Good news and bad news – that's August redfishing. Yes, the spot-tails are active, growing bigger and stronger, and they will strike well-presented baits and lures. It's the month some of the largest redfish are caught inshore, before sexual maturity drives them into the ocean to spawn, never to return to our Lowcountry shallows.

But it's hot, and afternoon pop-up thunder storms sometimes get in the way, so the preferable early day outings don't always coincide with your favorite fishing tide.

Learning to catch fish on any tide means greater success, but different stages of the tides require different approaches.

Seasoned light-tackle and fly fishermen who often locate and see fish before casting, a practice called sight-fishing, succeed best during low-tide segments when redfish schools drift around shallow tidal flats.

During moving tides, both in and out, and during high-tide periods, spotting redfish is more difficult, but they are not necessarily more difficult to catch.

Bait fishermen often have more success on moving tides when the fish are transitioning through grass and oyster edges where they can float a shrimp or baitfish on a cork in the moving water. At high tide, redfish spread out, and they are hard to find in deep water but easier to spot on shallow, high-tide flats.

Chasing Lowcountry redfish on foot has boomed in popularity in the past few years. With summer heat driving the thermometer into the middle 90s, wading cools you at least a little.

Wading high-tide flats with the possibility of catching a premiere gamefish is cool plus. Though a traditional venue of fly-fishing, wade-fishing's obvious appeal to boatless anglers attracts many light-tackle fishermen carrying spinning tackle, too.

John Holbrook, who teaches fly-tying and fly-casting at Bay Street Outfitters in his hometown of Beaufort, catches more than 50 redfish wading high-tide flats annually.

"Redfish move onto wadeable flats in greatest numbers during the warm months when the height of the tide, as measured at the Savannah River mouth, reaches 7 1/2 feet or more," he said.

Tide heights vary greatly throughout the Lowcountry, and their predicted heights are affected by inshore and offshore winds, but referencing the Savannah tide height shows you when enough water will normally flood your local flats to wading depth.

Finding wadable high-tide flats is easy if you know what to look for but, unlike spots primarily accessible to anglers in boats, they are not typically marked on maps; finding them requires observation and research.

Holbrook describes good wading flats as having a hard bottom, short spartina grass, two or more entry and exit spots, access to deeper water and lots of fiddler crabs.

Though grubbing fiddler crabs is the main reason redfish show their tails and an important key to finding them, redfish also feed on small fish, shrimp and other creatures at high tide.

Wade-fishing attire could be a bathing suit and bare feet (not suggested) but Hobrook suggests, as a minimum, wearing quick-drying long pants and wading shoes to protect from the sharp grasses and shells, and polarized glasses plus a hat to help see the fish. Other items for the well-prepared wader include a waterproof camera, fish-lipper, drinking water, a small tackle pack, a stripping basket for fly fishers, a measuring device and a flash light for evening outings.

Once you have identified a likely flat, Holbrook suggests arriving a couple hours before high tide to observe how the water comes onto that flat. As it floods into the intermediate weed line, that area of medium-height spartina grass and soft mud bordering the hard-bottom flat, look for micro-channels forming. These are the likely paths the fish will use entering and leaving the flat. Intermediate weed lines can hold fish before they move onto the flat, but it is hard to get a fly or jig near them. Bait fishermen succeed by floating a minnow on a cork along this grass line. The key is landing the cork well in front of the fish.

When redfish move onto the flats, they announce their presence, but not as obviously as some presume. There aren't many sights more beautiful or exciting than wiggling spotted tails glistening in the sunlight, but if you only look for them you will miss most of the arriving fish. Subtle signs like V-shaped wakes, called pushes, fleeing or popping bait, and nervous water are signs of activity, while tips of tails or back fins showing in very shallow water are clear signs of fish.

"And don't forget to keep looking behind you for fish that sneak by," Holbrook said.

Once you spot fish, you need to get in casting range. You can move quickly and quietly or slow stalk them. While shuffling rapidly toward tailing fish, your steps through the water produce a wake that will spook fish as soon as it reaches them, so quick and accurate casting is essential. Moving slowly and quietly, on the other hand, you push less water, so it's possible to get within range of feeding fish and make multiple casts, but sometimes they just stop feeding and disappear before you reach them. Both approaches have pros and cons.

Once within range, Holbrook suggests casting well ahead of cruising fish or very close to tailing fish, and then moving your fly or jig very little. Once a fish hovers over your lure, he said, "Do nothing until he eats it and turns away. Any aggressive movement by the bait while the fish is looking at it will spook him."

Holbrook generally fishes with fly-fishing gear and often opts for his version of the L C Shrimp fl,y but most crab and shrimp patterns work well, as do spoon flies and baitfish imitations. All flies need to be weedless for high-tide flats.

