Flats Fishing Primer - Florida
Since this subject seems to come from time to time, this or I get sent a note on the subject asking about such... I thought it would be smart and combine a few past chats and emails into one article on this subject. This way we can update this one as we find new "basic" tips to pass on to everybody, or when one of our guides on Flats Nation would like to update this list to help our newer members to the sport become more successful in less time 😊
Topics related to Situational Awareness (SA) while you are on or surveying any body of water...
Nothing affects a fish more than water temperatures and they can detect tiny changes and react as needed for their survival. At one time I had a water temperature gauge on my console running all the time, now it is always showing on my SIMRAD screen. In summer, I am looking for cooler water, and in winter naturally, warmer water even if just a few degrees. Warmer water like that which is located on, or the tide has moved onto dark grass patches or bottom that is holding up the surrounding water temperatures, even if just a few degrees attract more fish. They are cold-blooded high-res animals so think of water temperature like you would a throttle for an engine.
High-Pressure System Fishing. If I had a dime for every time, I heard that "Fish feel atmospheric pressure that is why fishing in High-Pressure weather conditions is so difficult" I could retire already... 🙄 Goes to show (they) did not take the same engineering classes that I and many others did. It is simple, You cannot compress a fluid IF you could, the brakes on your truck would not work 😉 Fish do not feel the weight of atmospheric pressure (period) they do, however, feel changes as they move throughout the depths of the water column which is why you see their swim bladders sticking out when pulled up very quickly from deep water. For most Flats Fishing though, this aspect never comes into play since most of the time you are fishing in the top twenty feet of water as it is... What that weather condition can and does bring is winds and clearer skies in many cases. The increased amount of light (something fish cannot adjust for as we can) and winds moving and stirring up the water can and do make fish move. Maybe better stated, as creatures of habit we all tend to go back to spots where we last caught fish. And that is a logical place to start if those same conditions (pattern) are present. But, be prepared to move and start scouting for fish that have tails, and move around quite a bit to find conditions that are better suited for them to thrive.
I am not all hung up on Tides as many are... I fish when I can and just look for water movement that will help bring a meal to the fish. Does not matter if it is a Rainbow Trout in a clear mountain stream, or a Sea Trout sitting in wait along the edge of a grass flat for dinner to come to them, they will usually have their heads pointed into the current (tide) waiting to make a strike! I do like to use low tide conditions for slow visual scouting since I can see the bottom structure (grass, oyster beds, or small channels) and incoming tides to float into such areas when possible. An awesome tool (TidesPro) that will help with reading the Tides and Trip planning can be found by clicking Here
Google Earth saves me time and fuel in finding new flats to fish for sure. I look for Points, Oyster beds, and tidal creeks in areas I am looking to go fish in. Since it has Lat and Long numbers I can either zero in on such spots or print off a picture to look at as drift or run in on the trolling motor in those new areas.
Remember to look for Ambush Points this includes docks and points. Many Flats fish are ambush feeders with Reds being noted as the ones that "actively" search out food and follow Mullet schools much more than the others.
A good pair of Polarized sunglasses and a "Buff" as well as a cool ball cap or visor to help stop any light leaking into the top and sides of your face is critical. This also saves from getting sun-fried even in the winter. We are big fans of Bajio Sunglasses and can read and hear more about them by clicking Here
Birds feeding or just standing in certain locations tell me a lot! I have watched Fish and Birds work in tandem to press the bait towards each other and feed. What is that old saying when the Man was asked “How did you catch all those fish? His reply was simple “A little Bird told me…”
Some way to get Elevated on your front casting deck to see better.
Or you could use a quality cooler with rubber feet on the bottom to help prevent it from sliding around on the deck.
This viewing from the High Ground concept also applies to Kayaks and other Paddle crafts when it comes to being able to stand up without landing in the water yourself! More on those vessels for Flats and Back-county fishing soon for they can get into places the Skiff guys wished that they could!
Speaking of being elevated much less, moving around much... It always helps to blend into the background color be it dressed in a Sky Blue or White / Grey shirt when Cloudy. Some may try and argue that aspect and that is Okay! But have you ever stopped and thought about wading bird colors? Do you think the white on Egret or Heron helps them blend into the background/clouds lesson/re above them?
