Author: David Fladd

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
dfladd@eyestrikefishing.com
eyestrikefishing.com

Artificial Intelligence “Challenges of Changing Mindsets” – Coastal Angler Magazine Charleston – March 2021

Last Spring, I wrote about starting a new initiative called Release Over 20 with support of CCA North Carolina. In short, the premise is to create your own personal catch and creel limits stricter than the law allows. The name Release Over 20 suggests creating an upper slot when one may not exist. The 20” mark is a memorable and reasonable size to consider as an upper-slot for most inshore species, however, the premise applies to any species of fish and creel limits.

How it works is, if you catch and release a speckled trout over 20”, and send in a picture to releaseover20.com, we will send you free decals and each fish submitted gets an entry into a monthly giveaway consisting of hundreds of dollars of products from a long list of sponsors such as Eye Strike, Z-Man, Toadfish, Bubba, Mirrolure, and others.  We are rewarding anglers for conservation.

Initially, I had no idea if this would resonate with anglers. However, after discussing it on podcasts in North Carolina, Florida, and Texas it has become recognized and embraced nationwide. Response has been beyond my greatest expectations. The initiative kicked off in May 2020 and we had 1,439 speckled trout caught and released through the end of the year. A 20” trout is approximately 4 years old and releases approximately 20 million eggs a year. The number of eggs spawned annually from these documented releases that otherwise may have been in an ice chest is staggering: 28.78 billion.

You might be surprised to hear that Virginia had, by far, the most trout released in 2020. This was followed by Florida, Texas and North Carolina. Conservation mentality varies greatly by state. For example, we have very few entries from the upper gulf coast states including Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.

We are not the only privately run conservation initiative trying to change mindsets. Our friends at The Speckled Truth have a mantra “Take what you need and release the rest”. They have been around a few years longer and founder Chris Bush advised me that initially I would get a lot of pushback. It seems to be the natural reaction when suggesting a change in mindset. It might be that people simply resist change in general. But they noticed that in a few years, more and more people started hopping on the bandwagon.

Thanks in large part to The Speckled Truth, targeting “gator” trout has become increasingly popular. They are an amazing game fish, and to catch a true giant is the thrill of an inshore angler’s career. So, part of the goal of the initiative is also to improve the numbers of trophy fish in our waters.

Although it is true that trout populations in Charleston are influenced a lot by cold stun weather events, releasing more fish helps recovery in a few ways. For example, large trout are old and have likely survived at least one cold stun event in their lifetime. Why? It could be genetics. Speckled trout in Virginia, for example, can survive water at least 5 degrees colder than ours. Maybe the trout that survive can withstand colder water. Why not keep those survivor genes propagating? The healthier the population is at the beginning of a cold stun event, the faster it will recover.

After listening to a couple presentations by SCDNR on the decline of our flounder populations, I decided to add flounder to Release Over 20 for 2021. Flounder are a shared resource along the east coast, meaning that fish migrate along the coast over time. There has been a 10-year decline in the fishery and drastic action is required to help them recover. Most anglers do not realize that every flounder of legal size is female. In my observation, very few flounder caught of legal size are released due to their food value. And the number of flounder taken by gig is not known. Many feel that gigging is a primary culprit.

Reaction to suggestions to release flounder have been quite different than trout. Most anglers are dead set against releasing flounder. I hear a lot of opinions on what the problem is, and also finger-pointing. It’s always the other guy that’s the problem, etc. My reaction is simply to post facts based on scientific research. People have challenged my posts, but when I show them the table or chart where I pulled the information from, they back down and often stand corrected. I think that, again, its going to take people time to understand and accept that change needs to happen. My opinion is that instead of blaming the other guy, let’s affect a change in ways under our control.

As Matt Perkinson from SCDNR told me “On the flounder side, it’s an open and shut case. They are overfished (population of adults is currently smaller than needed to produce a healthy number of offspring) and overfishing is occurring (more fish are being harvested than the population can replace).”

SCDNR has recommended to our legislature pretty drastic changes: a limit of 2 per person and a closed season. Based on initial feedback to Release Over 20 for flounder, I believe the law will have to change to make a difference. Volunteer release is not going to be enough. Even if our government keeps all of SCDNR’s recommendations, they do not include an upper slot. The reasons for releasing big flounder mirror the reasons for releasing speckled trout.

So, we can all do our personal part to improve the fishery even faster by releasing the big ones. And in the meantime, maybe you will be one of our happy giveaway winners. Plus, who doesn’t want to catch (and release) more “doormat” flounder and “gator” trout?
Please give the initiative a follow on Instagram @releaseover20 and Facebook at facebook.com/groups/releaseover20

David Fladd
Partner, Eye Strike Fishing
dfladd@eyestrikefishing.com
eyestrikefishing.com

SC Needs New Regulations to Protect Flounder Population

The following is an Op Ed I submitted to the Charleston, SC Post and Courier and published on March 10, 2021.  As founder of the Release Over 20″ Initiative, it will probably come as no surprise that it is in favor of an upper slot for flounder.  In general, I’m against more regulations, however, from feedback I’ve received toward adding flounder to RO20, I believe that a law is required to make a significant enough change for managing flounder stocks in a timely manner.  Would appreciate any comments pro or con (& constructive)


Last Fall, the SC Dept. of Natural Resources held a series of presentations outlining a steady decline in our population of flounder in South Carolina. This data resulted from statistical sampling of fish from electrofishing and trammel net surveys along our coast. There is no question there is a serious problem.

