The month of September is the start of everything that is good here in North Florida. The dog days of summer are almost over, a welcome relief from an extremely hot and humid summer we experienced this past season. Anglers on the First Coast will be greeted with somewhat cooler and breezy conditions while on the water.
September also marks the beginning of highly anticipated events such as the kick off of both college and pro football. North Florida has a huge football fan base, supporting the Jacksonville Jaguars, Florida Gators and Florida State Seminoles respectively.
But in an angler’s calendar, September means only one thing: Tailing redfish in the flooded marsh grass.
For those “in the know”, the words “Tailing Redfish in the grass” is almost a revered term, spoken only amongst close fishing friends, not just discussed openly in public. Mention a great top water trout bite or talk about dozens of rolling tarpon along the inlet at any local tackle shop and you may turn a few heads. Utter the words “tailing redfish in the grass” and now you got everyone’s full attention. Tailing flats are little pieces of hidden treasure and everyone holds their cards close to their chest.
From September till around Thanksgiving extraordinary high tides associated with the full and new moons will flood normally dry acres of grass within the marsh systems bordering the Intracoastal Waterway from Fernandina to St Augustine. Redfish and Sheepshead ride the high flood tide to feed on marsh crabs and small fiddler crabs normally not accessible on normal high tides. This type of fishing, unique to this area, is pure sight fishing at its finest. Finding, stalking and (hopefully) catching a 10lb Redfish who is on patrol in less than 2 feet of water, often times not more than a few yards away. That is the reason we sleep with a tide chart under our pillows for the next 3 months and schedule our “honey-do’s” on anything but the high tides. The next 3 months look to have over 70 days of flood tides; my wife is not going be happy!
To get a shot at what outdoor writer Joe Julavits labeled “Bubba Bone fishing” the forces of nature need to corporate. Tides of 5.4 feet or higher are pretty much the benchmark in determining if it will “flood”. Strong winds also are a factor and will push more water in or hold water out depending on the direction. A strong Northeast or East wind forces more water on the flat and a brisk West wind will hold back the amount of water flooding the flat.
“The grass is always greener”…………..but not so much in this case. Not all the grass in the marsh is wade-able and not all the grass has the “look” conducive for tailing Redfish. The greener high grass that usually borders the flat near a creek or deeper water has a soft, muddy bottom. Not good for walking on. The shorter grass, usually just next to the tall stuff is darker in color, slightly brown or a hint of purple. That’s the stuff! It’s kind of like a golf course, the high grass is the fairway, and the short grass is the green. And like in golf, you want to be on the green!
Most anglers will scout along the edges of a potential flat using the trolling motor or pole to locate tailing fish. It’s also important to have someone scouting from the elevated poling platform. Scan the flat looking for splashes or more importantly, a tail sticking up. Once the water gets to the “magical” depth on the flat, and/or tailing fish are found, stake out and continue the hunt on foot.. Witnessing a redfish with its nose buried in the grass and its tail straight up out of the water, waving at you is an awesome sight. But it can also be maddening as most Redfish can’t see your lure, while trying to root out a tasty crab face down in the grass. The plan is to cast well past the fish and quickly retrieving the lure a couple feet in the fishes path while he is still tailing. Once I get the lure in range, wait for the fish to upright itself and slowly move off. I then like to gently twitch the lure a few times to get his attention The next couple seconds will test your nerves… and your heart, which will be in overdrive. Twitch….Twitch…..Explosion……fish on! Don’t forget to breath!
As Julavits explains: “It may be the most exciting couple hours of hunting/fishing you’ll ever experience in Northeast Florida. There’s no blind casting, no soaking bait on the bottom, hoping that something will swim along. This is pure visual, happening in calf-deep water within a few yards of where you’re standing. And all the pressure is on you – screw up, and the fish is gone.”
Capt. Ron Schurr