How about a quick visual minder on the use of Camouflage on the subject? And yes, side on and from our viewing angle, they can stand out like a Bull walking through Mid-Town NYC 😊 To the fish looking up, which they can do extremely well. They see something different which hardly even moves...
As denoted in the "Yes, they can see you moving" article, here is that example where it is a very low light condition, and the fish are leaving town (look bottom right) even with the Osprey flying way above them...
What is that old saying "To understand the Owl, study the Mouse!" also applies in this use case. Find the prey and the predator is usually not far behind 😊
Stealth is the key and measures taken towards such help! One must shut down and pole or wind drift onto many spots. Fish in skinny clear water are extremely nervous fish. Those dudes above have been thumping the fish since they were little fry... You can talk all you want, but open music playing (why I use earbuds) dropping or falling over things on the deck, changing trolling motor speeds, dropping an anchor over the side, bilge pumps that cycle along with sonar transducers that buzz (which do no good in a foot of water anyway) all can flush out fish like a covey of Quail.
Topics related to Tackle...
Fluorocarbon leaders and I use about three feet along with loop knots will increase your hookups, below the surface. Mono line or leader material for all my surface walkers since they can stretch, which helps take the shock of the crash as well as help keep them from throwing the bait during the fight...
Many of your Freshwater / Bass lures will work fine on the flats, here again, a fish is a fish. Match the look of local forage (both bait fish, shrimp & crabs) and you will get strikes! I have several bass crankbaits that I have modified (if needed) with hook upgrades that work very well in these conditions like Mann's Baby 1-'s. Many times, I remove the front hook so I can roll them around oyster bars and if they do manage to get snagged, just stop reeling and allow it the time and ability to float up and off the Oyster shell that it just hung up on, then start reeling again 😊
In my experience, the 3D effect and appearance of crankbaits will perform the use of the typical gold or silver spoon rolled through the same locations. They also give you the option to reel them in slower than many spoons will allow when needed to keep them out of several types of cover like grass.
Another unique hard bait modification for top water (sneak peek below) can be found by clicking Here
The beauty of either one is in the ability to cover more water quicker, and with more effectiveness than other presentations on most days... Swim baits also work very well in many instances in covering a wide range of cover be it grass flats or other structure and you can find out more about that tactic by clicking Here
I also apply some kind of cover scent on them if nothing else, to help mask the human or other non-bait type of odor (like the plastic, glue, or sunscreen from your hands) so you don't have them turn their nose up at them. How many times have you seen a fish get within a few feet of your offerings and simply turn away? Sunscreen is not something you cover your shrimp with for dinner, you think that fish like that either?
Again, this one is only intended to be Primer on Flats Fishing, and most do not start by chasing after Tarpon with a Fly Rod. We will get to those topics soon!
Naturally, the Flats Nation Team will add to these basics as needed, but wanted to give one a good starting point for most Flats Fishing in Florida (other areas planned) without having to "Fish on the Dark Side" by using Live Bait 😊
Like this podcast episode below with Captain Tommy Derringer and covers the topic of Flats Fishing in his part of NE Florida and other locations extremely well. Some great tips and tactics in that episode with Brother Tommy for sure!
And of course, we have others that are also great and cover a wide range of locations from other awesome guides as well as various industry leaders from Flats Fishing World with many more in the works...
In the meantime,
We invite you to take in a few Flats Nation Podcast Episodes to help "Scratch that Fishing Itch" when working or traveling and you just cannot hitch up the Skiff and go, on these links:
Our main podcast page works great for your mobile device since they will stream right on your phone/tablet can be found by clicking Here
Our new Flats Nation YouTube Channel can be found by clicking Here and sharing them with family and friends if you find them Entertaining and Educational! We have some great guests in the works and planning stages on a wide range of topics and product coverage soon.
Also, The "Flats Nation" Merch and Swag collection has some new works now (just click on each Design or Picture to view that collection) and can be found by clicking Here to take you to that section to land some for yourself and your family/friends that enjoy their time here on Flats Nation 😎
Tight Lines and God Bless!
Dave and the Team