all surface at once and no matter what we threw at them – rejection.  Big, small, color changes, mirrolures, spinnerbaits, etc.  They simply shut off like a light switch.  

We next went to a pocket that Kyle has been doing really well on 5 lb ish trout.  We fished it hard, trying everything we could think of, and only had a few redfish, small flounder, and one pretty good trout caught by Ralph.  The rest of the day we tried different areas with little action, just picking at a few fish here and there.  

Chandeleur Island Sunset

Unfortunately, the post-front conditions had the fish shut down, but if you’ve been a fisherman for very long you know that this happens.  We were just a bit unlucky it happened on this day.  We know that Kyle was hoping to show us the fishing day of our lives and he really was expecting it.  Chandeleur is amazing and I can’t wait to go back when it’s popping off because I know it will be a bucket list experience. 

We highly recommend to put Biloxi on your bucket list for fishing adventures.  Contact Capt Kyle Johnson to lead you to the fish.  He’s as good as they get and we’ve fished with lots of captains across the country.  Plus, he’s a champion for conservation and in the end that is what is most important.


Why The Texas Eye? – by FLW Bass Pro Bradford Beavers

Many fishermen look at the Texas Eye and wonder, why should I choose this over the standard Eye Strike jig head? There is one obvious reason and one not so obvious reason. The obvious reason to use a Texas Eye is because it’s weedless. If you find yourself fishing around a lot of grass, wood, or any other types of thick structure the Texas Eye is what you should reach for. It will come through a jungle of trash and not get snagged.

The not so obvious reason for choosing the Texas Eye over others is its realism. All fish these days see more lures than ever. There are more people after them trying to trick them into biting, so realism is of the utmost importance. With all Eye Strike products having the large eye, you’re already a step above the competition with realism. The Texas Eye adds to the realism by its action. The trick to making a lure look natural is by not hindering its movement. A bait rigged with a regular jig head has roughly 2 inches of metal and lead through it, which can hinder its ability to move naturally. A bait rigged with a Texas Eye has only a ¼ inch of hook and its point through the bait, it’s also attached to a free swinging lead head. This style frees the bait up to move more naturally through the water. The Texas Eye can be the perfect solution to clear water or highly pressured fish. Everything about the Texas Eye lends it to be a natural free swinging; free-swimming lure that can help you put more fish in the boat.

Artificial Intelligence: “Fishing History” Coastal Angler Magazine, October 2021

The historic, upper Ashley River

On a brisk October morning, the sun is streaming through the trees along the bank as I ease off plane and prepare to make my first cast. There is not a dock or house in sight, and the steam rising off the water makes for a breathtaking scene that is worth taking a moment to drink in. I make a cast along an old piling and get a solid thump. A gorgeous copper colored red drum comes to the net after a few drag-peeling runs. This place is one of my favorite and most underappreciated places in Charleston: the upper Ashley River. I can’t help thinking this scene must be what the early settlers of Fort Dorchester, or residents of Middleton Place, Drayton Hall and Magnolia Gardens must have experienced.

The upper Ashley is largely undiscovered, even to residents of Summerville, probably because it is mostly out of sight, out of mind along most of its length. The lack of development along its banks is intentional. Due to the tireless efforts of people like George McDaniel and the Ashley River Scenic Advisory Council, the historic nature of the river has been mostly preserved but is under constant threat. George, former Director of Drayton Hall Plantation, was instrumental in preserving the “view scape” across river from the historic plantation. As he has described, to experience history by walking the grounds, you don’t want to look out across the river and see high rises and apartment buildings. The result, for the angler, is a river that seems like you’ve gone back in time when you are fishing it.

The Ashley is freshwater in Summerville, and changes from brackish to saltwater at the Charleston harbor, over roughly 20 miles. Naturally, that means you can catch largemouth bass, catfish, redfish, speckled trout and everything in between in the river depending on where you fish it. The river is tidal all the way to the end and can have a fast flow on the moons.

Just one load of trash removed from the river during a recent cleanup

The river has an unfortunate reputation for trash, especially in the upper region. One reason is that the river has a high population (Summerville and Ladson) at its headwaters, and because of its length, if you were to drop a bottle in the river at high tide it would not reach the harbor by low tide. So, trash tends to remain and accumulate in the river. People have blamed fishermen, but I disagree. I’m convinced the trash comes from roadside ditches that then get flushed into the river by heavy rains. I’m proud to have helped organize a large river cleanup effort that has removed over 20 tons of litter with noticeable improvement. Now, if we can get people to stop being lazy slobs! Littering makes me angry, but I come by it honestly.

