Coastal Angler Mag Charleston Article for May

“Threading the Needle”

This is the 27″ fish described in Scenario #1

Each year, a group of friends and I rent an AirBNB on the water and have a “guys weekend” full of fishing, cooking and a little beer drinking. Over the years, the group has changed and includes an interesting mix of different people and has become a group who otherwise might have never met but have become all good friends over the years.

Understandably, a good portion of them aren’t the most experienced at fishing, much less with artificial lures. I always step into the role of fishing coach on our trips and try to offer help on how to present the lure so they have some luck. I also watch carefully to try to understand why they aren’t catching, if I can. Sometimes, the fish won’t cooperate, no matter who you are!

Always, by the end of the trip, and year-to-year, I can see their skills get better each time. On our first outing last year, we were working a typical creek lined with docks and piers. I was showing them where fish were likely to be and where to cast. At each “spot” I gave them first shot at it. But in short time, I had an inshore slam, and my guests had nothing. Why? We were using similar rods and reels, and often the same jig head and soft plastic lure.

To be successful at using artificial lures, it’s all in the details. Based on my observations on this trip, the number one reason was casting accuracy. My guests simply were not able to hit the spot needed to present the lure to where a fish was likely to be. I’d say, in order to be successful, you need to be able to hit a spot the size of a 3 foot diameter circle with good regularity. If you can’t do it the first time, every time, then if you can do it within 2 or 3 tries, that’s good enough. Obviously, get that accuracy down to the size of a dinner plate, and all the better.

Here are two scenarios where it really mattered that day. It was a bright, sunny early November day, and the water was still a little warm. We pulled up to a dock with a steep, rubble filled bank. I pointed out a shadowy area between the bank and the first piling. I asked my guests to cast there, and, they couldn’t hit it after several tries. I made a cast and thread it between the dock and bank, let it drop for a second and … 27” redfish.

Scenario 2, we were fishing that same pattern with very good success (that’s a topic for another article) and came to a dock with a similar bank, but a floating dock running parallel to shore. After working the floater with no luck, I slipped my Sportsman bay boat between the floater and the bank. I instructed my guests to cast under the pier in the shadow. Again, they struggled to hit the spot. I made a cast in the intended spot and found a school of puppy red drum in there.

My point is that it’s one thing to know where to cast, but you need to be able to hit it. You can practice in your living room or back yard at any time. Being an accurate caster can make the difference between no fish, and dozens of fish.

And, my guests? They all caught plenty of fish with a few days of on-the-water practice. Next time, they will arrive rusty, but will pick up where they left off in short order. They will lose a few jigs in the meantime, but luckily I know someone in the business!

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

Release Over 20″ Initiative

We are proud to finally announce an initiative we have been working on with CCA North Carolina, called Release Over 20″.  In essence, its encouraging people to release all speckled trout over 20″ and committing to making 20″ your own personal upper-slot – Even if the law allows.  Rather than explain further, we discussed it in detail on the latest Eastern Current podcast, which can be watched here.  Follow @releaseover20 on instagram and/or Facebook/groups/releaseover20 to join the movement!

Watch the story on @judbrockfishing on instagram to qualify to win a free guided trip for trout.  Entries are open now till next Friday. 

Thanks!

Clack, Clack, Splash!

My article for the April edition of Coastal Angler Magazine – Charleston

This 25″ Charleston Speckled Trout was caught on an as-yet to be released product, a Texas Eye Finesse jig

Launching in the pre-dawn, we turn on the nav lights and head cautiously to our desired spot: A gravelly shallow point, with the outgoing tide pushing against it. We shut down the big motor far from the bank, and ease in slowly and quietly on the trolling motor. We make a long cast, guessing at the distance to the bank as we can’t really see where our topwater plugs will land. A turkey gobbles in the nearby woods as we listen to our plugs clack-clack, with random pauses. Suddenly a splash, and drag peels off the reel. Unseen, we are left to guess at the size based on the frequency of the head-shakes. This is the essence of trout fishing in April.

Now through June will be your best opportunity to catch your biggest speckled trout of the year. The big ones are almost always female and need to fatten up for the spring spawn – thus they are feeding on larger baits. Your best chance for a gator trout on artificial will be using a topwater plug, or suspending lure. Jig heads and soft plastics will also work but require, in my opinion, more skill to catch the big girls.