Should we be surprised? Not at all.

Male flounder are small, they reach a maximum of about 13.5” in length during their lifetime. Therefore, all flounder of “keeper” size, currently 15”, are female. We are removing the breeding females from the population. We must protect the females.

Angling pressure on all species of fish is increasing exponentially. Population along our coast is exploding. The increase in traffic on our roads is mirrored on our waterways. New anglers can tune in to Instagram, YouTube and a multitude of podcasts to learn how, where, and when to target fish with maximum efficiency. This knowledge available at our fingertips used to take a lifetime to learn. In addition, new fish-finding technology allows us to literally run down a creek and locate fish. The newest technology allows us to watch individual fish swim around. These all act as multipliers to pressure on our fishery.

It’s obvious to me that the simplest solution to maintaining a sustainable fishery is to implement slot limits for all gamefish. In most if not all species of fish, the females are the large “trophy” fish. Once they reach a certain size, let them live the rest of their lives as brood stock. Benefits include plenty of fish to catch thanks to healthy spawns, and a large population of trophy fish to catch (and released to be caught again).

Upper slots work. We need to look no further than red drum. We have a slot limit of 15-23” and an abundance of “bull reds” to catch. South Carolina has one of the best redfish fisheries in the country as a result. When the notion of an upper slot was introduced for redfish, there was outrage. However, the notion of putting the big ones back is now second nature.
With encouragement and support of CCA North Carolina, I founded the Release Over 20” Initiative last June. The purpose of this initiative is to encourage anglers nationwide to make their own personal limits more restrictive than the law allows and reward them for doing so. My goal is for anglers to measure their success not by how many large fish they caught and kept, but how many they caught and released. We’re trying to make catch and release “cool”. Since its founding 8 months ago, the initiative has grown by about 20% each month and has support from Texas to Maryland. Clearly, there is widespread, and growing, support for upper slots among anglers. Our ultimate goal is to change angler mindsets to understand the importance of releasing big fish so that it becomes automatic. A fish is too valuable to be caught only once.

Our state legislature is currently debating new flounder regulations. For the reasons stated above, its important that we make changes that will ensure the females of the species are protected. Currently, populations of flounder are low. The current creel limit for flounder is 10 per person per day. In my experience and in informal polls of professional guides, the average flounder caught per person per day is two or less. For a hook and line angler to catch and keep a limit of flounder is unheard of. Therefore, reducing the creel limit by 50% for example, to 5 per person, will not equate to a 50% reduction in fish retained. It will have almost no effect.
It makes far more sense to keep things simple by adding an upper slot for flounder. A suggested upper limit is 20”. A 20” flounder is 4.5 years old and has several more productive years ahead in which to spawn. After a short period of time, populations will increase and once we’ve gotten past the initial pushback, letting the big ones go will be the norm and hopefully our grandkids will have more fish to catch than we do.

The time for a slot limit for flounder is now.

 

“Why I use Eye Strike heads”, by Bradford Beavers – Professional Bass Angler

Before Professional fishing I was a fish biologist. While this did not teach me how to catch fish, it did show me their habits and tendencies. All fish are not the same but, there are certain things that can make them very similar; specifically how they feed.

Predator fish strike the head of prey fish. The focal point for the predator fish is the eye of the prey fish. The eye gives the predator something to hone in on; it’s like a bulls eye on a target.

Reasons fish target the eye of their prey:
1. Fish swim forward, not backwards. Striking at the eye insures the fish will not completely miss its target. If they aimed at the center of the fish or the tail, they could easily miss their mark. Similar to a bird hunter leading a bird with a shotgun.
2. Easier to swallow. When a fish gets a hold of their prey it is facing the correct direction. Predator fish swallow other fish headfirst. Like a snake swallowing a mouse it’s more streamlined.

When fish are feeding heavily you can catch them on just about anything. But we all know those days can be few and far between. I like to do everything to put the odds in my favor. That is why I chose to use Eye Strike jig heads.

Bradford Beavers
Major League Fishing Pro Circuit Angler

Artificial Intelligence “Sweet and Salty” – Coastal Angler Magazine, January 2021

Our first cobia. You can see the thrill on our faces!