Of the three main rivers in Charleston, the Ashley would be ranked a distant third for productivity by anglers. I think the main reason is a lack of water clarity. Unlike the other rivers that have more hard “marl” bottom, limestone deposits, or oyster shells, the Ashley is mostly soft mud. Its pretty common to have less than 6” of visibility in the warm months. However, when the water cools and kills off the algae, we get enough visibility to make fishing artificial lures a possibility.
To fish the Ashley productively, you must fish the history. By this I mean that history has left us structure, and structure holds fish. The kinds of historical structure you will find are pilings from old docks from phosphate mining or plantations, old roadbeds, rice field “trunks”, submerged timber, etc. In addition, try the cuts and points in grass lines, and feeder creek mouths of which there are many.

Since water clarity is lacking, you will do well to appeal to multiple senses, not just sight, when fishing artificial lures. Use scented lures and/or lures that have rattles or create a vibration to improve your results. Another tip is to fish the river between the moons when the flow is minimal, which will improve the clarity. Also remember that fresh water is less dense than salt, so the middle and bottom of the river will be more saline.

Myself and George McDaniel displaying a brackish water double of a (freshwater) largemouth bass and a (saltwater) red drum

Productivity of fishing is hit or miss. In 2014, the year before our 1,000-year flood, the fishing was spectacular. It was so good that Ralph and I kept it quiet. Ralphs friends would say “You’ve been awfully quiet, you’re on a bite, aren’t you?” (shrug). Every Fall, we make a few exploratory trips down the river to see if the fish are there. I’m sorry to say it never has been as good as 2014 and in fact has been very disappointing. Our approach is to launch in Ladson at Jessen Landing and go downriver until we start catching fish. Often, that doesn’t happen until we get to Magnolia Gardens.
I’m concerned it may never be as good upriver again. It turns out that the watershed of the Ashley extends north from Summerville all the way to Lake Moultrie. This is the general location of Nexton, an area of aggressive growth. Paving the land prevents water from percolating and instead drains toward the Ashley, resulting in an increase of fresh water flushing down river.

I hope that my concerns are unfounded, and we continue to try. Even if the fish aren’t biting well, I very much enjoy spending a day trying. It’s truly one of the most beautiful places in the greater Charleston area. As of this article being published, we should have a decent idea whether the fish are biting. And if they are I’m gonna be quiet, and if I shrug when you call me on it, you’ll know!

David Fladd
Partner, Eye Strike Fishing

Artificial Intelligence: “Respect Where It’s Due” Coastal Angler Magazine Charleston September 2021

Ralph used his knowledge of Bowfin from when he was a boy to land this 30+ incher

Its funny how differently species of fish are perceived, based on their abundance or food value or lack thereof. One example is Crevalle Jacks, which, because of their lack of food value and high abundance in Florida, are often considered a nuisance species. But here in Charleston, big Crevalle Jacks have made a reappearance in the last 5 years after mysteriously disappearing from our waters for the prior 10 or 15 years. They have become a sought-after target for recreational anglers and guides alike due to their affinity for an obnoxious presentation of a topwater plug and tackle busting strength after the hookup. No one can deny that if you’re looking for a worthy adversary to catch and release it doesn’t come much better than a Crevalle Jack. Myself, I’m zero for five on landing to hookup ratio on them which make them even more desirable. People want what they can’t get.

In the heat of summer, there is not a lot of action inshore outside of our awesome bull redfish run in Charleston harbor. The creeks are hot. As I write, water temps in the creeks are over 85 degrees, and have very low dissolved oxygen. Catching fish in those conditions is borderline irresponsible if you’re releasing them, as I recently discovered. I was on a surprisingly good redfish bite upriver and had one of my tagged fish found dead the day after release. Knowing the fish were stressed, I put most of them in my aerated live well for a few minutes to recover before release, and still had this happen. It’s impossible to know which fish didn’t make it, but it’s a reminder that catch and release is not always perfect even under the best circumstances, but especially when the water is hot.

So, what’s an angler with cabin fever to do? How about thinking outside the box and targeting another species that doesn’t get much respect and has a reputation for ruining tackle and tangling nets?

Bowfin can gulp air to breathe and have been on earth over 30 million years

I’ve been following the Lowcountry Kayak Anglers club for several years, and they recently had an event known as the Jurassic Classic. In this tournament, the target is Bowfin, a.k.a. Mudfish, a species that most anglers shun as a nuisance. The winner of this year’s Classic won with a 32” giant. Most anglers caught double digits of fish, and in general raved about how fun it was.

I contacted Chris Tweedy, President of the club to learn more about the event. He told me the club started targeting Bowfin while fishing an event called the Kayak Wars, a catch-photo-release online tournament that included Bowfin as one of several targeted species. This motivated participants to seek them out. Anglers quickly discovered how much fun it was to catch them which led Chris to start an invite-only catch and release tournament in 2018. It was a huge success, so it became a club event the following year. The event is now held annually in the first weekend of August and this year’s event attracted over 40 participants.

