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Targeting Bull Redfish with Gary Dubiel

It’s an exciting time for Captain Gary Dubiel and other east coastal and guides and anglers. As we say goodbye to July and turn the page to August, water temperatures are increasing, more baitfish are moving towards estuaries, and the summer crowds are slowly going back to their homes. Bull redfish season is here.

I was fortunate enough to catch Gary on a rare day off, as for the next 2-3 months, he’ll be on the water with clients pursing large adult redfish – or bull reds – that make their way into his fisheries. Gary breaks down the annual migration of bull reds to coastal North Carolina and how he finds and catches these fish.

Sounds and looks like the bull redfish are on the move in your area in coastal North Carolina. For those new to targeting or interested in targeting bull reds, can you talk about what it is these fish are doing? Are they spawning? What drives them in (temperature, water levels) to your area in coastal North Carolina?

The bull reds here are very migratory. They’ll be in the ocean most of the year. They’re in the process now in late July where the vast majority of them are shifting from the ocean into the estuary into the Pamlico Sound primarily for the purpose of spawning.

The spawning rituals itself which usually occur on the full and new moon phases are very brief, and the rest of the time the fish take full advantage of the food sources so they are perpetually feeding.

Every year is a little bit different and it can be hard to predict on how quickly they move in. Some years you’ll see fish in abundance by early/mid July, some years you’ll see fish a little bit later, but usually once you get into the first part of August, you’re going to see an increasing number of fish pushing into the river and that will continue into a few weeks to follow and stay peaked usually until the end of September. As the temperatures drop, the bull reds will move back out into the ocean.

Does water temperature have any effect for these migratory patterns?

There is some temperature orientation. During summer, the water temperature is obviously going to be very hot, so there’s not a lot of fluctuation, but your fall temperature, depending when your cold fronts come in, has a tendency to push the bait out, thus the volume of fish. Usually when you see the water temperature drop down into the mid 60s is when you see that migration move back out.

TFO Ambassador Brad Whitaker with his hands full. Photo by Gary Dubiel.

When the bull reds are in your area spawning/foraging, how do you look for them? Is it similar to looking for normal redfish looking for crabs in the flood tides, etc. in that there are more visual signs to look for like tailing, grass movement, etc?

No; totally different ballgame. Normal redfish and adult redfish have nothing to do with each other as far as their habits go – especially here in coastal North Carolina. Once adult redfish come into that migratory adult population, they become much more of a pelagic fish than a normal redfish that is more estuary oriented – very short distances.

There was actually a radio tracking study here years back. On average, an adult redfish swim 25 miles a day. That 25 miles doesn’t necessarily have to be a straight line, but they are perpetually in motion just like a school of tuna would be. They are much more in motion, and that motion basically continues until they locate food, and then they eat, and then they’ll move until they find more food, and so on. They are perpetually moving day and night and anytime they intersect food, they eat.

So not really much sight fishing opportunities?

Our waters are very tan and bottoms are very dark, so it would be very rare if you ever looked in the water and saw one. What we’ve been able to do here is basically develop the ability to look for those fish by looking for the food source.

Bull redfish will eat pretty much anything. They aren’t like the typical Carolina redfish that is tailing and looking for a crab. Bull reds are primarily going to be fin fish feeders, but they will also eat crab, shrimp, and anything that’s basically 18” and smaller than they are.

Because of the way the food reacts when being chased by these big fish can help you locate those fish and catch them. For example, if they find a mullet, mullet move in a straight line and they move very fast, and its usually in much shallower water – which makes for some really cool signs to look for because its very explosive – there’s a lot of splashing, a lot going on. But the issue then becomes – How do you get to these fish? They’re moving so fast you can get in front of them it doesn’t make any difference.

The one thing that is very helpful in all that is menhaden – Because when they get chased they form a big bait ball and they don’t go anywhere. Looking at big schools – literally acres of menhaden on top of the water – that bait ball is very tight. The spinning/splashing on top of the water gives you an indication that there’s fish there. You can also look for things like flicks, you can smell the oil from the fish being eaten, etc. Big redfish can feed anywhere from two feet of water to twenty feet of water which is as deep as the rivers in this area. So subsequently, they can be anywhere and everywhere. They can be very difficult to see feeding but if you see that bait ball on the surface, that bait can be your best indicator of where those fish are.