I’ve always been of the opinion that one of the best things about the sport of fishing is that there is always a challenge. That’s especially true here in Charleston where we have so many opportunities to catch a fish. I feel like I could spend a lifetime simply learning our local waters, and a couple hour drive up or down the coast would be a whole new world of opportunity. Once you figure out the basics such as when to be where and start to catch fish pretty reliably, you soon start to get tired of feeding shrimp to fish and start looking for a new challenge. That might be using only artificial lures or maybe fly fishing. Some people even start out fly fishing. That’s a challenge unto itself and the rewards may not come until after much personal suffering (speaking from experience!)
One way to challenge yourself is to try to intentionally catch a certain fish. For example, let’s say you set out to catch a Cobia, but never have targeted them before. A logical way to start is to read up on it. Once you are informed and go purchase the necessary gear, it’s time to try. I did this very thing.
As a side note: Thanks to research at the SC Department of Natural Resources, a lot has been learned about Cobia in recent years, one being that we have a separate and unique population of fish that is mostly resident to South Carolina. They spawn in the vicinity of the Broad river and St. Helena sound and return every year, unlike many Cobia that migrate up and down the coast. Several years ago, it was popular to target these spawning fish in shallow water in the sounds. It was not yet known that doing so was decimating the population of these fish.
Back to my story: I read an excellent article on the subject, geared up, and took my youngest son out to target these fish. We had a few embarrassingly bad attempts to catch one and we slowly learned what to do, and what not to do. Then came a morning that I will never forget. We caught our first Cobia, and a nice one! It was 42” fork length and we were very excited at having accomplished our goal. An “old-timer” was watching us from a nearby boat and noticed that we obviously hadn’t planned on what to do if we actually caught one. He complimented us on our catch and suggested we tie her off to the back cleat and let her swim. He said to keep an eye on her because she will attract more fish. Later that morning, my son was keeping one eye on the fish and, sure enough, another one appeared. I rigged a live “greenie” to a rod, handed it to him and said “See if you can catch it”. He kept presenting that bait and eventually the fish took it. “Dad! Dad! I got it!” A great memory…
Although this particular fishery is temporarily shut down while populations recover, my point is that this approach can be applied to any species you choose. The feeling of accomplishment having achieved your goal is priceless.

The “Holy Grail” of Margarita Slams… Solo, on the same lure.

Another great way to challenge yourself is to make up your own “slam”. A slam is a select group of different species of fish, with best known locally being the redfish-trout-flounder slam. Add a species of your choice and it’s a grand-slam.
My favorite slam is one I made up, and in a discussion on a local fishing forum a name emerged: The Margarita Slam. This slam consists of 5 species; redfish, trout, flounder, striper, largemouth. These fish swim in sweet (fresh) and salty water, thus the name. Almost any river that starts well inland and ends near the coast is capable of yielding a Margarita Slam. Salty water will be found near the coast and as you go upriver you encounter brackish water, where salinity is mixed. Keep going up and you eventually end up in fresh water. In Charleston, the Cooper and Ashley rivers fit the bill. South, the rivers of the ACE basin (Ashepoo, Combahee, Edisto) do, and to the north, the Santee, Great Pee Dee and Waccamaw rivers can all yield the slam.
I like to try to achieve this slam at least once a year, with the month of November being optimal. To set out to accomplish this slam requires strategy. For example, speckled trout generally prefer salinity and largemouth bass prefer fresh water. It is extremely rare to catch a largemouth and a trout close to each other. However, striper, flounder and redfish are all quite happy in the brackish zone. Each species has their quirks; for example, striper are marauders – they move around a lot and are difficult to pattern. Flounder are ambush predators and are found laying in wait to ambush prey. Redfish are easier to catch on low tide, and trout arguably are easier to catch on higher tides. I personally find striper and flounder to be the hardest to catch intentionally.
For a further challenge, you can try the following, in order of difficulty.
• As a boat (Anyone on the boat can contribute to the boat slam)
• As an individual; Using various lures
• As an individual; Using a single lure
Of course, improving the quality of fish of your slam is another way to measure yourself.
It’s quite rewarding to set out to do this and actually achieve it. Last year, I was lucky to achieve the “holy grail” of a solo Margarita Slam on the same jig head/plastic combo. Best of all, it was on a brand-new lure I was prototyping. It has since been released – the Texas Eye Finesse jig. I’m not sure if I can ever do that one again. But as my business partner Ralph likes to say “You never know when lightning might strike the outhouse”.
Try catching a Margarita slam, or better yet make up your own slam. It’s one thing to catch the slam unintentionally, but far more rewarding to do it purposely.

David Fladd
Partner, Eye Strike Fishing
dfladd@eyestrikefishing.com
eyestrikefishing.com

“Hero or Zero” – Coastal Angler Magazine, Charleston, Nov 2020

Ralph (l) and brother Danny (r) with a couple oversize November trout

For this month’s article I’d like to start with a recap of the best trout fishing day I’ve ever had, and probably ever will. This particular day was two years ago in November. My guest was Scott – one of my oldest friends who has become a skilled artificial lure angler. We eased into a small bend in a creek and I suggested to him where to cast – a spot just up-current of a fallen down bush where I’d caught some nice fish in prior trips. Before I could get a cast off he comes tight to a 23” trout which is a true “gator” trout, especially in Charleston. Easily his best trout ever, we took a few pics and released her. Rather than run the trolling motor, I pulled my classic Boston Whaler up to the marsh and tied off to a clump of spartina to hold our position. What happened next is not an exaggeration and if someone told me I would probably not believe them either! We caught trout on almost every cast for the entire 6 hours of outgoing tide without moving. The average size was solid, maybe 16-17” with a few 18-19” thrown in. This was probably a once-in-a-lifetime trip, but it should give you an idea of the promise that November holds for the artificial lure angler.

