Tails and Tides

Henry Tomlinson
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Gliding over the glass-like surface of a tidal creek, pushing through the Spartina grass as the sun rises over the bay, wiping off your sunglasses every five seconds due to the sweltering humidity... It all leads up to one moment. The moment you see that distinctive bluish gold tail rise out of the water to crush your fly in the mud below, and race off as the line burns through your fingers. This is the moment hundreds of anglers from all over the world travel to Charleston for, and there’s only one type of person that can get you to that perfect point in time when you lift your trophy out of the water, capture the memory, and set it free.

Inshore fishing guides are a dime a dozen in the Charleston area, so what does it take to differentiate yourself in such a saturated market? RootsRated caught up with Captain Henry “Harry” Tomlinson and first mate Fritz (Fritz is a Yellow Lab) for an early morning conversation on the water. Capt. Tomlinson is the owner and head guide for Charleston Fly Fishing Expeditions.

Henry Tomlinson

RootsRated : Tell us about the life of the chart. What is a normal day for you?

Capt. Tomlinson : My days begin with coffee and breakfast (Bojangles on Sundays) and I’m at the boat ramp around 5:30 every morning to meet my clients. A typical day is eight hours on the water sight casting to tailing Redfish. Their tails stick out of the water when they’re feeding on fiddler crabs during a high tide, hence the term “tailing.”  

RR : What does it take to lead clients to fish day after day? What are the benefits of hiring a guide?

Capt. Tomlinson : I was very fortunate to have an incredible teacher, Baker Bishop, really teach me how to fish. I never planned on becoming a guide. I simply kept fishing every chance I got until I reached a point where the only way I could fish any more than I already did was to be a guide. There are a lot of factors associated with knowing where the fish are, the most important is time spent on the water. You have to scout the fish to know their habits; the more time spent researching the fish the more you understand them. Skills like reading the tides, learning to pole a boat, and knowing where the fish will develop over time. Like most things, guiding takes dedication to become good at it.

Henry Tomlinson

When a client wants to go fishing, they aim to catch fish. It’s my job to put in the hours and make sure they have the opportunity to accomplish their goal. The beauty of guiding is in the name, I will lead clients to the fish and facilitate in any way necessary, but at the end of the day it’s up to them to make the cast and seal the deal.

RR : What’s the experience like for someone who has never caught a redfish on a fly rod?

Capt. Tomlinson : A lot of my clients are return customers, but I also take a fair amount of clients out who are new to fly fishing in saltwater. Catching your first redfish on the fly is like a drug. You may think you have hooked the fish, but in reality the fish has hooked you, and the addiction ensues. Every fish my clients land brings the same feeling of pure joy and adrenaline.

Henry Tomlinson

RR : What’s your favorite part about the job, what gets you ready to go so early every morning?

Capt. Tomlinson : I've met a wide assortment of interesting people and it makes me appreciate how diverse the fly fishing community is. I love working as a guide. You never know what will happen in a day but something crazy always does. I love taking freshwater guys who've done a ton of trout fishing out for their first saltwater experience and watching it blow their minds. But the best part about guiding, to me, is putting a father/son team on some really great fish, and watching a teenager catch his first redfish on the fly with his dad cheering him on.

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