FLY FISHING CAPE FEAR DELTA
FLY FISHING THE SALTWATRER FLATS
OF THE LOWER CAPE FEAR DELTA, NORTH CAROLINA
The memories flow back to me like a flood tide. The day began just 90 minutes prior to a June flood tide off the Cape Fear River, NC. I hoped out of my 19' D-3 Skinny-Water Skiff (powered by a Go-Devil 35 hp Surface Drive engine) and we began wading into a very large Spartina grass flat with an approaching 5.4' High Tide during a low country full moon week in June. My watch said it was almost 11 a.m., and the sun was as awesome as it gets for sight fishing tailing reds in skinny water. There was just enough wind (<10 mph) to make ripples on the water as these flats were quickly flooding from various creeks and drainage cuts.
At least six tailing reds were ever so slowly approaching up a deep but notoriously muddy creek that emptied into a little half acre saltwater duck pond. I took me about ten minutes to quietly take my client (who was 64) over into a firm area where he could cast to one of these bullies.
I have seen their pattern and approach numerous times previously but this captain of industry from the big city of Boston, MA., had never had the opportunity to wade and fly fish for reds in his other holiday vacations to SE Florida, or New Orleans, LA, as those parts of the nation are just too mushy and his guides had big skiffs and of course in Louisiana there were the alligators he said the size of hippos! He wanted to stalk reds and take the opportunity to wade and fly fish a Spartina grass flat. He had hunted Elephants in Africa, Lions in India, and even a Grizzly Bear in Alaska, he had caught Salmon both Atlantic and Pacific varieties, and caught Tarpon in the Florida Keys, and had fly fished for big redfish in SE Louisiana, and the Banana River in NE Florida. He had not tried to wade for tailing reds and he had heard about me from some friends in New York City.
He had of course, read a lot about sight fishing for tailing redfish, and seen many videos, and TV shows, and read about fly fishing for red drum, but you see, he never had experienced stalking a tailing redfish in skinny water. Many readers may have not such an opportunity to hunt redfish by stalking them while they are tailing & feeding in the low country crab pastures of saltwater Spartina grass. North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and a little bit of SE/SW Florida has areas where you can safely wade and fly fish for tailing reds. The problem is that the majority of these locations are quite remote, and you need a boat to get to them. You need a local guide to show you where you can go, and ensure you don't get stuck in deep muck or worse, a sinkhole. Both can be quite terrifying if you are alone and way out in some wilderness area.
Thirty five feet in front of my client, the redfish started to spread out into smaller feeding pods; however they were easy to see with good polarized glasses of course, and I pointed out three moving slowly towards our direction. When they were about twenty-five feet or so, I asked him to cast to the right of the larger tailing red. Mr. Thomas was surprised that his fly landed about two feet off the mark, but I told him to leave it alone, and slowly, ever so slowly that red moved toward that direction. Strip…strip…strip…three short strips with one of Bud Rowland's Numero Uno (size #2 Black) a nice little 24.5" redfish hit that fly with the ferocity of a lion attacking a pig and off it ran! In my log book I noted that he saw 18 tailers that tidal period, and had shots at nine reds. He hooked up with five, lost two and his largest that he landed that day measured out at 31.4". I got a letter from Boston about a month later, and on his letterhead was a photo of him kissing that big redfish, before he released it back into those waters.
As the afternoon's tide began falling, we had started wading back to where I had my skiff staked out in the back of "half mile creek," which is really just a very long and muddy drainage ditch that allows flood tide water to access one section of this particular large Spartina grass flat. As Mr. Thomas was walking, and talking about his family and his travels, and his fishing experiences of the day, he stopped to light a big ol' cigar. "What's that noise?" he asked. I then took notice in a direction where he pointed and listened, and heard, quite distinctively what sounded like splashing in the distance where I couldn't see due to the tall grass. "Let's go over and take a look" I said. When we quietly moved what seemed to be about thirty or forty yards, we saw a very large red with three quarters out of the water against some saltwater myrtle growth and Spartina. Perhaps as large as 36" in total length, that big red had pushed up some mud crabs in a pocket and was feasting at his table and flopping his tail in the water quite furiously!
We approached with the wind at our backs, and Mr. Thomas, very neatly, took just two back casts, and let the line lie out, and it just about hit that fish.
"Leave it just let it lay there", I said quietly.
"My God, in Saltwater Fly Fishing Magazine, Flip Pillot and Lefty both said that in Florida- reds that size, aren't found in water so shallow," said Thomas. "Hell, this isn't Florida," I said, and "I'm better looking than ol' Flip or Lefty Kreh, and remember; you can't believe some things, till you see it with your own eyes ,"
I replied. "Wait. Wait until she drops her tail. Strip it now, strip it, but just two short strips, and let it just lay there." Boy, oh boy that big mama red hit it and took off in high gear! I had to catch Mr. Thomas as he moved forward to fight that ol red for what seemed like five minutes, as he fought that first two runs, and found himself knee deep in softer terra firma, as the fish wrapped itself around a clump of Spartina and broke itself off. Now that was a fish for the record books, if it could have been landed. What fly was I using? I love using Bud Rolland or Creative Feathers crab or shrimp flies for these skinny water sight fishing opportunities. If you look at the redfish flies at www.creativefeathers.com website, you can ask Mr. Connie Mack Moran to send you four or six "shrimp or crab flies" in sizes # 2 and #4 that he makes for Joe Guide.
"What a wonderful ending to a happy day in your neighborhood," Thomas said as he handed me one of those big ol' cigars. I lit that bad boy, and took a puff. "You know," I said, "some days are better that others, but with a good cigar and a cold beer in the cooler, may be tomorrow might even be a better day! "How can it get much better one than today?" asked Mr. Thomas. "Well, sir, you see this is a full moon week, and there is about five days of really good flood tides, this week" I replied.
And I continued, "There's going to be a new moon (spring tide) with even higher tides just two weeks from now. "My friend do you have a half day open, during that new moon week later on this month?" asked Thomas. "Well sir, you better clear it first with your wife, or you're going get us both into trouble! "May be so, may be so," said Mr. Thomas; and he booked - two half day trips during that New Moon tide later on that same month. My Cajun friends say, "Let the good times roll," as we cranked up and ran home, as the Clapper rails sounded their calls to each other, deep in the surrounding salt marsh.
That's not the end of this story, my friends, for you see, down here in North Carolina's "low country," your family can enjoy Wrightsville or Carolina or Kure Beaches, surf its waves, and, it's got a whole lot of seafood restaurants and hundreds of other things available for any family to enjoy. You can take your honey downtown to a dance club come sunset, or go to a beach dance not far from Wrightsville beach, and leave the kids at your hotel with a baby sitter, and still be allowed to go fishing a day or two over your next holiday. There's good folk, and good times are always happening along the Cape Fear coast for you and your loved ones during your next vacation or fly fishing holiday. ***************************************************************************
CDR Walter Dinkins, CHC, USN writes under the name of "Joe Guide" and calls Wilmington, N.C. home. He has lived all over the USA and the world doing humanitarian and joint operations, and works with Wounded Warriors throughout the US Armed Forces. If you want to enjoy a half day's fly fishing with the author, go to www.joeguideoutfitters.com . Ask about what days are available during full moon or new moon high-tide weeks, if you're interested in sight fishing for tailing redfish and hunting them with the author of RED FISH ON A FLY. He's the only author and guide in North Carolina who's wrote the book- on Fly Fishing for Redfish. It is the state fish of North Carolina.