Thursday, September 16, 2021

Redfish and the Negative Low
By Cody Rubner

Tidal redfish flats are like the road of life—success can be measured in how you handle the highs and lows.

In the case of tides, not all are equal. On a spring tide, which occurs twice each month and has nothing to do with the spring season, the moon and sun are on opposite sides of the planet. When this occurs the swings between high and low tides can be great. Typical tide range on the redfish flats is four-to five feet. But on a spring tide, that range could push to seven feet, meaning higher highs and lower lows.

When coupled with a storm off the Atlantic coast, and a consistent west wind blowing 10-to 12-plus knots—pushing water off the flats—a tide may rate far below the “lowest low-water mark” on your depth chart . . . what we call, “the negative low.”

The negative low presents a timely opportunity to experience a captivating redfish phenomena—crawling fish on the bank. During a negative low, big, bold redfish can access prey in a way they couldn’t before—pinning shrimp, crabs and small baitfish in super shallow water with no escape. These fish slowly prowl down a muddy bank, providing anglers ample opportunity to lay a crustacean fly in the path of a freight train, its eyes just barely below water level.

Recognizing when your area is experiencing a severe negative low tide could provide you with a whole new redfish experience. Watching a crawling redfish pounce on a fly and pin it to the mud is exhilarating and might challenge an angler to keep his or her composure. Similar to bonefishing in skinny water, these fish don’t have the luxury to swim down, so they commit to horizontal movement with significant haste. The cast-to-catch experience for crawling reds, and the screaming runs they take when hooked, makes it well worth keeping your eyes on a variety of weather conditions.

However, with a negative low tide comes the issue of access. The small island cut-throughs that once provided travel lanes between flats, suddenly consist of two inches of water above a soft layer of mud. If you don’t have enough water to maneuver in, you might spend a long session in the mud, possibly in sweltering heat, waiting for the tide to rise. For that reason, having a shallow draft vessel is paramount. Flats skiffs may work, but people also pole their kayaks into untouched areas. And, if a hard bottom is present, anglers can use their “boat” to get within striking range and then chase these fish on foot.

When redfish are rummaging through murky water, they rely heavily on motion and sound to find their prey. Redfish have an otolith that picks up sound from a substantial distance. In addition, their lateral lines sense motion and sound and offer the fish directional guidance. Using a fly that pushes water and creates some sound is important. However, all of those senses working in shallow water also means you’ve got to be stealthy—beware the splashing push-poles, cumbersome footsteps on deck, and Yeti bottles banging against a cooler or sidewall. These fish can be extremely skittish.

When it all comes together, and you get within range of a big red feeding in shallow water, it’s all good. But, remember, you’ll be pushing the limit in low water conditions. You’ll have to do whatever it takes to reach these fish, even if that means you might need a little mud makeover and a few new items in your boat. Is that risk and some extra cost worth it?

You make the call.

Nonskid cleaner? $11.99

Tide Detergent? $14.99

Casting to a hungry, crawling redfish with its back out of the water? Priceless.

Photography by

Cody Rubner