Time to hit the Flats

As with a lot of fishing there are different schools of thought for fishing flats. Flats are long stretches of areas that hold shallow water.  Some are sand, others are cobble, and when the tide is right the fish move up on to them to feed.  Not everyone likes to fish flats, some folks like to work deeper water and structure, but if you like to like to cast to fish you can see, this might be something to consider.  I like to fish both ways, but there is something about casting to a fish in skinny water that makes my blood boil.

The amount of water that covers a flat depends on how far away you are from the equator.  In Florida, only a few feet of water moves on every tide whereas here at home in Massachusetts we’ll see a fluctuation of 12 feet.  The moon is important and on full and new moons more water moves on to a flat due to the increased gravitational pull…and more pulls off.  Sometimes more fish will move up onto a flat, other times more of them move off the flat. But when you find them it’s game on.

I love watching the current as it dances around edges, mangrove tangles, oyster beds, and sand bars.  In some areas baitfish move into these water and the predators follow.  In other areas the baitfish just come out to play. When I find a bunch of shrimp, crabs or baitfish and then predators, like tarpon, bonefish, striped bass or bluefish, I get cranked up beyond belief.

The presentation of a soft plastic surface lure or a fly has got to be delicate.  Flats fish are notoriously spooky, and a splat sends them racing for cover.  Spot the fish, see where it’s going, and drop your lure a little bit in front of him or just a bit beyond.  When you begin your retrieve the lure, it should be in front of him.  Transparent mono or fluorocarbon leaders work best and when the fish turns to follow, get ready.

To me, this is the intense part of flats fishing.  When the fish tracks a lure I’m on the edge of my seat.  On a great day it’ll come up and inhale. On a frustrating day it’ll reject it and swim away.  I’ve found that if the fish follows but doesn’t take the lure, there is something just a bit off.  Maybe my lure is a little too big, maybe it’s a bit too long, or maybe it’s a bit too flashy.  A few tweaks here and there make all the difference and are largely what separates the fishing from the catching.  Big fish are nice, but even small fish are fun.

Sight fishing is where you can see what you catch and catch what you see.  Give it a try.  It’s a blast.

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Tom Keer

Tom Keer

Tom Keer is an award-winning writer who lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  He is a columnist for the Upland Almanac, a Contributing Writer for Covey Rise magazine, a Contributing Editor for both Fly Rod and Reel and Fly Fish America, and a blogger for the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s Take Me Fishing program.  Keer writes regularly for over a dozen outdoor magazines on topics related to fishing, hunting, boating, and other outdoor pursuits.  When they are not fishing, Keer and his family hunt upland birds over their three English setters.  His first book, a Fly Fishers Guide to the New England Coast was released in January 2011.  Visit him at www.tomkeer.com or at www.thekeergroup.com.