Grass Hopping For Redfish

October 2023

By Jimmy Jacobs

Heading out from the boat ramp at Liberty Ship Park in the shadow of the Sidney Lanier Bridge over the Turtle River at Brunswick with Capt. Carl Evans, it was something of a reunion for On The Fly South Associate Editor Polly Dean and me.

Heading out. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

From 2002 to 2012 we had worked on the tournament committee and fished in the Golden Isles Celebrity Red-Trout Tournaments that benefited the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. During many of those years we fished with Capt. Mike Evans and several times his early-teen son Carl tagged along. Apparently, our fly casting had made an impression, for today the grown-up version of that fresh-faced boy was taking us out on a fly-casting charter to target redfish in the Marshes of Glynn. He had earned his captain’s license back in 2005.

In the years since we had last seen Capt. Carl, he had guided part-time while serving as a police officer and later in a federal law enforcement position. Then in 2020, he took the plunge into full-time guiding, eventually becoming Orvis-endorsed. He has done stints in both Louisiana and the Florida Keys, but spends most of his time on the water around the Georgia barrier islands where he grew up. Additionally, Carl also manages the hunting and fishing operations for Mossy Pond Lodge in nearby Patterson, Georgia.

Capt. Carl Evans on the poling platform. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

Today he had us in his 18-foot Bossman technical poling skiff that draws just 5-inches of water. That was because we were planning to sight cast to redfish buried back in the marsh grass. It is a fishing technique that requires very high tides and a boat that can go into skinny water.

He had cautioned us to bring along our wading boots as well. Surprisingly, many of the short Spartina grass flats along this part of the coast have a firm sand bottom, allowing for fairly easy wading when the grass gets thick and the water too shallow even for his skiff. In fact, later in the day, I did bail out of the boat and found that taking my time, I was able to wade to within 20 feet of a couple of fish.

Wading across the “lawn.” Photo by Polly Dean.

The key to this action is getting back into that grass. “The best tide is 7.7 to 8 feet,”  the captain explained. “Over 8 feet the fish get too far in and spread out. Under 7.7 feet you can’t get the boat into the grass where they are.”  For that reason, he had timed our fishing to catch the last of the rising tide, while keeping an eye on the water to make sure we got out before being stranded by the ebb.

Frankly, I expected to be staying right along the edge of the grass, casting back into open areas within it. It surprised me when he poled the boat into a spot that looked a lot like my front yard when I’ve neglected to cut the grass for a few weeks.

A redfish giving away his location. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

As he poled (more like plowing through the foliage), and we all scanned ahead looking for tails and backs of redfish breaking the surface, or for the tell-tale movement of grass being pushed aside by the fish, Capt. Carl said the reds are back in the grass on every high tide from May to October. “During the colder winter months, they leave it, because the fiddler crabs are burrowed down and the shrimp are in deep water,” he added. “There is nothing for the reds to eat in the grass then.”

It took a while, but eventually Polly began to get the hang of seeing the redfish amid the sea of grass. Still, most of our casts ended up with the fly hanging in the grass, several inches above the surface of the water. That, or we’d drop the fly behind the moving fish. Those latter casts, of course, usually were the ones that did get in the water, but where the fish couldn’t see the fly.

The flies we were casting were smaller crab-shaped patterns. Rather than the colorful Merkin- or Avalon-style crab patterns we’ve used in the Caribbean for permit, Capt. Carl prefers mostly darker colors. “Reds see in a differing spectrum of light from humans,” he offered. “Black, blue and chartreuse show up to them better. They get a good silhouette when looking at those colors.”

Finally, I did spot a red, dropped the fly in the water just in front of him and he grabbed it. His first move was to rip through the grass using my fly line like a weedeater, heading straight at the boat. I frantically stripped in line trying to catch up to him to set the hook, but to no avail. As he passed under the skiff, he left my fly tangled in the grass.

Finally! Photo by Polly Dean.
Let him fight another day. Photo by Polly Dean.

For more information or to book a day of fishing with Capt. Carl Evans around Georgia’s Golden Isles, check out the website for his guide service Flatwater Outfitters.