Redfish are the most popular fly-rod targets in the Southeast because they range from North Carolina to Texas; they’re found in beautiful places; they’re relatively easy to catch; they grow to impressive sizes in some areas; and they mostly inhabit quiet shallow water where they can be sight-fished.
This reporter fished from Pamlico Sound, North Carolina, to South Padre Island, Texas, in wind, rain, fog, and sunshine, to bring you information on the best places to fly fish for redfish (drum) in North America.
My favorites are listed below, from one to ten in my order of importance. My choices are subjective. (They may differ from yours, depending on your fishing preferences: boat or wade fishing; clear-water flats or spartina grass flats, low tide or high.) Any endeavor like this suffers from the so-many-fish, so-little-time syndrome.
For those who have not fished for them, a little information about redfish may help. They inhabit the marshy tidal-flood margins around the Southeast coastal region of the U.S. and particularly inside barrier islands that create their ideal habitat.
Why are red and black drum called “drum”? During their spawning season, they make deeply resonant drumming, or thrumming, sounds that can be heard above the water.
The fishing is from boats: flats skiffs, kayaks, and canoes. Wade fishing is rare due to often soft bottoms, and requires care—or sometimes wearing shin guards or boots—since redfish flats are also prime habitat for stingrays. [For more information on this topic, see “Avoiding and Treating Stingray Injuries” by Tom Earnhardt at flyfisher man.com/florida/stingray. The Editor.]
Fly fishers’ biggest challenge is hunting and sight-casting to tailing reds in the flooded flats. Guides are critically important. The flats and redfish are their workplace and their passion. They have the right boats, flies, hunting and fishing techniques, and they know when and where to find the fish.
Due to space constraints, I could not list all the redfish guides working these hotspots but I tried to find the best in their regions. Guides who specialize in fly fishing for reds are few in number, but they are highly skilled and worth their prices, which range from $500 to $600 for a six- to eight-hour day. [To see maps of all the areas mentioned in this article, see flyfisherman.com/10bestredfish. The Editor.]
Mississippi River Delta, Louisiana.
I’m convinced that God favored the Cajuns: The Delta has it all. You can fish in the Barataria Estuary and have 30- and 40-fish days, with reds that range from 4 to 12 pounds. Or you can fish out at the edge of the Gulf and target 20-pound and larger reds.
There are many fish—tailing, crawling, cruising—and there are few fishers. Other species you might catch on your trip include: cobia, spotted seatrout, and jacks. Most of the fishing is within an hour’s drive and short boat rides from downtown New Orleans.
I fished the Delta with Capt. Bryan Carter, who launches his Hells Bay skiff in Port Sulfur or wherever the fishing happens to be the best at the time. He’s bright, witty, skillful, and a talented guide.
Capt. Gary Taylor (Louisiana’s only Orvis-endorsed redfish guide) operates out of Slidell and also fishes the vast wetlands around Cocodrie, two hours west of Slidell. Taylor fishes both a Hells Bay flats skiff and a kayak. He partners with other fly-fishing guides to take large parties.
Virtually all the fishing in the Delta is from boats. The average fish size year-round is 4 to 12 pounds, but a number of potential IGFA and state-record reds have been caught in this area. Seasonally—especially in fall—“bull” (large, sexually mature) reds ranging from 20 to 40 pounds gather in schools, preparing to enter the shallows to fatten for winter.
The Delta has some of America’s best flats for large reds. It provides year-round fishing, but November through January, and May and June, are the best months. February through April is often windy.
Just north of Corpus Christi is a lovely, friendly little town at the edge of a sprawling, 80-mile-long system of barrier islands, saltwater flats, and bays, stretching as far south as Brownsville. It is populated by redfish, seatrout, and flounder. Many of the system’s salt marsh shorelines lie within the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and Matagorda Island State Park. These wilderness areas enclose miles of shallow, grass flats with clear water—a sight fisher’s playground. Whooping cranes fly and call while you double-haul. This has been the guiding world of Capt. Chuck Naiser since 1992. Naiser’s specialty is redfishing on remote tidal lakes and flats that are reached by his airboat.
If you visit Rockport, you won’t get shots at world-record redfish, but, weather permitting, you’ll have at least 30 or 40 shots a day at reds averaging 4 to 12 pounds. Moderately competent casters can enjoy excellent fishing including wade sight-fishing to tailing reds in ankle to mid-calf water. Tides range from 4 to 6 inches, which makes for a quiet environment, careful approaches, (poling, kayaking, or wading) and all-day fishing.
Best seasons include October through November 15, and May through June. March and April are often windy.
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