So, what makes November so great? I’d say that on a high level here in Charleston we have two major patterns and several more minor patterns. The major patterns are Summer and Winter. During these times things remain stable for 2 or 3 months. The months in between are transition months and these contain the minor patterns that change more frequently. The beginning of November is usually the end of the Fall transition (upper 60’s water temps) and by Thanksgiving we’re starting the Winter pattern (lower 60’s and below).

If you know me, you know that I am an engineer by trade, and you wouldn’t be surprised to know that I do geeky things like make plots of water temperature by month. My charts tell me that by the beginning of November our water temperatures typically reach the 60’s. By the time the water has reached these temps, most baitfish have migrated south, and forage becomes pretty scarce. Speckled trout, who generally prefer salty water, start to move up the rivers and creeks seeking what food is available, typically smaller shrimp and glass minnows. Because conditions change during the month, I’ll break down things to think about as we move through November.

Early in the month, it’s still a great idea to throw topwater lures. In my experience, they still work well until the water gets down into the low 60’s toward the end of the month. Maybe try some smaller topwater profiles and work them a little more slowly. You could have luck fishing topwater pretty much any time during the day. It’s always a great idea to simply observe. Once in November I was fishing a bank and heard a splash in the center of the creek I was in. It was maybe 15 feet deep there but when I saw it happen a second time, I noticed some shrimp scattering. I quickly tied on a Z-Man EZ ShrimpZ and immediately started catching trout. If you see a school of minnows get crashed, pull out a topwater plug of your choice, cast in there and hold on. For this reason, I always have a topwater plug rigged and ready in November at all times of the day.

As the month progresses and the weather gets colder, I’m in no hurry to get out at daybreak. I’ve had many trips where I’ve gotten out early only to cast my arm off till 10 am when everything starts warming up a bit and the bite turns on. Now, I make some waffles or eggs and have a couple cups of coffee before heading out. I’m still catching the same amount of fish, but with a lot more rest.

This month, the soft plastic and jig head are king. Find the trout, and they bite like their life depends on it. However, remember that trout tend to school up as the water cools so you can either be a hero or zero depending on how you approach them. If you find the fish it can be every cast. If you don’t find them, you can get skunked. Sometimes, you can be 50 feet away from the fish and never know it.

If we’re trying to find the fish, we start up current and use our trolling motor to slow our drift and position the boat, and cast at any and all structure working all parts of the water column, but favoring the bottom portion. By using jigs and lures we have confidence in, we feel like we will find the fish if they are there. Once you get a bite, hit spot-lock and fan cast the area. Often this will result in a bunch of fish caught in a frenzy and then suddenly it turns off. Not to worry, the school simply moved. Just keep moving until you find them again. A good tactic that also works is to move away for 5 or 10 minutes and let the fish settle down, then go back and often it will be on again.
Another way to locate fish is to troll. Set up a couple rods with jigs, put them in rod holders on either side of the boat, and cast far back. Move the boat as slowly as you can, at idle speed, and make sure the jigs are bouncing bottom. Keep running the banks until you hook up. It’s as simple as that. You will get hung up periodically but that’s part of the game.

A can’t miss lure for November is a Z-Man StreakZ 3.75 Ralphs Shad and a Trout Eye Finesse jighead

Ralph likes to tell this story at his seminars. He was watching an old timer troll down the bank and hook a trout. He’d unhook it and keep going. Then he’d turn around and come back and hook up a trout again at the same point, and so on… Ralph idled by and the old timer says “Every time I pass this point, I get a trout!” Ralph says “Well, why don’t you stop there and keep fishing?!”

Trolling is a lot of fun in a kayak. When I used to have a vacation home on a tidal creek my son was young enough to be able to sit facing backwards on our kayak while I paddled. I’d put two rods out trolling while he watched the rods. When a rod tip would start bobbing, he’d reel it in. Great times for father and son! We had a portion of the creek we named “Snaggle-Tooth Stretch” because it was such a productive trout spot. Anyway, I digress…

Here are a couple tackle suggestions. In this month, the colder water has killed off most of the algae and our waters clear up quite a bit. It’s a good time to use a 20 lb fluorocarbon leader about 24 to 36” long, and of course you want to “match the hatch” by downsizing your lures. If you stop me in the creek and check my line, I’ll probably have the Z-Man StreakZ 3.75” or a 3” Slim SwimZ in either Pearl (white) or Ralph’s Shad (named for my business Partner). We like to pair these with our Trout Eye Finesse or Texas Eye Finess jigheads which have a short shank, wide gap 1/0 hook.