Thanks to our friend Chris Bush, of the Speckled Truth on social media, we know more than ever about how to target large trout. We know that your best chance of catching a big one will be a few days either side of the full and new moons, corresponding to solunar periods. In Charleston, solunar periods generally correspond to the high and low tides, along with sunrise and sunset.

In my personal experience, I believe that big trout only feed in short windows of time – approximately 30 -45 minutes. What causes the switch to be flipped, I wish I knew, but I have some theories. Anyone can catch a big trout by chance, but to catch them on purpose is a whole different thing. First of all, you need to be where big trout live, with the right lure in the water, when the feeding window opens. This is often more of a grind than most people are willing to commit to. Are you willing to go all day without a bite, in hopes of catching a 25+ inch trout? There is no shame in not being that committed, but that’s often what it takes.

Where do big trout live? Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, but they seem to hang around very hard structure near deep water. What are some examples? Rock walls, concrete, gravel, etc. There are examples literally everywhere in Charleston.

I’ll close with a conservation message. It’s very important that big trout be handled carefully and released to spawn. The number of eggs in a large trout is exponentially more than smaller trout. They reached their size by being especially fast growing, resistant to cold or disease, etc. Therefore, it’s important to allow them to propagate these superior genetics to ensure great trout fishing for years to come.
Launch early, and we may see you there. Sleeping in is for teenagers!

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

Tom & Huck go to Texas

Something we have tried to do each year is take a destination fishing trip.  Our first adventure was to Louisiana to fish with our Team Eye Strike member Jud Brock.  Our report from that trip can be seen here.  In 2019 I went to NC to fish with the Speckled Specialist Ricky Kellum for gator trout.  Ralph unfortunately wasn’t able to make that trip.  On our short list was a visit to big trout mecca, a.k.a. the Laguna Madre in southern Texas.  We decided to go at one of the best times of year at the best time of month to catch a true giant trout.  

I asked for a guide recommendation from our friend Chris Bush, founder of The Speckled Truth – a great organization dedicated to the pursuit and conservation of big trout.  His recommendation was Capt. Wayne Davis out of Port Mansfield, Texas.  I contacted him and we batted around some dates, ending up with 3rd week of February near the full moon.  Ralph nor I have ever wade-fished for trout, so Wayne was great at answering my stupid questions without making me feel like an idiot.  With travel arrangements made, we waited patiently for the big day, hoping for good weather.

On our way to Big Trout Mecca

I was kind of afraid to look, but a few days out from our trip, sure enough a huge front was predicted for our fishing window.  With great weather, we would have had a chance to wade from shore on Thursday afternoon, then had 2 full days of fishing Friday and Saturday.  As it turned out, it looked as though we might get a few hours to fish Friday afternoon, then Saturday looked doable.  Thursday, no way.

The wind map on Friday morning – Whipping!

We flew into Harlingen, Texas – a small town near the Mexican border and rented a car.  On recommendation from Capt Wayne and a friend, we hit a grocery store and stocked up on food for the weekend.  The drive was about 45 minutes to Port Mansfield through huge open space full of windmills and pasture.  Port Mansfield is very small and literally 25 miles from any other town.  The first thing we noticed was all the deer around.  Some really big bucks just walking around acting like neighborhood dogs.  The wind was howling, so we drove around town getting our bearings and settled into our rental house.  

Port Mansfield has some unusual dogs

We met up with Wayne and made a plan.  Friday morning was a loss, with maybe a few hours doable in the afternoon.  He lent us a few rods and we spend Friday fishing from shore where we could and not really having any luck – but it helped pass the time.  The weather did finally break mid-afternoon but we opted to pass and make a full day of it Saturday.  I requested that we focus on big trout, since we can catch big redfish pretty much any day in our home waters.  We knew that meant we would probably be grinding and also that we might leave empty handed.  But, the chance at a big fish is why we came all the way to Texas to fish.

Ready to Roll

Because the weather and water was still pretty cold we didn’t leave the marina till around 9 am, and got in Wayne’s SCB boat.  These rigs are designed for the lagoon, ie very shallow water and ability to hop in and out to wade.  Wading is a really cool experience.  We got in the knee deep water and fanned out about 100 yards apart and started working the flat.  You wade down-wind and after we got a certain distance, Wayne raised the Power Poles on his rig and let it drift back to us.  You could barely make out large mats of sea grass though the wind whipped water but you could feel them on your jig as you fan cast the area.  