Bowfin is a species whose ancestors have been on earth for over 30 million years. One of the attributes they have evolved to allow them to survive is the ability to breathe air. While most fish are at a disadvantage with low oxygen levels in the water, the Bowfin simply rises up and gulps air to survive. While bowfin can be found almost anywhere in the low country, a great place to target them is somewhat nearby at a couple Oxbow lakes near the Santee River in Jamestown. These lakes were once bends in the Santee that were eventually closed off when the river naturally changes its course over time. Two of these lakes, Wee Tee and Dawhoo, are publicly accessible. The lakes have very different characteristics, with Wee Tee being shallower but having a wider variety of species, and Dawhoo being deeper with better visibility water.

After seeing the results of this year’s Classic and hearing about how much fun it was, Ralph and I decided to bring his Jon-boat out there to give it a try. We didn’t really know what to expect or how best to target them with artificial lures. Would they want a fast and aggressive presentation, or slow and subtle? What part of the water column would they prefer? Would the strike be subtle or strong?

To us, trying to figure out a new body of water and species is about as much fun as we can have. At the end of the day, the boat was littered with Z-Man Elaztech lure bodies as we switched out profiles and colors on Texas Eye jigs to see what was most effective.  The first thing you notice upon launching the boat are big splashes caused by Bowfin gulping air and returning to the bottom. The fish are large and literally everywhere. They are not necessarily relating to structure. Some of the splashes were clearly by very large fish and honestly its very distracting! It’s important to realize that these are not feeding fish, so it’s not productive to toss a topwater plug at the splashes and expect results, for example. However, the surface activity surely reveals their presence.

Hard fighting, a challenge to catch on artificial lures, and big. What’s not to love?

We did find a few patterns and profiles to be particularly effective and I will leave that to the reader’s imagination and personal experience. We did have results on many presentations and lures, but on this day the bite was very, very subtle. Ralph remembered catching Bowfin when he was a child on the Pee Dee River and successfully applied that knowledge toward a couple 30” plus giants.

The funny thing about these fish is that you can use standard trout rods to catch them, but like a “green” cobia, the real fight begins as soon as you touch it with a net, lip gripper (or gaff, in the case of cobia). Many fish are lost at this point, and a big net is a good idea. Many times we had to cut the lure off the line in order to untangle it from the webbing if that gives you an idea of how they fight.

Chris is on a mission to promote these fish, not kill them indiscriminately and hopefully try and grow out a whole new midsummer fishing experience. If you’re interested in getting a shortcut to learning these fish and how to catch them, Chris offers guided fishing trips for them. Look him up at Topwater Kayak Charters ( and consider participating in next year’s Jurassic Classic.

If I told you that you could catch double digits of 7 plus pound fish that put up a great fight, will hit artificial lures, and are a challenge to hook and land, would you consider it a nuisance? I didn’t think so. If you decide to give them a try, please handle them with care and release them so this fishery remains special for future generations.

David Fladd
Partner, Eye Strike Fishing

Artificial Intelligence: “Striped Marauders” Coastal Angler Magazine Charleston, August 2021

A healthy Saluda river striper caught on Fly with Capt Justin McGrady

A few years ago, I was casting a bank in October and as far as I know I was the only boat in the creek. The solitude was broken by a sudden strike about 50 yards away and by the time I swiveled my head to investigate all I could see was a large disturbance and a couple bait fish landing back in the water. I didn’t have a topwater plug at the ready, but I had one in my tackle box and of course I tied it on. Easing over with the trolling motor I made a cast, but the huge strike I was expecting didn’t happen. However, another blowup erupted (this time within casting range) and I quickly landed my plug nearby and the take was almost instant. After a few drag screaming runs, a 24” striper came to the net. By experiment, I learned that if you could land the plug within 20 feet within 10 seconds of a strike it was almost a guaranteed fish. That day, I landed 9 topwater striper and unfortunately no one to share the experience with. You know I love speckled trout, but you can’t beat a striper topwater strike.

Since then, I’ve never been able to match those numbers, but I always have a rod rigged with a topwater plug within arm’s reach if I’m in that general area in the Fall. I’ve learned over the years that striper are hard to pattern. They are marauders, chasing the last remains of bait out of the estuaries and hunting as a wolf-pack, balling them up and blasting them. You may get frustrated trying to find them, but if and when they show themselves you won’t have time to tie on a plug until they are gone, and you won’t make that mistake again – ask me how I know!

