Fly fishing in Hilton Head in the spring months can often be very challenging. The combination of high afternoon winds, muddy water and extreme tides can leave most skiffs poling the flats of Hilton Head, frustrated and confused. But, if you play your cards right and use your head, spring time can grant you some of the best fly fishing days the year will give you.
Working as a team is never more detrimental then at this time of the year. Listening to each other and staying positive, when the elements are against you will grind you through some of those tough days. Use your eyes and look hard into the water; I tell all of our anglers, "if your head doesn't hurt by the end of today, then you didn't catch any." Fly fishing in Hilton Head flats in the spring is not your normal flats scenario. Telling you to cast 50 feet at 11 o'clock and you making that cast, without seeing the fish is not an effective technique at this time of the year. Learn how to see the fish so you can follow them and know where to cast. If you make a perfect cast and they don't eat it, don't be whiney or negative, pick the fly up and do it again. If you keep a cool head and present the fly to the fish multiple times, they are going to eat it, even if they don't want to.
One thing that I started doing a few years ago on the negative tides, is wading the the low tide flats with my guests. It takes a lifetime of knowledge to be safe while doing the low tide shuffle. To the inexperienced anglers without the helping hand of a local guide it is very dangerous. With sharp razor blade oysters, sting rays, pluff mud and fast moving tides that are lots of elements to consider when walking through our mud flats. Currently the only guided wading trip that you can book in South Carolina in the mud flats is with HHI on the Fly, mainly because of our local knowledge and extreme attention to safety. It has become my favorite trip to guide, and is a very spiritual experience walking in the low country marsh, and catching Hilton Head redfish on the fly.
Next time your looking to experience the best fly fishing in Hilton Head please feel free to contact Captain Andrew.
Fly fishing in Hilton Head Island with top water flies is probably the most exciting way to fish Hilton Head's inshore waters and despite what many other anglers believe can be done all year. Just seeing the fish looking at the top water flies, deciding whether or not to eat it, can be a real treat. It is the ultimate test of an anglers' skills to make a fish that is an opportunistic feeder change into an aggressive reaction feeder. We've had many successful days throwing topwater on the skiff, but one thing I have noticed is that even the self proclaimed experienced fly anglers have trouble putting the proper action on the top water to get the fish fired up enough to eat it.
When trying to get the top water bites on flies with redfish in Hilton Head you want to keep the fly line as straight as possible between the tip of the rod and the fly(no slack) and keep the rod tip in the water while you strip the fly. These two tips will cause the fly to react when and how you want it to.
Stripping the fly the correct way can be the difference between you giving up on the topwater, and getting the type of eats that we all hope for. It is not the normal mindless angling that most people want fishing to be like. During most of the year the noise and the spray that the fly makes is what attracts the redfish in Hilton Head. There is a reason they call flies "gurglers" and "poppers", it's the combination of the noise and spray when fished correctly that gives them that name. Because the fish are shallow and often finicky, the strip should be smooth and subtle. A hard fast strip will often times spook a Hilton Head redfish. It does not normally have to have a rhythm until the fish starts following it, just the right noise and spray while the fish is looking at it.
The "pause" is the key. After stripping the fly correctly in front of a Hilton Head redfish it will often times get the fish fired up enough to come give it a look. Pausing after a correct strip is when most bites will happen, if it does not give it another proper strip to keep the redfish's interest up.
The most difficult thing for most anglers that are inexperienced in top water fly fishing in Hilton Head is keeping their cool when they see the fish come up and crush their fly. Just let them eat it and don't set the the hook until you feel them. If they miss which they often do, since they are designed to be bottom feeders, keep your cool and keep stripping the fly correctly. They are already fired up and angry that their prey is still swimming, if you use your head they will eat again.
Finally, none of this works unless you are seeing the fish correctly. When fishing topwater for redfish in Hilton Head you are going to spend your time looking into the water to see the fish correctly and not casting until you are casting in the right place. If you are guessing and casting then your are not being productive and if your head doesn't hurt form looking into the water when you get back to the dock then you didn't catch them.
Check out this old clip from a few years back while throwing the gurgler during the low tide shufflehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d6XnpF-OVZc
A recent phone call from a potential client really began to make me think of an anglers' chances of hiring the right guide for fishing the flats of Hilton Head. It made me realize that nowadays, as fishing inshore has exploded, it has made the choice of which guides to hire much more challenging for clients. The combination of elaborate web pages, fly shops and 50,000 dollar skiffs can really throw off a clients "guess" of which guides to take. Even referrals can often times have some under the table advantage to the person giving the referral.