In summary, get on the water in November. If you want to learn how to use artificial lures, this month is an excellent time to gain confidence. As I’ve advised in part articles, remember to manage your line and fish slower. Most of all, have fun and bring a friend or family member and enjoy the best month of fishing of the year.
I hope to see you out there!

David Fladd
Partner, Eye Strike Fishing
dfladd@eyestrikefishing.com
eyestrikefishing.com

Artificial Intelligence: Search High and Low

My article for October, 2020 for Coastal Angler Magazine, Charleston

September was a month of bounty for inshore fish. Bait fish of all shapes and sizes were easy-pickings as they mass-migrated out of the estuary and out to the ocean to warmer waters. Now that the waters are cooling off, there is a lot less food around for the predators and they are starting to get panicky. Its kind of like when the forecasters warn of a hurricane two thousand miles away and we’re in the cone. Suddenly every grocery store is wiped out of hurricane snacks and water. Panic sets in and we are searching frantically for beer and corn chips. When the clerk puts a flat of water on the shelf, we are elbowing each other out of the way for a chance to get it. And so it is with fish in the Fall. If you present an artificial lure and make it look real, fish are going to pounce on it. The cooler water tends to make inshore fish school up, and if you don’t know how to find them you can easily get skunked – find them, and you might catch one hundred plus.

This month, I’m going to help you find your own trout spots in general terms – something you can use to scout unfamiliar water and probably have some success.
One of the most valuable pieces of advice I’ve gotten came from one of my fishing heroes, Capt. Bob Sanders. Capt. Bob is the father of the Trout Trick, an artificial lure that has become a household name among trout fishermen nationwide. I am proud to call him a friend, and one day while fishing he explained a reliable formula for finding trout. He advised me to find a hard-bottom flat that never goes dry at low tide, that is close to deep water. Over the years, this formula when applied to different locations has proven to be accurate time and again. Do you have a good trout spot? Does it fit this description? I bet at least some of your spots do.

Find the hard bottom

A hard bottom is generally great habitat for inshore fish, because it provides a home for the beginning of the food chain. How can we find hard bottom, even if the water is relatively deep? Here are several ways, ranging from primitive to high tech.

In the days before advanced sonar, they had to be creative. Bob told me Cherokee Indians used to tie a chain to a piece of rope and drift over an area. By feeling how the chain dragged along the bottom they could feel if there was any structure on bottom. Similarly, try fan casting a flat and letting the lure swim or hop along bottom. If there are shells or structure, you will get hung up periodically.

Another low-tech method is to drop anchor over an area. If you have trouble getting your anchor to hold, it’s probably a hard bottom.
Let’s assume you have a good echo sonar, as most people probably do these days. I’d bet that most people don’t utilize this great technology at their fingertips to anywhere near its fullest extent. For example, have you ever paid really close attention to what the bottom looks like when drifting over a flat with a known hard bottom, then done the same on a known soft, muddy bottom? You will notice a distinct difference in color and appearance for soft vs hard. If you pay close attention, you can get a great understanding of the bottom condition in an entirely new area by simply glancing at the screen, and not just the big number showing the depth.
Lastly, if you have the latest side scan technology, you really don’t need to do anything other than look at your screen, as bottom structure is quite apparent on a side scan image.

Learn to master the “sky shot”

There are other strong clues to a hard bottom. Have you ever paid attention to the bank while running down a creek? Banks that are adjacent marsh grass indicate muddy and likely smooth bottom nearby. Banks with nearby trees indicate hard bottom. Trees can’t grow unless there is hard soil or sand. Their roots also may provide underwater structure. My business partner Ralph really opened my eyes to be able to “read” the banks to predict the underwater structure. We would round a bend in a creek and his instruction would usually go something like this: Ralph: “What do you notice here?” Me: “Uuuuuh” Ralph: “See that old roadbed going through the marsh, right up to the bank?” Me: “Ooooohhh!”. Take a look around, and you will start to see things in a different light.

The presence of coral usually indicates a good spot. In Charleston, you will recognize the stuff if you have ever reeled in a spindly yellow plant when retrieving your line. These are usually found closer to the coast and provide great trout habitat.
Further inshore toward brackish water, the presence of garfish breaking the surface sometimes indicates a good fishing hole. It seems that garfish often feed on the same things as game fish.

Once you’ve found yourself one or more likely good spots based on the formula and bottom structure, remember that cooler water makes fish start to school. Work the area thoroughly because you may find them bunched up on a relatively small spot. If you don’t have luck on a likely spot, don’t give up on it. Come back on other tides and weather conditions and I’d be willing to bet that eventually the fish will be there.

Once you know what do look for, both above and below the water, you will find that good “spots” are literally everywhere, and not necessarily in community holes.
Now that you got yourself a productive spot, the next thing you need to do is master the “sky” or “boat” background when taking your catch pictures, unless you like company, because the first thing fishermen do when looking at your trophy catch pic is not the fish, but the background!

Happy scouting!