Ralph with a Saluda striper on Texas Eye jig and Scented Jerkshadz

Truth be told, I’ve never fished for them in our lakes, so I am relating what I’ve learned as a saltwater angler who has become somewhat infatuated with these striped fish. I’ve tried to learn what I can about their behavior in the coastal rivers. To try to learn more, I received permission to start tagging striper caught in the coastal rivers. I’ve yet to have one of my tags recaptured but a friend of mine has. It was a 27” fish tagged in Goose Creek and recaptured at the confluence of the Congaree and Wateree rivers – over 90 miles away. Its well known that striper travel way upriver to spawn, but of course there are always exceptions in nature. For example, I’ve caught a male in brackish water in March that was shaped like a football, absolutely full of sperm, which seems to be out of character.

To find out more about what fishing for riverine striper is like above lakes Moultrie and Marion, my business partner Ralph and I chartered Capt. Justin McGrady of The SC River Guide ( Justin guides in the vicinity of downtown Columbia in the Broad, Saluda and Congaree River systems. These rivers have vastly different characteristics and are very rocky with high flow and rapidly changing water heights. Accessibility to the fish is difficult and you need to have the proper equipment to be successful. Justin runs an aluminum, shallow-draft boat with a jet-drive motor that allows him to navigate the rivers. He says one of the best parts of guiding new clients is watching their faces as he approaches the rapids and puts the hammer down. From experience, I can tell you it’s a wild ride. Justin literally knows every rock in the river and has navigable pathways that he keeps tight to his vest.
As for the fishing, it’s incredible. On our recent trip with Justin, we caught approximately 30 striper in a few hours, averaging around 25 inches, all on artificial lures. We caught them on Eye Strike TexasEye jigs with Z-Man Scented JerkshadZ, topwater plugs, suspending lures, and even on the fly. The abundance and quality of the fish in these rivers is amazing and not to be taken for granted. Justin is an outspoken advocate for the fishery and his charter business is strictly catch and release only. He believes that many of the fish in his area are resident.

One of my best Striper caught and released in the brackish water of the Cooper river

Ralph tells stories of the coastal brackish water riverine striper abundance in the 1970’s that are incredible in the context of today’s fishery. It would be amazing if the striper can rebound in the coastal rivers as they are such an incredible gamefish. If we had a striper fishery below the lakes anywhere close to what exists above the lakes it would open up a whole new aspect of our inshore fishery in Charleston.

The Ashley river holds striper too. This is my best.

It is my sincere hope that the present abundance of striper above and below the lakes is sustained and hopefully improved in the future. I can’t tell you what the regulations are, because, to me, they are irrelevant. When I catch a striper, it’s automatically getting released. In my humble opinion, they are way more valuable to catch than on the dinner plate, I don’t care how good they taste. As they say, a fish (striper) is too valuable to be caught only once!

David Fladd
Partner, Eye Strike Fishing

Artificial Intelligence: “Fishing From Tupperware” Coastal Angler Magazine Charleston July 2021

The stealth provided by a kayak increases your odds of landing a mature trout like this one

Years ago I owned property on a tidal creek at Edisto. My boys were little then, and I would put my youngest son Ian on the back of our sit-on-top kayak facing backwards while I slowly paddled down the creek trolling two rods rigged with jigheads and paddletail grubs. Ian would watch the rod tip intently, and when it started to bounce, he would reel the trout in. We had many memorable and fun sessions fishing our creek this way. In the Fall, this creek was very productive and catching a few for a delicious “creek to table” lunch or dinner was almost guaranteed. In fact, my son named a portion of the creek Snaggletooth Stretch after the two prominent teeth on a speckled trout.

Although the property is long gone and the boys are now adults, I was reminded of those days after I recently purchased a lightly used Hobie Compass kayak. On my maiden voyage as I left the landing it made me notice again how different kayak fishing is from boat fishing.  There are many benefits to kayak fishing. A relatively high-end fishing kayak will run you between $2,000 and $3,000 depending on how you outfit it. All things considered, it’s a lot less expensive than buying a boat which can easily run you 10 to 20 times that much. The larger the boat, the more complicated and expensive everything is (from personal experience). It sure is nice to throw a kayak on the bed of the truck, a few rods, and the basics and off you go. No fuel, maintenance, or much of anything to worry about.

Kayak fishing has been among the fastest growing segments of the market and the technology and innovation is better than ever. Pedal drives are not new but are better and more efficient. They eliminate paddling and allow both hands free for casting. The latest fishing kayaks are super comfortable, efficient, and stable.  You might think that you will be at a disadvantage since you can’t cover as much range as you can with a boat, and to an extent you will be correct. My response to this is a story. Once I was in my bay boat fishing a stretch of the Wando River where I have several spots I like to try at different stages of the tide. I noticed my friend and tournament kayak angler Dave Jaskiewicz fishing across the river. After what seemed like a short time I looked up and he was nowhere in sight. Eventually, I identified a small dot about a mile downriver as Dave and I remember being blown away with how incredibly efficient pedal drive kayaks are.

