Flats fishing can be an exciting and rewarding experience for fishermen of all ages, whether just beginning or accomplished angler. Flats are long, level, shallow water areas next to deeper water. They are found in bays estuaries and marshes. They are also found atop reefs and atolls, and along shorelines.
The bottom of a flat may be made up of grass, sand, rock, mud, gravel, or a combination of these. Flats with grass or other aquatic vegetation offer cover and food for a variety of fish as well as shrimp and crabs. The most sought after fish when flats fishing include redfish, tarpon, seatrout, bonefish, permit and snook. Other popular catches are striped bass, bluefish, barracuda, shark, cobia and mutton snapper.
When choosing the best areas for flats fishing, look for flats that are 8 feet deep or less. More productive flats usually contain stumps, brush piles, grass beds or other types of cover. Flats that contain shallow ditches or humps are especially attractive to bass. Also look for baitfish, crabs and other “fish foods”.
Observe tides carefully when locating good flats to fish. Some will be totally dry during low tide. As the tide rises, game fish will move in to feed whereas when the tide drops gamefish will wait for crabs and baitfish to flee the flat.
Flats are usually fished with fly gear or light spinning gear. Light tackle is the rule. Fly rods should be 8 or 9 weight. If you are using a spinning outfit, load it with no stronger than 12 pound test. Live bait such as mullet, pigfish, pinfish and shrimp works well. If you are using artificial lures, any size with attractor colors may be used from May through June. If you are flats fishing during July through August, natural colored lures work best.
Other equipment to include on your fishing trip is proper footwear, sunscreen, sunglasses, a raincoat and plenty of water to drink. Hydration is important since most flats fishing takes place in sunny climates such as the Florida Keys and the Caribbean, as well as lakes and rivers across the United States and other countries.
The most important equipment required is usually a small skiff with no more than two fishermen aboard. This lets the guide pole across shallow waters with ease, to reach the best flats. Also remember to wear light colored clothing to reflect the sun’s heat, and be less visible to the fish.