A great example of a bait ball taking place on the surface where bull redfish are likely to be hanging out for a meal. Photo by Gary Dubiel.

Let’s say you’ve located some bull reds, what set ups, both fly and conventional are using to go after these guys?

For conventional tackle – I’m using the Inshore Series. Medium-Heavy and Heavy action rods. So the 705-706 models. Mostly what we’re going to be using to catch those fish are pop-n-corks and soft plastics. The reason we use those (pop-n-corks) is that it makes noise and it draws the fish to the bait just like the fish that are constantly moving and feeding.

Very different from a juvenile redfish where they might be tight at to the bottom, bull reds can be at mid-water column, they can be on top of the water, or they can be all the way on the bottom. We want to try and pull the fish to that bait so we’ll use very large pop-n-corks and large 5-6 inch long soft plastics that catches their attention. It’s the most effective way to catch those fish when we’re fishing tackle.

I’ll match those rods with 4000-5000 series reels with 30lb braid goes on those rods nicely and the rods have the backbone it takes to fish those well.

We do throw some topwater baits. The Medium Heavy does really well there. We’ll also do some swim baits using the Heavy action Inshores. Large 6-8 inch swim baits on a jighead will occasionally produce as well.

For Fly – Axiom ll-X 10wt. You need that extra backbone compared to the popular 8wt because 1) You’ll never throw the set up and 2) You’ll never land the fish. I match it with the TFO Power Reel.

TFO Advisor Blane Chocklett getting a taste of coastal NC bull redfishing with guiding assistance from fellow TFO Advisor Gary Dubiel. Photo by Gary Dubiel.

How big do the bull reds get?

A lot of places will say a bull redfish is 36-38 inches. That’s not a big fish here. That’s a little fish. Our fish average 43-45 inches. They’re typically a pound an inch. We’ll catch fish in excess of 50 inches – So you’re looking at 50-60 lb. fish.

So in other words, you’ll have all you need on the end of a 10wt Axiom ll-X.

What about fly lines, leaders, tippet?

You’ll want an aggressive front taper floating line. I use the Scientific Anglers Titan Taper Line WF10F. For leaders, I go straight 20 lb. fluorocarbon for about 6 feet to the popping fly, then about 20-24 inches of 30lb fluoro off of that to the fly.

Flies?

You’ll want to do the same thing that you were doing with the spinning rod as you would on the fly rod – so that’s where my pop-n-fly comes in. You’re basically fishing a pop-n-cork and then 20-24 inches below that you’re fishing a large minnow style fly. Something oval that breaths well. I have my own menhaden style fly that I tie which is a slightly less weight, large oval baitfish pattern.

Capt. Gary Dubiel’s innovative Pop-N-Cork & Pop-N-Fly setups for both fly and conventional tackle. Photo by Gary Dubiel.

Any particular tips, tactics, or strategies for fighting bull reds and increasing the chances of getting the fish to the boat and not breaking off?

Don’t be shy of putting pressure on them. They’ll never surrender. You need to work the fish back to the boat (another reason why the 10wt comes in handy here). Typically, the fish will normally have a long run first, then you usually have 1-2 shorter runs, then the fish will bulldog you at the boat. Once you apply pressure to that fish’s head, keep that pressure on! A lot of my clients will yank up real hard, then drop the rod tip real fast, then if the fish is even able to drop his head and turn away from you, he’ll take right off again.

The way these fish fight, they want to get their head down and away from you. So a much steadier, constant pressure on that fish will beat that fish quicker. On a 10wt, you’re looking at 7-9 minute fight time on average.

Any other tips/suggestions you’d like to leave with our readers?

One thing I’d like to mention. We have a lot of folks that come from other places to fish here for bull reds that make the biggest mistake when fishing for these fish. Even if they’re in deeper water, they are extremely motor shy! So outboard motors can be horribly detrimental to catching those fish.

If you see those big schools of bait, approach those schools of fish with stealth. Stuff like coming downwind, using the trolling motor, using the trolling motor at lower speeds if you can get away with it makes a huge difference. Also, giving yourself a few hundred yards to start, then working in on those fish as low noise rather than rushing on top. If you’re treating it like albacore fishing where you see those bait balls and you rush in there with the boat, they’ll go to another zip code.

