Fishing the Fall Transition: A Skinny-Water Redfish Story

We have stumbled upon a place. It's not entirely unknown, but it doesn't attract too much attention. We've learned that we can't abuse it, or visit regularly. But if we're patient and pay attention to the cues, she abides. Two falls in a row we've had two of the best fishing days of our lives here. This is a story about the most recent.

One thing that has remained consistent over the years is my love for chasing Speckled Trout. October marks a transition time in Virginia Beach. We see the days get shorter, the air get crisper, and the water temperature starts to drop. All of this usually coincides with an aggressive Speckled Trout bite...usually.


This past October was filled with humidity, varying wind directions, and stable warm water temperatures. The Speckled Trout were here, but with such varying conditions it was hard to find a consistent bite.


In order to change up my luck and hopefully find a better bite, I decided it was time to leave Virginia Beach and head elsewhere.

Speckled Trout from our trip to this spot in 2019

I couldn't make the plan without reaching out to Nick, who I knew had been eager to fish. With minimal effort convincing, Nick was in.


We decided to meet at the same spot that we did the previous October, where we had one of the best kayak fishing outings I've ever had.


(See previous blog, "Breaking the Golden Rule”).


This year we were looking at an early morning falling tide and light winds forecasted to ramp up by late morning, so we decided to meet at the boat ramp a couple hours before sunrise in order to maximize our time in favorable conditions.


The next morning, I pulled up to the boat ramp in the dark and saw Nick with his kayak already on the ground briskly walking back and forth from his car loading up gear. The pace of his walk let me know that he was jacked up to fish and helped me shed some of the grogginess that plagued me during the drive.


When I get out of my truck, I am greeted with unseasonal humidity, mosquitos, and a heavily caffeinated “Yeewww!” from Nick. “These mosquitos suck,” he says during his final lap loading up his kayak.


I quickly load up my kayak and we launch. Once we make it around the breakwater, the breeze hits us and keeps the mosquitos at bay. We navigated to the spot we fished last year and set up in slightly different positions to account for the falling tide.


Using a channel marker and the reflection from our headlamps on the sign marking the oyster bed near shore, we drop our anchors and start fishing.


Nick has one spinning rod with him and one fly rod with him. Knowing that he is going to favor his fly rod and that this is his first time using it in his kayak, I keep a watchful eye on the unfolding situation.


This is mainly so I can make fun of the inevitable mess that will undoubtedly ensue. He ties on a small grey and white clouser, one of the all around best saltwater flies, and successfully makes a few casts without getting anything tangled, “yup, that’ll do pig” he says to me.

I have two spinning rods and one baitcasting rod all setup with some of the best Speckled Trout lures. One spinning rod is rigged up with a Mirrolure MR27 and the other has a Z-Man 4 inch jerk shad with a weighted swimbait hook.


My baitcaster has a Heddon One-Knocker topwater lure on it. Even though visibility is still tough, I cast the topwater lure first, and pay close attention to the “click-clack-click-clack” sound of the lure as I walk it back and forth on the surface of the water.


Much to my surprise, the lure returns to my kayak without a respectable sized Speckled Trout on it. Several more casts turn in the same results.


As the sunlight starts to poke over the horizon, I hear the smacks of Speckled Trout attacking bait on the surface of the water and I can hear Nick talking shit to those same trout. Not too long after the verbal assault and switching to the Mirrolure MR27, I hook up to a couple small fish.

I’m happy to get the skunk off our backs, but still not what we were hoping to find. A few casts later Nick gets on the board with a nicer fish, but still missing the mark from last year. We try to reposition ourselves a few times to fish different depths, bottom, and structure, but yield the same results. On top of that, the wind was picking up quicker than forecasted.


Nick decided to make a move to a shallow creek nearby that looked to have wind protection, and some crabbers said they saw a school of red drum earlier in the morning. Skeptical of the crabbers and slightly frustrated, I stay put hoping my luck will change.


After landing a couple more small Speckled Trout, I paddle over to Nick to tell him I’m calling it a day. The first thing I notice when I get to the creek is an abundance of bait. I see some puffs of mud in the water from fish spooking off as I paddle over them in the deeper section, but can’t tell what they were.