David Fladd
Partner, Eye Strike Fishing
dfladd@eyestrikefishing.com
eyestrikefishing.com

Artificial Intelligence: “Tools of the Trade”

My September, 2020 article for Coastal Angler Magazine Charleston

My son Ian and I found some early spring heavy trout on artificial lures

When I was just out of college and living on my own, I discovered that all the home repairs that magically happened when I was a teenager now fell on me to handle. I spent many years buying cheap tools and eventually came to realize the value of quality tools. Better to pay twice as much on a DeWalt than save money on something else. They are well made and will last a lifetime. I still use a radial arm saw my Dad purchased in the 1960’s and its still going strong. Good tools are worth every penny!

If you’re going to target inshore fish using artificial lures, the tools you use make ALL the difference. For example, the difference in sensitivity between a cheap fiberglass rod and a light, sensitive graphite rod is night and day. But more on that shortly.

Why does it matter? As I’ve written before, a bite on an artificial lure can sometimes be extremely subtle. After fishing with and learning from my business partner Ralph Phillips, I eventually became convinced that “feel” is essential to being a successful artificial lure fisherman – especially in colder water. Ralph has the best “feel” for a bite than anyone I have ever met or heard of, except for maybe his brother Danny. He always says its because they grew up poor and when you have only one cricket, you have to make it count.
Many times, we would be fishing the same location, with the same equipment, same lures, and he would consistently pull the only, and if not the only, the bigger fish out of the hole. This puzzled me for a while, but it finally occurred to me that the bigger the trout, the softer the bite. My theory is it has more to do with their larger mouth and less likelihood of a lure contacting the mouth during the inhale and subsequent spit-out of the lure. For this reason, I also believe that many people have had a “gator” trout strike their lure, spit it out, and they never knew it. That should haunt your dreams…

I’ve fished exclusively artificial lures now for almost 7 years, and I can tell you the one fish I am most proud of catching. I was by myself on an overcast Fall morning, fishing a jig head and jerk shad on a submerged flat with not much happening. I felt a very, very subtle something just as I let the lure drop and, not sure if what I felt was real, I set the hook. A beautiful 23” spotted seatrout was the prize. Years later, I still think of that fish, and that most people (including myself a year earlier) would have never felt it.

What is “feel”, anyway? It’s something I’ve worked very hard to improve. I used to think I just had dead hands, but now that I have achieved a pretty good feel, I think it’s the sum of experience in being able to discern and identify what is contacting your lure down to the very slightest touch.  If you’re not using the right equipment and technique, then you might as well forget developing a feel. I’ve already discussed some of the key techniques in prior articles. Line management being number one, followed by moving the lure slowly, and casting accurately. If you have those mastered, let’s get you outfitted so that all you need to do is practice – you should have no other excuse.

Line – My recommendation is to use any line you want, as long as it’s 10 lb Moss Green Power Pro braid. There are a hundred braided line options out there, and maybe (probably) there are better but this line has proved time and again to be very strong, almost invisible, and most of all – reliable. If you are not using braid, any braid, you are missing the single most important (and relatively inexpensive) component to developing a feel. Using braided line you have almost no stretch and a very direct connection to your lure. To me, mono or fluoro line feels like fishing with a rubber band. We often even fish our 10 lb Power Pro tied directly to the lure. In our dingy waters here in Charleston, a leader is really not needed. It goes against the generally accepted convention, but if you could see the fish Ralph and I have caught tied direct to the lure you would become a believer. One less knot between you and the fish doesn’t hurt either.

Quality equipment makes all the difference. Here is a custom rod with Tennessee handle (phillipscustomrods.com)

Rod – A good rod is a close second in the most important category. I’d probably call it a tie. You need a very light and responsive rod. If you have ever tried a great rod, then go back to a cheap rod, you will be very disappointed. For inshore, a medium-light action rod is our recommendation, and at a minimum a fast or extra-fast tip. My personal preference is to use an extra-fast tip. Many trout anglers would disagree, and rightfully so, because of the soft mouth of trout. A fast tip will have a little extra shock absorption over an extra-fast tip. I prefer the extra-fast because I feel that it helps me be in better contact with my lure and small twitches of the rod get more directly transferred to the lure. When I catch a nice fish, I’ll handle the shock absorption by a soft grip on the rod and a loose drag. Ralph prefers a short rod, 6 ft, with ability to more accurately cast being the reason. These can be hard to find, but a 6’3” or 6’6” will suffice. Remember high school geometry? A short rod is also a shorter lever, and a small flick of the wrist will move a lure a shorter distance with a shorter lever. A very good rod will set you back at least $200 and can go much higher. Head on over to Haddrell’s Point Tackle and they can set you up with a great rod. Yeah, they are expensive, but trust me they are worth it.

If you really want to kick it up a notch, use a Tennessee handle rod. Ralph has used these rods exclusively for years. They originated by smallmouth bass fishermen, who need an excellent feel. A Tennessee handle rod has no reel seat. It’s straight cork through the handle. You literally tape the reel to the handle. But if you think of it, how is the feel of the lure transferred to you? Through your grip. By allowing a better contact of your hand to the rod, you can’t have a better connection than through a Tennessee handle. These rods are usually custom made. If interested, Ralph’s son Les makes them (phillipscustomrods.com). I own a couple, and I’m pretty sure I can feel a fish look at my lure using one.