The man himself. TFO National Advisor Capt. Gary Dubiel taking in the view before heading out for a day on the water. Photo by Colorblind Media.

Gary Dubiel has been a TFO National Advisor since 2002. He currently lives in guides in the coastal North Carolina Outer Banks area through his guiding business Spec Fever Guide Service. You can find out more about Gary here.

TFO’s Bob Clouser Talks Carp on Fly

I’ve never caught a bonefish. It’s on my bucket list, but the tropics may have to wait a few months. Fortunately, I’ve got a freshwater option close to home.

Carp.

They’re just as wily as a bone. And pound for pound they fight just as hard. And they’re cheaper. Many freshwater ponds, lakes and rivers in the continental U.S. have carp. There’s no need for a week-long trip to the Bahamas.

Once summer arrives and the water warms, it’s easy to take a break from trophy trout for carpin’. To develop a firm game plan, I turned to TFO advisor Bob Clouser, who touched on a few basics during a phone interview after taking a break from shoveling snow at his Pennsylvania home.

Patience

Carp are not easy to catch. They don’t always eat and when they’re willing to eat, they can be super spooky. Even if you make the right cast with the right fly, the stars have to align for an eat. And if you do hook up, landing one is not a given. Be prepared for a lot of trial and error along the way.

Required Skills

You need to make long casts. Forty feet will do. Sixty is better. However, distance is just one factor. Accuracy matters, too. Ideally, you want to put the fly in front of the fish and let your quarry find it, preferably near the bottom since carp like to forage in the muck.

“You don’t need to work the fly at all,” Clouser said. “You have to observe the carp and watch his lips. When they’re mudding, it’s hard to see their face. You can see their lips when they’re open. It has kind of a chartreuse look to it. It’s hard to see. There’s a saying, ‘When the light goes out, you set the hook.’ If you hesitate at all, he’ll spit that fly out. They don’t run off with it. It’s a different type sport to catch that fish.”

Reading the Fish

In trout fishing, you read the water. With carp, you read the fish. The beauty of carp fishing is its reliance on sight fishing. Look at the fish. Decide if it’s interested. Carp will sun. Ignore those. Carp will cruise. Ignore the speedsters. Take a shot at the slower fish. But even that’s a long shot. If you see a tailer, that’s the fish you want. Tailers are active feeders. Ever seen a tailing red? It’s a similar scenario. Once you discern the fish’s path, make your cast count, because chances are, you won’t get a second opportunity.

“’You have to watch them, observe them and see what they’re doing before you even cast,” Clouser said. “They are so spooky. A carp has two lateral lines. Most fish only have one. A carp has two, which makes them so sensitive. I have no idea how far they can see, but they can hear over 200 yards.”

The Gear

You’ll need a fairly sturdy rod — a 9-foot, 6-to-8-weight. Leaders, in general, need to be long. A 12-footer is not too short, but you can get by with a 9-footer, if you’re a good caster.

Try the TFO Power reel to handle those long runs. The TFO Clouser or Axiom ll-X series in an 8-weight are good complements.

“It’s (Clouer rod) easy to cast and soft enough for light tippets,” Clouser said. “It won’t break your 6 and 8-pound tippets. And I fish an 8-weight. An 8-weight will handle any size fly you need.”

Carp are primarily subsurface feeders. Crayfish are a big part of their diet. A brown or black woolly booger usually will get the job done.

That said, carp can feed on topwater or just under the surface. I hooked one — briefly —- on a berry fly. South Florida grass carp, I learned, feed on streamside berries from ficus trees. The moral of the story: Fish don’t follow a rule book. They feed on what’s available.

Thoughts on fly fishing for carp? Feel free to comment on one of our social media pages.

Five Tips to Catch Flood Tide Redfish

The sun came up early. After a long drive from the North Carolina mountains to the beaches of north Florida, I was dog tired.

But I got up to go fishing anyway. The allure of tailing redfish on the marsh is intoxicating. Sleep would have to wait.