Wayne is owner of KWigglers lures, so we fished his plastics on our jig heads most of the day.  The KWigglers have a fairly large profile but matched well with our 2/0 TroutEye jigs.  At this first stop I had my first Texas fish, a rat redfish.  This spot was a bit slow, so we moved on to a spot where only the big girls reside.

First Texas Fish

This area was a sandy bottom only about shin deep with no discernible structure.  We covered a few areas here with nothing to show, until I saw Wayne climb aboard his boat and pick up Ralph.  They started idling my way, when I got slammed!  The line shot sideways, slicing the water then ran straight at me.  I reeled like a mad-man trying to stay tight.  The fish struggled on the surface and threw the lure back at me…ugh!  I never did get a good look at it, but it seemed like a really nice fish.  

Later in the afternoon we made a long run and immediately started to see bait fish everywhere.  As we poled down and slipped out of the boat, I noticed the footing was much more difficult to walk in.  I was sinking a few inches some times, so Wayne suggested that Ralph stay in the boat.  He would drift the boat downwind while we waded, allowing Ralph to fish the area also.  

We were encountering some grass patches, so I switched my lure to a Texas Eye 1/8 oz jig.  Texas Eyes need the right plastic to allow a good hookup ratio, so I paired it with a 4″ Z-Man Scented Jerk ShadZ in Nuked Pilchard color – a setup I’ve done well here in Charleston on for big trout.  I started working the area, and I got a sudden thump.  The fish tore off line in a fast run, then raised its head up and shook its big head.  I yelled “I got a giant!” and Wayne started walking toward me and coaching me through the fight.  I made sure to stay tight with rod held high and to back off the drag when she got close.  When I saw this fish it took my breath away.  It seemed like forever until I could get my Boga Grip to find its mouth and only at that point could I relax and celebrate.  Wow what a fish.  

My Texas Trophy, just under 28″ and fat!

You couldn’t script it better.  A Texas giant speckled trout on a Texas Eye jig!  Wayne took some great pictures, and I promised to keep the pics quiet because it had a chance to make the cover of Texas Saltwater Fishing magazine.  Alas, it didn’t make the cover, but he did feature it in his column in the magazine.  We participated in Wayne’s “Empty Stringers” program and gladly released this fish.

One of the best parts was that it qualified as a Speckled Truth Citation fish for Texas.  I received my sticker today, and am currently planning on how to make a picture frame to commemorate the catch.  

We finished the day catching a few smaller fish and a few redfish.  A great way to end the trip.

Ralph and Capt Wayne doubled-up! Look how shallow it was.

I’m truly thankful that I was able to land such a trophy.  It’s very lucky to do so with one day of fishing under fairly tough conditions.  Capt Wayne deserves full credit for leading me to this fish, one that I will never forget.  Can’t wait to return to the Lower Laguna Madre.  Just the opportunity to hook into a 7 lb + trout any given day is an amazing thing.  

 

Pluggin Time

The unofficial water temp for the true beginning of topwater season is 60F, but 65F is when they really turn on.  Whether or not this is because the water temp is when the bait fills in or just that the fish are fired up is a subject to debate.  At any rate, we have been above 65F for a week now and the bite is definitely on fire.  Ralph and I launched midweek last week after I committed the cardinal sin amongst topwater fishermen…I overslept my alarm and despite my best efforts I was still about 20 min too late to the landing.  

Ralph with a chunky trout on top. Note the overcast conditions.

We early morning pluggers know that ever minute is precious.  You have about 45 min of twilight before the sun rises and then till the sun gets about 10 deg above the treeline until the action slows or stops.  A younger Ralph would have (rightfully so) left my sorry-ass at the landing, but present-day Ralph is much more understanding.  

The Rapala Skitter V is a winner for trout plugs.

