Author: David Fladd

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

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, 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

David Fladd
Partner, Eye Strike Fishing

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

“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

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

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 (

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 ( 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