I arrived at my favorite marsh in time. The sun was up and the tide was trickling in. After 30 minutes of walking, I arrived at my favorite spot and looked for fish. The water was shin deep, and I waited for it to reach the bottom of my knee caps. And I waited and waited and waited.

The projected flood tide never arrived. And neither did the tailing redfish.

The culprit was Hurricane Florence, which was several days away, but close enough to yield a west breeze, which stymied the tidal flow. There just wasn’t enough water for the fish to feel comfortable enough to feed.

So I trudged back home. I knew the west wind might be an issue, but I fished anyway. I have a soft spot for tailing reds. The mere sight of a spotted tail in the grass takes my breath away.

It doesn’t matter if it’s in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina or North Carolina. Where there’s a marsh, there’s usually a tailing redfish. And I will go to just about any extreme to find them.

Below are a few flood-tide tips that I learned along the way.

The Tides For REDFISH

Tidal flow is huge when it comes to flood-tide redfish. You need enough water to reach the dry areas of the marsh, so the big reds can feed on fiddler crabs. Each area has its required tidal flow to entice tailing fish. In Northeast Florida, for instance, you generally need a high tide of at least 5.2, but that designation is a mere guideline. Flats near Jacksonville don’t need as much water to flood; flats near St. Augustine and points south need a tide of 5.4, 5.5. In short, each area, each flat, has different tidal requirements. Local knowledge is key to ferreting out these nuances.

The Wind FOR REDFISH

Wind is a big factor in tidal flow. In north Florida, north or east wind pushes water on to the flat. That means you can fish longer, because you’ll have ample water. By contrast, a south or west wind pushes water off the flat, which means you’ll have less time to fish, or even worse, not enough water to cover the flat.

If you have a big tide, a southwest wind may not ruin your fishing, depending on the strength of the wind. However, if your tide is borderline with a southwest wind, the fish might not have enough water to tail, which is exactly what happened on my most recent trip.

Timing for REDFISH

Once high tide arrives, you generally have about an hour or so of good fishing before the water will recede and the fish will leave. It’s important to prepare the night before. Get up early and be on the flat well before high tide, so you can be in position before the water rises and the fish move in. If you cut it too close, you might miss opportunities. If you’re late, head to the next flat.

Mobility FOR REDFISH

Wading is a possibility and has its benefits. You don’t have to prep a boat or a kayak. All you need is a rod, reel, a sling pack and a pair of flats boots. In a matter of minutes, you can be on the water and fishing — before or after work or on your lunch break.

A boat or kayak/paddleboard requires more preparation, but offers the advantage of mobility. You can cover more ground and potentially reach more fish. Boats need a two-person approach. One fishes; the other poles. Kayaks and paddleboards are solo affairs. Kayaks are more stable; paddleboards have a better casting platform, but require above-average balance and core strength. I’ve used both. For longer trips, I use a kayak. For shorter, quick trips, I use the paddleboard.

The Equipment for REDFISH

An 8-weight Temple Fork Axiom II with a Power reel is the ticket. The Axiom will punch through the wind and the Power will handle any flood-tide red with ease. As for fly lines, I use a weight-forward line. The Rio Redfish or Cortland Liquid Crystal Guide are both good options. Rio’s lines tend to be heavier. Cortland’s lines, in my opinion, are lighter and easier to cast.

With flies, you can’t go wrong with a crab pattern. The primary food source on the marsh are fiddlers. I load up my fly boxes with EP crabs in black and tan, toad style. It doesn’t hurt to have a Gurgler or two. When fish are feeding intensely with their nose in the muck, I will cast a popper in their general vicinity to get their attention. Though counter intuitive, this approach sometimes works.

Any other advice or questions, feel free to comment on one of our social media pages.

TFO NXT Fly Rod Kit

Five Must-Have TFO Stocking Stuffers

It’s less than a week before Christmas. If you’re a little behind on your holiday shopping, Temple Fork Outfitters has you covered. Below are a handful of our newest products sure to please just about any angler.

The NXT Kit

Just getting started in fly fishing? Or maybe you know someone wants to learn? Then the NXT kit is just for you.

Let’s start with the rod. The NXT can be fished in saltwater or fresh. Its medium-fast action is strong enough to push bigger flies through the wind, but offers enough finesse for softer presentations.