Lucky for both of us, this day was overcast for most of the morning, and we enjoyed a fast and furious topwater bite for a few hours.  Our experience (and later backed up by my fellow big trout junky Justin Carter) was that the fish were super-aggressive and were knocking the plug out of the water or making a huge splash.  But, they were pretty difficult to get a hook in.  Now, if you try to set the hook on a topwater strike, you’re gonna miss most of your fish.  But we know better than that.  Just wait till you feel the line tighten before you come tight.  Even still, whether or not you come tight is a crap shoot sometimes.  For me, my odds were pretty terrible, maybe 2 for 8 on the landed to strike ratio.  Ralph was considerably better, maybe 60% landed.  It’s better to get a blow up and miss than no blowups at all though.   

The fish were all quality – 16-19″ on average.  No big girls today but that’s okay, big trout are unicorns.  

New visors available on our store, are proven fish magnets

Our choice of plug was one that has worked wonders for us in the past few years, the Rapala Skitter V.  If you haven’t tried them, you should.  There are also lots of p-nut menhaden around and a Mirrolure Heavy Dine is a great choice.  If you really want the extra sauce, put one of these on your topwater or suspending plug. 

This one fell for a Heavy Dine with a VMC bladed treble

Another thing you’ll notice when you catch a trout right now, is that they fight like a fish twice their size.  They are getting ready to fatten up to spawn, and have spring fever!  

Please consider releasing all trout over 20″ to pass on the survivor genes, and especially the big girls fat with eggs.  Let em spawn!  

Jig Supplies Update

Just a heads-up that we remain open, although shipments may be delayed at times due to higher priorities in life.  We plan to remain open as long as we are legally able to be, and the USPS remains open.  

All our jigs have always been Made in the USA, and wherever possible we source from the USA also.  An exception is hooks – there are no domestic makers of quality fish hooks.  Because of delays in business and commerce there are a lot of backorders of hook supplies nationally.  We received word that some of our major suppliers are shut down by governer’s orders in their states, being non-essential businesses, for an unknown period of time. 

This means that we will not be receiving restocking of jigs or samples of our new products for a while.  Good news is that we have a good inventory in stock so we will be good until supplies run out.  Hopefully that doesn’t happen, but its a possibility. 

No hoarding! 🙂

Thanks for all your support and hope you stay safe and smart and get a chance to do some fishing during all this craziness…

 

Silver Linings

Strange days, indeed.  As we weather this unprecedented time in our history, one of the silver linings is having family home and together with not much to do.  A side benefit is with factories closed, less transportation, etc, the environment gets a much needed time-out.  At least as long as our public landings remain open, it is a nice opportunity to go fishing.  My youngest son Ian has been home from UofSC and I offered a day fishing to help break the boredom – he gladly accepted. 

It turned out to be a beautiful day, with low winds and moderate tide.  I rigged up some small lures as a result of my prior trip with John (see above).  In this case I rigged up some 1/8 oz Trout Eye Finesse jigs with Z-Man Slim SwimZ 3″.  One in Space Guppy, and one in Pearl (pure white).  

As we arrived at our first spot we started making exploratory casts, and it wasn’t but a few minutes before I got a solid thump and landed a 22″ trout.  This is a good sign!  We drifted a bank trying to locate more fish and had a few quality trout but they were very spread out.  So, we ran back to the scene of the crime and tried again.  

Ian made a cast and located a pocket where some nice redfish were holding in a small pocket.  We landed three over 24″ in short order.  

As the tide slowed I made a guess that the fish were moving down the bank so we drifted again and found a few more quality trout.  

Around midday, the wind went from completely still to South at 20+.  We moved to some other areas and Ian was able to find a couple 19″+ trout despite the very difficult conditions.  

I was proud to watch him work his lure slowly and manage his line in order to feel the bite and set the hook.  He’s become a very good artificial lure angler.  

As usual for us, our fish were carefully handled and released to spawn and catch again.  We did keep a few smaller ones for dinner, but only to eat fresh, not frozen.

The best part was spending the day together fishing.  The excellent catching made it all the better!

Social Distancing with SCDNR

John Archambault, SCDNR

Yesterday it was my honor to have one of my heros on board the SS Eye Strike: John Archambault, a fisheries biologist from SCDNR.  I knew of John for a long time, because whenever I caught a fish with an orange tag, meaning it was tagged by DNR, it had John’s name on it.  I met John last year when I volunteered to go electrofishing in the Cooper river.  That was an extremely memorable trip, and you can see the report here if you are interested.  Since then, we have kept in touch, comparing notes about fishing, trout in particular.  So, we finally got to go fishing and had a really great time with very good results.  

