Skinny creek redfish

Dalton Reames enters skinny creeks with a kayak, then dismounts to wade once the tide drops low enough. (Photo by Brian Cope)

Many small creeks hold redfish throughout all tide cycles

So many tiny saltwater creeks dot the coastal Carolina landscape that the majority aren’t even named, at least not officially. The majority are also ignored by anglers, in part due to how inaccessible most of them are at low tide.

But anglers who discount the fish-holding ability of these creeks throughout both tide cycles are missing out on some top notch fishing.

Some of these creeks seem to dry up completely when looking at them from the main waterway. But adventurous anglers with the right watercraft and tools find plenty of redfish willing to bite. And that’s often true when not so much as a trickle is coming out of those creeks.

Dalton Reames of Sumter, S.C. is fond of fishing these creeks, and his traveling mode of choice is a 12-foot kayak.

“It’s just not possible to get into or out of many of these creeks, especially at low tide, unless you are using a kayak,” said Reames.

Through cyber-scouting, exploration and sometimes sheer luck, Reames has found numerous creeks throughout the Carolinas that he loves fishing in October, when redfish of all sizes stack up and put on the feed bag.

“October is a great month for this. The air and water temperatures are usually still warm enough to wade. But you can feel fall weather coming on, and the fish feel it too. That cooling down period really cranks up the bite,” he said.

Low tide offers a chance to wade fish small pools throughout the skinny creeks. (Photo by Brian Cope)

Play the tides

Reames has enough small creeks scoped out that he can access at least one of them no matter what the tide cycle is. He checks the tide chart closely, so by the time he gets there, he knows the best place to drop his kayak.

“For some creeks, an outgoing tide is fine. For others, I need to apporach them on the incoming tide. My preference is to enter a creek as the tide is flooding into it. If I time it right, the tide will help carry me into the creek and I’ll still have enough moving water to fish until the tide is high,” he said.

Reames usually has more luck when the tide is moving in either direction. (Photo by Brian Cope)

And once the tide goes out, he can pull his kayak onto a sand bar or oyster mound, then wade fish.

“The creeks I like best will have multiple shallow pools in them at low tide. They can be as deep as 4 feet, sometimes even deeper. And they are loaded with baitfish and blue crabs. You can always count on plenty of redfish staying behind in these creeks,” he said.

Live bait is deadly in these shallow-water pools. But Reames likes trying a variety of artificial lures.

“I know the fish are here. So I like to use different lures just to see what they’ll bite. Some days, they’ll bite anything you cast. Other days, they’re more picky. And occasionally, they’ll shut down at low tide,” he said. “At least for artificial lures.”

On slow days, Reames still enjoys being there throughout the low tide cycle. He knows the bite will crank back up once the tide begins flooding in again. And he likes getting a look at the structure in the creek while it’s all visible.

“You’re generally going to catch more fish when the tide is moving. But that’s not always the case. On some days, the bite at low tide is unbelievable,” he said.

Gear up

When it comes to fishing with live bait, Reames relies on 2000- to 3000-series spinning reels and medium-heavy, fast action rods. He uses Carolina rigs with 3/0 circle hooks, 15- to 20-pound braided main line, and a 12- to 15-pound fluorocarbon leader. He uses a 1-ounce weight above the leader to get his bait down.

If casting artificial lures, he uses the same setup, ditching the 1-ounce weight and replacing the circle hook with his lure of choice. Gulp and other soft plastic lures on jigheads are good choices. He also likes using D.O.A. shrimp and No. 5 Mepps Aglia spinners. The double-bladed versions are deadly on some days, especially as the tide is falling out.

Spinning reels in 2000 to 3000 sizes are good choices for this type of fishing. (Photo by Brian Cope)

While he uses live bait when he’s got time to catch it himself, he has no problem showing up to the creek without it. He has just as much success with Fishbites and Berkley Gulp Surf Bytes, which he uses on Carolina rigs. These are strips of bait that release scent and particles through the water, drawing in fish.

“I’ve had a few people laugh about me using Fishbites and the Gulp Surf Bytes. But they work great. Much better than I ever expected they would. They are easy to take along and easy to use. And they absolutely catch fish,” he said.