In this phone call that I previously mentioned, this gentleman explained that he would need a flats guide in 8 days. As I checked my calendar he told me he already had a guide booked, but the guide cancelled on him because of the weather forecast, over a week away,was not conducive to fly fishing. At the time it made me anxious as I too had a trip booked for that day and it was the only time my client for that day could go. As the days got closer I realized that though the winds were forecasted to be high, having local knowledge and living only minutes from the fishing grounds, for my entire life, I knew that I could make it happen for this gentleman... Which we did.
To make a long story short the guide he hired was what we refer to as a transient guide. This meant he would drive from town to town taking clients fly fishing. As there is nothing wrong with attempting to make a living that way, an easy fix for the client to never being bit in the rear by a situation similar to this, is hiring a local guide.
There are many of us flats guides who grew up fishing the waters of Hilton Head Island, and now as adults making a living in our home waters, the opportunities to have successful trips are much greater than using transient guides from neighboring towns. We spend many days in our waters searching for our own areas to fish and make our living, and are often "bird dogged" by the transient guides or guides that make their living sitting behind a cash register who don't have time to find spots on their own.
What that boils down to, is most of the fish you are going to see with these guides have been hit by the local full time guides and the local guides have moved on because the fish smarten up. When I talk with these guides often times they say, "we saw a lot, but they wouldn't chew?" Now you've spent your day in the skiff watching fish instead of catching them. Not really what we're looking for, Right?
Every season a new flock of fly guides show up, which makes it harder for a client to pick the right guide. Do yourself a favor and choose a local guide to run your next fly fishing adventure in Hilton Head Island. To the group of us raised here there is nothing worst than a client being turned off by the flats fishing in Hilton Head because he chose the wrong guide.
October in Hilton Head Island means cooler temperatures, oyster roasts and inshore fishing is hot. Tons of trout, redfish and flounder patrol the skinny water looking for an easy meal. Big schools of baitfish swarm the flats jumping and popping amongst the oyster beds and grass lines. When all of this commotion is happening it is very valuable to be able to determine the difference between our targeted species and the larger mullet swimming in the shallows. Often times pushes from large mullet will have a much narrower "v" shape leading the wake and the redfish "v" will be much broader and move more water. Misreading the water and casting often around the reds but not in front of them will often shut them down. Be patient and your shots will come.
Tailing redfish in Hilton Head is one of the most incredible angling experiences you can have on our island. The catching of a "tailer" combined with the hunt is very rewarding, and a true test of an angler's skills. As summer comes to a close, it becomes a little more complicated to get your eyes on a tailer. I believe that this is due to the amount of other creatures, besides fiddler crabs that have moved into the grass. Most grass flats are now covered in shrimp and finger mullet which leads to a stealthier predators. Sometimes only tailing for a moment.
We will still have some amazing tailing sessions on the better tides for the next four months, but there are a few things that may help to see more fish and get you more shots when they are feeding on shrimp and baitfish.
-Fishing from a skiff, instead of wading... Often times when the fish aren't tailing a lot, the higher perspective can be all the help you need to see that purple thing floating around just below the water's surface. I don't know how many times I've seen a redfish "tail" on another side of a flat I was wading, walked over to stand next to him for 5 minutes while it didn't tail not even realizing the fish was still there, because I couldn't see into the water.
-Fish Pockets... When arriving on a flat that I know holds fish, but I do not see them "doing their thing" I will pay more attention to the pockets of bare bottom in-between the grass where I can see easier into the water. This is a easy way to get my guests to see the fish due to the contrast between the redfish and the sandy bottoms in the grass flats.
-Patience... If you don't see them, casting and catching is pure luck. Tail pops up and goes down, you know he is there. Chances are good he will show himself again if you're patient. If he doesn't or gets out of range then let him go. If the fish is comfortable and feeding in the flats, I feel waiting for a better opportunity is a much better technique than blind casting to a fish's tail.
Fly fishing in Hilton Head Island in the spring is a true breath of fresh air, and this year it can't come soon enough. This winter in the Lowcountry we have seen some of our lowest temperatures in years and we even experienced an "ice storm." The prior winters have been mild and drawn out into the spring, so our hopes are high that with the extreme temperatures this winter, spring is coming soon. This week we have gotten our first taste of spring with mid 70 degree temperatures, the fiddler crabs are beginning to come out of their holes and the redfish are starting to come out of this sluggish trans that they often get in during extended cold weather days. For the next two months the redfish in our flats will become much more aggressive and will be apex predators among the gill bearing creatures in our marshes, and we are very excited at what the spring months have in store.
Fly Fishing in Hilton Head Island, caught by satellites. Love this shot of our skiff on Google Earth that my friends dad found while looking at one of our honey holes. You can see the shadow of my guest on the bow and me poling from the stern. Gets me pumped!