Reels – All major reel vendors make great quality reels. As far as performance, most inshore fish don’t put too much stress on a reel. Things that I value in a reel are a smooth drag, meaning it takes very little initial pull to move the drag, and overall quality. I want my reels to last more than a season. For size, I like anything from a 1000 to a 3000 size spinning reel. As I’ve written before, go for the lowest retrieve ratio reel you can buy – it will force you to slow down your retrieve. I’ve tried all brands of reels, but I’ve had my most overall satisfaction with Shimano reels.

Now that you’re properly outfitted for artificial lure angling, it’s time to hone your skills and develop your feel. I keep on working on mine, and after a long time not fishing I still need to recalibrate. One thing’s for sure though: Next time Ralph and I get on a really subtle big trout bite, he’ll wear my sorry butt out. You can’t beat 50+ years of experience!

David Fladd
Partner, Eye Strike Fishing
dfladd@eyestrikefishing.com
eyestrikefishing.com

Jump Off a Cliff!

My latest Artificial Intelligence article for Coastal Angler Magazine – Charleston

It’s August in Charleston. I’m gonna be honest, the artificial lure bite is pretty difficult this month. Your best bet will be to throw topwater plugs on overcast days or before the “orange torture-ball” rises above the tree line and the fish recede to cooler, deeper waters. So, I’m going to take this month to encourage you to get out of your comfort zone and learn something new.

An entry-level low-profile baitcaster such as the Shimano Caenan is a great choice for starters

The cool thing about fishing is there is always something new to learn. When I started fishing artificial lures almost exclusively, it was a conscious decision. I decided I was going to learn how to do it, and do it well, so I committed to only fishing lures from that day on. I knew that my catching would suffer for the foreseeable future – and it did, for about a year. I’m still learning (and will be as long as I’m fishing) but I now catch more fish on artificial lures, year-round, than I ever did before. In my opinion it’s more fun, and it’s sure nice not to have to go net shrimp before every trip.

If you want to be better at fishing lures, watch the pro bass fishermen. They are the true masters, and you can learn so much by watching and learning from them. A few staples of freshwater bass fishing that my business partner Ralph Phillips adapted to saltwater fishing many years ago are use of a baitcasting reel, and a trolling motor foot control. I’d say that the majority of saltwater fishermen have never thrown a baitcaster, and I’m not sure how many others I’ve seen using a foot control. Ralph has used both for decades, and, eventually I made a commitment to learning how to use both.

If you’ve never used a low profile baitcaster, it’s basically a reel with a horizontal spool that you control mainly with thumb pressure. The result of improper technique is the dreaded “birds-nest” when the line outruns the spool, piling up line. Most times you can pick out the knots, but sometimes only a razor blade will help. There are cast control settings that help minimize bird nesting for beginners, but these typically result in shorter casting distance. The secret is to free up these cast control settings and very slightly “feather” the spool as the line is cast, and the key is to stop the spool before the lure stops. This is usually the surface of the water, or sometimes an unintended target like a tree branch. Unexpected stops are usually the source of bad bird nests. So, what’s the benefit? It’s hard to describe but its just easier to work a lure on a bait caster in my opinion. Between the ability to underhand cast and stop the line with your thumb, I feel like I can hit an area the size of a dinner plate pretty often using one, and I’ve described the importance of accurate casting in a prior article. These are some of the reasons they are popular with bass pros. You can purchase a Shimano Caenan 100 reel for about $80 or less and it’s a really good reel for the money. Get yourself one and try it.

Minn-Kota makes a really good foot control for their Ulterra and Terrova trolling motors

Ralph has always used a foot control for his trolling motor. Usually a few times a trip he would need to retie his line, light his cigar or something where I would need to jump on the trolling motor. The results were pretty comical. I would be going back and forth trying to figure out which way the motor would turn. Toe down right, or is it left? I just could not get it! Ralph wouldn’t even have to think about it, it was like an extension of his body. The thing is, just like anything new you have to be committed to it to master it. A few years ago when I bought my bay boat, I rigged it with a Minn Kota Terrova with the anchor feature, and opted for a foot control. Now that I have to use it every trip, all day long, its second nature. I can’t imagine fishing without one. The benefit is that you have both hands free to fish, and you can maneuver in tight spots with very good control. To me, it’s worth every penny.