Kits include a matching NXT LA I or II reel loaded with weight-forward floating line, backing and leader – all in a handsome rod and reel travel case.

Retail: $199.95-$209.95

The Axiom II     

This fly rod came out in this fall and generated rave reviews. The best thing about the Axiom II is it conforms to the angler’s casting stroke. It’s not too fast. It’s not too slow. It hits that medium sweet spot that can accommodate just about any angler.

Smooth casting is just one attribute of the Axiom II. It’s also durable, meaning you can put a good bend in the rod while fighting a fish without worrying about breakage. Rarely will you test a rod to that degree, but if you do have put the brakes on that fish of a lifetime, you want the security of sturdy, well-designed rod.

Retail: $339.95-$359.95

The Drift

We can hardly keep this fly rod in stock. Designed by TFO advisor Jason Randall, this rod meets every need of the serious nymph fisherman. It’s light, fast dampening, well balanced and has an ultra-sensitive tip that allows anglers to recognize the difference between their fly ticking the bottom and a subtle strike.

Nymph fishing is about line control. And the 9-foot Drift is extends to 10, 11 or 12 feet — perfect for when you have to reach across the stream to prevent dreaded micro drag.

Retail: $399.95

The Power Reel

TFO’s newest fly reel sports good looks and gets the job done on the water. Its drag system incorporates two Belleview washers and two carbon-fiber disc drags, components that help prevent overrun and provide plenty of fish-stopping power.

Weighing just 4.4 ounces, the Power I is surprisingly light yet sturdy, which means you won’t wear yourself out casting after a full day on the water.

Retail: $299.95-$399.95

Trout Panfish Rod

Remember those lazy days as a youngster fishing with the old push-button Zebcos? If you do, you’ll love the Trout Panfish Rod, an ultra-light setup.

Great for kids or for adults who like super-light gear. The Trout-Panfish, (TPS) series features light-weight stainless steel guides, a cutting-edge, weight-saving reel seat and premium cork. The TPS series is offered in one and two-piece spinning rods from 5 1/2’ to 7 feet.

Retail: $79.95-$89.95

Five Tips for Fly Fishing Big Water

Fly fishing is an endless series of learning curves. As soon as I mastered one concept, another emerged. So it was nearly 30 years ago for me in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. I cracked the code of small streams and spring creeks. At the wise old age of 28, I thought I had it all figured out.

Then one spring day, I fished the Jackson River with a friend of mine and long-rod mentor, Billy Kingsley. I remember staring at the rush of water for a good 10 minutes and wondering one single thing:

Where the hell are the fish? As it turned out, Billy caught dozens of fish; I never felt a single tug.

Needless to say, big water can be intimidating. With so much to cover, where do you start?

Decades later, I’m still no expert on fly fishing rivers, but here are a few tips to focus on:

Safety First

You need good boots. Don’t go cheap. Find a comfortable pair that fit with good traction and support. Your ankles and knees will thank you.

Good footwear is a start, but it never hurts to have a wading staff. Depending on the size of the river, the force of the current can be deceivingly strong. I got bowled over the first time I fished out West when I was in charge of cleaning the camp dishes after dinner. All it took was one ill-advised step toward the middle and down I went.

Moral of the story: Go slow and be careful.

Think Small

When many newcomers first fish bigger water, it all looks the same, but it’s not. Rivers are merely a bigger version of small streams with a series of pools, riffles and runs. Identify one of those sections of water, preferably one that you’re comfortable with, and fish it.

Make sure to slow down. Fish each piece of water thoroughly. With small streams, you can cherry pick quickly. Rivers, because of their sheer scope, take more of a commitment. Imagine you’re working on a puzzle. Probe each section of water one by one each trip. After a few outings, you’ll have a much better clearer roadmap to the productive water.

Use a Drift Boat

When I learned to fish in the Southeast in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, drift boats weren’t in vogue. Almost everyone waded. It wasn’t until I spent a summer out West that I learned how to fish out of — and row — a Clackacraft.

I wished I had had one sooner.

Drifting a river allows you to evaluate water from a macro perspective – from start to finish — depending on how much river you cover. And let’s not forget the obvious: You can cover a lot more potential spots drifting than you can on foot.