I look over to Nick, who says “They are here. I saw a couple tails by the bank, but couldn’t get close enough to take a shot.”


I immediately stood up in my kayak to take a better look and make some blind casts at spots that looked like they’d hold drum. Nothing. We sat for 30 minutes or so observing and hoping to see signs of the drum, but still nothing.


Bummed we didn’t get a chance to replicate the banner trip we had last year, but still excited that we got on some fish we agreed to head in.


Slowly, we start to head around a small grass island when Nick holds up his kayak paddle as if he was doing his best Lieutenant Dan impression, alerting me of something ahead.

He points to the mud bank and I almost don’t believe what I’m seeing, a red drum with its tail and back completely exposed moving away from us. I’ve seen red drum in shallow water before where a tail or back breaches here and there, but nothing like this.

I hold back to let Nick take a shot at it. No take. This fish moves further along the bank with Nick in pursuit. I look to my left and see two more fish, backs exposed, just belly crawling along the bank. “Holy shit,” I think to myself.


Quietly, I stand up and cast in front of them with a jig head and a Z-Man Diezel Minnow, but as soon as the lure hits the water they swim off. I look over the grass and see Nick still stalking the first drum we saw.


When I look back to my left I see four more drum, less exposed, but tails still waiving. Slightly panicking, I tie back on the Z-Man 4” jerk shad and weighted swimbait hook hoping that the lighter weight and profile won’t spook the fish this time.


I stand back up and fire a cast a few feet in front of the drum. I make a couple twitches with the rod tip then let the lure settle as it gets closer to them. Heart racing, I make one more twitch and see a wake head straight for the lure.


In what felt like slow motion, I watched the line come tight, feel the weight from the fish, and I set the hook like Bill Dance. Laughing out loud at what just transpired, I listen to the drag scream and watch this drum take off.


“I’m on, I’m on, I’m on,” I yelled. Simultaneously, I hear back “Yeeewwwww, hooked up!” from Nick. I look over and see his fly rod bowed up and his fish taking him for a ride.

I successfully land the 22” puppy drum, thank it for a moment I’ll never forget and release it. Guided by the sound of Nick’s laughter, I make my way over to him as he gets his fish into the net.

“Dude, I just stalked and sight-casted this fish. I just legit sight casted this fish,” Nick said with one of the biggest shit eating grins I have ever seen.


Nick, mesmerized, holds up his 24” fish and I begin to take some photos. “Did that really just happen?” Nick asks. Amidst the photo shoot I look up, and to absolute disbelief, I see the back and tail of another puppy drum no more than 10 feet in front of my kayak. Nick says, “oh my god, do it.”


I put my camera back in the case in front of me and slowly reach for my rod. Completely shocked that our cackling didn’t spook the fish, I quietly stand and flip the 4” Z-man a couple feet in front of the fish.

As soon as the lure hits the water, the puppy drum crushes it like he had been searching for that lure its whole life. I set the hook and it immediately takes off back to my left and directly past Nick’s kayak.


The nose of my kayak swings over and bumps Nick, I manage to keep my balance and lift the line over Nick’s fly rod tip.


“Are you serious? Are you serious?” I yell out loud laughing. The fish makes several blitzing runs and I get it to the kayak, a slightly larger 26” fish. Almost in denial, we took some photos and I let the fish go.

“Did that just happen?” Nick and I say to each other, immediately knowing that we will never forget this fishing trip. We greedily paddle around looking for some more fish, but they seemed to have learned their lesson.


On the paddle back in, we didn’t say much. We were as speechless as Nick and I have ever been. The both of us fully aware that what just happened will most likely not happen again, not in Virginia at least.


Now, this is where I should impart some sort of reflective “just keep grinding” advice, but we all know that mantra does not always lead to belly crawling freaking puppy drum, but it might...


When we get back to the boat ramp, we high five, hug, and pack up our gear, but by our standards, are still pretty speechless. Nick and I say our goodbyes and head our separate ways, still smiling.


About 15 minutes into the drive home I get a phone call from Nick.


“Dude, did that just happen?” he yells at me. “Always, trust the crabbers,” I reply.


Go fish,

Tim


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