One of the better fish caught trolling from a kayak at “Snaggletooth Stretch”

There are a few competitors in the pedal drive arena. Some are basically like bicycle pedals that turn a propellor. The most unique is the Hobie Mirage drive which is nothing short of an engineering marvel. Instead of a propellor it utilizes fins kind of like a seal or penguin. It’s hard to describe but it’s amazing how fast it is.

After observing entries in our Release Over 20 Initiative for the past year, I have noticed that most trophy trout are caught by two categories of anglers: kayakers and waders. Both angling methods are essentially silent but for line coming off a reel and the splash of a lure hitting the water. You see, a mature sow trout is not going to be outwitted easily.  If you have spent much time flats fishing, you will know that you stand a much better chance of landing a trophy if the fish doesn’t know you’re there. Depending on how calm and quiet it is, it does not take much to accidentally reveal your presence to a fish. For example, simply shutting a hatch is enough to alert a fish.

Contrast this with a scenario that may seem familiar: An angler approaches a spot on-plane in a bay boat. He backs off the throttle a hundred yards from the desired spot and shuts down the motor. The motor is heard underwater from a long distance, and the boat coming off plane throws a large wave that no doubt washes the shore of the desired spot. Next, a trolling motor is lowered with a clank, and its relatively silent but spinning prop is enabled to move the boat closer to casting range. Add in conversation, shutting hatches, etc., and it is no wonder that less big trout are caught by motorboaters. I think about this a lot as I am doing the exact same thing myself in my boat. To minimize the noise and disturbance, I try to come off plane well before my intended spot and approach it slowly under trolling motor power or drifting. But it is still not anything close to as stealthy as a kayak.

Kayaking is simple, fun and effective

You may have noticed that if you get back in the creeks or marsh and simply sit quietly and wait, that things will start to happen. A redfish tail might pop up in the flooded grass, a speckled trout may strike the surface throwing a shrimp in the air, or an osprey may dive down and pluck a flounder from the shallows. I have even seen an otter emerge from the water dragging a redfish up the bank for a meal. You notice a lot more of these things when kayak fishing than you do in a boat. To me, that is the best part. It’s as if you are one with nature.

I’m looking forward to getting back into kayak fishing and am planning to join the Lowcountry Kayak Anglers – one of our areas most successful and vibrant fishing clubs and maybe get in on some of their many angler meetups and tournaments.

Maybe this Fall I’ll even try to revisit Snaggletooth Stretch to see if its still as good as it used to be. And, no, I won’t tell you where it is!

David Fladd
Partner, Eye Strike Fishing

Artificial Intelligence: “The Angel and the Devil” – Coastal Angler Magazine Charleston June 2021

A couple years ago I was fishing with Ray and Josh, two friends from my neighborhood. It was an overcast morning and as they say the fishing was great, but the catching was fair. We had a late morning high tide and as we approached slack the bites faded away as they often do when the water stops moving. I decided to try working down a long bank that I usually fly by on plane going from one high producing (and likely overfished) spot to another. If I’m honest, I was just trying to burn time waiting for the flow to pick up again.

We fan-casted down the shoreline aiming at any details likely to hold a fish and picked off a few not worth bragging about. I was casting my favorite confidence lure, a Pearl Z-Man MinnowZ rigged on a gold-eyed TroutEye jig when I suddenly got a hard thump. I was sure this was a nice mid-slot redfish the way it hit and pulled drag on this submerged flat where reds like to cruise along the grassline. When it rose and shook its head violently, I let out a few choice words and prayed for the hook to stay put while Ray grabbed the net. After a few tense moments Ray expertly netted the giant trout and there were shouts of joy and high-fives all around.
And then it occurred to me…What am I gonna do?

This fish was kept in a weigh-in tournament. CPR formats solve this problem.

You see, this day happened to be a Summerville Saltwater Anglers fishing club tournament. On one hand I really want to release this fish, and on the other hand this 25” speckled trout is a sure win and even better it would be good for bragging rights at the weigh in. Releasing it at weigh in was not possible since my 13 ft classic Boston Whaler is too small for a live well. Should I do the right thing, or pump up my ego? Can you picture the little angel and devil over my shoulders? Today I’m not proud to say the devil won. I killed that fish to take the “W” in the tournament.

This dilemma really affected me and motivated me to become Tournament Director for the club at the next opportunity. My first priority was to change the tournament rules to a CPR (Catch, Photo, Release) format following the lead of kayak anglers. You see, there’s no reason to be faced with this dilemma in the present day.