Lately, I’m a once a week fisherman, so I don’t really have the fish patterned too well.  But, conditions lined up for a few patterns that have worked in the past.  The water being now 61F, I had tied on a topwater plug and was hoping to get my first fish on top this year.  John mentioned that it should work but in his opinion they are still keyed in on small baits.  At that point he pulls out – of all things – a shad dart.  If you don’t know what that is, its basically a worm body with curly tail or paddle tail, usually chartreuse, and the whole thing is under 2″ long.  He rigged it on a tiny jig head (smaller than anything we currently make).  I’ve never personally seen anyone fish a smaller jig inshore besides for shad.  

We pull up to spot #1 and first cast he rears back on a solid trout.  I cast my plug in the same general area without a sniff.  He unhooks and releases the first trout and casts back in an he’s tight again!  This made me scramble to find my smallest rig and I’m glad I did.  After making a few passes in this spot we had a lot of nice fat trout and he caught one up to 20″ on this little rig.  So cool, there is always something to learn.  

We headed off to spot #2 and after running the bank for a bit we finally found our target.  Another group of solid and heavy trout.  Nothing over 20″ but plenty over 17″.  Later we explored the jetties and saw a few false albacore chasing baitfish, and John even caught a sheepshead on his little rig.  A very rare catch in SC. 

I’m already looking forward to my next outing with my new friend, John.  

The day ended by picking away at a few more nice trout in different spots.  It was really fun to have a very good trout bite after a long winter. It should only get better in the next few months.  

Since nearly everything else is closed for COVID-19, a good way to keep yourself from driving your family crazy is to hit the water.  The fish are biting!  See you out there.

Gnat Season

March fishing in the lowcountry can be miserable if you’re not prepared. If there is low wind, you will be surrounded by clouds of no-see-ums (actually, you will see em – in a cloud!) and if you’re not ready for them they will drive you to insanity! I once had one bite me on the white of my eye!

There are a few good products like No-Natz that work pretty good, but I take a completely different approach.

I cover up.

One of the best inventions in fishing to me is the buff.  There are a million variations around there but they are just a thin fabric in a tube shape that you can put over your neck and pull up over your face.  These IMHO are the best gnat deterrent you can buy.  Wear closed shoes, socks, long pants, long sleeves a buff and a hat and you’re all set.  Pull that buff up over your face and ears and up the back of your head.

This will allow you to fish through the clouds of gnats.  But!  You might still get bit on the white of your eye….I haven’t found a solution to that yet 🙂

See you on the water, through a cloud of gnats!

Don’t Be So Cranky!

My article for the March, 2020 edition of Coastal Angler Magazine – Charleston


Every year Ralph and I auction off an “educational” fishing trip to help teach people how to better fish artificial lures. One year I tried an experiment. We had two novice anglers that day. I offered to one of the anglers a rod with a 1000 size spinning reel. The other was using a 2500 sized reel, a common reel for inshore fishing. I then watched and waited. Sure enough, the angler with the 1000 reel caught more fish, almost 2 to 1, over the other angler. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
People want to crank their reel. Heck, I’m guilty of it sometimes too. As I discussed in last month’s article, fishing slower equates to more fish caught – not just in winter, but pretty much all year. How much line retrieved per crank comes from two main factors, the gear ratio (number of revolutions of the spool per crank), and the diameter of the spool.
To demonstrate, I laid two lures on my driveway, one connected to a 1000 spinning reel (5.0:1 gear ratio), and one with a 2500 spinning reel (5.6:1 gear ratio). I then made one full crank of each. You can see that the 1000 retrieved about one third less line than the 2500. That’s a significant difference! Incidentally, the shorter of the two retrieves was still 27 inches; the longer, almost 40 inches.

More than you would have guessed? Probably.

Next time you purchase a reel, many times you have a choice of gear ratios. I always purchase the least ratio I can. Because I, too, like to crank – but I will be 30% slower with the same amount of crank – and therefore fishing slower.

In summary, I hope your takeaway from all this is that we are human, and we like to crank our reels – and we all will have better results fishing artificial lures by simply cranking slower.

Give these methods a try this month and let us know how it works.

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