Spin fishermen can thread a 1-inch Gulp! molting peeler crab onto a 1/0 Gamakatsu circle hook with two medium split shot up the line for casting to high- tide fish. Using a circle hook avoids gut hooking the feeding redfish that will certainly swallow a scented bait. Casting 6 feet beyond the feeding fish and very slowly cranking back should get you a strike. Again, when the fish hovers above your bait, do nothing until he eats it and turns away. The circle hook will catch him in the corner of the mouth. Bait fishermen can lip-hook minnows on a Johnson spoon, use a Carolina-rigged mud minnow or a cork rig with shrimp or minnows and catch fish if you can avoid spooking them.

The thousands of kayaks in the Lowcountry mostly tote ourists through beautiful estuaries to view flora and fauna, but they make pretty good fishing boats, too. You can fish from them directly, and many people do, but moving water and wind push them around easily. Alternately, for high-tide wading, they make a wonderful tool that expands your fishing opportunities. Launching your kayak near a prime high-tide flat and paddling into position, then anchoring the boat is the way to start. If your first flat proves barren, simply hop in and paddle to another area, even across deep creeks or broad expanses of tall spartina and pluff mud that a walking angler can not pass. A couple of precautions: tether your paddle to the kayak with a string in case it gets blown out while you are not looking, and use an anchor that will hold in the mud - an old golf club shaft works well. A rod holder on the kayak is a plus.

It is also productive to pole a flats boat around high-tide flats, but be careful to get off before the water recedes or you'll be stuck for a very long time.

Capt. Tuck Scott, head guide at Bay Street Outfitters, needs to put his clients on fish at any stage of the tide. Low-tides flats are most productive because inshore redfish spend most of there feeding time in water less than 2 feet deep, and on the low-tide flats, they almost always roam in schools. Scott

and other seasoned fishermen can spot reds even in the cloudy waters of the hot months. You won't often see actual fish, but flashing bellies often catch your eye. Other signals are V-shaped wakes, nervous water that looks different from the surroundings and jumping shrimp. Sometimes, if you are lucky, you'll even see blow-ups on bait that are very obvious.

With summer redfish spending more time chasing fiddlers on high tides, creeks with holes that hold water at the lowest point of the tide are another hotspot that can host redfish congregations waiting for their next assault on the crabs. Finding such a honey hole can be a bonanza but often requires being stranded until the water returns.

Scott often has his fly fishermen tie on spoon flies or shrimp and crab flies for low-tide casting. For spin fishermen, he opts for MirrOLure suspending twitch plugs, Strike King's Redfish Magic spinnerbaits or jigs with Gulp! trailers like the chartreuse swimming shad.

When rising water begins flooding grass banks at half-time, oyster banks and points, baitfish, shrimp and crabs flee to these safe havens, while redfish often stage nearby waiting for sufficient water depth to advance. Mid-tide fishing is more like prospecting since you rarely see the fish. Scott uses the same tackle and lures as at low tide and he targets the edge of the first shelf of oyster and mud banks and the first grass edges as they cover or uncover with water. Once they have completely flooded, you cast directly over flooded oyster points and deeply into the flooded grass with the spinnerbait or a 3/8-ounce, gold Johnson or Nemire Red Ripper spoon - which rarely hang up.

August weather is hot, and so is the fishing. Be careful of the lightning and have fun.

 

DESTINATION INFORMATION

WHERE TO GO/HOW TO GET THERE - Fishermen in Hilton Head and Bluffton have good access to the Alljoy landing on the May River in historic old Bluffton and the Chechessee River landing at the foot of the SC 170 Bridge. Fishermen in Beaufort have easy access to the Sam's Point Landing on Lady's Island and the Jenkins Creek landing on St. Helena Island as well as many other free public landings. To reach Beaufort, take I-95 south to US 21 and head south. To reach Hilton Head, take I-95 south, then US 278 to Cross Island Parkway or go through Beaufort and take SC 170 to US 278.

WHEN TO GO - Fish low tide any time of year for sight-casting success. Try blind casting and bait fishing for mid- and high-tide action. Try wading the flats when the tide is predicted 7.5 feet or higher at Savannah.

FISHING INFO/GUIDES - Bay Street Outfitters, Beaufort, 843-524-5250; Boat and Dock Supply, Port Royal, 843-986-0552; Grayco Hardware, Lady's Island, 843-521-8060; Capt. Tuck Scott, 843-271-5406; Capt. Jack Brown, 843-838-9369; Capt. Owen Plair, 843-812-3656; Capt. Richard Sykes, 843-838-2245. See also Guides & Charters in Classifieds.

ACCOMMODATIONS - Beaufort Area Chamber of Commerce, 843-986-5400.

MAPS - Sealake Fishing Guides, 800-411-0185 or www.thegoodspots.com; Maps Unique, 910-458-9923 or www.mapsunique.com. Top Spot waterproof map number N233, showing details on many of the local shallow water spots, is available from local tackle shops.