Here are a few ways to have a tournament and practice conservation, a win-win!

Low Tech CPR – Everyone has a mobile phone with camera these days. The Tournament Director announces a unique identifier to tournament participants the night before the event. This could be a physical token, a keyword to be written on something or even a unique hand gesture. A fish is measured on a ruler, ideally a metal ruler with a bump-stop on the end. The decal rulers issued by SCDNR are a poor choice because they tend to shrink up to a quarter-inch in the sun. A photo is taken of the fish with closed mouth and pinched tail and the token clearly visible. It takes a little practice but it is not too difficult to master. This pic can be emailed to the Tournament Director who tallies the results after the tournament is over.

High Tech CPR – In the last few years several competing online web based services have emerged, making running CPR tournaments easier than ever. The generally idea is the same but puts everything in the cloud. Two of the leading services are TourneyX and iAngler. These services handle registration and payment and even allow you to view your ranking up to the minute. You can thank the kayak angling community for bringing these services to the mainstream as several high-profile tournaments are run using them. They work, and work well.

Live Weigh-In – Bass fisherman are way ahead of saltwater fishermen when it comes to conservation. They have been doing live weigh in tournaments for years, but the Redfish tours such as the Southern Redfish Cup also do live weigh ins. Significant penalties are issued for dead fish and anglers spend a lot of effort making sure their fish remain alive and frisky in their live wells. Adding air bubblers to your wells goes a long way to ensuring your fish survive as well as not overcrowding them.

Entering a fish to a CPR tournament is easy

Many people would counter that you can’t do a live release tournament for speckled trout because they are not as hearty as a redfish. My friend Dan Connolly from Murrells Inlet would beg to differ. He runs a successful and growing live release speckled trout tournament called the Speckled Studs every December. I proudly participated in this tournament last year and was impressed with how Dan runs it. Fish are brought live to the scale which is located directly adjacent to the docks. Anglers are encouraged to weigh fish throughout the day rather than keeping them in the live well unnecessarily long. A team can upgrade their fish throughout the day with the best two counting. The fish is very quickly measured and weighed (horizontally, not by hanging from the lip) and returned to the water in under a minute.

The days of fish kill tournaments are over, that ship has sailed. If you are thinking of participating in or planning a fishing tournament, I ask that you keep conservation in mind and protect our resource by releasing these trophies back to the water. That way you can do the right thing, pump your ego and have your bragging rights!

David Fladd
Partner, Eye Strike Fishing

Artificial Intelligence “Lightning Strikes Twice” – Coastal Angler Magazine Charleston May 2021

About five years ago I was fishing with my business partner Ralph and Joey P. from Z-Man Fishing in the springtime in Charleston and by all accounts we were having an average day of catching. The catch could not have been too memorable because I can’t recall many details, however, that was all to change suddenly. We were making a second pass down a stretch where we had some marginal luck when the wind suddenly shifted around to the South and picked up to about 15 miles per hour. Just like a switch flipped, we all started bailing trout, big trout.

Joey P taking a pic of Ralph holding a giant “wolfpack” trout

We were in the same spot using the same lures as we were before, and the feast lasted for about 30 minutes before it shut off completely. When it was all said and done, I think we caught six or seven trout over 20” and at least one threw the hook.  In the days, weeks, and years to follow I have been in pursuit of repeating that day, and also, trying to understand just what the hell happened?

These fish must have been in the area on the first pass, or at least close by, and had ignored our offerings. What exactly caused the voracious feeding frenzy? Clearly it had something to do with the weather. The wind shift to the south surely indicated a front passing and likely a drop in barometric pressure. We have all heard that trout bite well right before a front, but this was something different, a whole different level of feeding.

In many parts of the country, its proven that big fish bite best on solunar periods, when the sun and moon and combinations thereof combine, such as overhead, below or at the horizon. I think this is mostly true in those areas with slight tidal flow. In Charleston, our tides are dominated by the moon overhead and under our feet and coincide with our large high and low tides. New and full moons create our biggest tides and that usually negates the benefits of solunar for us, in my opinion, due to the large amount of moving water it creates.

My friend Chris Bush of “The Speckled Truth” calls groups of big feeding trout wolf-packs. I love that term because how else would you describe what happens when the proverbial switch flips? I feel like there may be many things that can fire off a frenzy, and I don’t know how often it happens. Daily? A few times a week? Once or twice a month? It seems that when these frenzies happen its often about 30 minutes long, give or take, in my own experience and in informal polls of fellow trout junkies. If you think analytically about it, if you aren’t in the right place, at the right time, with the right tackle and skills – you’ll miss it. That’s a lot to come together at the same time, and probably why I’ve only experienced something like it one other time since. The more I think I know about big trout, the less I understand, it seems. But the pursuit of understanding their behavior is a life-long endeavor.