The last thing I’d like to encourage you to try is fly fishing. Years ago, before I met Ralph, I saw people walking the marsh stalking redfish and decided I wanted to learn what this was all about. When I say I was clueless, I was clueless! I didn’t understand why the reel was all the way on the back of the rod, or anything like that. Anyway, I went out and bought a basic starter rod. The ideal rod is a 9 ft, 8 wt rod with a large arbor reel. What’s all that? Well, go to a fly shop and simply ask. They will tell you all about it. Another thing I did which was invaluable, was to take a class from Capt John Irwin (Fly Right Charters). He has been doing this for years and is currently running them through Haddrells Point Tackle. After taking that class you will feel like you know enough to get in trouble. I’ll never forget trying my best to make a passable cast, and him demonstrating (on my rod) by casting the entire fly line off the rod. To this day, I find that incredible. So, what’s the benefit to an artificial lure angler? I view a fly rod as an essential tool in my fishing toolkit. What does a fly rod excel at? The ability to launch a very light, almost weightless lure a long way. Try to cast a fly on a spinning rod or baitcaster. You can’t. There are some days, especially in cold water when the fish are keyed in on very small forage. I’ve seen many times when a school of redfish is feasting on 1” grass shrimp and they won’t look at an artificial shrimp or jig. But, if you can use a fly rod and present a little 1” brown fly to them – its on!

A fly rod is the perfect tool for when fish are feeding on tiny forage, as often happens in winter time

The overarching theme of this article is that sometimes things are hard, but there is a reward for persistence. Sometimes you need to jump off a cliff and learn to fly before you hit the ground. Or in other words maybe you need to learn to fly-fish before you go home empty-handed!

See you on the water!

David Fladd
Partner, Eye Strike Fishing
dfladd@eyestrikefishing.com
eyestrikefishing.com

Artificial Intelligence Article – Coastal Angler Magazine July 2020

Adventures At The Pumpkin Patch

A few years ago I owned a second home that was just 5 minutes from a boat landing south of Charleston. If you’ve ever owned a second home you already know that for all the best times there are offsetting times of worry – about bills, upkeep, storms, water, sewer, and the list goes on. While I don’t regret selling, I do really miss what were some of the best days of my life.

A typical day would be scripted like this. Get up around 5:30 am, make some coffee, and head to the landing (almost) always the first one there. I’d take off in my 1966 Boston Whaler and navigate by the slight pre-dawn light. My destination was just down the creek and around a corner – a spot I noticed on Google maps years before that I decided to check out. Turns out that would be the first spot I’d visit just about every trip for the next 7 years, it was that good. In fact I gave it a name: “Pumpkin Patch”.

What made it so good, and the things I learned while fishing it are the subject of this months article.

This spot was a bay on the end of a large flat full of oyster mounds and it was situated such that the outgoing tide would push water into it and trap bait naturally. For example, around Labor Day, there was typically so much bait that when a seagull would fly low over the rafts of bait would scatter in a spray. The bay would fill to about 3 ft deep at high tide and be dry at low. It was strewn with random oyster clusters and not surprisingly, home to a large number of redfish. Sometimes they would be schooled up in the back, sometimes working the dropoff, and sometimes bellying through the mud with their backs out of the water. After spending countless mornings there, you start to learn their typical behaviors.

The best way to target these fish was with a topwater plug. There are very few things you can experience that are more of a rush than a bull redfish charging a plug on top in less than 2 feet of water. Over the years I found that the type of plug made a big difference with these redfish. They far preferred a Rapala Skitterwalk with its large profile and low pitch knock to a Heddon Spook Jr or other high pitch rattle. If I made a random cast into the bay where I knew the fish were and worked it back at a moderate pace, it would almost never get hit. However, working it very, very slowly, moving 6 inches at a time with a long pause between would improve my odds significantly. But by far the most effective way to catch one was to hold the rod at the ready and…wait. I would wait for a fish to make a topwater strike on a real baitfish and I found that if I landed that plug within a 10 ft radius within less than 10 seconds it would almost always get hammered. My guess is that the fish thought he scattered the bait in the air and then it landed nearby, making for an easy meal. It worked for me…over and over again.

When targeting redfish on top, remember that they are built for feeding on the bottom. They must raise their heads completely out of the water or sometimes roll on their sides or upside down to get the plug. For this reason, they often miss the plug, blowing a hole in the water in the process. It’s important to be very patient and wait for a pull on your plug before setting the hook or you’ll miss your fair share of strikes. When one misses, don’t reel in. Instead, “sell” the wounded baitfish act with small twitches and pauses. More often than not they will come back to finish the deal.
With 3 or 4 redfish caught and released, I’d head back to the house around 9:30 to find the rest of the family just waking up and starting to make breakfast. Lunch or dinner would often consist of at least some “creek-to-table” food, and after a day at the beach or sandbar there wasn’t a night where I wouldn’t fall asleep exhausted only to repeat again the next day.

Over the years I had a few unusual things happen at the Pumpkin Patch, including a flounder on topwater, and a bull redfish that broke both treble hooks off a brand new Skitterwalk plug. Never underestimate the power of the crushers in the back of a bull redfish mouth!
From July through mid September, catching redfish on topwater is a fun and reliable method to focus on. I highly suggest you try it. If you read this carefully, I’ve given a number of nuggets that will help you by shortening the learning curve.

Now if you excuse me, I’m going to check the real estate listings!

David Fladd
Partner, Eye Strike Fishing
dfladd@eyestrikefishing.com
eyestrikefishing.com