A Beginner’s Guide to Fly Fishing the Lowcountry

Henry Tomlinson
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One of our favorite pastimes here in the Lowcountry is sight-fishing for tailing redfish. As the days get longer and the tides start to flood around Charleston, you'll be able to spot (pun-intended) eager redfish waiting to get up on the flats for fiddler crabs, and pretty much anything that moves. Their distinctive spotted tails will stick up out of the water and through the Spartina grass as they chase crabs, giving anglers a chance to throw a fly their way.

Speaking from experience, it can be highly frustrating trying to get to these fish. Without a boat, or a friend who has a boat, your only option is to find a flat that you can access by walking straight into, or renting a kayak to paddle out to. This guide will help you figure out where to look and what to bring, while also offering some insider tips to help get your line tight.

Finding a Flat

Owen Plair

Use Google Earth. It’s as simple as looking on your computer screen for grassy patches along the coastline. Find a few potential flats and map a route to them. Next in order is keeping one very important rule in mind—steer clear of tall grass. Unless you want pluff mud in all the wrong places, you’d do well to walk around any grass taller than your waist. A good flat will have short grass and firm ground that you can walk on, and flood just high enough to see tails sticking out of the water.

Check a tide chart app on your smart phone to see what time high tide will be—it’s best to get to where you want to be about an hour before high tide, and stay for an hour after high tide hits. This will give you an idea of where the fish enter the flat (most likely a feeder creek that floods the flat), and how they work the area. Fishing a flat that is new to you can be the best time of your life, or it can really be really frustrating. It’s up to you to put in the research and take the chance.

Choosing a Set-Up

Fishing can get expensive. Especially if you have a full-blown addiction. As with most sports, you can either buy low-end gear, or invest in set-up that will last a lifetime. For beginners wanting to target redfish specifically, we recommend getting a decent 8 weight rod with a good warranty (see Temple Fork Outfitters ), a good saltwater reel (see Nautilus Fly Reels ), and a good, weight-forward, floating redfish line to match your rod weight (see Rio ). This set up will cost around $500, which is about the middle of the road as far as fly fishing outfits go.

The next thing you'll want to invest in are a pair of wading boots. They keep the crabs and snails away from your feet, protect you from sharp things like oysters and stingrays, and will keep you comfortable while your walking around in knee-deep water. Other odds and ends that are good to have are a pair of fishing pliers to cut line and retrieve flies, some technical clothing to keep the sun at bay, and your preferred method of insect repellant. We like to use long sleeves and Buff Headwear products and leave the bug spray at home.

Last but not least, you'll need flies. If you're in the Charleston area, go see the boys at Lowcountry Fly Shop. All they care about is putting you on fish, and will pick out some flies that have been working for them.

Lowcountry Fly-Fishing Tips

Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing

Make Friends: Get in contact with some folks that can help you get started and give you some pointers. Its always nice to have a fishing buddy.

Use a 16 pound mono tippet:  At the end of a fly line you'll need a leader, instead of buying an $8 dollar Redfish Leader, use about 9 feet of mono instead. Its not tapered like a leader, but it's $5 for 30 yards, and works just as well.

Do Your Homework:  Read all you can about fly fishing in Charleston, and then read some more. Forums, articles, books, videos, it's all helpful. Knowledge is power!

Carry a Pack:  Invest in a waterproof pack. One with straps for a rod tube is ideal if you've got to hop some fences and trail blaze to get to where you're going. You don't want to snap the end of your rod, so set up when you're ready to fish.

Learn to Tie Knots:  Albright, Nail, Perfection Loop, Double Surgeon's, and Improved Clinch knots are the ones you need to know, and they're all fairly simple. If you want to truly let yourself down, lose your first redfish on a poorly tied knot...it hurts.

If you're brand new to fly fishing, just know it takes time to get into the rhythm of things. You may pick up casting, presenting your fly to the fish, and sneaking up on spooky reds right from the start. But if you don't fall into that category, just spend as much time out on the flats as you can. When you take out a second mortgage on your house to pay for a flats boat, try not to blame us for your addiction. We warned you.

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