Fast-forward to this Spring. I have been super busy since the beginning of the year and fishing is taking a back seat. I’m trying to fit in half-days when the work schedule allows. To give you an idea, I was on the water just twice in February, well under my usual pace. It was late March and a day of significance: My first COVID-19 vaccine dose. I traveled 30 minutes each way to my appointment and since any semblance of work productivity was lost I figured I might as well hook the boat up and hit the water. I quickly tied on a couple lures that select for big trout; a Rapala Skitter V – as I was hoping for my first topwater trout of the year, and a Mirrolure/Paul Brown Soft-Dine which is a suspending lure I’m trying to gain confidence with. The Paul Brown is a lure I’ve gravitated to since it sinks a little faster than a standard Mirrodine with an enticing wobble and of course I love that it has a giant eye on it.

As I launched my bay boat, I took note of the conditions. The tide was incoming and very slow moving, almost like molasses. When life hands you molasses, you look for syrup, in other words, faster moving water. This will be where the river or creek necks down or turns a corner. Bouncing around to different spots that meet this criterion, I was able to catch several small, grunting, trout and a really nice redfish. Grunting trout, of course, are males, and when the males are feeding often the females are not. The afternoon wore on and casting a Texas Eye to a grassy point a solid thump led to my second “Release Over 20” trout of the year. If nothing else, that was a day maker.

My PB Trout suddenly transformed into this 26″ redfish during the fight

As the sun started to get lower in the sky, I approached a bank where I have caught some nice trout in past years. A long cast to the grass line resulted in a solid strike and the fish turned and sliced off to the side. Glimpsing silver I immediately thought to myself this is a giant trout. I wish I could hear a recording of the narrative as I talked myself through this fight. “PLEASE don’t throw the hook…EASY…Don’t go that way!” You see, most gator trout caught are first mistaken for a redfish, and knowing trout have soft mouths you really need to baby the fish to land it unless you are lucky enough to hook it in some cartilage. Waiting anxiously to catch a glimpse of this beauty it finally came up and…somehow my trophy became a 26” redfish. A great catch no doubt, but very disappointing when you’re expecting the trout of your life.

After I took a few moments to tag and release the fish and gather myself, I noticed the sun had set and it was getting dark. I moved down the bank a bit and grabbed my rod with the topwater plug and launched a long cast. Working the plug slowly and erratically to act like a wounded baitfish I wondered if something would happen. About halfway back to the boat a trout launched itself and the plug like a kingfish a couple feet out of the water, missing the hooks. It did not come back for seconds, so while trying to ignore the 30 or so gnats having their own feast on my exposed skin, I cast the plug back to follow the same path. In about the same spot, this time the plug got slurped, not slammed. That is a telltale sign of a big one. After a tense few moments fighting the current and drag a 21” trout was hoisted to the boat. One strike is random, but two is a pattern, and I knew the big trout were feeding.

The next half hour was a blur as I landed five trout over 20” consecutively on topwater. The largest was 23.5”. The best part, however, was when the topwater bite slowed a bit, I decided to throw the Soft-Dine since I knew the fish were there and feeding. I made a long cast, silently counted to 5 to let it sink, and pumped the “corky” once, followed by long pause, then pumped it again. The plug suddenly stopped and I set the hook and felt the weight of yet another grown trout. Not being able to see very well I could only guess at the size. Sliding the fish into the net I was looking at another 23 incher. Catching this fish on the Paul Brown plug was so satisfying and definitely helped me gain confidence in it.

One of 6 over 20″, including two over 23″. Hood is for gnat protection!

My next fish was only 18”, and since the streak was broken and it was getting late, I decided to leave them biting and head back to the landing with satisfaction that I had just experienced another of these wolf-pack bites where I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time. How cool is it to be shaking with excitement after a day on the water?

Based on feedback from friends and entries to the Release Over 20 program we seem to have a fair amount of 23” trout this year. These fish are 6 to 7 years old and survived our last cold snap in 2018. Let’s handle these big females with care (please, no fingers in the gills) and let them go to become even bigger fish to catch in the future.

David Fladd
Partner, Eye Strike Fishing

Artificial Intelligence “The Jetties Are Like a Box of Chocolates” – Coastal Angler Magazine Charleston April 2021

Ty Kotz with one of several nice redfish caught on the rocks

The Charleston jetties, built in the late 1800’s, are a set of immense stone walls running parallel to the harbor inlet. They funnel the tides and provide safe passage for the many commercial ships vital to the state’s economy. They also provide incredible structure, and therefore, great fishing. In the warmer months, the jetties are a popular place to fish, and often boats are anchored all along the length of the rocks. The most popular way to fish there is to cast out heavy “Carolina Rigs” consisting of a 3 to 6 oz weight followed by a couple feet of leader and a circle hook. Although this is a simple and productive way to fish them, I’d like to focus on another way to fish the jetties – with artificial lures.