Expand Your Skills

When I first started on small streams, I was a lousy caster. Of course, I thought I was good. I caught a ton fish with two basic presentations — high-stick nymphing along with a puddle cast. That’s it.

Bigger water demands more. If there’s wind, you might need to double haul. A serviceable reach cast over multiple current seams and a curve cast to get under trees are also beneficial. Obviously, you can catch fish with limited skills, but you won’t catch as many fish. Bigger water offers bigger rewards, but those fish demand more versatility.

The Equipment

You will generally need a bigger trout rod. I used a 3 and 4-weight on mountain streams, but stepped up to a 6-weight on rivers. Why? The fish are bigger. And the flies can be, but certainly that’s not always the case. But the potential for bigger fish means you need a higher quality reel. TFO’s Power series offers a variety of options. And if you catch the fish, you don’t want to lose it because you’re under gunned. As far as tippet, I don’t hesitate to go up a size, unless the fish are feeding in calm, slow-moving water. In that scenario, I downsize accordingly.

Big water is challenging at first, but it doesn’t have to be.  Patience and perseverance will pay off as you ease out of your comfort level.

Introducing the Power Reel

The Axiom II rod is here. Naturally it makes sense to have a reel to complement the arrival of a new fly rod. Say hello to the TFO’s Power reel.

The official debut of the Power is set for later this fall. To give us a sneak peek, Jim Shulin and Nicholas Conklin have volunteered their time to give anglers an idea of what to expect from the new product, which has been in the works for about eight, nine months.

Nick is TFO’s Director of sales and development for two-handed fly fishing; Jim is the Director of Sales/Conventional.

TFO: What do each of you like most about the Power?

JS: “Its light and powerful drag. It’s the best reel we’ve ever done. There’s no doubt about that.

“The big thing is the drag system, which incorporates Belleville washers, which look like cymbals and two carbon-fiber disc drags. It’s a pretty common type of drag system when you look at everything. Most people use coil springs, including us in the past. You get this huge wrap-up towards the end. As the spring coils and gets more and more compressed, each click gives you a ramp up in drag, where these Belleville washers give you a very even long, one smooth turn, from zero drag to max drag in one full turn. And both of those are adjustable, by the way, the max low and the max high. They’re not independently adjustable. You start with the higher low-end drag, and when you make that one full turn, of course it’s higher on the other end, so that you can prevent overrun, things of that nature.”

NC: “Really the biggest thing with fly reels to consumers is the look — the sexiness of it. Yes, there’s a lot of machining and lightweight aluminum and componentry that goes into the Power reel. It looks good. It’s why they make so many different colors of lures and styles — to catch fishermen, not catch fish, right? If you’re looking at this reel, that might be a way to look at it, the sleeker design, the way it’s ported. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Loop Opti reels. It’s a very similar reel. We ported it a little bit differently. The weight- savings thing is always something that catches people. Although it may be a miniscule amount, ounces, half ounces, that’s something that comes up and is brought up often on the customer-service level. The weight savings is always good. And then you have your drag; it’s sealed, which is something that’s going to catch someone’s eye and be attractive to people.”

TFO: How does it fish? I know it comes in the Power I, II and III.

NC: It has enough drag and fish-stopping power to really handle anything. We really haven’t tested it in bluewater. For the sizes and configurations, it will handle anything in freshwater and most in saltwater. It has enough fish-stopping power to handle anything.”

TFO: Any other TFO reel that you can compare the Power to?

NC: “In terms of the design look, the sexiness factor, the Atoll reel we’ve done is probably going to be the closest.”

JS: “We’ve done a lot of reels, a lot of good reels in the past. What separates this one from the others is it has a more sophisticated drag system.”

TFO: It seems like it’s a pretty good value?

 NC: “We’ve been dipping our toes into that higher-level price point fly reel. It’s getting to be a tight market. That’s a tough price point. You’re getting into some Nautilus’ and some Hatches. For us, it’s pretty high end. In the grand scheme of nicer, heavily manufactured fly reels, when you’re looking at $700, $800 bucks for a fly reel, $499 is not too bad.”

JS: “It’s not a cheap reel, but it’s incredibly capable and in keeping with our value proposition.”

 

Interested in the Power Reel?

Click here to read more about the Power Reel and here to find a dealer nearest you.