Techniques

When the tide cycle works perfectly, Reames floats into these creeks as the tide is rising. He drift fishes with soft plastics on jigheads. And he floats with the tide, only using his paddle to steer.

Redfish are his main target, but he also catches speckled trout, flounder and the occasional black drum this way.

Once the tide turns and begins falling out, he likes to beach his kayak. Then it’s time to get out and wade fish.

“As soon as enough of a beach or an oyster mound is exposed, I’ll park the kayak. And I’ll fish two different ways at the same time,” he said. “I’ll put a live bait, Fishbite or Gulp Surf Byte on a Carolina rig, cast it out, then put that rod in a rodholder on my kayak. And I’ll use another rod to cast artificial lures.”

This method allows him to work different depths, different parts of the creek, and use different lures, all in a small area. He stresses making sure your rod and rod holder are secure to your kayak before leaving a baited rod there.

“When a redfish hits that rod, it will literally turn your kayak on its side. Sometimes I use an Engel cooler with rod holders attached. I make sure it is strapped down, and even a small redfish will rearrange it when it first hits,” he said.

Luckily this cooler, with rod holders attached, was secured to the kayak when a redfish bit. (Photo by Brian Cope)

No time to hurry

Reames said that anglers need to commit to a full day when fishing like this. That’s mainly because most of the creeks he fishes simply aren’t navigable at low tide, even in a kayak.

“If you were in a dire emergency, you could get out as long as you don’t mind deep scratches in your kayak from dragging it over oyster mounds. But it’s not easy. And in some creeks where oysters give way to pluff mud, you’re basically stuck until the tide begins coming back in,” he said.

Of course, anglers can always leave before the tide gets to dead low, but Reames said that defeats the purpose of this type of fishing.

“You’ll always find the most action if you can fish both the outgoing and incoming tides. That moving water is what really gets the fish in a feeding mood. In order to do that, you have to allow yourself to get stranded at low tide. And like I mentioned earlier, dead low tide can be phenomenal on some days anyway,” he said.

Reames said that’s also why anglers need to check the calendar and the tide charts to make sure they have enough daylight for fishing these creeks.

“Some days, the tide and time just don’t work out. And on some days, it all lines up to fish certain creeks but not others. And on some days, you’ll only have enough in your favor to catch either high or low tide, but not both,” he said.

Reames has explored often enough that when he looks at the tide chart, he already has a good idea of where he’s going.

“Exploring is a big part of it for me. On some days, I’ll explore much more than I fish if the tide isn’t favorable. And that’s how I’ve come to know so many areas and what the tide cycle needs to be in order to fish them,” he said.

The right pair of shoes is essential when fishing these skinny creeks on foot. (Photo by Brian Cope)

Choose the right shoes

One of the most important pieces of gear for this type of fishing is the right pair of shoes. Some of these creeks have oyster mounds scattered throughout them. Others are completely lined with oysters. Either way, you’ll be stepping on plenty of razor-sharp shells that can slice through the wrong pair of shoes – or through your feet if you’re wearing shoes that get sucked off by pluff mud.

He’s tried several brands, but Reames is a big believer in KEEN’s Newport H2 closed-toe sandals with Vibram soles.

“The bungy laces and the heel strap allow you to cinch them as tight as necessary. The closed toe protects the front of your feet. And the soles are perfect for walking in these creeks. I’ve never once worried about anything slicing through them,” he said.

A nice bonus is that once he’s out of the creek, these shoes are easy to loosen and slip off, then back on once back at the boat ramp.

“It sounds like a little thing. But I can’t stress how important wearing the right pair of shoes is when fishing like this. This is no place for open-toed sandals, Crocs, or an old pair of sneakers,” he said.

 

About Brian Cope 2787 Articles
Brian Cope is the editor of Carolina Sportsman. He has won numerous awards for his writing, photography, and videography. He is a retired Air Force combat communications technician, and has a B.A. in English Literature from the University of South Carolina. You can reach him at brianc@carolinasportsman.com.

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