Before you plan a trip out there, make sure you know what you’re getting into. To get to the jetties you need to cross some rough waters that are always choppy and usually include swell. You need a seaworthy boat of at least 18 ft, in my opinion. There is a lot of water flow there. Three rivers, plus the harbor, at a depth of 5 to 6 ft, must flow in and out of the jetties every 6 hours. That is a lot of water. Ocean liners and the pilot boats that service them are at work and are not paying attention to you in your fishing boat. When an ocean liner passes an immense amount of water sucks out of the rocks and like a tsunami, returns with equal force. Large wakes several feet high are common. You really need to think about your safety and keep your head on a swivel. I have personally had some scary near-misses out there that still haunt my dreams on occasion. If you’re thinking I’m trying to scare you, then, mission accomplished. Please respect the jetties at all times.

Speckled trout are among many possibilities to catch

So, let’s talk about fishing the jetties. What can we expect to catch? Because the jetties extend a couple miles into the ocean, you literally never know what you might catch out there. Red Drum, Spotted Seatrout, Flounder, Sheepshead, Spanish Mackerel, Crevalle Jacks, King Mackerel, and even Tarpon are some of the many possibilities. Your most probable catch will be Red Drum a.k.a redfish. Thanks to our state having an upper slot for redfish, we have an incredible population of “bulls”. Some of these can measure up to 50” and they frequent the jetties.

Fishing the jetties with artificial lures is a blast. You are going to need a trolling motor with spot-lock technology. The basic idea is you keep a casting distance away from the rocks and cast toward the visible rocks. Slowly hop the lure down the slope of the rocks. As always, its imperative that you keep in contact with your lure so you can feel the sometimes-subtle bite. Work the gaps in the rocks and different depths, then move along until you have a new section to cast to. This method can be difficult on a summer weekend because the bait soakers are blocking access. For that reason, I’d advise you to avoid trying it during those times. Although it is always fun when your rod doubles over when soaking bait, I promise you its way more fun to feel the fish thump your lure while you’re working it down the slope. And, like I mentioned before, you just never know what you’re gonna get.

I’d like to recap a recent outing that is pretty typical of what you can expect. This winter I asked my friend Ty Kotz if he’d like to join me for a trip to fish the jetties with lures. I’m still trying to learn the jetties and Ty is the perfect companion for scouting around because he’s just happy to be out fishing. Plus, we’ve only fished together a couple times and I consider him a good luck charm because we have always had epic days together. I warned him before the trip that I had no idea if we’d be successful, and he was okay with that. So, we worked long stretches of the rocks just to see what would happen. We started out working slowly throwing Texas Eye jigs with Z-Man Scented JerkshadZ. We didn’t have a single bite for 100 yards or so, then Ty picked up a couple decent trout. Moving a little further, we picked up a slot redfish. I have found that the fish seem to be concentrated in 100 ft or so lengths depending on the current and tide. That day, though, the fish seemed to be pretty random. It seemed like we would pick one up every so often – just enough to keep it interesting.

Any cast could result in something like this

After the tide changed, we tried the other jetty and eventually stumbled on a pretty good redfish bite. We found a particular rock that held several nice fish and we even had a double at one point. Steadily running the trolling motor and casting at random places, I suddenly got a big thump. I set the hook and I could immediately tell from the low-frequency headshakes that this was a giant. First thing I said was “Uh-Oh!” I don’t think the beast knew it was hooked because it just set there for a minute. I high-sticked my rod and said “Ty, look, I’m not hung up…watch…” As we watched my rod tip it eventually made a long bob and we both started laughing. Did I mention this was on a trout rod with 10 lb braid?

I worked the trolling motor out to deep water and eventually she showed herself. After an excellent job by Ty with the lip grippers we carefully hoisted her into the boat. She measured out at 40 inches and after applying a SCDNR dart tag, I revived and released her back to be caught again.

This is exactly the kind of thing that makes fishing the jetties so fun. You never know what you might get, but even if you don’t hook a giant redfish, you almost always have action and often at least one of your catches will be a surprise.
Give it a try, but remember to pick your days, wear a PFD, keep your head on a swivel and bring a good luck charm like Ty. Please consider letting the big fish go, even if its legal to keep them, and always support bull reds by the belly, not by the lip!

David Fladd
Partner, Eye Strike Fishing