Monday, June 21, 2010

A conversation with Capt. Chris Chavis

Capt. Chris Chavis owns Finstalker charters. He has been guiding fly and light tackle anglers for more than 15 years in the waters in and around Charleston, South Carolina.

Over the years, I have had the pleasure of fishing with him while staying down at Kiawah Island and we recently caught up on this wonderful fishery.

Chris, tell me about the fishing opportunities in the Charleston area. Walk us through the seasons in the Lowcountry.

Fall and winter in the Lowcountry can be an exciting and very productive time of year for both fly and conventional anglers.

As the water begins to cool it triggers most fish into the feeding mode. It’s time to fatten up for the long winter. Typically starting in the mid to late October, anglers can expect hot action on Redfish and Sea Trout, with the occasional flounder.

How do you fish it?

Conventional anglers can approach these fish with both live and artificial baits. Floating shrimp, mullet, or mud minnows around oyster bars with Equalizer floats produce many strikes.

Artificial baits used for these redfish and sea trout include a number of both hard and soft plastics. I use Zara Spook Jr's, 1/4 oz. grub heads with a variety of colors of Gulp Shrimp and Gulp jerk shads fished on flutter hooks mostly, but have caught these fish on bass baits such as Buzz Baits and Spinner Baits.

What about on the fly?

Fly anglers can choose a variety of patterns to target these fish. Clousers, decievers, shrimp, and crab patterns are the typical flies, but I have caught these fish on a combination of other flies including bonefish patterns.

Air temperatures vary from day to day in the fall and winter, so dress in layers.

What about chasing big fish?

Targeting big fish in the fall is best done in the surf with conventional tackle, once the fall cooling starts this begins the offshore movement of the larger Redfish topping 50 pounds.

Surf anglers can fish a combination of baits in the surf such as live and cut mullet, cracked blue crab, and menhaden on fishfinder rigs equipped with 3-4 oz. pyramid sinker and a 6/0 octopus circle hook.

Now tell about the spring and summer?

Spring can be a little tough in the beginning, as the schools of baitfish begin to make their presence. After the long winter, these fish begin to change their feeding habits and will feed heavily under the full moon, creating tough times during the daylight hours around those days.

You can expect to target these fish more with live bait presentations and less of the artificials. As summer gets closer, the fishing only gets better, although the year round Redfish, Sea Trout, and Flounder fishery is still going on, most anglers look forward to the arrival of the migrating species such as Tarpon, Spanish Mackerel, Ladyfish, Cobia, King Mackerel, Jacks, Sharks, and the return of those giant Redfish as they come back inshore from the winter spawn.

All of these migrating species can be taken on live, cut, or artificial baits.

Anglers can expect warm conditions; temperatures typically reach 80 degrees in the spring and can approach 100 degrees in the summer, so dress appropriately. Afternoon rainstorms can also be expected, so plan your trip early to avoid the heat and possibility of getting wet.

During the dog days of summer, Tarpon are a regularly targeted in the inlets and around the beaches. Fishing conventional methods with live or dead bait can produce some big fish topping the 100 pound mark.

What about off-shore?

Depending on your choice of bottom fishing or trolling:

For the angler choosing to bottom fish he can expect to target Snapper, Grouper, Sea Bass, Triggerfish, and Sheepshead; and can expect this year round. Certain seasonal restrictions apply to Groupers and Snappers.

For the angler choosing to troll, he can expect Dolphin (mahi-mahi), Tuna, Wahoo, and a combination of Billfish including Blue Marlin, White Marlin, and Sailfish. This fishery is typically hot from April Through the end of October.

What is your favorite time of year to fly fish?

My favorite time to fish the Charleston is usually the fall and winter, the water typically clears and the fish school up on the flats, allowing you to have shots on schools of redfish up to 200+ fish. Also the sea trout fishing during the fall is outstanding, some days produce from 50-100 fish.

If you are just getting into salt water fly fishing, or transitioning for freshwater to saltwater, how do recommend an angler approach this?

When an angler decides to transition into saltwater fly fishing, I recommend practicing his/her cast with heavier rods than normal, preferably a 9 weight. This will allow them to get used to the heavier and stiffer action of rods usually encountered in the salt environment.

After acquiring the heavier rod, get a few lessons on double hauling, a necessity in saltwater fly fishing. The double haul will increase line speed which will increase distance of each cast.

Once the double haul is mastered, practice on accuracy of each cast. Try laying a child’s swim ring 50, 60, and 70 feet away and practice laying the cast close to the ring. If you have a target to shoot for, you will be surprised at how fast your accuracy will increase.

I know you are very good at working with anglers when they are on your boat, what advice do you try to give them about being prepared on the water?

Preparation for your trip on the water should include several things. The most important thing I have on myself on all trips is a good pair of polarized sun glasses, if you can't see your target in the water; you are wasting your time

A few other things you want to make sure you have are sunscreen, hat, and clothing to match the time of year. It’s better to have too much and not need it than not enough when you do, and plenty of water to drink.

What are some of the mistakes you most often see?

Some mistakes often made by anglers begin with tailing loops on their presentation. This can be corrected by generating more line speed.

Another issue is line-management. Most people lose touch with their line on their final cast. Rather than just letting the fly line go on your final cast, you should allow the line to slide through a hole made by touching your thumb to your index finger, this allows you to quickly begin your strip, and puts you in touch with your fly quicker.

Line control is also a factor, once you are stripping your fly back in, make sure your line is not wrapped around your leg, a cleat, or some other obstruction. Controlling your line will make that next cast flawless and not come up short when you see that tailing redfish.

Chris, thanks again for taking the time to talk with us and we’ll look forward to seeing you on the water. Chris can be reached at or at 843-509-9772.

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