November 20, 2015
Several years ago I ran into a redfish problem during high tides. I could catch plenty of redfish on a rising tide, before the water reached the marsh grass. And I could catch plenty of redfish on a falling tide as the water drained out of the grass. But when the tide reached its peak and flooded the rushes and cordgrass for a couple of hours, I struggled.
The reason for this slow period was pretty obvious: the redfish followed the rising water to the grass and then shimmied right past the grass line into the thick marsh grass with the tide. For the entire top of the tide period, they would disappear into the newly flooded shallows and root around for anything they could get their snoots on. I knew they were back in the thick stuff because I could hear them popping and thrashing back in the grass, eluding me the whole time.
Finally I’d had enough and I made a call to my new coastal neighbor, Bassmaster Elite Series pro Randall Tharp. Tharp has made plenty of coin in his pro bass career flipping big bass out of thick grass on short-line. If anybody could pluck redfish out of acres of flooded grass, it was Tharp.
“Look, I have a problem,” I told Tharp. “These redfish get way back in this marsh grass on high, flush tides and I can’t get to them. You think you could help me with that?”
“I think I might have the remedy for your little issue,” Tharp replied. “When is the next high tide?”
“Tomorrow at about 1 p.m.,” I reported.
The next day Tharp met me at the boat ramp carrying a couple of 7-foot, 11-inch flipping sticks spooled with 65-pound braid. In his other hand was a small tacklebox of bass flipping jigs.
“You have some of those shrimps, right?” he asked, referring to Saltwater Gulp.
“Bingo!” I answered, holding up a fresh container of artificial shrimp soaking in the odoriferous Gulp liquid.
As Tharp stepped into my boat, he eyed my spinning rods laying on the deck.
“Really?” he questioned. “It’s no wonder you have issues capturing these sea beasts in the grass.”
He shook his head as he tied jigs onto his tackle, which could handle grouper in sunken barges. Personally, I thought it was a bit of overkill.
Once we reached the first area of flooded grass, I let the flipping master take the trolling motor and go to work. He threaded a shrimp onto a ½-ounce skirted bass jig and began pitching back into the spartina and rushes. Within 10 pitches, he reeled his jig up, put the rod down and picked up the other rod he had rigged.
Randall Tharp pitches again and again into the thick grass to determine the perfect size jig. (Rob Newell photo)
“That ½-ounce is too light,” he said. “This grass is too thick for a ½-ounce jig; it doesn’t penetrate down into the grass where it needs to be.”
The other rod featured a full 1-ounce jig. After just two or three pitches, it bogged down and hung up in grass.
“This one is too heavy,” he said, snatching his jig back out of the grass. “It bogs down in that stuff. I’m going to have to go to a ¾-ounce.”
As he sat down and started to retie, a vicious thrashing occurred back in the marsh grass, near where his jig had just been. I’m not saying this was exactly the case, but it was almost as if the redfish were mocking him. I was familiar with the feeling – the high-tide reds had mocked me many times, safely concealed in their grassy lair.
“That’s okay,” Tharp responded calmly to the commotion. “I’ve got a little something that’s going to cure what ails them.”
After just two pitches with the ¾-ounce jig, Tharp belted out the words the redfish would soon regret.
“Man, this three-quarter ounce is just perfect,” he detailed. “Look, it has a perfect fall into the grass without bogging down.
“Some stuff is fixing to go down!” he said with a renewed excitement.
Within a dozen pitches, Tharp had assumed a perfect pitching rhythm, effortlessly flipping the jig far back into the marshy jungle, hopping it twice, then reeling up for another pitch. He eased down the grass line, slow and quietly, allowing the wind to aid him along. On occasion he would Power-Pole down and give an area a little extra attention if it had more holes, lanes, gaps or thin spots in the grass.
The process looked inordinately slow to me. He had only covered about 50 yards in 15 minutes. His methodology looked a lot like the needle in the proverbial haystack. When I questioned him about the turtle-like pace, he quickly defended it.
“Be patient, this type of fishing is a slow process,” he said. “You can’t rush it. If you really think there are hundreds of redfish back in this grass, I’m eventually going to put it front of one.”
Suddenly the air cracked with the sound of braided line slicing through spartina like weedeater string. The 7-11 heavy-power flipping stick was bowed up. A very perturbed 24-inch redfish thrashed and dug in hard to stay in the safety of his lair. But it was too late – the stuff had gone down.
For a second, Tharp looked just look he would if he was wrangling a 6-pound bass out of a reed head on Okeechobee. With that came the patented Tharp boat flip and a muscly redfish was laying on the front deck with a snoot full of bass jig.
“I got him, Newell!” Tharp exclaimed with a victory laugh. “There’s the solution to your redfish problem on high tide right there.”
Randall Tharp reels in a 24-inch redfish. (Rob Newell photo)
Since that day, the flipping master and I have flipped for reds on high tide on several successful occasions. At times, we can literally Power-Pole down and flip up three or four slot-sized reds out of one area. During that time we have experimented with different jig styles, skirts, colors and trailers. In the end, it appears what matters most is just getting a jig in front of the fish; they don’t seem to be too picky. If a jig drops in nice and quietly in front of their face, they’re going to eat it.
Tharp likes to keep a skirt on his jig for more bulk. I go skirtless for a faster drop into the grass and will switch around between a Gulp! Mud Minnow, Shrimp or Mantis Shrimp.
We both agree that a flipping jig with a smaller hook is better – maybe 3/0 to 4/0 – rather than some of the modern-day heavy-cover flipping jigs that feature 5/0 and 6/0 gaffs for big bass. Those giant hooks tend to impede a redfish’s ability to easily inhale the jig with their smaller mouths.
Fortunately, I still have dozens of old style bass jigs with smaller hooks that work well. Also the Gulp in any body style as a trailer is hard to beat.
Admittedly, flipping for redfish on high tide is not as productive as fishing the flats with casting reeling baits on a rising or falling tide, but it’s certainly an effective remedy for reds that disappear into the flooded marsh on high water.